Alex is a Virginia Beach local that enjoys the wondrous natural beauty of Virginia and sampling local food and drink.
Kiptopeke State Park is located just a few miles away from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on Virginia's Eastern shore. There are two ways to get there. The first is to come up the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which is about a 20 minute drive. There is a toll to cross, it is a little ridiculous. If you have never been on a bridge tunnel before it can be a little intimidating. For some reason, most people's reaction is to drive slower. Just drive the speed limit and you'll be fine. They closely monitor conditions on the water and if the winds are too high they will not let you cross. The second way is to come down through Maryland or Delaware.
The weather on the eastern shore can be a little on the unpredictable side. It's often a little cooler than it is on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, likely because there is a little strip of land with water on two sides. That water is also what leads to strong storms. The storm systems roll off the mainland of Virginia and then strengthen over the warm shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Not to mention there are storms that come in off the Atlantic Ocean that can also be a little rough from time to time.
The storm shelters at the park are well labeled. Each of the bathrooms and cabins is a storm shelter. The main door for the bathrooms locks and the buildings themselves are very sturdy. The warnings about severe weather and tornados are no joke. The first thing you should do upon arrival is familiarize yourself with where the storm shelters are. Hopefully you won't need them, but if you do it's best to get there as fast as possible.
There is abundant wildlife at Kiptopeke. We watched dolphins hunting in the waters just offshore. There are dozens of species of fish and invertebrates (including the famous blue crab) caught in the waters off the fishing pier. Speaking of the fishing pier, it is the only place you can legally fish in the park, and it is open late at night to allow for fishing nocturnal species. You can literally camp in the park and catch your dinner at the pier.
The park's claim to fame is the many species of birds of prey that call the park home and migrate through. There is a report tower at the picnic area where you can get a birds eye view of the meadow and down to the shoreline. Signs are placed to help you identify the birds of prey. There is even a giant sign that counts each species seen by the day and year since the park opened. It's a lot of birds. One of the most populous birds in the park is the bald eagle, which if you have never watched one hunt, is truly a sight to behold.
Read More from WanderWisdom
There are also songbirds, waterfowl, and many migratory species. On our second night camping, we listened to a great horned owl calling for nearly an hour. It was amazing to hear. The entire time we were at the park we could hear birds. The park also has a healthy population of whitetail deer, rabbits, and foxes.
Kiptopeke is a rather small park, I won't lie. You can hike all the trails in a matter of a few hours if you don't make stops. All of the hiking trails are relatively short, the longest is only a little over a mile, and the grades as easy. There are a couple of trails that have some changes in elevation, which can be a little tricky to navigate in the sandy soil.
There are 'hidden trails' as well. Not far from our campsite there is a bald eagle overlook. The sign says there is no beach access from the overlook. Well, we wanted to see the sunset over the water so we checked it out. Not far from the end of the boardwalk there was a gap in the railing, it had clearly been made by the rangers as there was a new wood posting used to make the gap. There was also a clear trail that lead right down to the beach. It was clearly recently made and there was no signage that indicated to not use the path. So, naturally, we took it. It was steep but well worth the trip down.
There were a few paths like that on the trails, where they looked a little sketchy and like they might not be real trails but there would be a bench at the end overlooking the water. We were impressed with how well-maintained all the trails were. In all, it made for a nice morning of hiking and bird watching and ended with a lovely walk on the beach.
Honestly, this was the only place we were a little disappointed. Compared to the stores at some of the other state parks we've been to, it was very small. It is literally a building, with no AC, that is the size of my living room. There are some camping supplies, limited fishing gear and bait, and a few souvenirs. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't get the Kiptopeke mug from the store....
We did enjoy our ice cream after our morning of hiking though. I will say they had a fairly nice supply of ice cream bars and cones.
I really loved this park. We'll most likely camp there at least once yearly because it was such a quiet park. Unless we were planning on visiting one of the many wineries near the park I don't think we'd go for just hiking. Only because it is so expensive to cross the bay bridge tunnel. Though, if some of the migratory birds of prey are coming through the park, I could see myself parking at the raptor stand and enjoying the day.
The park itself wasn't very busy even though the weather was amazing. Honestly we saw more people at the fishing pier than we did at the camp grounds. It was amazing to see so many people come and enjoy the park to fish.