The park is the site of the first landing of the Jamestown colonists in 1607. Native American canoes, colonial settlers, 20th century schooners and modern cargo ships have navigated the park's waterways. During the War of 1812, its Cypress swamps were a source of fresh water for merchant mariners, pirates and military ships. According to local legend, Blackbeard hid in the Narrows area of the park, and interior waterways served as landing sites for Union and Confederate patrols and blockade-runners during the Civil War. Built, in part by an all African-American Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933-1940, the park is a National Natural Landmark and National Historic Landmark. Now, as Virginia's most-visited state park, it's a natural oasis in Virginia Beach's urban oceanfront area.
The park has 20 miles of trails and 1.5 miles of sandy Chesapeake Bay beach frontage. Offering many recreational and educational activities, it's a great place to explore unusual habitats featuring bald cypress trees, lagoons, rare plants and wildlife, and maritime forest ecology. Cabins, water and electric hook-up campsites, picnic areas, boat ramps and a camp store with bicycle rentals are also available. The Chesapeake Bay Center houses historic exhibits, educational displays, a wet lab and aquariums operated by the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. The Trail Center, outdoor courtyard, pavilion and amphitheater can be rented for special events and weddings.