Updated 1/23/24 by Lori

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If you’re looking for a place that feels a million miles away while close to big city amenities, look to First Landing State Park. First Landing State Park is a 2,888-acre state park in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The park was established in 1936 as Seashore State Park and was later renamed First Landing State Park in 1997. The park is known for its scenic beauty, including a 1.5-mile-long beach on the Chesapeake Bay, freshwater ponds, and a fragile maritime forest.

The park is one of Virginia’s most diverse and incredible, with topography ranging from towering sand dunes to swampy Bald Cypress forests.

The park has a rich history, with evidence of human habitation from 8,000 B.C. The park’s name, “First Landing,” commemorates the arrival of the English colonists in Virginia in 1607, who landed at the site now in the park’s boundaries. The park’s trails and interpretive programs offer visitors a glimpse into the area’s natural and cultural history.

One of the park’s most popular attractions is the 20 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through the park’s diverse ecosystems. The park is also a favorite spot for birdwatchers, with more than 200 species of birds in its boundaries. You’ll also have fun swimming, boating, fishing, and camping.

The park features 203 campsites, including 29 primitive sites, 74 sites with water and electric hookups, and 100 sites with water, electric, and sewer hookups. There are also 20 cabins and a few yurts available for rent.
First Landing State Park is open year-round. Admission to the park is $7 per vehicle on weekdays and $10 per vehicle on weekends and holidays.

First Landing State Park Map
First Landing State Park Map              Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Why is it Called First Landing State Park?

Tall Ships
Tall Ships

“First Landing” refers to where English settlers first landed on the shores of what would become the colony of Virginia in North America. The landing occurred on April 26, 1607, and began the first successful English settlement in North America.

The group of settlers, sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, consisted of 104 men and boys who set sail from England on three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. The Susan Constant was the largest of the ships and carried most of the settlers, including the expedition’s leader, Captain Christopher Newport.

The journey from England to Virginia took four months, and the settlers faced many challenges, including storms, disease, and food shortages. When they arrived at what is now Virginia, they initially landed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, which they named Cape Henry. From there, they traveled up the James River and established a settlement named Jamestown on May 14, 1607.

The settlers faced many difficulties in their new home, including conflicts with local Native American tribes, disease, and food shortages. However, the colony survived and eventually prospered, thanks in part to the cultivation of tobacco, which became a significant cash crop.

Some of the notable figures part of the initial landing at Jamestown include John Smith, who played a crucial role in establishing trade relationships with the local Native American tribes, and Pocahontas, a Native American woman who famously saved the life of John Smith and later married another English settler, John Rolfe.

Camping at First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park Camping Map
First Landing State Park Camping Map       Photo courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

The First Landing State Park campground is perfect for visitors who want to experience everything the park offers.  As you can see from the camping map, there is quite a bit of space and diversity for overnight stay options.

The park offers traditional camping and cabin rentals and several amenities and activities to make your stay enjoyable.

Campsites

Tent Site at First Landing State Park
Tent Site at First Landing State Park

The tent sites are easy to reach, spacious, shaded, and close to the beach, visitors center, and camp store. Fires are permitted, and you’ll have an assigned parking spot. The only downside is that the tent sites are close to a major road with traffic most of the day.

Many RV sites are far from the road (thus quiet) and closer to the beach. The RV sites are also spacious, and shaded. Most have fire pits and picnic tables. The campground has nicely paved roads and gravel sites. The largest spots will hold up to 60′. If you’re sensitive to traffic noise, ask for a site away from Shore Drive. 

The campground areas are beautiful and a short walk to the beach, trails, store, restrooms, and snack bar.

The park is in the heart of Virginia Beach, so finding places for a bite to eat or a cocktail is as easy as driving out the park entrance.

Endless Possibilities

Cabins

Rental Cabins First Landing State Park
Rental Cabins First Landing State Park

Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, the rental of cabins is for an entire week, starting on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, depending on the specific cabin. However, this requirement is relaxed to a minimum of four nights if the reservation is made three months before arrival.

