Hog Island Wildlife Management Area: A Quiet, Natural Area in Surry, Virginia
Original article published by Erin Gifford, Go Hike Virginia on July 28, 2022
There are two destinations in Virginia named Hog Island, but only one can be reached by car. That’s Hog Island Wildlife Management Area in Surry County. The 3,908-acre Hog Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is one of 47 Wildlife Management Areas managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Hog Island WMA is located on a peninsula that juts out into the Lower James River. Interestingly, the WMA is divided up into three separate tracts, too. This WMA in Surry County is a fantastic destination for hunting, fishing and birding. Several gravel roads across Hog Island work well as hiking trails.
Getting to Hog Island WMA
Hog Island can be a great place to go for quiet and solitude. That may be because you must go through a security checkpoint to reach the WMA. Dominion Energy’s Surry Power Station – a nuclear power plant – is adjacent to the WMA’s Hog Island Tract, the largest of the three sections. To reach the Hog Island Tract, you must stop at a security checkpoint. The inside and outside of your vehicle will be searched before you can proceed. You will also need to show a photo ID. It was a bit intimidating, but I checked out and received a pass for my car while in the wildlife management area.
The two other sections – Carlisle Tract and Stewart Tract – are south of the Surry nuclear power plant and do not require a full vehicle search.
Hog Island Tract
I explored the Hog Island Tract on a Wednesday in late-June. It was mid-week and a very warm day, but I didn’t see any other site visitors. The flies and mosquitos were also out in force, which may be why the WMA notes on their website that “insect repellent is a good idea during most of the year.”
Hog Island Road is the main road that leads to Hog Point. As you drive along this gravel road, you’ll note several kiosks and an observation platform. You will also pass several parking areas that lead to fishing beaches. Note that a freshwater fishing license is required to drop in a line at Hog Island WMA.
From Hog Island Road, there are three side roads that are grassy or covered in pine needles. These paths are closed to vehicles and serve as hiking trails. The first and second road lead out to the second observation platform at Hog Island WMA. Check out the map and you’ll note that the paths all connect. You could easily get in several miles along these joining paths that guide visitors across marshes, loblolly pine forests, swamps and agricultural fields. Drive all the way to the end for a placard on the history of Hog Island, which was once an island where Jamestown settlers allowed swine to freely roam.
Birding at Hog Island WMA
Birds and bird watchers come to Hog Island for the range of wildlife habitats, which includes impoundments, like Homewood Creek and Hog Island Creek. According to the Hog Island WMA, 35+ species of shorebirds and 30+ species of waterfowl have been seen at Hog Island, including the royal tern and bald eagle.
Birding enthusiasts can check out eBird for the latest sightings at Hog Island. The crowd-sourced site claims that 275+ species have been seen at the WMA. The impoundments in the Hog Island Tract are popular hang-outs for birds and can be reached by way of side paths. You’ll also find observation blinds.
The Carlisle Tract of Hog Island WMA is a short drive from the Hog Island Tract. It’s at the end of Landing Drive. Birding is popular here, too. Here you’ll find upland habitats, including woodlands, grasslands and shrublands, which can attract birds you may not see in the Hog Island Tract. Landing Drive dead-ends at Lawnes Creek Landing. Here you can drop in your own kayak or canoe for a paddle along Lawnes Creek. The landing is also a popular spot with local fishermen. There are no trails or paths in the Carlisle Tract that lead into the wetlands areas.
The Stewart Tract is located on the other side of Lawnes Creek from the Carlisle Tract, though technically the Stewart Tract is in Isle of Wight County. This section is most easily accessed by human-powered watercraft. Kayakers can paddle out to Lawnes Point for views across the James River. Several narrow waterways, including Lawnes Creek, meander across the Stewart Tract. Bring binoculars for birdwatching from your canoe or kayak.
While it may seem so since there are no on-duty rangers or honor-system repositories for entry fees, it is not free to access wildlife management areas. Access to WMAs in Virginia requires visitors aged 17 and up to have a $4 daily access permit. Your best bet is to buy one online at Go Outdoors Virginia. You can also buy an access permit – daily or annual – on the free Go Outdoors Virginia mobile app. You cannot buy a permit-on site. Access permits are also sold at select DMVs, grocery stores, sporting goods stores and gas stations. I think it’s easiest to do so online or on your phone. There are exceptions, like if you have a hunting, fishing or trapping license, or a valid boat registration. In these cases, you do not need an access permit.
Hog Island WMA may be closed at certain times of the year for hunting season activities, particularly from September to early-February. In September, the WMA is closed every Wednesday for managed goose and teal hunts. In October, quota deer hunts take place all month, except Sundays.
From November through January, quota duck hunts take place. During this time, Hog Island is only open on Sundays for non-hunting activities. Managed and quota hunts take place in the Hog Island Tract. The Carlisle Tract is open to the general public for hunting of such animals as deer and doves.
If you’re considering a visit to Hog Island Wildlife Management Area, my number one tip is to avoid hot, humid summer days. The bugs can be intense. It’s also wise to note that the WMA is only open from sunrise to sunset, so plan your visit accordingly.
Since this is a wildlife management area and not a state park, Hog Island is really only open for approved activities, like fishing, hunting, birding, biking and hiking. The scenic beaches on the James River are meant for fishing, not swimming or sunning.
On your way out, don’t forget to drop your security pass in the plastic mailbox (“pass box”) on the right side of the road.
If time permits, pay a visit to Chippokes State Park in Surry County. This coastal state park is a short 25-minute drive southwest of Hog Island WMA.