5 Things to Do in the Chesapeake Bay Area

If you plan on spending time in Virginia, don’t miss the area known as the Middle Peninsula – which is located on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. The landmass that makes up the Middle Peninsula sits between two rivers – the Rappahannock and the York. So, with two rivers and a large bay you can expect that water adventures are big here. But there is also so much more to this charming, historic, and picturesque area of Virginia. Glamping options here include a variety of cabins, several of which are pet-friendly, at Thousand Trails Chesapeake Bay in Gloucester or the charming cottages at Bethpage Camp-Resort in Urbanna.

  1. On the Water: We’ll start with water adventures and there are a variety of ways to enjoy the rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. If you want to canoe or kayak, consider the Gloucester Blueways, which is a system of five water trails throughout Gloucester County. Paddling these water trails is a terrific way to see the wildlife in the area which includes terrapin turtles and tundra swans (at Maundy Creek), white-tailed deer and great blue herons at Ware House Landing, or the possibility of a bald eagle sighting while paddling John’s Point. For details on the Gloucester Blueways visit virginiawatertrails.org.

  2. History Tours: Rosewell Ruins are the remains of the vast estate owned by the Page family dating back to 1725. In 1916, a fire all but destroyed everything, however the shell of the home remains and was donated to the Gloucester Historical Society in 1979. Visitors can see the remains of the structure as well as see exhibits and artifacts in the Visitors Center (rosewell.org). Gloucester County has several museums and historic sites which can be seen on self-guided walking or driving tours. For maps and details, visit gloucesterva.info/1405/historic-walking-drive-tours.

  3. To the North and South: If it’s called the Middle Peninsula, then what’s above and below, you may wonder? To the north of the Middle Peninsula is the Northern Neck and to the south is what is known as the Virginia Peninsula (actually all three of the peninsulas are referred to as “necks” in Virginia). If you want to visit the Northern Neck here’s what’s what: there are several wineries, the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Stratford Hall (a National Historic Landmark and the home of the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee), the Reedville Fisherman’s Museum, and Westmoreland State Park, which is great for fossil finding. The Virginia Peninsula is home to what is known as the Historic Triangle which contains historic Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse are also here.

  4. Oysters, anyone? A trip to this part of Virginia pretty much requires a brief education on all things oyster. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Oyster Seed Holdings (oshoyster.com) offers tours and tastings every other Friday at their facility on Gwynn’s Island. Check out virginiaoystertrail.com for more oyster-related events and fun including oyster tasting tours and oyster charters. And definitely make a reservation to return to Bethpage to glamp in November to enjoy the Urbanna Oyster Festival. The 66th annual event will be held November 3-4, 2023, and promises plenty of fun with an oyster-shucking contest, the Oyster Festival Parade, plus oyster cuisine of all kinds including roasted oysters, Oyster Rockefeller, and fried, stewed, and raw oysters.

  5. Hit the Beach: A little over an hour’s drive from the Middle Peninsula is Virginia Beach, which is located on the Virginia Peninsula. Beyond the 30+ miles of shoreline, Virginia Beach attractions can include the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center; Mount Trashmore, which is actually a repurposed landfill that resulted in the nation’s first landfill park; and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Beachside you can stroll the 3-mile boardwalk and have a bite to eat or enjoy a cocktail. Don’t miss the opportunity to grab a selfie with the 26-foot tall statue of King Neptune.
Vacation Cottage at Bethpage Camp-Resort
Vacation Cottage at Bethpage Camp-Resort

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Can You Dig It? A short guide to fossil hunting sites in the US

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport, Oregon.

October 16 is National Fossil Day, which was established to promote the scientific and educational value of fossils. According to the National Geographic Society, a fossil is the preserved remains, or traces of remains, of ancient animals or plants. They are important in helping us discover the evolution of life and how life was lived thousands and thousands of years ago. Most fossils are formed when a plant or animal dies in a watery location and becomes buried in silt or mud. Celebrate National Fossil Day this year and see what treasures you can unearth. We’ve listed a few well-known fossil hunting sites here.

Capitola Beach, in Capitola, California, is a great spot to hunt for fossils during low tide. This little beach town can offer the motherlode of fossils thanks to the Purisima Formation, a geologic formation which preserves fossils from the Late Miocene and Early Pleistocene Era. Bones of whales and seals, as well as sea urchins and bivalves, and been unearthed here along with the rare shark tooth.

The fossilized bones of a mastodon, a camel, and a mammoth have turned up in Florida’s Peace River which has also revealed plenty of shark teeth, some as large as seven inches. Collecting shark teeth does not require a permit but if you’re digging for anything bigger, you need both a boat and a permit. There are plenty of guided tours available or you can go it alone, wading into the river from any of the public landings – but be aware of all the living flora and fauna!

Chesapeake Bay
Cozy cabins from Chesapeake Bay, about an hour from Westmoreland State Park.

Beverly Beach State Park in Newport, Oregon, is a beautiful beach with rock formations dating back millions of years that are filled with fossils. Winter is the best time for fossil hunting here thanks to the storms that dislodge several layers of sandstone unearthing new (old!) fossils. Petrified wood, dating back some 15-20 million years, and agate stones can also be found here.

Mineral Wells Fossil Park, in Mineral Wells, Texas, has an abundance of “Pennsylvanian Period” fossils, which date back some 318 million years! Thanks in part due to the erosion of the city’s borrow pit (which is a spot where material has been dug out for use at another location), fossils of ancient sea species have been found here which have included primitive sharks, brachiopods (marine animals in hard shells), crinoids (sea lilies), and pelecypods (clams and oysters).

Westmoreland State Park in Montross, Virginia, is a well-known location for fossil hunting and has been known to turn up shark teeth, whale teeth, and fish bones and vertebrae dating to the Miocene Age. There is a portion of the park known as Fossil Beach and it’s a great place to find shark teeth, including those of the megalodon. Situated between two towering bluffs, the beach is a short walk from the Visitors Center, and here you can sift through the sand using a colander or sand sifter (no major equipment allowed).

Pacific City • IG: @ofwildestheart
Yurt interior photo from Pacific City near Beverly Beach State Park. IG: @ofwildestheart