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2019 Oct

Camping from Beach to Bay

Camping is ideal for families, especially when you don’t have to travel far.

Clouds were gathering overhead as we prepared to cycle to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

“Did you check the radar?” I asked Peter. He said he would… in a minute. Apparently, he got distracted by something else on his phone, though, and never did. Husbands, you gotta love ‘em.

Sure, I could have looked at the radar, but I was too busy packing our things and cleaning the rental RV we stayed in the night before at the Chincoteague Island KOA. “It should be ‘broom’ clean,” the receptionist told me the day before.

So after we swept the camper and locked it up, we hopped on our bikes and started pedaling east, not realizing bands of rain would be falling very soon, the beginning edges of Hurricane Dorian sweeping up the coast. Thankfully, we did grab our raincoats, stuffing them in my bike basket along with my purse and the tire repair kit. You never know when you’re gonna get a flat, right?

A low bridge spanned marshlands to the north and south and connected us to Assateague Island, the 13-mile long barrier island that straddles both Maryland and Virginia and is home to several herds of wild ponies. Besides its beautiful beaches, the island is partially covered by pristine maritime forest with tall pines and herbaceous smells. Well-maintained bike paths, many under shady trees, run north and south and eastward to the beach, which is where we were headed.

Along one stretch we saw cars pulled over by the side of the road. Peter and I spotted what everyone had stopped to admire: a small herd of wild ponies munching peacefully on salty marsh grasses—a stallion and three or four mares and a baby colt. After snapping a few photos, we carried on, determined to get to the windswept beaches of the Atlantic.

Soon the first rain drop fell. Then another and another. Large, warm drops of rain began falling, faster and faster, so Peter and I stopped and quickly donned our raincoats. Why we didn’t turn around right there, I have no idea. We just wordlessly jumped back on our bikes and pedaled east in the rain.

It rained hard, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It was kind of fun actually. I mean once you’re soaked, you’re soaked. The temps were warm, so it was kind of like biking in a warm shower. Except then the rain got heavier. People driving by in cars looked at us like we’d lost our minds. Finally, I pulled up under a tree and twirled my index finger, motioning to Peter that it was time to turn around.

Even though we never got to the beach and ended up cycling in a rainstorm—which incidentally stopped as soon as we got back to the campground—I loved our adventure. We got some exercise, communed with nature, saw wild ponies, and have a great memory of the time we almost made it to Assateague Beach. The only damage? Everything in my purse was soaked, but fortunately the rainwater didn’t harm my credit cards.

Peter and I were invited to go on a camping adventure by the folks who manage the Chincoteague Island KOA and the Chesapeake Bay KOA down in Cape Charles. We stayed one night in each campground in rental units, so we didn’t have to worry about setting up camp, hook-ups, or bringing a bunch of stuff from home. It was a lovely little getaway, and campgrounds are ideal for families. Here’s a peek at the parks.

Don’t Miss Sunset Beach at Chesapeake Bay KOA

Fun Weekend Events All Month

CAMPING 2 PHOTOYou’ve driven by Chesapeake Bay KOA Resort & Beach Club countless times, I’m sure. It’s just past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, heading north. Besides the campground, cozy accommodations are available in the Sunset Beach Hotel. All guests of the resort have access to a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by cabanas as well as the gorgeous Sunset Beach, facing the bay.

We visited the Tuesday after Labor Day, and the resort was pretty quiet, which we didn’t mind at all. Our lodging was a rental cottage a stone’s throw from the beach and pool. The two-bedroom air-conditioned modular unit was equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, and small living room. The best part was the screened porch where you could sit and watch the world go by. The resort also has RVs and safari tents for rent.

I’d like to go glamping in one of the safari tents one day. Each features two large queen beds and a futon for the kids. Even though it has furniture and other hotel-like amenities, it is still a tent, so you have to trek to the nearby bathhouse. I liked how spacious the tents are and the Adirondack chairs on the small veranda out front, perfect for sipping a glass of wine in the early evening twilight.

The sparkling pool was calling us, so Peter and I spent a couple carefree hours alternately splashing in the practically empty pool and reading magazines in a shady cabana. When I got restless, I took a long walk along the beach, just me and my thoughts, a few shells and shorebirds. Slowing down and letting go of everyday cares, even if it’s only for a short walk on the beach or in the woods, is the antidote we all need to today’s modern madness. And we should do it more often.

Later a friend who lives in Cape Charles visited, and after snacks and drinks on the porch, we strolled along the beach and watched the sun slowly set over the bay: a fiery glowing orange ball drifting down into the slate-blue bay waters. Sunset Beach is popular for families with small children since the water is very shallow, and tiny waves lap gently on the sand. Often in the busy summer months, pleasure boats anchor offshore and people relax on floats in the water.

Perched on the sand dunes is a restaurant called Jackspot Bar & Grill that has indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the bay. Open seven days a week in summer, it wasn’t open the day we visited, but I could see the appeal of ordering a tropical drink and relaxing in the shade at an outside table, enjoying the breezes blowing in from the silvery bay.

