Kiptopeke State Park

I am the type of person who likes to stay on top of projects and tasks because I get anxious when I get too far behind. Apparently, I am also the type of person who writes about a summer beach trip the week before Halloween. To be fair, we moved this summer, and moving with a baby is NO JOKE. I still feel like I am playing catch-up, especially when you factor in Daughter #1’s return to school, Daughter #2’s first birthday (!!!), some changes to my husband’s work schedule, and my transition from full-time employee to full-time stay at home mom with part-time employment all happening within a span of several weeks. In any case, I am going to try and get myself back on track with blogging, because it really does bring me an inordinate amount of joy. Without further ado, let’s jump into my description of Kiptopeke State Park!

For those of you keeping track, Kiptopeke is our 11th state park (we have since visited our 12th park and will likely visit lucky #13 before the end of the year, so stay tuned!). It is the only state park located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. If you think of the state of Virginia as a westward facing turtle, the Eastern Shore would be its disconnected tail , and Kiptopeke State Park can be found at the southwestern tip of said tail (follow me for more map metaphors).

There are two ways to get to Kiptopeke State Park from mainland Virginia by car: take route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and drive south through Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or head down to the Virginia Beach area and take the 17.6 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which leaves you just a few miles from the park. Both options were about four hours and 20 minutes from our home in Northern Virginia, so we opted for the Maryland route. I imagine from almost anywhere else in Virginia, the Virginia Beach route would be faster.

Kiptopeke State Park is located a few miles south of the charming beach town of Cape Charles, which I will blog about eventually. The park is home to five miles of trails, multiple lodging opportunities, a playground, and two beautiful beaches along the Chesapeake Bay.

Obligatory sign photo

Since we were staying in Cape Charles for a week, I had the opportunity to make two trips to Kiptopeke. The first one was a morning visit with the whole family. We drove as far as we could down the park’s main road, until we reached the parking lot for the fishing pier and beaches. After glancing at the map, we headed towards the signage for the northern beach.

Once we crossed the sandy path at the entrance, we were greeted with a magnificent view of an empty and unspoiled stretch of sand and sea (well technically, bay).

The photo really doesn’t do it justice.

Granted, it was around 8:30 in the morning, but I believe this is the only time we’ve ever had an entire beach to ourselves. Hoping to make the most of it before Daughter #2 needed her morning nap, we found a cozy spot with partial shade from one of the dunes. Daughter #2 enjoyed her breakfast with a delicious side of sand, while Daughter #1 splashed around in the water.

One of the nice things about the beaches in this area are that the water depth changes very gradually, making it possible to get farther out into the bay on foot than you can typically reach at many ocean beaches.

While the girls and my husband were keeping themselves busy, I studied the park’s famous concrete ships. Kiptopeke is home to the aging remains of 12 concrete ships that date back to World War II. I believe I first heard about these “ghost ships” towards the end of episode 28 of Virginia Outdoor Adventures, one of my favorite podcasts. More recently, Daughter #1 and I read about them in Virginia is for Adventurers, a children’s chapter book by Tara Fisher. Today the ships serve to protect the park’s beaches and pier, but you can read more about their history and see close-up photos here. The following photos depict the ships from my spot in the sand.

After an hour or so, Daughter #2 was getting sleepy and the temperatures were steadily climbing, so we decided to head back to our Airbnb for nap time. I promised Daughter #1 we would come back to Kiptopeke, and I followed through the next day. This time, just the two of us returned. We decided to start off at the playground, so that’s where we parked. The playground has two sets of jungle gyms for different age groups, with simple but entertaining equipment.

Just on the other side of the playground was a lovely meadow of wildflowers that was meant to attract butterflies and bees. It was doing so successfully while we were there.

Monarch Meadow

There was an ADA accessible bird observatory adjacent to the meadow, complete with signage listing the types of birds you could find in the park. We didn’t see any birds circling around, but it was fun to to climb to the top.

Hawk Observatory

After climbing down from the observatory, we continued through the clearing along the meadow until we got to a small, unmarked trail leading into the trees.

We stayed on the trodden grass so as not to disrupt the wild grasses in the meadow.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend hopping onto an unmarked path, but I had the trail map in my hand and could see the boardwalk in the distance.

Just a few steps later, we found ourselves at the Wood Warbler Boardwalk. We hopped onto it and followed it to where it opened up to the southernmost of the park’s two beaches (the one we did not visit the day before).

Daughter #1 limboed under the railing far more gracefully than I did.
The boardwalk was so peaceful, and quite empty (it was pretty hot out by this point, and I think most of the park visitors were already at the beach).
That view, though!

We were excited when we finally made it to the beach, and we were looking forward to a rewarding swim. This particular beach was lovely and had a better view of the concrete ships than the northern beach, but it was on a much narrower strip of sand and had more seaweed on its shore.

In addition to the concrete ships in the distance, this photo also includes the park’s fishing pier on the right.

After strolling along for a bit, we decided to walk across the adjacent parking lot to the beach we had visited the day before, because it had a little more space to spread out.

We stopped to read this sign along the way.

We spent about an hour and a half swimming around and picnicking at our final destination. We had so much fun that I forgot to pull out my phone and take any more photos that afternoon (I love it when that happens).

When we were sunned and splashed out, I decided to walk the main road back to where we left our car, rather than retracing our steps on the paths and boardwalk. To make it go even faster, I left Daughter #1 with our bags so I could make the trip empty-handed. Pro tip: if you leave everything behind so you don’t have to carry anything to your car, remember that you will still need to bring your car keys with you. If you don’t, you will have to return to your starting point on foot and bribe your rightfully irritated child with a popsicle from the park store. Ask me how I know this.

On this park map, I included the route we took on our second visit, along with where we parked. If you are thinking that I had my kid do the route drawing, you would be incorrect. She probably would have done a better job. Map source

Overall, we had a fabulous time at Kiptopeke State Park. I think this might actually be Daughter #1’s favorite state park so far, and it was definitely worth the trip to the Eastern Shore. At this point, we’ve been to state parks that feature valleys, lakes, rivers, gigantic rock formations, and beaches, and there is still so much more to see. I don’t think the vastness of Virginia’s geographic diversity will ever cease to amaze me. I’m looking forward to the next adventure!

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