Peaks & Highpoints of Virginia

Part of the Chesapeake Bay
Bridge. Parts go underwater too

Fishers on a pier
along the bridge

At the top
of Butler's Bluff

What the sign says



Delmarva Peninsula

Old Stage Road • Butler's Bluff • Sandy Bottom Park

We spent a few days touring the areas around Hampton and Fort Monroe. We visited about a dozen low-lying county highpoints along the way, most being short hikes of no particular interest. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg and an interesting drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The weather was hot with stifling humidity.

Below are a couple of the more interesting county highpoints we visited over these few days. Afterwards, we headed west into the hills for cooler temperatures and a couple mountain hikes.

Old Stage Road
• Highpoint: James City County

Date: July 29, 2006 • Elevation: 140 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 40 feet • Conditions: Very humid


James City is a county, not a city, named for the settlement of Jamestown, where the English first landed here back in 16-something, only to be nearly wiped out by Indians and germs. Nevertheless, Jamestown marked the first permanent English settlement in the new world, and look where we are today.

There are six areas comprising the highpoint of James City County, all rising to 140 feet elevation and all (except for one) along a busy local thoroughfare called Old Stage Road (also known as Barhamsville Road or Virginia state highway 30). We exited Interstate-64 and drove north a short distance onto this road.

The plan was to visit them in order from south to north, with the southernmost area being on a golf course. Reports said to drive in and "park as best as possible" near the sixth tee, but there really wasn't anywhere to park without being partly in traffic, so we turned around back onto Old Stage Road and drove 3/4 of a mile to a gravel clearing along the road across from the J & M Country Store.

I visited each of the six areas, going from south to north. From the car I walked south the 3/4 mile to the golf course, where I walked up a small hill and onto the sixth tee, where there was no one. I explored the area and checked out the nearby brushy areas just to be sure. I would say that the sixth tee itself probably was highest for this immediate region. As I walked back to the car, I visited areas 2, 3 and 4 along the way.

Area number 2 is a small area on which sits an abandoned home, found on the east side of the road about 200 feet north of the golf course access road. The land was posted against trespassing, but standing at the chain gate put me inside the contour, and visually the place was not prominent at all, and rather uninviting. So I called it good at the gate.

Area number 3 was another few hundred feet up the road, on the west side, in front of some homes. Grading probably reduced the natural highspots, so I called it good near a large tree in the front yard. Area number 4 was beside where we parked, a small natural sections of woods that seems to have never been developed. The map has a spot elevation of 135 feet on the road here, with the 140-foot contour just to the east of the road. I walked up onto the grounds and looked around.

Area number 5 was a short walk north of the car in front of homes near the junction with Holly Forks Road, so I decided to walk to that one as well, then back to the car. There is noticeable prominence here, but I doubt this area is a serious contender for the highpoint as it's very small, and has been graded for home construction. The road actually dips here, giving the effect of greater visual prominence to this tiny blip. Just to be sure, I tagged the high ground, and kept my visit short.

The remaining sixth area is off the highway a ways, but easily accessed by an old road through the trees that leads literally right to the highest point. We drove to a small gravel road on the west side of the road to a gate, which put us far enough (maybe 60 feet) off the highway so as to give us privacy.

I hopped the chain "gate" and walked the road about 1/4 mile, up and down some small rises, then took a right at a Y-junction. The road dipped, then gained, and at another Y-junction where the better road stayed left, I went right, hopped another chain-link "gate" and stayed on this lesser road a few hundred feet as it bent to the right and surmounted the highest area. I walked past this area a little to be sure, but it seemed to be the right place. Fortunately there was no forest-bashing necessary, and the undergrowth was very light.

I immediately turned around and jogged back to the car, gone for 20 minutes (and about a half-mile total hiking). I was absolutely soaked with sweat. I daresay I was more sweat than human at this point. I changed into a dry shirt, toweled myself off and let the car's air-conditioning work its magic on me. Two ticks attached themselves to my legs. I didn't feel them, of course, but once I saw one, I got a little freaked out and did a full scan to find any others. From here, we drove a few more miles to our hotel in Williamsburg where we both took refreshing showers. After a dinner, we visited the easy highpoint areas of Williamsburg City as the sun set for the day.

My feeling is that areas 1, 4 and 6 are the best of the six contenders, with area 4 being a nose ahead of the other two for county honors. It's large (relatively speaking) and undisturbed natural woods. The same is true for area 6. Area 1 in the golf course has natural woods nearby and probably wasn't altered too much. The other three areas are easily visited, but probably not realistic contenders.

Butler's Bluff
• Highpoint: Northampton County

Date: July 30, 2006 • Elevation: 65-70 feet • Prominence: 33 feet • Distance: 0.2 mile • Time: 15 minutes • Gain: 30 feet • Conditions: Pleasant


Northampton County is one of two counties separated from the rest of Virginia on the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. The only way to get there directly from Virginia without getting wet is to drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge over and under seventeen miles of the Chesapeake Bay.

