Rules & Regulations

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Basic Regulations

The following is partial list of refuge regulations – most, but not all, of which I imported from the Refuge website.  (I also added a few comments of my own. In green)  Please visit for additional information and the official listing of Refuge regulations.

Refuge regulations exist for the safety of the visitor and for the protection of the wildlife and the environment.  Please contact the Refuge if you have any questions regarding the regulations or are uncertain whether a particular activity is permitted.

(NOTE:  Opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect official Back Bay NWR policies.)

Parking:  Refuge parking is permitted in the headquarters lot on a first-come, first served basis for people engaged in wildlife-dependent activities. Visitors may not park cars overnight. Parking of all types of trailers is prohibited. Overnight campers using False Cape State Park must park at Little Island City Park, north of the refuge boundary and must pay the entrance fee at the booth.

Activities:  Wildlife-dependent activities such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, nature photography, fishing, wildlife observation, and environmental education are encouraged.  The congressional mandate for the National Wildlife Refuge system specifically states that only wildlife-dependent activities are allowed in a Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge is not a park or a playground.  If you would like to have a cookout or a picnic, fly a kite, ride a skateboard, play Frisbee, or walk your dog, there are many wonderful city, state and national parks located nearby.

Restricted Activities:  Swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and other non-wildlife-dependent activities are prohibited.  Swimming, sunbathing and surfing are available at Little Island City Park a half-mile north of the refuge – or at the popular Virginia Beach Oceanfront and Resort Strip.

Pets:  NO DOGS.   NO PETS.   Pets (dogs) are not allowed in the refuge at any time.  Unless, of course, you are a Republican or French and the rules simply don’t apply.  Up until a year ago, pets (dogs) were allowed in the Refuge from November until April.  That policy was amended after several incidents involving mismanaged dogs attacking other visitors and the protected wildlife. 

Different Wildlife Refuges have different policies regarding pets and dogs.  For example, Mackay Island NWR in North Carolina allows dogs, as does Pea Island NWR in the Outer Banks – at least, on the beach side of the Refuge.  The Great Swamp NWR in New Jersey prohibits pets.  At the Blackwater NWR in Maryland, pets are permitted in a small, enclosed area near the parking lot, but are prohibited on the trails and in the rest of the Refuge.  Rules and regulations can change.  Please read and familiarize yourself with the current rules and regulations of the facility you are visiting.

Restricted Areas:  Hikers and bikers must stay on designated trails and roadways. Entry into the dunes, marshes, and impoundments is prohibited. Certain portions of the refuge are posted as “Area Closed” to provide undisturbed areas for wildlife. Visitors are expected to obey all refuge signs.

Bikes:  Bicycles are permitted on the paved roads and gravel roads only. Bicycles must be ‘walked’ across all boardwalks.  Bicycles are prohibited on the narrow hiking trails.  Bikers, PLEASE read the refuge maps for the correct biking areas.  Do not ride on the boardwalks and please stay off the narrow ‘hiking only’ trails.  For your convenience, there is a bike rack on the south side of the Visitor Contact Station.

Restrooms:  There are indoor restrooms, men’s and women’s, with flush toilets and running water at the Visitor Contact Station – accessible when the Contact Station is open.  There are restrooms at the Wildlife Observation building about a mile south of the Contact Station.  (Men’s and women’s, indoor, non-flushing.  Basically a hole with a seat.)  There is also one shared porta-potty outside the Contact Station.  The porta-potty can get a little full and ripe after a long weekend, but if you can hold on for a few minutes, there are some well-maintained restrooms at Little Island City Park just north of the Refuge.  The Refuge does an excellent job maintaining its facilities and keeping them clean.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of the people that use them.

Caution:  The Refuge is home to mosquitoes, deer flies, ticks, chiggers, poison ivy and poisonous snakes.  Not just in the woods and the swamp, but on the trails, the roads, the boardwalks, in the dunes, in the grass by the visitor center and on the beach.  Watch where you walk or step.  Chiggers and ticks have been very active the last two seasons.  I know from personal experience – and I’m very careful where I step.

OBSERVATION:  The young couple with a baby in a stroller on the boardwalk to the beach – they were picking ticks off the baby.  OBSERVATION:  The collision between the cyclist and the photographer on the Bay Trail.  (FYI, the Bay Trail is a narrow hiking trail – no bicycles.)  Both the photographer and the cyclist were thrown into a massive tangle of tick and chigger-infested poison ivy next to the trail.  (Some rather ugly words were exchanged which I won’t mention here since this is a G-rated blog.)  OBSERVATION: The kids running and playing in a field of tall grass near the Visitor Center – a field filled with ticks, chiggers and poison ivy.  Mom / Dad, take care of the kids.  Please read about the Refuge before you visit.

Wildlife Protection:  Molesting, harming, or unauthorized collecting of any plant or animal is prohibited on wildlife refuges. Animals should not be disturbed, just observed, or, in some cases, examined and released. Plants may not be collected without a “Special Use Permit”. Fallen leaves, seeds, and twigs may be collected as needed for study while on the refuge.

Fishing:  Fishing is allowed in designated areas only. A Virginia freshwater fishing license is required for Back Bay and D Pool. A Virginia saltwater license is required for oceanfront surf fishing. Fishing is not permitted along the paved access road. All anglers must comply with State of Virginia fishing license requirements.  Please be responsible fisherman.  Don’t leave your hooks, lures and cut line in the Bay – or leftover bait on the ground.  Or on the dock.  Or the beach.   Pull it in, Pick it up, and Pack it out.  And remember to bring your license.  There have been a lot of surprise inspections this year – and fines – especially on the Bay side of the Refuge.  Here is a link to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to obtain the required license.

Fires:  Open fires, including charcoal-burning grills, are prohibited.

Litter:  All litter should be collected and placed in proper containers.  And if the containers are full, by all means just toss your trash on the ground next to them.  Just kidding!  Please folks, be responsible and Pack It Out!!   

Groups:  Groups of more than ten people must obtain a special use permit two weeks prior to visiting the refuge.

Motor Vehicles:  Motor vehicles are permitted only on the entrance road and in the parking area. Visitors must obey posted speed limits.

Beach Vehicular Access:  The beach vehicular access ramp is closed to the general public. The ramp and vehicular beach use are only open to certain permanent residents of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and employees of False Cape State Park, who possess a Refuge Motor Vehicle Access Permit (not an entrance permit).

Special Closings:  The refuge will close on specific dates in October. Check with the refuge office for closure dates in October and for seasonal closing of trails.  (October closings for wildlife management, aka deer hunting.)

Laws:  The laws of the State of Virginia and the City of Virginia Beach are enforced on refuge property. 



2 Responses to Rules & Regulations

  1. Lincoln says:

    Your final comment about the laws of Virginia prohibiting killing any native wildlife is simply not true. Please go the Virginia DGIF web site and look up “nuisance species” identifying those animals which may be killed year round without special permits. Since Virginia law is respected with the Back bay refuge, you may want to research how your comment applies here…….

    • Thank you kindly! You are absolutely correct! I am removing that comment immediately. I’m also amending a similar comment on one of the blog pages.
      You wouldn’t happen to know if it is illegal to kill snakes in Virginia – without a license or permit? The website seems to inducate that is the case, but I haven’t found a statute specifically indicating that.

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