So you want sandy beaches, stunning marsh creeks, charming inns, AND wineries? All in the same weekend? Sounds like you might be asking a lot, but Lancaster County, located on the southern tip of the Northern Neck has got you covered. Bordered by the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay, and dotted with smaller, scenic creeks, this region has so much to offer the adventure-hungry paddler.
Where to Sleep
Before you even start planning your weekend paddling getaway, you’ll first need to book a place to stay if you’re coming from out of town. While there are a handful of great places to stay in the area, we’ve rounded up a list of 4 spots that are sure to paddlers of all interests.
An icon of Lancaster County and a stop along the Virginia Oyster Trail, The Tides Inn is an entire resort that has a little bit for everyone. From yoga sessions and river ecology experiences, to sunset cruises and kayak rentals, this establishment is beautifully situated on a quiet cove with easy access to both the river and the bay.
If you’re looking for something with less of a resort feel, and more historic charm, be sure to check out the Back INN Time bed & breakfast, located between Kilmarnock and Irvington. It is also a stop on the Virginia Oyster Trail and is over a hundred years old.
If you want to bring the whole family, check out this vacation rental. Complete with a pool, hot tub, hammock, and direct access to the Rappahannock River.
The Corrotoman River is a smaller tributary leading down to the Rappahannock River, and this AirBnB property is perfect for a couple looking for a quiet, waterfront spot. It may appear to be a rustic bungalow at first glance, but the interior is both modern and charming. Use of kayaks is also included in your stay!
Where to Paddle and Explore
So many choices, so little time! One could probably spend weeks exploring this region of Virginia in a kayak, but you can still squeeze a nice variety of scenic paddles in, even if you just have a weekend. We’ve done our best to narrow down a list of 4 places to explore – 3 spots to paddle and 1 spot to explore by foot!
1. Explore Bush Mill Stream via Cooper’s Landing
For the novice paddler, Bush Mill Stream is a beautiful and safe choice, as it is typically sheltered from high winds and heavy boat traffic. Although it’s not technically within Lancaster County, it’s not a far drive at all. The best spot to launch is at Cooper’s Landing, located at the end of Cooper’s Landing Road in Heathsville (if you google “Cooper’s Landing”, google maps takes you to the WRONG side of the river)! Use this link instead. Once you’re on the water, you’ll want to turn right and head upstream. Not far up the river, it splits off and you’ll need to turn to the left to follow Bush Mill Stream. Not far after the split, you’ll notice a pedestrian bridge; this is part of the Bush Mill Stream Natural Area Preserve. There’s even an official kayak landing spot here if you want to get out and stretch or have a picnic lunch, but be prepared for the area to be a bit overgrown in the summertime, making the landing hard to locate.
Heading even further up the creek, you’ll eventually leave the residential part of the river and enter the preserve. This is a great spot to see waterfowl in the spring and fall, and butterflies and beautiful marsh flowers in the summer.
2. Visit an Oyster Farm on Greenvale Creek
Another spot that is great for beginners and is protected from most winds is Greenvale Creek, located in Lancaster. This creek has a little bit more boat traffic than Bush Mill Stream, so it is rated at an intermediate level on our water trails map. Start your adventure by launching at Greenvale Creek Boat Ramp. The creek is packed with great blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles so be sure to keep an eye on the skie and to the trees as your paddle. If you head to the south, a focal point is Greenvale Creek Marina, home of Rogue Oysters, a family-owned farm that welcomes visitors and tours. If you call ahead, you can even place an order for some fresh seafood, or schedule a tour of their facility. Be sure to also check out our recent blog post about Rogue Oysters and what they’re all about!
3. Circumnavigate Fleet’s Island
For the advanced paddler, paddling around Fleet’s Island is a real treat! Several launching spots can be found just off of Windmill Point Rd. This loop traverses both the outer shorelines of the island, as well as the more protected Little Oyster Creek, which meanders through the interior of the island. While on the outer shoreline, you’ll could be exposed to boat wakes, wind, and waves, so we highly recommend only advanced paddlers to explore this area. However, for those that are prepared to brave those elements, you could be in for a treat! Floating oyster farms are a focal point, usually covered with pelicans, terns, and gulls. Small pods of dolphins can also be spotted in this area, as it is the open bay. Towards the mouth of Little Oyster Creek there are some beautiful, white, sandy beaches. Since they are private land, please be respectful and stay below the high tide line. Speaking of the high tide line, it is best to avoid high tide when paddling Little Oyster Creek, as it could be difficult to paddle underneath the Route 695 bridge! Another thing to watch out for are submerged trees stumps on the southern end of the island – be sure to keep your distance from the island in this area. For more details on paddling Little Oyster, be sure to check out our latest blog post from a local certified ecotour guide on what you may find here.
4. Stroll to the Beaches of Hughlett Point
If you’re just about paddled out (wait, is that possible?), but you still want to explore a beautiful outdoor space, be sure to head to Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve. If you have wheels for your kayak, or one of those cool foldable or inflatable kayaks or SUPs, you might be able to launch here, but keep in mind it’s a good 300 yard walk through the woods to get to the beach. Once you get to the beach, you can hike an entire loop, exploring stunning beaches, salt marshes, and wooded areas. The summer and early fall months may be super buggy in the woods and along the marsh, but the picturesque beaches are still enjoyable, even if you can’t hike the full loop.
Where to Enjoy Happy Hour
After spending the day paddling and exploring Lancaster County, it’ll be time to kick back and enjoy some of the local libations! While the Northern Neck has a whole list of vineyards and breweries to check out, we narrowed a quick list of 4 go-to spots that are a short drive from most lodging options in the area.
Located in Kilmarnock, Good Luck Cellars is a popular stop along the Virginia Oyster Trail. The family that owns the vineyard has faced some huge challenges in 2020-2021, including a hit from a tornado and the loss of a loved one. But with a little luck, this vineyard is still thriving, despite some curveballs thrown their way. And the wine itself? Well, just trust us; it’s well worth the visit!
If you’re looking for a mix of historic charm, agri-artisanship, and local libations, look no further than Ditchley Cider Works! Not only have they established an apple orchard, but they also raise grass-fed beef and heritage hogs. You can even paddle to Ditchley, as they are located on the water – just be sure to call ahead to make sure you don’t intrude on a private event!
While beer is clearly the primary focal point of this establishment, music is a close second! Owner Don Lee has been playing music and brewing beer since 1970, and it shows in all aspects of his business. If a cold brew and some live music is what you’re after, Kilmarnock Brewhaus is where you need to be.
This local vineyard is hard to miss when you’re driving along Irvington Road, as the entrance is marked by to giant corkscrews! Tastings, flights, and charcuterie are available most days, and on the weekends, local seafood is added to the vineyard’s menu. The owners of Dog & Oyster also run the Hope and Glory Inn, located just down the road in downtown Irvington.
About the Author: Laura Scharle lives on the Eastern shore of Maryland and is a frequent paddler in coastal Virginia. She is a Virginia certified ecotour guide and is an independent marketing contractor with a focus in ecotourism and heritage tourism. Laura can be reached through our Eastern Shore ecotour guide listings.