The bridge connects the city of Virginia Beach north to Northampton County, and the two regions couldn't be any more different. Virginia Beach is a major city with all sorts of big buildings, a snarl of streets and freeways, and traffic. Northampton County is a bucolic spread of sleepy homes, large properties, trees and sandy beaches. The highpont was the ostensible reason for coming up this way, but the real reason was for an excuse to drive the bridge itself.

We left Williamsburg and drove fifty miles through Newport News, Hampton and Virginia Beach, following Interstate-64 and eventually onto US-13. Along the way, we got caught up in traffic on a street in Hampton, while a bike race was going on, and they wouldn't let us pass so we had to wait. For us it was no big deal other than being an inconvenience. However, most people in our immediate clump of cars were going to church nearby, and many just got out and walked the rest of the way in their Sunday finest, which was unfortunate given the humdity was oppressive.

Other than that delay, we made good time. We soon found ourselves at the pay kiosk for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We paid and started onto the water. For the first three miles, the bridge is built on cement piles about 20 feet above the water, then it comes to a man-made island composed of massive blocks of rock piled together, with a parking area, visitor center and a maintenance warehouse. There was also a walking pier at this island, and we walked it, visiting the dozens of fisherpeople out hoping for fishies.

We also spent time in the visitor center, but mainly marveled at the overall construction. The large rocks are called rip-rap, I learned. From here, the road descends into a tunnel, burrowing underneath the bay for about a mile before re-emerging up the way. The road stays above water for awhile, then descends underneath again, then comes up above water before emerging over land on the south end of Northampton County. The underneath parts were interesting, and are there, obviously, so that the large ships can make their way into and out of the bay.

Our one-way drive, including stops, took us an hour, and was thoroughly amusing. Once on the other side of the bay, we enjoyed the lazy drive and slower pace of things up here. Thus, although we were now on a mission to seek the county highpoint, we took our sweet time to do it.

We went north about four miles on US-13, then followed local roads to a road called Butlers Bluff Road to a point where it turned from west to south, fronting a lengthy sandy bluff and the waters just beyond. The homes here are very nice. We parked across from house #3061 and walked up an old sandy track about 30 feet to top out on the sandy hilltop. Although basically just a big dune, it is covered in trees, scrub and spotty grass and is pretty solid.

The plant-life was enough to require us to walk around a little bit to ensure we "summitted" correctly. We found the highest point without too much difficulty, spending 10 minutes here. The views into the bay were blocked by trees. For a county where most of the land is lucky to break 10 feet in elevation, a 70-foot high bluff actually had quite a bit of prominence.

Once satisfied, we retraced our route and drove back across the Bay Bridge, eventually working our way toward Hampton and Newport News.

Sandy Bottom Park & Fort Monroe
• Highpoint: Hampton City

Date: July 30, 2006 • Elevation: 30+ feet • Distance: 0.3 mile • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 5 feet • Conditions: Sticky


Back in Hampton, we set out to explore the four scattered "highpoints", all little blips of land that rise (so say the maps) to just above 30 feet elevation. Two of the four are located in a city-run woodlands park called Sandy Bottom off of Interstate-64. The other two are north in housing tracts. From I-64, we followed local roads to the entrance into the park. We parked at the visitor's center lot.

The two areas in this park don't necessarily agree with the map, since the park is relatively new, but it is apparent that there are areas that rise above other areas. We walked a couple of the trails, one on the south side of the access road (forget the name) and another near a couple of the ponds. Even areas near the parking lot looked like contenders since they had mature trees growing so they can't have been too artificial. We spent 30 minutes total walking some of the trails. I liked one rise just west of the visitor's center, along a gravel trail just before it entered into the trees. When we left I felt good we'd given the park a reasonable walk-through. The weather was hot and humid so we decided to reward ourselves with a lunch at a restaurant across the way in the mall.

The other two areas were north on Big Bethel Road about a mile-plus, and both in neighborhoods. We visited both areas and tagged a tree at one. Neither area seemed to have any significant relief and probably are not contenders for the highpoint. Ironically, a massive landfill hill rises behind one such highpoint. We had no desire to claim that one.

We did, however, spend part of our day at Fort Monroe on Hampton's southern tip. The Fort is still an active military base, and dates from pre-Civil War and is notable for its massive earthen battlements and moat. A museum exists within the rooms of the bulwarks, parts of which were an old jail. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was imprisoned here for awhile.

We scrambled up to the top of the bulwarks, which is a combination of massive brick and mortar construction and earth piled against it. Given that the ground here was literally at sea level, the tops of the earthen battlements were probably above 30 feet elevation. Unfortunately man-made highpoints don't count, but hiking up onto these was far more satisfying than the bumps we encountered up the road.

(c) 2006, 2021 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.