The Great False Cape Escape

img_1819.jpgEarlier this April a small group of hardy backpackers joined me on a rainy overnight trip to False Cape State Park. That isn’t how I envisioned the trip when I first posted it eight months ago. I always hope for great weather when posting an event for Virginia Backpacking but experience has shown me it doesn’t always work out that way.

At its peak, this trip had 18 signed up as going with another 30 on the waitlist hoping to get in. We intended to stay at group sites 10 – 12 which can accommodate a group of this size. By the time the forecast became fairly solid we were down to just 4 people. It was calling for rain all day Saturday with gusts up to 25 mph. And it was going to be cold, not snow cold, but close.

IMG_1805We started in Richmond shortly after 8 am. After a two hour drive we arrived at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. Overnight parking is prohibited at the visitor center so I left my three companions there (George, Doris, and Dena) along with my pack then drove the 1.5 miles back to Little Island Park. I quickly hiked back to reunite with them. Last year when I did this hike we traveled to False Cape along the beach. Back Bay closes its interior trails from November to March leaving the beach as the only option. Since it was now April we were able to traverse the West Dike Trail the four miles to get to False Cape.

I have to admit, I found the trail hike in absolutely beautiful compared to last year’s beach hike. The changing scenery of wide open vistas and occasional wooded sections made for an enjoyable experience.


After we arrived at the entrance to False Cape we had a chance encounter with Chief Ranger Chuck as he was driving by, one of several times we’d cross paths this trip. I asked him if it would be possible to get a quick tour of the Environmental Center at False Cape. I’m leading an overnight Wilderness First Aid class there later this summer and I wanted to get some interior pics to share with others. He was kind enough to arrange a time later that day to accommodate my request.

We continued on our journey to the camp area for sites 1 – 3. These sites are along the bay side about 3/4 a mile from the False Cape Visitor Center. With a break in the rain we quickly set up our tents and hammock then set off on a day hike toward the Wash Woods Cemetery, one of the few remaining remnants of a abandoned settlement at False Cape. The rain decided to join us once again for this leg of the journey. On the way we made a quick stop at the Visitor Center for some hot cocoa and heard a rumor that some OBX ponies had escaped and we’re camped out at the group area campsites on the way to the cemetery. We added finding the ponies to our agenda but were cautioned that this particular stallion is a bit protective of his mares.


The group sites are about 2 miles away from the visitor center. No ponies were to be seen at the sites but there’s a trail off to the side that continues toward a dock on the bay. I was hoping they may have gone down that way. As luck would have it, they did! Heeding the warning about the stallion, I snapped this one pic and began my retreat. Chief Ranger Chuck stopped by to check up on the ponies. At some point they will be rounded up and transported back to OBX. The goal in the interim is to keep them from advancing further north toward Virginia Beach.

Back on the main trail the journey continued toward Wash Woods. Rain began to steadily fall while we made our way to the Environmental Center. Chief Ranger Chuck was nearby at one of the work sheds and met us at the center to give us a quick tour. The center was once a hunt club when hunting ducks was prevalent in the area. It has an amazing view of the bay. Accommodations can fit up to 26 people and includes a kitchen, restrooms, shower, meeting room, library, AV equipment, and lab.

While here we had a great conversation with Chief Ranger Chuck. He grew up nearby and has been working at the park since the late 70’s. He’s seen his fair share of changes at the park and grabbed a book from the library to show us some of the area history. I walked away from the conversation with a genuine appreciation of him as an individual and as an ambassador for the amazing state park system that Virginia has built.


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As we left the center the rain continued and we made the decision to skip the cemetery and hike the 3 miles back to the Visitor Center before it got dark and colder. On the way back we discovered six ponies in the open group camping area. I’d share a picture but the quality wasn’t that great as we kept our distance. By the time we reached the Visitor Center it had closed for the day but we took a rest on the front porch rockers. It felt so nice we decided to bring our dinners back and hang out there for the evening. We filled our bellies, had some good conversation, and allowed our rain gear to dry before heading back to camp for the night.

By the time we woke up the next morning the weather had changed for the better. The sun came out and the temperature was warmer. We headed to the Visitor Center for breakfast. They had some microwaveable breakfast bowls and Hot Pockets I had been eyeing when we stopped by the day before. Not exactly roughing it but given the cold and wet weather from the day before it was a treat. While we ate breakfast the Blue Goose Tram stopped by the Visitor Center. The Blue Goose Tram is run by the Back Bay Restoration Foundation. It leaves from the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and travels to False Cape State Park. The tram is only for day visitors. Overnight guests must hike in.


We then hiked to the beach allowing our camp gear a chance to dry before packing up and heading home.


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I finished packing ahead of the others and walked to the nearby bay one last time before hitting the trail. Wouldn’t you know it? I ran into Chief Ranger Chuck again! Well, here he is folks along with crew members John and Ethan.


Having said one last farewell, I headed back to camp to join the others to begin our hike out.


If you haven’t visited False Cape State Park you need to add it to your list. The weather was a challenge our first day but this absolutely was a memorable trip for the four of us.

Visit False Cape State Park’s website to learn more.

If you’d like to join Virginia Backpacking at False Cape for our Wilderness First Aid class visit our event registration page.

And lastly, we have another backpack trip scheduled for October. All spaces are full but you can add yourself to the waitlist in case a space opens up.

2 replies »

  1. False Cape state park is a rare and amazing treasure.
    Ranger Chuck has been there since the park began.

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