Finding places to camp that are only reachable by kayak can sometimes be a challenge. State park paddle-in campsites require reservations weeks (or sometimes months!) in advance, which requires quite a bit of planning. Other sites are first-come, first-served, which means your camping plans might not come to fruition if someone arrives there before you. Then, if you’re familiar with paddling around coastal Virginia, you’ve probably spotted lots of potential campsites on sandy beaches and lonely islands, but most likely that land is privately owned.
There is, however, a solution to your spontaneous kayak-camping needs in a sleepy waterman’s town called Saxis, Virginia, located on the Eastern shore.
Saxis is situated on the Chesapeake Bay, just south of the Maryland-Virginia border. In order to reach Saxis by car, you’ll first need to drive through a beautiful, marshy expanse of land, known as the Saxis Wildlife Management Area. The marshes are teeming with life, and the salt-laden ghost forests give an eerie glimpse into what the landscape looked like decades ago.
Before you venture on your kayak-camping adventure, be sure to obtain a free access permit from the Department of Wildlife Resources.
While camping here is primitive and there are no designated campsites, we highly recommend seeking out one of the sandy beaches, marked on the map above by yellow stars. Using the Eastern shore water trails map, you can easily locate seven (yes, 7!) places to launch, within a 5 mile paddle of one of these beaches. If you choose to launch at Hammocks Landing, it’ll only be a 1.3 mile journey to the closest beach.
Aside from a few small, recreational fishing boats, you’ll feel like you are the only people around for miles and miles. And as you take in the view from the beach, the only sign of life is the working waterfront of Hammocks Landing; the entire viewscape in all directions is void of development.
When visiting in the summer, the bright greens of the marsh grasses are stunning against the expansive, clear blue skies. Wildlife viewing is also spectacular. Glossy ibis, snowy egrets, American oystercatchers, and willets are all common sightings. You may even hear clapper rails cackling from their marsh hideouts. In early summer, it is very common to spot diamondback terrapins climbing up out of the water to nest in the sandy soil during the day, and lightning bugs (or fireflies, depending on where you’re from!) dotting the marsh grasses at dusk.
Before you set up camp, be sure to check the tide schedule and ensure your tent is set up above the high tide line. While it’s still light out, you might even be lucky enough to find some driftwood to build a fire, but don’t expect to find enough for a fire to last all evening, since the closest wooded area is at least two miles away. And while you may feel like you have the place entirely to yourself, be sure to pack up food appropriately, as foxes are frequent visitors to the beaches. Then, once you’re all settled in, get ready for an unobscured view of a sunset over the Chesapeake Bay.
The only less-than-perfect thing to note about camping at Saxis is the bugs. Right around sun-down and again at sun-up, the no-see-ums could come out in full force if winds are calm. But don’t let this deter you from visiting. Insect repellant is helpful, but long sleeves, long pants, and a bug net for your head go a long way! And a smoky campfire can also keep the insects at bay.
After a restful evening, going for a sunrise paddle will be the perfect start to the day. But you likely won’t have the creeks to yourself. Watermen are typically on the water at dawn, pulling in their daily catch. In this area, Atlantic blue crabs are what most of them are after. In fact, you can even purchase soft shell crabs right at Hammocks Landing – it doesn’t get much more Eastern shore than that!
If you’re not interested in buying fresh crabs to take home, you can dine-in just down the road at Captain E’s Hurricane Grill & Tiki Bar to get your fix of fresh, Eastern shore seafood. Stopping by this funky eatery is the perfect post-camping meal. Or, if you’re feeling super adventurous, you could even set up camp, paddle to Captain E’s for dinner, and then paddle back to your tent! The closest beach suitable for camping is just a 2 mile paddle from the restaurant. If that’s your plan, call ahead to make sure they’ll be open during your visit!
To learn more about Saxis Wildlife Management Area, visit the DWR website. Click here for camping regulations on Virginia’s wildlife management areas. For more places to go kayak-camping, check out Eight Gorgeous Places to Go Kayak-Camping in Coastal Virginia.
Happy Water Trails!