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Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge


Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) contains over 9,200 acres of marsh, beaches, dunes, woodlands and farm fields. The southern part of the refuge includes an extensive impoundment complex. These managed water pools are visible to visitors as they travel refuge trails on the way to adjacent False Cape State Park, which is only accessible by foot, bicycle, boat/kayak or tram. Boardwalk trails traverse portions of the freshwater marsh, and in summer a combination of woodland and estuarine birds are found here. A canoe/kayak launch is available for those wishing to explore the NWR from the water.

The Refuge focuses on providing habitat for water birds, with an emphasis on waterfowl, shorebirds, and threatened species. It is a hotbed of activity for birders with nearly 300 recorded species. During the peak of winter migration a wide variety of ducks, tundra swans and snow geese visit the Back Bay. Other winter migrants include the rare LeConte’s sparrow and ubiquitous yellow-rumped warbler. Spring migration brings songbirds and shorebirds that fill the wetlands, shrubs, and woodland areas. Mammals, such as river otters, white-tailed deer, raccoons, and bobcats also reside in the Refuge. Numerous reptiles and amphibians rely on the habitats of Back Bay NWR, including cottonmouths (water moccasins), which are seen frequently.

The refuge is open daily, ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.

Fee: $5.00 April 1 -October 31, Free November 1 – March 31. (Portions of the refuge are closed during the winter migration; as such there is no fee during this period.)

Visitor Contact Station hours: 8am-4pm weekdays and 9am-4pm weekends; closed Sundays November 1 – March 31 and Mondays all year. Closed holidays except Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day.


Physical Address: 4005 Sandpiper Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456

From I-64, exit to I-264 East (towards the Oceanfront). Take Birdneck Rd Exit (Exit 22). Turn right onto Birdneck Rd and travel 3-4 miles. Turn right onto General Booth Blvd and travel approximately 5 miles. Turn left onto Princess Anne Rd. At the next traffic light, proceed straight, continuing on Princess Anne Rd, which changes names to Sandbridge Rd. Follow Sandbridge Rd into the Community of Sandbridge. Make a right turn onto Sandpiper Rd, just past the Fire Station. Travel 4 miles, until Sandpiper Rd ends. The entrance to Back Bay NWR is on the left.

Location & Directions

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Site Information

  • Site Contact: (757) 301-7329
  • Website
  • Access: See site description.

Birds Recently Seen at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (as reported to eBird)

  • Wood Duck
  • Mourning Dove
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Royal Tern
  • Brown Pelican
  • Least Bittern
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Great Egret

Seasonal Bird Observations


  • Visitor/Nature Center
  • Bike Trails
  • Environmental Study Area
  • Fee
  • Accessible
  • Hiking Trails
  • Information
  • Interpretive Nature Program
  • Interpretive Trail
  • Parking
  • Restrooms
  • Kayak/Canoe Launch
  • Viewing Blinds