I had to go to Ragged Island because of the name. A protected wildlife management area located in the Carrollton part of the county, this place is almost always empty. I’ve been a three times now, and on each go, I was always the only person there. Which is strange, considering that the entrance to the site is very close to the very massive James River Bridge.
This Place Exists Out of Time
It is the James River that feeds all the watery trails and three creeks that weave through this area. It almost feels like a small bit of the dark and dank Dismal Swamp (although, unlike the Dismal Swamp, you’re unlikely to get lost in it forever and die a horrible death).
It’s marshy. One false step and you’re up to your knees in a thick mud that wants to pull you down forever.
Imagine the bog from David Bowie’s The Labyrinth, and you’re almost there.
Still, there is a wild beauty to this bog and, outside of hunting season – yes in a protected wildlife area – you lose sense of time and there’s no difference between 2018 and ten thousand years ago.
There are very few places in Hampton Roads that give off such a sense of time displacement. Sure, the region is rich in history, but there aren’t any historical reenactors or docent-guarded buildings that create this environment. The ground and mud and gunk themselves weep with history below the towering pine and greenbrier trees.
And about those trees. Some of them have limbs so thickly woven together that you feel like you’re in a picnic basket. Others lean over and twist at odd angles, covering what might be mistaken for a trail. This otherworldly seclusion is only sometimes breached by the odd car horn – and you will jump when you hear one.
What To Watch Out For
- The trail isn’t easily accessible for those of varied motilities, however, there is a short boardwalk offering views of the James River Bridge
- With even the smallest bit of rain, the place floods. A lot. Avoid the site when tides are especially high. At the very least, time your visit. Don’t be in the very back of the park when the tide is coming in. The return trip to your car will be miserable, uncertain, and waterlogged.
- This place is full of vampiric mosquitoes with something to prove.
What To Do When You Get To Ragged Island
- Well, step into the prehistoric past for free via the hiking trail.
- You don’t have to be lucky, just quiet, to see every coastal bird you can imagine.
- The site allows hunting, trapping, and fishing with permits (but you do not what to be there during hunting season).
Finally, don’t be afraid to turn back on this trail. It doesn’t get better. There’s no, “Oh, shoot, girl, you can make it. Just around this bend, we’ll get a break.” It only gets more intense. More water. More trees to scramble over. One slip and you’ll have mud in places where mud shouldn’t be and no one will hear your screams from the now-too-far highway.
But do expect to see something beautiful and pure. This is one of the last best places in a rapidly developing county. This little site, within eyeshot of Newport News Shipbuilding, offers an interesting respite from the modern world. To find Ragged Island hunt around the Isle of Wight/Carrollton side of the James River Bridge in Virginia.