Kayak to Mockhorn Island

by Bill & Mary Burnham

Landing on Mockhorn Island

The two-story house on Mockhorn Island is like so many abandoned buildings in the process of decay.

Obscured by overgrown trees and a forest of bamboo, the weather passes freely through big gashes in the roof. Thick vines twine through broken windows. Rotted floorboards do not inspire confidence, so rather then enter, you peak through a broken window.

Your typical shell of a building, except for one thing: its location. The house stands on the southern tip of a barrier island, about a mile off the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

abandoned farm buildings

Expansive views take in acres of salt marsh, the high profile of pine trees on a sandy ridge, and water.

There are also improvements made by the one-time owners, Larimar and Catherine Cushman: barns and an old meadow bounded by a concrete wall; a hog-scalding tub and inside a pole barn, a tank-like vehicle, presumably once used for transport around the island. This was once a posh hunting resort, with wealthy visitors being brought in from the north.

Standing on Mockhorn Island, you'll feel world's away from civilization.

Set up your tent on the beach

Under human power, by kayak or canoe, it takes an hour or so to reach Mockhorn from the nearest public launch fives miles south. Taking a motorized skiff will get you there quicker, but requires timing the trip with tides or risk being stranded on a mud flat.

Unlike most of these barrier islands, which are owned by the Nature Conservancy and thus off-limits, Mockhorn is state-owned, and public access is allowed. You can even set up your tent for the night and camp.

The next morning, beachcomb for treasures, or paddle further north along the island's bayside to an old World War II look-out tower.

Island sunset

The last of the barrier island communities ended in the middle of the 20th century. With the exception of Chincoteague, all are abandoned today. Their remains, like Cushman's home, constitute Virginia's true coastal ghost towns. Click to learn more about the Eastern Shore's barrier islands.

Getting there: Launch from the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.

Book a tour to Mockhorn with SouthEast Expeditions.