First Landing State Park (Virginia)

Did you know that many historic sites have outdoor camping and walking trails that are especially appealing during this time of social distancing?  While I am not a huge outdoor activity fan, I always like to note the places that provide a unique way for families to visit a historic site.  

One of the most historic sites in Virginia is First Landing State Park, where the English colonists first landed in 1607 before settling at Jamestown.  This location in Virginia Beach is now a huge state park with trails, camping sites, a beach, and more.  This is a perfect site for a fall family outing that is socially distanced and historically significant!  

Located on Cape Henry, where the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay meet, First Landing State Park is where Christopher Newport, John Smith, and the 102 other passengers of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery landed in late April of 1607.  Determined to establish an English colony in the area, the ships stayed anchored here for several weeks while small groups explored the interior of Virginia and decided to establish the colony at Jamestown.  

The site’s strategic location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, with river access to Washington, DC, was very important during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  The park’s website even claims that the notorious pirate, Blackbeard, hid in the Narrows section of the park! 

The park is the first of Virginia’s state parks, constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  It is Virginia’s most visited park, and it has many ways to experience nature in a historic setting, including multiple hiking trails, waterways, and lodging options.  

The over 20 miles of hiking trails will take you through cypress tree swamps, lagoons, and beaches.  Bicycles are allowed on two trails.  Check out the trail brochure before your trip to plan your family’s hike/bike.

The park also has a boat ramp where you can launch your personal kayaks or paddle boards.  If you’re looking for a beach with smaller waves, the park’s 1 ½ mile-long beach is on the bayside, which tends to be calmer than the ocean.

The park has a visitor center near the Bay Center area, along with several boardwalks to the bayside beach.  

While the park has the usual cabins and campgrounds, First Landing State Park also has a unique lodging option – yurts!  I asked my close friend, who posts beautiful pictures at A Great Room on Instagram, to give us more details about staying in tents and a yurt at the park.

We have enjoyed both tent and yurt camping this summer, and First Landing makes both accessible and enjoyable. With convenient and clean restrooms and showers, and a small store that sells bagged ice, pre bundled firewood, and even freshly brewed coffee, camping seems easier than you might expect.

The tent sites are varied but many are surprisingly shaded and only a short walk to the Chesapeake Bay.  They include a fire ring with a grate for grilling, and they are pet-friendly. First Landing allows you to book specific campsites so be sure to check out the park map to find the campsite that best suits your needs.  A quick stroll through the park will reveal diverse campsites that have everything from basic tent setups to RVs decorated with flags and festive lighting. 

For those looking to put a twist on traditional tent camping, trying a yurt, is quite a fun adventure, and the view from the yurts, which are nestled in the dunes, is stunning. 

The yurts are built on stilts and have wrap around decks complete with a picnic table and Adirondack chairs, as well as a second picnic table under the shade of the yurt. 

The view of the sunset exceeds what you might expect, and the view doesn’t disappoint after sundown, when the lights from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel illuminate the bay.  

The yurts are furnished with the basics including a bed, trundle bed, sofa, chair, coffee table, and small dinette set.  Just add your linens and any creature comforts you’ll want, and your home away from home is ready. 

There is no electricity and bath houses are located near the yurts.  For airflow the yurts do have screened windows that can be opened.  For the hottest summer nights, I recommend bringing a battery operated fan to help circulate air in the yurt. 

I highly recommend a beach cart or large wheeled wagon for transporting your gear from campsite/yurt to the beach.  At the end of a long day you will be glad you have it!

One last tip, don’t forget that First Landing State Park is located next to an active military training center.  It is not uncommon to hear noise from training drills or even awake to a helicopter overhead (which make for great stories to take home)! 

Thank you to A Great Room for the helpful tips and gorgeous photos!

State parks like First Landing State Park are great options this fall to combine historical sightseeing with fun outdoor activities.  Other examples of historical parks like this in Virginia are:

Check your state’s parks website and see if there are any with important historical significance!  It will make a fun and educational getaway this fall during virtual schooling!

Helpful hints:

  • Cost: park entry is $7-10; rates vary for cabins, campground, and yurts
  • Recommended: all ages
  • Tour time: several hours/overnight
  • Gift shop located in main office area
  • Transportation: Accessible by car only
  • Dining options: There are many picnic areas in the park.  If you are looking for a nearby restaurant, I recommend Citrus near the main entrance.  The restaurants on the ocean boardwalk are a short drive away, including our favorites Tulu and Lagerheads.
  • Nearby hotels: There are overnight accommodations on site described above.  If you prefer a hotel, I recommend the new oceanfront Marriott.
  • Nearby attractions: Cape Henry Lighthouse and Park (note that these sites are on an active military base – check base visitor guidelines before entry), Virginia Beach oceanfront, Virginia Aquarium, Military Aviation Museum, and Virginia Beach History Museums

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