virginia barrier islands
photo credit: NASA

Located on the Eastern Shore are the Virginia barrier Islands of Assateague Island, Wallops Island, Cedar Island, Parramore Island, Hog Island, Cobb Island, Wreck Island, Ship Shoal Island, Myrtle Island, Smith Island, Fisherman’s Island, and numerous small islets.

Most of the barrier islands are isolated from the mainland by shallow bays, creeks, and inlets that are constantly changing.

Virginia’s barrier islands are home to a diverse range of wildlife including waterfowl, birds of prey, songbirds, deer, foxes, and marine life.

The Virginia Barrier Island chain is one of only 17 sites in the United States classified as a “A Wetland of International Importance.” All of the islands are designated Important Bird Areas (IBA).

Assateague Island offers public access by vehicle to Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague National Seashore.

Wallops Island is home to a NASA launch site, research facilities, military installations, and a national wildlife refuge. Although public access is not allowed on Wallops Island, rocket launches draw considerable interest from enthusiasts. Launches are generally viewed from nearby Chincoteague Island vantage points on the mainland.

Most other barrier islands are not accessible by vehicle. Parramore Island is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Smith Island, home to the Cape Charles Lighthouse, is owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Barrier Island Refuges and Preserves

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Virginia side of Assateague Island. The refuge consists of over 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest. The refuge provides habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, song birds, and other species of wildlife and plants. The refuge is also home to the world-famous Chincoteague wild ponies.

Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuge consists mainly of salt marsh and woodlands. Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an agreement with NASA to use roughly 3,000 acres of the NASA-owned portion of Wallops Island proper on a non-interference basis for research and management of declining wildlife in special need of protection.

Eastern Shore Of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

Lying at the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge serves as one of the nation’s most important avian migration stopovers along the Atlantic Flyway.

Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge

Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge occupies the Eastern Shore’s southern most barrier island. The island is separated from the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge by Fishermans Inlet. Fisherman Island is closed to the public, except for guided tours during certain periods. To schedule a tour, contact the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

Mockhorn Wildlife Management Area

Consisting of two tracts, Mockhorn Island and the GATR Tract, Mockhorn Wildlife Management Area includes a mix of low lying islands, marshes, and mud flats between the barrier islands and the mainland. Mockhorn Wildlife Management Area is managed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).

Wreck Island Natural Area Preserve

Wreck Island Natural Area Preserve includes marsh, beach, grassland, dune, and shrub habitats. The preserve is owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Public access is restricted seasonally to protect shorebird nesting. Wreck Island is accessible only by boat.

Related Information

Chincoteague Island

Eastern Shore of Virginia


Parks and Recreation Areas