Virginia Is for Lovers: First Landing State Park
Where Is It?
First Landing History
First Landing State Park used to be known by a different name. It was originally called Sea Shore State Park. I'm king of glad they changed the name since all I could think about was 'she sells sea shells by the sea shore'. Keep in mind that a lot of locals (particularly those older than 40) will most likely call the park by its original name. This can cause a bit of confusion for those from out of the area.
First Landing is a great example of what the first Europeans found when they first landed (get the name?) in Virginia. The pristine dunes and undisturbed maritime forests are truly a sight to behold. The park itself consists of two parts, separated by shore drive. There is the beach side that boarders the Chesapeake Bay and the side that consists mainly of maritime forest that extends to the narrows. The narrows is a body of water that leads in to the Chesapeake Bay, the channels are narrow at points and have many turns. Don't let the river like appearance fool you, that is brackish water.
The campground at First Landing is on the side with the beach. While there is no beach camping at First Landing it is pretty darn close. The tent sites are to the right of the main beach area, while the RV sites are along both sides. First Landing also offers cabins and yurts in other areas of the park.
You can reserve your campground ahead of time, and can even pick out a site that works best for you. If being as close to the beach as possible is important to you, you can make sure you get the closest site. If being near the bathrooms is more of a priority you can arrange that too.
There are sites that offer hook ups for electric and plumbing, or just electric. Those sites are specifically marked on the map, they also come with a higher rental fee. Honestly after driving around the campground area I wouldn't say there are bad sites. I loved our site: it was fairly close to the beach, a short walk from the bathrooms, and we had portable water just across from us. Just make sure that you look at the map and the corresponding camp site information guide when you go to pick out your site because some sites are larger than others.
The campground offers an area for group camping, when you reserve this area you need to book for at least 3 sites. This area was the only place I would have considered crowded (I did not take pictures as I felt it was rude to take pictures of other people camping) and seemed to mainly be scouting groups.
The campgrounds are very well maintained. The roads are all clearly marked and the sites themselves are labeled. There are several bathhouses in the campground. Each has male and female restrooms with several stalls. (There were even outlets by the sinks in the women's restroom) There are also several closed showers. Outside has a large sink, I saw many people washing their dishes in the sink after dinner time.
There is parking available at each campsite. The rangers will only allow two cars per site. Some of the sites were able to fit two trucks with no problem. My site, however, I think it would have called for us to be a little creative with parking to fit two cars. There were a few sites that were close the swampy areas and the parking for those sites was very muddy. It did rainy quite heavily the night before so that very well could have been a contributing factor. A truck with 4 wheel drive may not have had a problem parking there, but my little sedan would never have made it out.
We enjoyed our stay at the campground at First Landing State Park so much that we planned a second trip for the fall. For our second trip we camped at the site directly next to our first campsite. It was a little larger, honestly a bit much for just two people but perfect for a family, and the price was a bit more each night. Once again I felt that we weren't too close to our neighbors, though we did have a clear view of two sites instead of one.
The ground at the campground is not level. It is also filled with roots and rocks. Our first trip we brought an old comforter to put under our sleeping bag. We made it through the night, but it was not comfortable. The comforter was not enough to provide relief from the hard ground and roots under the tent. For our second trip we made an investment. We got a camp cot with an air mattress. I scored it on Amazon and it was on sale. It made a huge difference! The only downside was it took up nearly the entire tent. However, I can tell you after spending the entire morning hiking the trails and walking the beach I was glad to be able to take a nap on a comfortable bed.
On both trips we noticed that many of the other campers had hammocks set up. The trees at the campground are just perfect for hammocks! We are already planning another camping trip for the spring and a hammock is on our list. The sand dunes on the beach provide natural protection from the wind and the tall pine trees combined with the smaller bent trees shelter the campground from wind and storms. It was windy for both of our camping trips (like over 20mph winds), but the campsites were hardly effected by the wind because of the unique maritime forest. Just imagine laying in a hammock with the gentle breeze coming through the campground. Doesn't that just sound relaxing?
While exploring the campground we did end up trying one of the other bathhouses. While it was better than an outhouse, it was not the same quality as the one by our campsite. Personally, unless it was an emergency I would walk a bit further to get to the better bathhouse. Speaking of the bathhouses, I needed to make a late night trip to the bathroom on our last trip. At 10:30pm the bathhouse was packed! There were people showering, using the outside sink for cleaning dishes, people were brushing their teeth at the sinks, and every stall in the bathroom was in use. I had never seen more than one person at the bathhouse before so it was a bit of a shock. The walk to and from was quite dark since most of the campfires had gone out, but the road was still easy to navigate.
I absolutely loved this tent! It was easy to assemble, I think it only took us 7 minutes which was great considering we never put up a tent ourselves before. It was roomy, though I'm not sure I'd want to be in it with 4 adults. It was so easy to take down, only one person needed to disassemble it. I felt that it was a great price for such a large tent, I'm very pleased with my investment.
