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Virginia Seaside Water Trail - Willis Wharf Harbor Launch Site

Willis Wharf Harbor

Willis Wharf Harbor

Northampton County

Two boat ramps with a straight dock in the center. Multiple docks with boat moorings. High tide water access on the east side of docks is preferable if ramps are busy.  Food and lodging available.  This site is on the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail...Check it out!

Launch site owner:

Northampton County - 757.678.0440

Directions to launch site:

  • 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

Beginner Paddler Route:

paddle image

Parting Creek

Route Description:

Launch at the Willis Wharf Harbor boat ramp. As you leave the harbor area, follow the shoreline North along the village. The entrance to Parting Creek will be on your left. The creek meanders through the fringe marshes that separate the waterfront homes from the channel. This is a great place to look for Clapper Rails, various ducks, and other water birds. The historic waterfront of Willis Wharf tells of its history as a waterman's town that still relies on the bounty of the ocean. Parting Creek is protected from the wind, but can be affected by tidal flow. It is recommended that beginner paddlers keep the entrance to the harbor in sight, but explore as much of this beautiful shoreline as you feel comfortable paddling.

Willis Wharf Harbor - beginner route - Parting Creek

Intermediate Paddler Route:

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Great Machipongo River

Route Description:

Launch at the Willis Wharf Harbor boat ramp. Turn Right as you leave the harbor and look for channel marker #17. Paddle South-Southeast toward marker #15 and continue to follow the main channel out toward the Machipongo River. At marker #13 turn Left (North) and begin paddling up the Great Machipongo River. As you continue upriver, the river narrows and is divided by bars and islands. Stay near the main channel, but be aware of powerboat traffic. As you approach the village of Quinby you will pass beneath the Quinby Bridge. This is a good turn-around spot for most paddlers. If you wish to continue North up the river, you will need a high tide in order to explore its upper reaches.

Note: This narrower stretch of the Machipongo River contains some of the most scenic areas, but also is the most challenging to navigate. Be sure to allow plenty of time to retrace your route back to the launch site. This is a trip that requires paddlers to plan in accordance with the local tide cycles. It can be attempted at most tide levels, but the current is strong here. It is a much more pleasant trip when the tide is working with you.

Willis Wharf - intermediate route - Great Machipongo River

Advanced Paddler Route:

paddle image

Willis Wharf to Quinby

Route Description:


Launch at the Willis Wharf Harbor boat ramp. Turn Right as you leave the harbor and look for channel marker #17. Paddle South Southeast toward marker #15 and continue to follow the main channel out toward the Machipongo River. At marker #13 turn Right and follow the markers out of the Great Machipongo River. After passing marker #1 stay to the left side of the channel and look for a marker showing the letters "NC". Turn Left into the North Channel and look for marker # 181. Follow the channel markers out toward Chimney Marsh. After you paddle past marker #178 you will need to make a Left turn to continue past marker #176. The channel makes several twists and turns over the course of the next several miles, and there are several side creeks here. The main channel is well marked for navigation, but not all side creeks are navigable at all times, and not all side creeks return to the main channel. As you pass marker #160, turn Left into Sandy Island Channel. Look for marker #1 to the West and paddle towards it. At marker #1 turn North and follow the markers up Great Gap Channel. As you approach the harbor at Quinby, the boat ramp is on the Western side of the harbor across from the main entrance.

Note: This is a very popular harbor with commercial and recreational fishermen. Be aware of boat traffic at all times.

Willis Wharf Harbor - advanced route - Willis Wharf to Quinby

Back to Seaside Water Trail Launch Site Map

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All route maps provided on the Virginia Seaside Water Trail web site are for illustration only. They are not intended for navigational use. To obtain a nautical map for this route, visit NOAA navigation charts.

Please check the land ownership and visitation policies map before your trip! Virginia's barrier islands, wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas contain very sensitive wildlife habitat. Seasonal or year-round closures are in effect.

TRAIL MAP KEY - Please review and take along with your trail route map.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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