When most people imagine traveling to the northern end of the Eastern shore, Chincoteague typically is the first thing that comes to mind. With its world-famous ponies, fresh seafood, and a variety of awesome water trails, it’s a paddler’s paradise. But if you head up towards the Maryland border and head to the Chesapeake side, rather than the seaside, a different kind of paradise awaits.
The town of Saxis, Virginia is a quieter version of a paddler’s paradise. Although the town is technically on an island, there is a causeway that crosses the marsh, connecting it to the mainland and allowing for easy access to explore by car. And all around the island are marsh creeks that are ideal for exploring by kayak, paddleboard, or canoe.
One of the coolest paddling features of the area around Saxis is the Saxis Wildlife Management Area, managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. This tract of land is over 5,000 acres and much of it is marshland, providing ample paddling opportunities packed with wildlife viewing. Between the town of Saxis, the wildlife management area (WMA), and adjacent land, there are five different places to launch!
If you’re looking to find a sandy beach to land on for a picnic lunch, your best bet is to launch from the Saxis Harbor or Hammocks Landing. Just be mindful of landing on private vs. public land. If you stop on private land, just be respectful and stay below the high tide line. This map shows all of the public land within the WMA.
If paddling protected marsh creeks is more of your thing, definitely launch at either Marsh Market or Cattail Creek landings. These landings are specifically for non-motorized vessels and are way less crowded than a typical boat ramp. In fact, you’ll likely be the only person in sight if you launch at either one of these spots.
No matter where you choose to launch in the Saxis area, chances are, you will feel like you are the only person around for miles and miles. Cattail Creek and Messongo Creek are particularly serene without a sign of human life along the shorelines, and not a sound except for the breez blowing through the marsh grasses or a distant boat somewhere out in the bay. The tranquility of this area is enough to impress anyone. You can’t help but stop paddling every now and then, just take in the serenity.
Saxis also has incredible wildlife viewing opportunities. Marsh creeks are packed with diamondback terrapins, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, grass shrimp, periwinkles, and the occasional water snake. Egrets, herons, rails, harriers, and a wide range of shorebirds and waterfowl all frequent the marshes. And keep your eyes to the sky too for osprey and bald eagles.
If you’re not much of a paddler, or if you have friends that aren’t too keen on paddling, Saxis also offers several options for checking out the waterfront without getting your feet wet. The town has a wonderful public fishing pier overlooking the Pocomoke Sound, as well as a small, public beach which can also be used as another place for paddlers to launch.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of paddling or taking in the views, it’ll be time to explore Saxis a little further. At first glance, it may seem like the town doesn’t have much to offer visitors (other than paddlings and bayfront views) but that just isn’t so! During your visit, be sure to stop by the Saxis History Museum. The museum helps to preserve the culture of the island and those that have made a living on the surrounding waters. It is open on Saturdays, 10-3, but you can also visit by appointment – how convenient!
If you love Saxis so much that you want to stay the night, there are multiple AirBnB properties available for rent on the island. As an added bonus, almost all of them are “superhosts” so that just speaks to the kind-hearted folks that call this island home!
Now no visit to Saxis Island is complete without some fresh, local seafood. As you make your way towards the Saxis Harbor, you’ll run into Captain E’s Hurricane Grill. This spot not only offers fresh, local seafood, but it also has incredible views of the Pocomoke Sound, Starling Creek, and Beasley Bay.
Now just picture this. You and your friends paddled a few miles of marsh creeks. You’ve now got marsh mud smeared on your legs and that crusty, salty feeling on your face. You have a cold brew in one hand, and a soft shell crab sandwich in the other as you watch the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay. Does life get any better than this?
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.