Historic America

History Has Deep Roots at First Landing State Park

Traverse a historic Cypress swamp once home to Native Americans, European colonists, and even pirates!

On April 26, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport and his three ships of English colonists made landfall at Cape Henry before moving on to establish the Jamestown Settlement. Their landing site is located in nearby Fort Story, which borders the park. It was for that reason in 1997 the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation changed its name from Seashore State Park to First Landing State Park.

A swamp seems like an unusual addition to the National Register of Historic Places, but for hundreds of years, European explorers, Native Americans, and pirates navigated this ancient Cypress swamp. Bald Cypress trees are known to live for centuries, meaning visitors might see the exact same trees as early colonists. Its Seashore Natural Area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and the park was added to the Register in 2005.

According to legend, in 1718 the pirate Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard”, buried a treasure in the sand dunes along shore before fleeing inland through the Cypress swamp’s labyrinthine waterways. They sailed south to North Carolina, intending to eventually return to retrieve their treasure. Blackbeard was killed on November 22, 1718, however, and this fabled treasure was never found.

My wife and I walked the 1.8 mile Bald Cypress Trail, which begins at the Visitor Center and loops back. An illustrated trail guide is available featuring numbered stops and descriptions of natural features you see along the way. My favorite was the tree that fell over in a storm, then continued to grow upwards toward the sky from where it fell. What an incredible tribute to nature’s tenacity!

The trail is easily walkable, except for some rough terrain on the back side. Wooden boardwalks traverse the swamp, where you can look at ancient Cypress trees and turtles sunning themselves on logs. The terrain in this part of Virginia has the same soil, vegetation, and smells as South Carolina, so I was constantly having flashbacks from Basic Training at Fort Jackson.

People love coming here for the beach, but the trails and Cypress swamp are definitely worth a visit.

First Landing State Park, at 2500 Shore Drive in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is open from 8:00am to dusk. The Trail Center and gift shop is open daily from 8:00am to 4:30pm. Entrance to the park is $7 per vehicle on weekdays and $10 on weekends from April through October. For more information, call (757) 412-2300 or email


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