Throughout the rest of the year, a minimum of two nights stay is required for cabin rentals.

Cabins 1 through 6 are constructed with wood frames and boast hardwood floors, while cabins 7 through 20 are made with cinder blocks and feature cedar siding, tile, and carpeted floors. All cabins are located on the south side of Shore Drive, which acts as a barrier between the cabins and the beach. You can take a hiking trail to the beach, but it’s a bit of a walk.

The cabins have two bedrooms and one bathroom. You’ll find a screened-in porch and a wood-burning fireplace. All cabins have central AC (a must in the southern Virginia climate). For an extra $10 a night, you can bring Fido–just keep him leashed.

You’ll have a picnic table, a fire pit outside, and plenty of privacy in the forest and hills surrounding the cabins. A playground and hiking trails are close to all the cabins. There are TVs and a furnished kitchen. Just bring your food.

Reservations

Reservations are strongly recommended, especially during peak camping season from May through September. You can make reservations online or by calling the park office.

You can make reservations online at any time, day or night. This website contains information about the park and available sites, as well as the park’s policies. Please review the policies carefully before submitting payment, as changes or cancellations may incur penalties.

Payment is required in full at the time of booking and must be made using a credit card.

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Things to Do at First Landing State Park

Things to do at First Landing State Park
Things to do at First Landing State Park

Find Blackbeard’s Treasure

Due in part to the flourishing tobacco trade, the Virginia colony became wealthy by the 1700s. As a result, the infamous pirate Blackbeard established himself in the region and used the dunes as an observation post to spy on merchant ships he wished to pillage.

Blackbeard also raided wealthy plantations along the coast of Virginia and the Carolinas, making him public enemy #1. By 1718, Virginia Governor Alexander Spotwood had enough of Blackbeard’s raiding and pillaging.

In November 1718, the governor sent ships to find and bring Blackbeard in, dead or alive. Blackbeard was found and killed on the North Carolina coast on November 21, 1718. The rest of his crew surrendered.

However, the legend is that Blackbeard buried his loot in the dunes in current-day First Landing State Park while en route to his North Carolina sanctuary. To date, his treasure remains undiscovered, with speculations that it’s safeguarded by his spirit. Many people still look for his treasure. Give it a try!

According to local legend, at twilight, his apparition haunts the dunes.

See Wildlife and Photography

Photography and Wildlife at First Landing State Park
Photography and Wildlife at First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park is known for its diverse range of wildlife, as it encompasses a variety of ecosystems, including maritime forests, beaches, and wetlands. Photographers will have endless opportunities to capture wildlife in action.

Here are examples of wildlife you may see in the park:

  1. Birds: First Landing State Park is a popular destination for birdwatchers. The park is home to more than 200 bird species, including migratory birds such as warblers, herons, and eagles.
  2. Deer: White-tailed deer are common in the park and can often be seen grazing in the fields or along the park’s many hiking trails.
  3. Foxes: Red and gray foxes can be spotted in the park, particularly in the early morning or late evening.
  4. Raccoons: These nocturnal animals are a common sight in the park, particularly near the park’s campsites.
  5. Snakes: The park is home to a variety of snake species, including copperheads, cottonmouths, and various non-venomous species.
  6. Turtles: The park’s wetlands are home to several species of turtles, including box turtles, snapping turtles, and painted turtles.
  7. Frogs: First Landing State Park is home to a variety of frog species, including green tree frogs, bullfrogs, and southern leopard frogs.

Additionally, photographers will be thrilled to observe the natural phenomenon called Rainbow Sheen, which occurs in the fall at First Landing State Park in Virginia and is a popular subject for photographers. This phenomenon is created by light, water, and air interplay.

The Rainbow Sheen is most commonly observed on the water surface of the marshy areas in the park. The marshy areas have decaying vegetation that releases organic compounds into the water. Bacteria in the water break down the organic matter and release gasses such as methane and hydrogen sulfide. These gasses rise to the surface, creating tiny bubbles floating on the water.

