Kayaking and Exploring Chesapeake's Eastern Shore, Chincoteague, Virginia

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14206A, Kayak


  • Paddle through a cypress swamp, along tidal creeks, and to secluded beaches
  • Explore Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
  • Experience a spectacular sunset on the water 


  • Kayak rental and comfortable lodge accommodations
  • Van transportation to put-in sites
  • All meals


DatesSep 14–19, 2014
StaffMarjorie Richman

Trip Overview

The Trip

There is but one entrance by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly bay, 18 or 20 miles broad. The cape on the south is called Cape Henry, in honor of our most noble Prince. The land, white hilly sands like unto the Downs, and all along the shores rest plenty of pines and firs… Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation. - John Smith, 1608, describing Chesapeake Bay

Although much has changed since John Smith sailed into Chesapeake Bay, the region he explored retains many of the same characteristics.  Along the Bay’s Eastern Shore, where our trip will take place, John Smith’s description still applies.  Rivers flow through cypress swamps, there are deserted beach only accessible by boat, and flocks of shore birds are still the major inhabitants in salt marshes and wetlands.  We will explore each of these unique ecosystems by kayak and foot during our trip.

We will also have the opportunity to visit the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, famous for its wetlands birds and the wild horses of Assateague Island. These horses, descendents of domesticated animals brought to the Island over 300 years ago, are tough enough to survive climate changes, insects, stormy weather, and poor quality food found on this windswept barrier island. They have formed a unique wild horse society. There are few places where one can view wild herds roaming at will in a natural habitat.


The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group. 

The trip begins on Sunday, September 14, at 3 p.m. and ends on Friday, September 19 after lunch.

Although the actual locations of our paddling trips will depend upon weather and tides at the time of the trip, we will have much to choose from as there are many wonderful kayaking opportunities in the Chincoteague area. Possibilities include:

  • The scenic Pocomoke and Nassawango Rivers, the northernmost cypress swamp in the U.S. As we paddle we will pass these magnificent trees, their knees protruding into the water.  Osprey, herons, egrets and eagles are regular visitors.       
  • Janes Island State Park, protecting over 29,000 acres of salt marsh and pristine beaches. 
  • The Tom’s Cove area of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where we will paddle to a secluded beach only accessible via kayak.

On our evening paddle, we will start an hour before sunset in order to be on the water as color floods the sky and the lights of the village spread slowly along the banks of Chincoteague Bay.  If the tides are right we will launch from Memorial Park, the site of the annual pony swim.

Other activities include a half-day boat cruise on a research vessel to learn about the ecology of the salt marshes and brackish bays, a visit to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a morning excursion to the pristine beach on Wallops Island. Several evenings will feature lectures on topics related to marine ecology and Chesapeake Bay. 

At the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge we will have a morning bus tour in a restricted area not accessible to cars.  After a picnic lunch, you will have the opportunity to explore the many trails in the Refuge, either by foot or bicycle. Bicycles can be rented at a location less than a mile from the Refuge. Bike rental is optional and the cost is not included in the trip fee, but the entrance fee to the Refuge is included. We will carpool to the Refuge, a 15-minute drive from our lodging, using our own cars. More information about the Refuge can be found on its website at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco/

The trip will end with a morning visit to Wallops Island. The Island is the home of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, the site from which sub-orbital rockets are launched for research purposes. If we are lucky, we may be able to witness a launch. Closed to the general public, the Island retains an isolated beach and magnificent dunes. There will be plenty of time for beach combing.  

We will be using tandem kayaks for this trip. Van transportation to each of the put-in sites is included in the trip fee.



Getting There

We will be staying at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, a non-profit group that is a major sponsor of coastal ecology research and education for the public. The address is: 34001 Mill Dam Road, Wallops Island, VA 22337. Wallops Island is located a few minutes' drive from the town of Chincoteague and the Wildlife Refuge. 

There is no public transportation to Chincoteague or Wallops Island. Participants flying to the area should plan to rent a car. Carpooling is encouraged and the leaders will help participants form carpools.

