Bucket List Journey

Adventurer Annette White is well-known for her travels around the world — here she shares her favorite outdoorsy things to do on Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Like most avid travelers, I love exploring undiscovered gems, and the 70-mile peninsula of the Eastern Shore of Virginia is surely one of them.

Settled in the 1600s, the Eastern Shore of Virginia has preserved its old-world charm and is filled with historical stories. But there’s another side to the Shore, a side that will have you suspended
in the air on a hang glider or hiking through sand dunes to a secluded beach.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is great for the history lover, but it’s also perfect for an outdoors fan like me.

With two coasts, six beaches, charming coastal towns and the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier islands on the East Coast, there’s plenty of adventure to be had — and adventure is my middle name. Whether you err to the daredevil side or are a romantic who just wants to enjoy some peace and quiet as you sojourn with nature, the Eastern Shore of Virginia has it all.

You just need to get off Route 13 and explore the best outdoorsy things to do in and around its nooks and crannies.

The famous ponies of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

1. See the Ponies of Chincoteague
The story about how the Chincoteague Ponies came to be on these islands (Chincoteague and Assateague) is mired in mystery — which only adds to their intrigue. There are two main theories:

Theory 1: These ponies were let loose on the island by early-17th-century settlers in an effort to avoid taxes and building expensive fences around their livestock.

Theory 2: These ponies are shipwreck survivors that found themselves marooned on these islands during that rampant 16th–17th-century period when there were a remarkable number of shipwrecks along the mid-Atlantic coastline.

No matter which theory excites you the most, taking a day off to bike or hike into the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to try to spot these ponies will definitely be something worth writing home about. You can easily rent a bike at the Bike Depot.

While you are in Chincoteague, take the time to enjoy all the other attractions that it has to offer. From eclectic art galleries to some of the best homemade ice cream you will ever have, at Island Creamery (try a scoop of the appropriately named Pony Tracks), this funky beach town will keep you busy and absolutely elated all day.

2. Go Hang Gliding
Have you ever had one of those dreams in which you were a bird? Remember how free and liberated you felt? Well, now, you have a chance to have that experience in real life and check something amazing off your bucket list — hang gliding! It is one of the top adventurous things to do before you die. At Virginia Hang Gliding, there are a few things that they do differently: Instead of jumping off a cliff, you will be towed up by a plane while strapped in tandem to a state-of-the-art glider with a professional hang-gliding pilot.

Once you hit 2,000 feet, 3,200 feet, 4,000 feet or a mile high (it all depends on how strongly your daredevil whispers into your ear), you will be set loose. From that moment on, until you land, you will experience freedom like you have never known. Your pilot will go as crazy as you let him. Tell him that you like roller coasters — I dare you!

3. Hike the Savage Neck Dunes
The Savage Neck Dunes is something only the locals know about. And I am giving away the secret, because its beauty is meant to be experienced. An easy hike through a maritime forest leads to pristine sand dunes and a secluded beach (I was the only one there!). It’s completely free, so pack a picnic, a camera and go. This 300-acre preserve has to be one of the most secluded places in Virginia (outside of Tangier Island). On your hike, you will stumble upon miles of dunes, a mostly deserted beach and possibly some colorful butterflies or even a bald eagle.

Tangier Island, Photo by Jay Fleming

4. Escape to Tangier Island
You know how they say there are some places in the Galapagos Islands or the Antarctic that have never felt the footprint of man? Well, you do not have to go to such extremes to feel like the last person on this planet. By simply taking a ferry out of Onancock, you can sail to Tangier Island, home to one of the most pristine and isolated beaches this side of the United States.

About 12 miles off the mainland, a visit to Tangier Island is like escaping to a different world altogether. It is a world where the friendly locals are recognized for their distinct British dialects, cars don’t exist and the casual restaurants are known for the soft-shell blue crabs (get your fill at Fisherman’s Corner!).

The tree tunnel on Smith’s Beach Road in Eastville.

5. Drive Through the Tree Tunnel
On my way to Savage Neck Dunes, a wrong turn took me to an unexpected treasure. Don’t you just love when that happens? While heading west on Smith’s Beach Road in Eastville, I stumbled upon a tree tunnel so pretty that it deserved driving through multiple times.

Annette kayaking through the marshlands of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

6. Do a Multiday Kayak Trip
For a chance to experience excitement and tranquility (I know, that’s contradictory) take a multiday kayak trip with Burnham Guides. Design a tour that will take you through the local marsh salts, barrier islands and National Wildlife Refuge or Nature Conservancy. They also have packages that include hang gliding! Burnham Guides specializes in these multiday tours, and from firsthand experience, I can see why you’d need more than just one day. After kayaking for a few hours through the beautiful marsh, we were taken to Holly Bluff Guest House, where a catered dinner was waiting — fresh crab and oysters!

7. Relax on a Sandbar
Do like the locals by spending the day relaxing on a sandbar. Along the delightfully picture-perfect Chesapeake Shore lay a few charming sandbars that want nothing else but for you to enjoy them with family and friends. Some of these sandbars appear with low tide, while others are always there. To get to one, you can simply rent a skiff or a kayak in Wachapreague and ask the good people there where you can find the best sandbar. Hint: A popular one is Dawson’s Shoal, a few miles east of Wachapreague.

8. PaddleBoard Through the Backyards of Onancock Creek
Onancock is a quaint colonial town with cute shops and delicious restaurants, but it’s best to explore it from the water. At the harbor you can easily rent a paddleboard from Southeast Expeditions and then launch just steps away. If you prefer, they can also take you on guided nature tours for the day. From the launching point, you can explore multiple creeks and even take a peek into the backyards of the historic waterfront homes.

Editor’s note: Annette White is the author of Bucket List Adventures, co-owner of Sugo Trattoria, the boss at buck & co. and creator of Bucket List Journey, an award-winning travel-and-lifestyle blog that gives every person in the world the tools and inspiration to live their bucket list — one checkmark at a time. The popular site has over 500,000 monthly visitors, and Frommer’s named her Instagram @bucketlistjourney one of the best travel accounts to follow. She has been recognized and worked with a multitude of top companies, such as Tripadvisor, Sandals Resorts, Chase and Norwegian Airlines — while exploring more than 50 countries on six continents. Read more of her travels at BucketListJourney.net.