When the light hits the bubbles, it refracts and reflects off the surface of the bubbles, creating a rainbow-like effect. The colors of the rainbow sheen can vary depending on the angle and intensity of the light, as well as the size and composition of the bubbles. The effect is most pronounced on calm days with little wind or wave action, as this allows the bubbles to accumulate on the water’s surface.

Photographers often use polarizing filters to capture the Rainbow Sheen, as these filters help to reduce glare and enhance the colors of the rainbow effect. The Rainbow Sheen is a unique and beautiful natural phenomenon, and visiting First Landing State Park in the fall is a must for anyone interested in nature photography.

Hiking and Biking

Hiking Trail at First Landing State Park
Hiking Trail at First Landing State Park

The park boasts ten trails spanning approximately 20 miles, designated for hiking, biking, and self-guided tours. During the in-season, interpreters lead trail walks, while trail guidebooks are available at the Trail Center. Note that only Cape Henry and Live Oak trails allow bicycles.

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The Trail Center, featuring accessible restroom facilities, is accessible to all visitors. A paved walkway leading from the road to the center ensures easy access. Moreover, the Cape Henry Trail is universally accessible between Kendall and 64th Street.

Boating

The Narrows boat ramp, situated at the 64th Street extension in the park’s southern area, is available for launching motorboats and other small watercraft. This facility offers amenities such as launching ramps, parking spaces for cars and boat trailers, and restrooms. Swimming at the Narrows is not allowed due to the strong currents in the area.

Fishing

Fishing and crabbing are favored recreational activities. A valid Virginia saltwater fishing license is mandatory to fish. You can obtain information by dialing 1-800-933-PARK.

Swimming

No lifeguards are on duty in the Chesapeake Bay, and swimming is at your own risk. Neither the Narrows nor the boat launch has assigned swimming zones. You can find several facilities near the beach, such as showers and a shop that offers supplies.

Attend and Event or Ranger Program

One of the best ways to learn about the park and the nature within is by attending one of the many events and programs the park offers throughout the year. Some examples typically offered at the park include:

  1. Guided hikes: The park offers several guided hikes exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems, including hikes focused on birdwatching, native plant identification, and more.
  2. Campfire programs: The park hosts campfire programs allowing visitors to learn about the park’s history, wildlife, and natural features in a fun and interactive way.
  3. Junior Ranger programs: First Landing State Park offers Junior Ranger programs for kids, including nature walks, crafts, and educational activities.
  4. Night sky programs: The park hosts programs that allow visitors to learn about the stars and constellations visible in the night sky.
  5. Special events: Throughout the year, the park hosts special events such as guided kayak tours, nature photography workshops, and more.

Visitors can find information about upcoming events and ranger programs on the First Landing State Park website or by contacting the park directly. Some programs require advanced registration.

Things to Do Near First Landing State Park

Things to do near First Landing State Park
Things to do near First Landing State Park

There’s a lot to see and do near First Landing State Park since the park is in a beautiful area with lots to do. Here are a few of our favorites things to do:

  1. Visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center: This popular aquarium is just a few miles away and offers many interactive exhibits and marine life displays–including adorable harbor seals. 
  2. Explore the Virginia Beach Boardwalk: This famous boardwalk is located just a few miles from the park and features a variety of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. Make sure to stop for a photo op with King Neptune! 
  3. Take a sea tour with Rudee Tours: This tour company offers seal, whale, and dolphin-watching tours that allow visitors to see these intelligent marine mammals up close.
  4. Visit the Military Aviation Museum: This museum, located just a short drive away, features an impressive collection of World War I and World War II-era aircraft.
  5. Take a scenic drive down Shore Drive towards the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Stop for a drink on the waterfront patio at The Tin Cup Kitchen & Oyster Bar. The drinks are incredible, and the view is second to none. 
  6. For ‘boat-to-table” seafood, hop over to the local favorite Hot Tuna restaurant. Try local Virginia and North Carolina beers, fresh seafood, and an energetic atmosphere. 
  7. ShoreBreak Pizza & Taphouse is just down the street and is a popular local place for tasty food at a reasonable price. Deep dish pizza?  Yes!
  8. If you’re in the mood for coffee, breakfast, lunch, or whiskey–yes, whiskey–American Brew serves breakfast and lunch daily till 3 pm. Try rich coffee, matcha, smoothies, savory dishes, and taste 100 varieties of whiskey…all in one place near the beach!
  9. Check out the Cape Henry Lighthouse: This historic lighthouse is located just a few miles from the park and offers stunning views of the coastline.

