Writer Mike Edwards spent a winter weekend in and around Chincoteague, Va. Here is his reporter's notebook.
About 3 1/2 hours from the Beltway
Lodging: $178 Meals: $65
From the Capital Beltway, take U.S. Route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and south. At Salisbury, Md., take Route 12, which becomes Route 679 in Virginia. About 10 miles inside Virginia, turn left on Route 175 to Chincoteague Island.
WHERE TO STAY
Refuge Inn (7058 Maddox Blvd., 888-257-0034, http://www.refugeinn.com) is still owned by the family that built it in the 1970s. Rooms from $89 (closed for the month of February for maintenance). The 1848 Island Manor House (4160 Main St., 800-852-1505, http://www.islandmanor.com) remains open in winter. Rooms are $125-$215, including breakfast. The Watson House B&B (4240 Main St., 800-336-6787, http://www.watsonhouse.com) and Miss Molly's Inn (4141 Main St., 800-221-5620, http://www.missmollys-inn.com) will reopen for Valentine's Day weekend. Afterward, the Watson House is open weekends only through early May. Miss Molly's will open on weekends in March, then full time in April. Area chain motels are open year-round.
WHERE TO EAT
AJ's on the Creek (6585 Maddox Blvd., 757-336-5888, http://www.chincoteague.com/rest/AJS.html) features seafood but also offers a four-lamb-chop dinner for $30. Bill's seafood restaurant (4040 Main St., 757-336-5831, http://www.billsseafoodrestaurant.com) serves hearty breakfasts as well as lunch and dinner. Dinner entrees start at $12.99.
WHAT TO DO
Winter's premier attraction is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (follow Maddox Boulevard east to the entrance, 757-336-6122, http://chinco.fws.gov) and its migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, on Assateague Island. Open daily 6 a.m.-6 p.m. November-March, 5 a.m.-10 p.m. May-September, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. April and October. Admission is $5 per vehicle per day, $15 per week. Fifteen miles of trails wind through the refuge. The 3.2-mile wildlife loop, threading between shallow ponds where thousands of ducks and geese often set down, is open only to hikers and bikers daily until 3 p.m., and to automobiles after 3. A tree-mounted camera at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's visitor center (open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.) is focused on a pair of nesting bald eagles.
On Route 175, in Wallops, is NASA's Wallops Flight Facility (757-824-2298, http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/WVC), from where 25 data-collecting rockets are launched each year. Launches can be viewed from the visitor center. (Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Days vary by season: Monday-Friday, December-February; Thursday-Monday, March-June and September-November; and daily July-August.)