The nearest airport is the Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport in Salisbury, MD.  From the airport it is approximately a one-hour drive (40 miles). 

Another possibility is the Norfolk International Airport in Norfolk, VA. From the airport it is approximately a two-hour drive (95 miles).  From the airport plan to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a travel experience in itself.  The Bridge-Tunnel, 20 miles long, crosses the lower Chesapeake Bay. You can get more information about the Bridge-Tunnel on the web at http://www.cbbt.com/facts.html The toll at this time is $12 per car. 

For those wishing to combine this trip with a visit to Washington, D.C., it is approximately a four-hour drive from Dulles Airport to Wallops Island, about 190 miles.

Driving directions will be sent to participants at a later time.

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in the main residence hall of the Field Station. Bedrooms are dormitory style with shared baths. No more than two people will share a room. Each bedroom has three to four twin beds (no bunk beds). All linens will be provided.

We will have the use of a common room for meetings and socializing.

Please note that there is no smoking allowed on the Field Station campus, in the vans while traveling to our activities, or during our activities.     

Meals will be served in the main dining room. The first night of the trip will feature a “Chesapeake Boil," a bottomless variety of local shellfish and seafood cooked Chesapeake style. There will be options for those allergic to shellfish and vegetarians.  Another night will feature dinner at one of the iconic restaurants in Chincoteague. All meals are included in the trip fee. Vegetarians can be accommodated. 

Trip Difficulty

This trip will be moderately challenging for experienced kayakers. All trips are on flat water. Distances will be moderate, typically no more than five to six miles, but wind and other conditions can increase the difficulty of the trip. Our tandem kayaks are stable and maneuverable in windy conditions.    

Equipment and Clothing

All kayaking equipment will be provided: kayaks, life jackets, and paddles.  Participants should bring one to two bathing suits, quick-drying clothing, synthetic tops (polypropolene, capolene, thermax), footwear that can get muddy and wet, attachable hat, waterproof sunscreen, and insect repellant. 

For touring Chincoteague and Wallops Island, sneakers or other comfortable shoes will be adequate. Chincoteague is a beach community. Casual sports clothes are welcome at all restaurants and shops. 

A more extensive equipment list will be sent at a later time.


  • Gosner, Kenneth L., A Field guide to the Atlantic Seashore: From the Bay of Fundy to Cape Hatteras.
  • Teal, Mildred and John, Life and Death of the Salt Marsh.
  • Sibley, David Allen, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.
  • Horton, Tom, Bay Country.
  • Warner, William W., Beautiful Swimmers.
  • White, Christopher P., Chesapeake Bay: A Field Guide.

You might also want your favorite field guide for identifying seashells.


There are many issues facing the future of Chesapeake Bay due to development and large-scale agriculture. The Eastern Shore of Chesapeake is being “loved to death." The steady increase of vacation homes over the last 10-20 years, as well as the accumulation of man-made roads, parking lots, and shopping centers have resulted in an imbalance between impervious surfaces and forestland.  Whereas soil acts as nature’s “green filter," purifying water as it soaks into the land, impervious surfaces channel large quantities of rainwater into streams at high velocity. This urban runoff often contains pollutants that have an impact on fisheries, oyster beds, and the region’s supply of Blue Crabs, an Eastern Shore delicacy. The threat of economic impact on the region has resulted in both government and private programs to keep the Bay pristine. We will learn about the Bay and its future during our time on the water and during evening discussions.  

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.



Marjorie Richman is an avid outdoorsperson who enjoys sharing her enjoyment of nature with the companionship of a group. Since the 1980s she has been leading Sierra Club trips to various destinations in the United States and abroad. She believes the best way to instill an interest in conservation is simply to spend time in nature. A retired computer specialist, when not leading trips she spends time on her hobbies, which include hiking, kayaking, photography, and opera.


Since 1993, Peggy Hepburn has participated in, led, and cooked on many Sierra Club trips from California to the Caribbean. She enjoys the camaraderie that the Sierra Club trip participants always seem to share, and always looks forward to another hiking and exploring adventure in the outdoors.

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