Key Info You Need to Know

First Landing State Park Beach
First Landing State Park Beach                 Photo credit: Virginia State Parks

Hours

Memorial Day to Labor Day Park Office: 8 a.m. to midnight 

Labor Day to Memorial Day Park Office: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Extended hours on weekends

Contact Info

First Landing State Park Shore Drive, Virginia Beach, VA

Main Contact Station: 24 hours/day Telephone: 757-412-2300 

Office Telephone: 757-412-2300

After Midnight; 757-635-7132

How to Get to First Landing State Park

The park has three main entrances: the 64th Street Entrance, the Shore Drive Entrance, and the North End Entrance. Additionally, there is a Boat Launch Entrance for those entering the park by boat. So, in total, First Landing State Park has four entrances.

You can enter the park by car or trolley. The most convenient approach is by car, with multiple entrances throughout the park. The main entrance and location of numerous park facilities–including the beach–is on the park’s north side, accessed via Route 60 / Shore Drive.

Adjacent to the main entrance is a secondary entrance leading to the Trail Center, overnight cabins, and trailheads of several trails.

In the summer, an alternate transportation option is available via the bus service between Virginia Beach and First Landing’s primary entrance. The buses operate every 45 minutes and can be boarded from different locations along Pacific Avenue in Virginia Beach.

The bus exclusively accepts cash payments; however, advance ticket purchases with a card are possible at designated locations within the resort area.

Is there a fee for First Landing State Park?

Yes, there is a fee for visiting First Landing State Park. The fee for parking at the park is $7 per vehicle and $10 on the weekend. The boat ramp is $4 per use.

Those arriving by foot or bike are free.

However, fees are subject to change, so it’s best to check the park’s official website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information. It’s also worth noting that annual passes and other discounts may be available for frequent visitors or specific groups.

First Landing State Park path
First Landing State Park path to the beach                Photo credit: Virginia State Parks

Can you walk to the beach from First Landing State Park?

Yes, you can walk to the beach from First Landing State Park. The park has several trails leading to the beach, including the Cape Henry Trail, a 1.5-mile hike from the park’s Trail Center to the beach.

The park also has several other trails that offer access to the beach, including the Osmanthus Trail, the White Hill Lake Trail, and the Bald Cypress Trail. In addition, the park has a large shoreline area that is open to the public and accessible by foot. Visitors can swim, sunbathe, fish, and enjoy other recreational activities at the park’s beach.

However, you cannot walk to the Virginia Beach oceanfront which is several miles away.

First Landing State Park Swimming
Swimming at the First Landing State Park Beach  Photo credit: First Landing State Park

Plan your trip today!

Living in Virginia, I’ve been to many state parks. But First Landing State Park in Virginia holds a special place in my heart. So many trips to this water-side playground with my young sons, not only during the Summer but throughout the year.

As you can see, this park truly has it all, and you couldn’t ask for a better part of Virginia to explore when you visit. Plan your trip today to Virginia’s most popular state park.

4 thoughts on “First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach: A Nature Lovers Dream”

  1. We love to hear about new parks to visit. And when we finally make it back to Virginia we need to check out First Landing State Park. The towering sand dunes would be a big draw. But I am sure we would try one or more of the hiking or biking trails. We are not into camping so it was fun to read that they even have cabins available for a longer stay.

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