First Landing state park has some of the best hiking in Virginia Beach. Well, its some of the only hiking in Virginia Beach, but that doesn't make it any less magical. The trails are not just paved walkways, there are some that have a bit of difficulty with roots extending from the ground and steep elevation changes and those who are not steady on their feet may want to stay to the easier paths. The trails are all clearly marked and there is a map that shows each trails length and difficulty rating.
I was a little disappointed that the only trail map we could find was at the trail center. We had walked from the campgrounds and had to follow the markers to get to the trail center so we could find a map and figure out what trails to do. It was maybe a mile from the campground to the trail center. In the future we could just follow the road from the entrance and it would be a straighter shot, but the scenery is lovely and it would only save a few minutes.
There is a large parking area with several picnic area near the trail center. There were even charcoal grills set up at the picnic sites and a playground.
Honestly, I'm a little upset with myself. I've lived in Virginia Beach for years, and been coming to First Landing regularly for several years and this was my first time on the hiking trails. I really felt like I had been missing out all this time. I loved how untouched the area felt. The maritime forest is just beautiful and feels otherworldly. I look forward to going back for day trips to hike all the trails.
The Cot with Air Mattress
After having a long night on the hard ground our first trip we knew we needed to get something to sleep on before our next trip. This cot had great reviews and I know why. It was easy to set up, though it was a bit heavy so it was a two person job. It comes with an air mattress and battery powered pump. The air mattress inflated in a few minutes and felt like a waterbed. The plastic of the mattress did squeak a bit whenever we moved at night, but the frame of the cot was sturdy and didn't make any noises. We used the same tent from our first trip and the bed fit nicely, but we couldn't use the side tables. They did look nice though when we took them out of the bag. It was nice being able to put all our bags under the cot, but our tent was a little on the small side for this bed since the bed took up the entire tent. In all, this bed allowed for a more comfortable sleep at night and it was heavenly when we took our post hike nap. I was glad that we had practice setting it up before our trip because the air pump doesn't come with batteries. In all this was a great purchase, and a great addition to our camping gear.
It should come as no surprise that I love the beach at First Landing. I've even dedicated an entire post to it before. It is considerably less crowded than the oceanfront. It feels more natural than the oceanfront. Not to mention it is one of the few beaches in the area that is dog friendly year round.
The beach can get a bit busy during peak vacation season, but I've never had an issue finding a spot. I'm also not afraid of walking for a bit. There are several boardwalks that lead to the beach, one for the main entrance and several for the campers. Both times we camped there was hardly anyone at the beach. It was a beautiful warm weekend with only a handful of people enjoying the beach. I'm sure in the summer there would be more people, but for late spring I was pleasantly surprised. Our second trip was a bit colder, which is to be expected in October, but the beach was still enjoyable.
Nearly every time we go to First Landing, even when we aren't camping, we see dolphins. If you keep an eye out on the water chances are pretty good you'll see them too. You'll also be able to see shorebird and if the water is clear you can see fish and crabs in the water. If you keep an eye to the sand you see little crabs scurrying around the beach.
I loved our camping getaway weekend. I had been worried because we saw a review online (the day of the trip) saying to stay away from a specific campsite and we had that site booked. The review had been wrong. Maybe they had made some changes. Maybe the review was fake. I don't know, but I was so happy that with our site. Like I mentioned earlier I didn't feel like there was a single site I saw that I felt was bad. They were all pretty much the same, just with different distances to different amenities.
Our untested tent did fantastic overnight and was plenty of room for the two of us. We learned how to improve our culinary adventures for future camping trips. Despite having a late check in time (4pm) we were able to fully make camp and relax before dinner.
We ended up taking two long walks on the beach. Watched several species of birds from our campsite. And we hiked nearly 5 miles on the maritime trails. I'd go camping at First Landing again in a heartbeat!
In fact we did. Just 4 months later we took a long weekend trip and it was amazing. It was just as fantastic as the first trip. I love how the campground feels like it is its own world, but it is so close to the restaurants and grocery stores on Shore Dr.
In all, after two trips I still don't think there is a bad site at the campground. The park rangers are all very nice. The park itself is well maintained. If you did want to leave the campground there is so much in the area. The Virginia Beach area is known for the orange crush, and if you want to try a good crush try hitting up Chick's Oyster Bar. The food is great, drinks are fantastic, and the view is second to none. If you want to go where the locals go, this is it.
First Landing State Park holds a special place in my heart. There is a reason it is the most visited state park in Virginia. The fact that you can go hiking in the forest, paddle boarding on the rivers of the narrows, and relax on the beach all at the same park is just amazing. I feel like I am able to connect with nature and recharge with each visit to First Landing.