Return to Willis Wharf

Last fall we launched at Willis Wharf, Virginia for the very first time and enjoyed paddling the scenic Machipongo River, which is not really a river but a large tidal creek.  The summer of 2018 found us returning to Willis Wharf with family kayakers on a beautiful sunny day.  This bustling fishing community centers around aquaculture and oysters. Willis Wharf is part of the VA Birding Trail providing an observation platform on the edge of the parking area for the boat launch.

20180825_113824_Willis Wharf

A view of Willis Wharf, Virginia from the observation deck at the boat ramp.

20180825_122700_Setting off near high tide

We timed our kayaking trip to launch just past high tide ensuring our return trip would give us some easier paddling. The tides run strong in this area and combined with the wind can pose a formidable challenge some days.

One paddling option in this area is to turn left out of the harbor and paddle up Parting Creek, which runs along the edge of the community of Willis Wharf. We have not yet followed that path but suspect the bird watching would be exceptional.

We however were heading toward the Machipongo River. Turning right on Parting Creek its about 1 1/2 miles to the Machipongo on the left. Fishing boats fly through this area and staying as close to the shoreline as possible and out of the main channel is a wise and safe idea.

Turning north on the Machipongo the next community is Quinby about 5 miles upstream. Our paddling has never taken us as far as Quinby. Reaching the Machipongo we immediately began to see many shorebirds including a double-crested cormorant drying his wing and tail feathers.

20180825_130353_Double-crested Cormorant on the shore

Double-crested cormorant along the shores of Parting Creek.

With the high tide subsiding mudflats began to appear and widen quickly exposing numerous oyster beds attracting a variety of wading birds.

White egrets and herons flew in the distance closer to the forests behind the marsh. 20180825_132141_Great Egret in flight

With bright sunny skies this was a perfect paddling day.  The mudflats in this area are wide once the tide begins to lower and this is soft sticky marsh mud. We were unable to exit our kayaks and chose instead to back our kayaks into some mud to enjoy a snack break.

20180825_135753_Taking a break

Stopping for a snack

Continuing our paddle watching the birds highlighted this trip as they ran along the shore line and flew all around.

20180825_132130_Great Egret along the bank

One of several great egrets

As you approach Quinby an old falling in barn appears on the left.  Eagles flew in this area last year when we visited. The wind was beginning to pick up and between the outgoing tide and the wind we all agreed to turn around. Riding the outgoing tide back towards Willis Wharf made for an easier paddle, which ended up being just 8 miles in total.

20180825_143647_Paddling back to the put-in

From our map below it seems there are many options for exploring to the east of our paddling route however at low tide all of those areas become mud flats. A kayaker we met one day informed us that at very high tide one can paddle all the way to the forest line, but your timing of the tide would need to be perfect.

20180825_143108_Non-breeding laughing gull and a least sandpiper

A non-breeding laughing gull and a least sandpiper

20180902_090801_GPS Topo Map

Directions to launch site: (from Virginia DEQ). Northampton County owns site. No fee for kayaks.

  • From US 13
  • East on 178 at Exmore Stop Light.
  • Becomes US13 Business. 0.6 Miles.
  • Left on Route 603. 1.8 Miles.
  • Left into Willis Wharf Harbor.
  • Ramps and multiple docks are on Left.

GPS Coordinates:

+37.5089 / -75.8062

Services: port a john in parking lot along with platform for birding.

Restaurants in area: Great Machipongo Clam Shack 6468 Lankford Hwy, Nassawadox, VA 23413. An unassuming seafood restaurant with a variety of options and carry out. A nice filling meal after our paddle. 

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