Sometimes overlooked by hikers and paddlers, Virginia’s Wildlife Management Areas provide ample opportunities for hiking, kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, and camping. Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are public lands that are managed by the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), and are most notably used for hunting. But outside of active hunting seasons, the trails and boat ramps are open to all types of outdoor recreation.
The Chickahominy WMA is no exception. Bordered by the Chickahominy River and Morris Creek, this area is a great spot to explore by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. If you don’t possess a fishing license, hunting license, or boat registration, you will need to obtain an DWR Access Permit in order to park in the WMA and utilize the launches. The DWR Access Pass can be purchased online ($4 for a daily pass, $23 for an annual pass).
There are two spots to launch within the Chickahominy WMA on Morris Creek. There is a soft launch access at the top of the creek on Wilcox Neck Road, and there is a boat ramp located 3.5 miles down the creek. As of July 2022, there is a large, downed tree across the creek, just a few yards down from the soft launch, making it nearly impossible to paddle down the creek, so if you’re interested in paddling Morris Creek, it’s important to launch at the boat ramp and paddle upstream.
As you begin your paddle upstream, be aware that although it may feel like you are the only person for miles, boaters do occasionally cruise the creek at pretty high speeds, so it’s important to stick close to the shorelines. Having a tall flag attached to your kayak is also not a bad idea so that you can alert potential boaters that you are in the area when you are tucked behind the marsh vegetation around a bend in the creek.
As you continue to paddle up the creek, you’ll likely be treated to some incredible wildlife sightings. Great blue herons and green herons can be spotted in the trees and marsh, while bald eagles and osprey can be seen soaring above. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a turtle or snake basking on logs or branches. In the summer, swarms of dragonflies and swallowtail butterflies will be flitting and fluttering amongst the pickerelweed along the shorelines.
It is definitely worth your effort to paddle upstream as far as possible. The last half mile going upstream has a completely different vibe than the rest of the creek because it gets very narrow and shaded, and your chances of spotting more wildlife increase. Paddling up the entire length of the creek makes for a 7-mile, roundtrip adventure. If seven miles is not enough, there are several smaller creeks along the way to explore, that feed into Morris Creek.
While the tidal flow in Morris Creek is not very strong, the best time to paddle Morris creek from the boat ramp is about an hour or two before high tide. You can paddle upstream with the tide, and then if you time it right, you can paddle back downstream on the outgoing tide. Paddling around high tide will also aid in reaching areas further upstream without getting stuck in the mud. In addition to timing your trip with the tides, it’s also important to plan your trip outside of deer and waterfowl hunting seasons, since the Chickahominy WMA is a popular spot for both seasons.
Most of Virginia’s WMAs also allow primitive camping. Not far from the Morris Creek boat ramp is an area that is suitable for setting up camp. Those paddlers interested in a kayak-camping trip could potentially launch from Chickahominy Riverfront Park and paddle 3.5 miles to the Morris Creek boat ramp, or from the WMA’s gravel boat ramp (located directly on the Chickahominy River to the north) and paddle 5 miles to the Morris Creek boat ramp. Before setting out on a kayak-camping adventure here, be sure to read up on DWR’s camping requirements and obtain a free camping authorization online.
For more information on paddling from the Chickahominy Riverfront Park and other nearby areas, be sure to check out this blog post: Spend a Weekend Circumnavigating Three Different Islands in the Lower Chickahominy Region
For more ideas on places to go kayak-camping in rural, coastal Virginia, check out this article: 8 Gorgeous Places to Go Kayak-Camping in Coastal Virginia
Happy Water Trails!