Doggin Eastern Shore Virginia

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Doggin Eastern Shore Virginia

by Doug Gelbert

If you are like most folks familiar with the land on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay when you hear the term "Eastern Shore" you think "Maryland." But there is a little tail of land - about 40 miles long and a few miles wide - hanging off the Delmarva (that's Delaware, Maryland AND Virginia) Peninsula that belongs to the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Not that Virginians rush to embrace this part of their state, 20 miles across the Chesapeake Bay at its closest, either. Look at familiar profiles of the state of Virginia and see how many include the dismembered Eastern Shore.

The most famous part of the Eastern Shore of Virginia is Chincoteague Island and its famous ponies romping in the Atlantic Ocean surf. But this is a big washout for dog owners - no dogs allowed at Chincoteauge (although you can get the same experience a bit further up the coast at Assateague in Maryland). Still, this is no reason for active dog owners to plow hurriedly down Route 13 though the Eastern Shore Virginia.

Just across the remarkable Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. Pull in and take a look around - it's dog-friendly. There are two short one-way trails, the Butterfly trail and the Wildlife Trail, both about a half-mile long. Each is flat and open, exposed to the ocean breezes. The Wildlife Trail travels through the remnants of a World War II Air Force Station, including two observation overlooks. You can also hike with your dog along the ocean marshes on the uncrowded refuge roads.

About three miles up the road, on the Chesapeake side of the peninsula is the delightful Kiptopeke State Park. The site was purchased by the Virginia Ferry Corporation for the northern terminus of the Virginia Beach to Eastern Shore Ferry. In 1949, when the terminus was moved from Cape Charles, the site was named Kiptopeke Beach in honor of the younger brother of a king of the Accawmack Indians who had befriended early settlers to the area. Kiptopeke means "Big Water." In 1950 the terminus opened after the completion of a $2.75 million pier, promoted as the world's largest and most modern ferry pier.

More than four miles of fun trails for your dog traverse this bayside park. The Baywoods Trail slips through an uplands hardwood forest on wide, old roads and connects with expansive, sandy beaches via an extensive network of wooden boardwalks through the dunes. The southern beach is perfect for a hike but observe signs designating the special habitat area that is closed to visitors. Bicycle trails are available along the park's entrance road and the Raptor, Songbird, Chickadee and Mockingbird trails.

There is fantastic swimming for your dog on the sandy beaches of the eastern Chesapeake Bay. Ships that have been placed offshore as breakwaters give less adventurous dogs a chance to play in gentle waves.

Since 1963, Kiptopeke has been the site of bird population studies. Sponsored by the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory, formerly known as KESTRSAL, and licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, volunteers capture, examine, weigh, band and release resident and migratory birds each year from mid-August through November. In the raptor research area, hawks, kestrels, osprey and other birds of prey are observed and banded from September through November. Kiptopeke's hawk observatory is among the top 15 nationwide.

And for those who not only stop on the Eastern Shore of Virginia but want to stay awhile, dogs are allowed in the campground for a $3 fee.

Doug Gelbert is the author of over 20 books, including The Canine Hiker?s Bible. To subscribe to his FREE Newsletter on hiking with your dog, receive a copy of Rules for Dogs in 100 of the Most Popular National Park Service Lands, or listen to his podcast DOGGIN' AMERICA, visit In the warmer months he leads canine hikes for tours, guiding packs of dogs and humans on hiking adventures. Tours, ranging from one-day trips to multi-day explorations, visit parks, historical sites and beaches.

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