Though linked by a lean length of bridge and tunnel to the state’s largest metropolitan area, Virginia’s Eastern Shore seems a surprising world apart, more cotton fields and tiny coastal communities than traffic snarls and shopping malls. Connected to this other, more urban, world by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT), a 20 mile-long engineering feat that spans the lower end of the Chesapeake Bay, the flat, agrarian Delmarva Peninsula, aka the Eastern Shore, sees far less tourists than other destinations inland, but for the nature-lover interested in uncrowded seascapes and snowy egret sightings, the paddler looking for long-distance water trails, the angler after some saltwater action or the romantic in search of a secluded cove in which to catch a rare East Coast sunset, the Eastern Shore offers seductive quiet within a stone’s throw of big city.
Two of the Eastern Shore’s most accessible sights, Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge and Kiptopeke State Park, are within a few minutes of the north end of the CBBT and well-worth a recreational detour - both have boat launches, and offer access to ocean and bay fishing respectively. Kiptopeke also has a protected swimming area and sandy beach that proffers unrivaled East Coast sunsets just a short walk from tree-shaded campsites, while the wildlife refuge has on hand a short butterfly trail and peaceful observation points from which to spot sea birds in tidal salt marsh.
Cape Charles, an easy drive north on Highway 13, is the next real town of any size, endowed with a quaint little historic district, fishing pier and golf greens as well as sandy beach. Onancock, a number of inlets up, is the other notable tourist stop on the west shore of the Eastern shore and the port from which seasonal boats for Tangier Island depart.
A number of small, uninhabited islands shield the Atlantic side of the peninsula; some of them open to hunters in season, strong paddlers and motorized watercraft. The official long-distance paddling route, the 100-mile long Seaside Water Trail, passes between these islands and the peninsula; get more information at the Eastern Shore NWR before you launch your kayak.
Chincoteague Island, on the northeast side of the peninsula just below the Virginia border, is the region’s largest town, situated on the island of the same name. This charming seaside spot is known both for its fresh seafood and its annual pony penning, when wild horses are swum from neighboring Assateague Island over for auction. Accessible by boat are serene beaches on Assateague Island, the southern tip of which is protected as part of Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge which extends in turn to the southern edge of Assateague Island National Seashore.
There are one or two things to keep in mind when visiting this relatively undeveloped region. First, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a toll system, cash only, $12 one way ($5 more for same day return with receipt) for standard vehicles. Second, don’t come expecting an unending progression of typical roadside accommodations; there are a handful of hotels, bed & breakfasts and campsites locally but a visitor would do well to research these in advance and make reservations well ahead of time during summer months.
The south end of the Delmarva Peninsula is 20 miles from the north side of Virginia Beach via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Chincoteague is 66 miles northeast of Cape Charles and 48 miles southeast of Salisbury, Maryland.