Biking Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge


The Daughter is working on her Cycling Badge for American Heritage Girls, and for her level, she is required to plan and complete two very long bike rides. Clearly something we need to work up to… Our area is not fully committed to a bicycling culture so we’ve been scouting around for bike trails that are off road and preferably include lovely scenery.

The short list includes Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and False Cape State Park. These are adjoining properties, one owned by the Federal government, and the other owned by Virginia that cover 10 miles of beach along the southernmost tip of Virginia’s Coast.  To get to False Cape State Park, you have to either hike or bike through Back Bay Wildlife Refuge’s 3.5 mile East or West Dyke system, or paddle through the Back Bay, or buy a ticket to ride the trams that operate on Back Bay Wildlife Refuge.

We opted to start with a relatively short ride starting at the parking lot at the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge Center, riding long the East Dyke to the entrance of False Cape and then back, approximately 7 miles, which would give us chance to see what the paths were like.

Wow! It was beautiful and just the right length to get started with.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous.  The air was thick with metallic green and red dragonflies darting every which way.  We had the biking trail pretty much to ourselves.  When we got back we walked over to the beach and were amazed to find it virtually empty.  A lone fisher woman was casting a line, and a few hikers were way off in the distance.

The wetland is considered an oligohaline or mostly fresh water wetland even though the ocean is half a mile away. Fresh water from rivers flows into Back Bay in the spring.  Salinity levels increase in the summer and fall but as long as the salinity does not exceed a certain level, the fresh water plants flourish.  A dike system seeks to maintain this delicate balance in order to provide for migrating birds in spring and fall.  We saw cattail, sweet flag, and millet, and the marsh hibiscus were in bloom. We spotted herons, egrets, red-winged blackbirds, and bank swallows with their split tail.  There were turtles basking alongside the pools and canals, but we weren’t close enough to identify them.  We found wild raspberries along the path to the beach!

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