Besides the pool, the pet-friendly resort offers playgrounds, a fitness center, planned activities, live entertainment, and special event weekends. The resort also rents bikes, jet skis, kayaks, and paddleboards in high season. Some amenities are available seasonally.

Fall is the perfect time to visit. Crowds are thinner and special events are on tap. Coming up October 5, 2019 is the Brew N ‘Cue, a fundraiser for the Ability Center of Virginia. Then the remaining weekends in October are devoted to all things spooky. Plan to attend the Cape Fear: Haunted Hotel and Campground for pumpkin painting, costume contests, trick or treating, and more. Best of all it’s buy one night, get one free during Halloween festivities. Space is limited so reserve soon. www.koa.com/campgrounds/chesapeake-bay/

See the Wild Ponies and More at Chincoteague Island KOA

Or Ride a Bike through Cozy Island Town

CAMPING 3 PHOTO

After checking out, we drove ninety minutes north to Chincoteague Island KOA. While this campground isn’t on the beach, it’s surrounded by marshlands in a serene wooded setting close to the national wildlife refuge and a short bike ride from the charming little town of Chincoteague. I loved the tall pines and peaceful ambiance of this campground, where we stayed in a rental RV.

Peter and I are veteran campers and owned RVs when our kids were little. Camping is such a great family activity, and in a rental unit like the one we stayed in, you can experience all the pleasures of camping without the effort. Our camper could sleep six and had everything you need to enjoy a relaxing stay. This being late summer, I was especially happy to see the unit had air conditioning!

After checking in and getting settled, we hopped on our bikes to explore the town, stopping at the nearby visitor center for a map. We pedaled down quiet residential streets and through the little downtown area, admiring the historic buildings. Since it was Happy Hour and we were on holiday, I was wishing for a nice waterfront terrace to sit and sip a cold drink when off to our right, I saw just the place I was looking for.

Ropewalk is a small chain of seafood restaurants in Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, each with its own vibe. The one here in Chincoteague has the tiki-bar vibe I was looking for. Overlooking the water, the outdoor terrace has a grass-topped tiki bar, colorfully painted tables and chairs, and shady umbrellas to keep you cool. The best part was the terrace is right in the sand, and shoes are optional!

The Happy Hour specials are only served at the tiki bar, which looked full, but as luck would have it, a couple got up and left right after we arrived, so we settled into our bar chairs for a couple drinks and a dozen buck-a-shuck oysters. Soon a guitarist appeared and started playing beach music and ballads—think Jimmy Buffet and The Eagles. It was a postcard perfect day, and we spent a couple hours just soaking up the tiki-bar vibe before hopping on our bikes and heading back to camp.

The Chincoteague Island KOA was quiet during our mid-week visit, but we did enjoy a dip in the pool before getting started on dinner. Of course, eating in one of the many fine local restaurants was an option, but we love the ritual of preparing and cooking food while camping. We brought chicken breasts, which we cooked on the stove, and chopped up fresh veggies for a salad. Super simple, super easy, and super good.

Our campsite came with a fire ring and a sturdy wooden platform with a modern colorful picnic table, but we didn’t spend much time outside because once twilight fell, hungry mosquitoes from nearby marshes came to visit. After a brief evening walk around the campground, we retreated to the cozy camper and played cards while listening to tunes on Sirius radio.

Like its sister park in Cape Charles, this campground has all three rental options as well: cabins, RVs, and safari tents. Besides the pool, there’s a playground, jump pillow, and activity center. You can also rent golf carts, bikes, and kayaks, which you can launch right from the campground to explore the surrounding waterways. Adjacent to the campground is Maui Jack’s Waterpark, an ideal attraction for families with kids. Plus campers get a discount! Amenities are available seasonally.

During October Chincoteague Island KOA is transformed into The Little Island of Horrors. Spooky fun includes a riddled Wine Walk, hayrides, s’mores at the community fire pit, and a haunted trail. Halloween activities take place every weekend in October, so make your reservations now. www.koa.com/campgrounds/chincoteague

Closer To Home: Virginia Beach KOA

Activiies & Family Fun All Fall

CAMPING 4 PHOTO

Closer to home is our very own Virginia Beach KOA, which offers a large variety of camping cabins from basic to deluxe. Amenities include two swimming pools (open seasonally), playground, bike and golf cart rentals, a jumping pillow—plus family-friendly games like cornhole, ladder ball, and horseshoes. Try the new Adventureworks Zip Line, and wind down the day at our outdoor cinema or relax around a campfire.

On Oct. 3-7 and Oct. 17-21, enjoy the Halloween Fall Fun Festival with hay wagon rides, pumpkin decorating for adults and kids, flashlight candy hunt for children, fun games, and live music. Then on Oct. 24-28, join in the spooky fun during Halloween Bands & BBQ with music, BBQ, and seafood. There’s a fall special available: buy one night (campsite or cabin) and get the 2nd night for $25. Call today to reserve your cabin or campsite. www.koa.com/campgrounds/virginia-beach

For more information, visit www.koa.com.

For more of Peggy’s travel adventures, go to www.TidewaterFamily.com/travel and take an armchair adventure.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and co-publisher of Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women magazines. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

Richmond Ballet: Enter to Win Tickets to The Nutcracker at Chrysler Hall

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