The Last Word - November 2019
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inGRATITUDE

First Landing State Park in Virginia

By Emily Tipping


I recently was given a copy of the newly released "America's Best Day Hikes: Spectacular Single-Day Hikes Across the States," by Derek Dillinger. The photography is beautiful, and the descriptions of the various hikes are compelling. In the whole book, there is only one hike listed that I've ever taken: the Angels Landing trail at Zion National Park in Utah. However, flipping through the pages, it's hard not to put every single trail on your bucket list.

That said, I realize that, like Angels Landing, which is a good climb and features a section that is not for the faint of heart or acrophobic, many of these trails seem a bit beyond my ability these days. Which means if I'm going to tackle some of them, I'm going to have to get into better day-hiking shape.

So, when I recently had a little extra time to spend in Virginia, I pointed my car toward First Landing State Park.

At the entry station, I asked the staffer which was his favorite trail in the park; he pointed me to the Long Creek trail, and I was off.

First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach is where English colonists first landed in 1607, and features cypress swamps and a range of interior waterways. The park was built in part by an all African-American Civil Conservation Corps from 1933 to 1940, and is a National Natural Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The park features 20 miles of trails, as well as a mile and a half of beach frontage on Chesapeake Bay. Recreational and educational activities abound, with cabins and campsites, picnic areas and boat ramps. Historical and educational exhibits can be found in The Chesapeake Bay center, and the Trail Center hosts a conference room, courtyard, pavilion and amphitheater.

First Landing State Park is Virginia's most-visited state park, and I will admit that when I first got on the trail, I was a bit put off by the traffic. But once other trails branched off and I was a mile or so in, everything got very quiet, and other than an occasional trail runner, I saw few people on my out-and-back trip, which, combined with some other side-trail explorations, ended up covering around 11 miles, featuring close-up views of bald cypress swamps and some nice climbs to beautiful views of the lagoons and forest.

Eleven miles with hills and trails was no small feat for someone who's just getting started on day hiking after a 20-plus-year break, but I was glad to find I could manage it with enthusiasm, and without too much ibuprofen the following day. Mostly, I'm grateful to the gentleman at the entrance for telling me how to find my way to the start of the Long Creek trail. It was well worth the effort. RM