Near our favorite Eastern North Carolina town of Beaufort, the Rachel Carson Reserve is a gorgeous group of barrier islands, the closest just a mere 5 min paddle from downtown. We explore Beaufort on the regular, mainly just to walk around the town pretending we could actually afford a house here! The seaside town is a booming with great local shops and restaurants, tons of sailing and paddling opportunities, beautiful historic houses, and some adventurous history (#pirates).
Town is quaint and amazing, and we'll definitely post more on Beaufort in the future (we have in the past), but the destination today is the reserve. Off we go. Paddle-paddle!
We set off from a little town boat launch in Grayden Paul Park, located along the downtown waterfront (map of park here). There is lots of parking nearby - paid close by and unpaid a few blocks off. There are even a few load/unload-only parking spots right next to the launch. It is a super quick paddle over to the trailhead on Town Marsh. We pulled our kayaks above the high tide line and hiked through the island, following the markers to the other side and on to Bird Shoal.
While we weren't planning on seeing any wild horses (we didn't want to get our hopes up), we stumbled upon a trail...of wild poop! As we rounded the island to return to our kayaks for lunch we lucked out and caught a glimpse of one of North Carolina's wild horses grazing near the shoreline.
After lunch we paddled back to the mainland and put the gear away. Since the park and boat launch is in downtown, you're just minutes away from refueling and grabbing a bite to eat if needed. Before heading home, we made a quick stop by the Old Burying Ground next to the Ann Street United Methodist Church. Historic cemeteries in the South like this one are always amazing to visit. Underneath the arms of these century old oak trees are the graves of Beaufort locals from long ago - including Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers.
We love the town of Beaufort. The Rachel Carson Reserve is a great paddle with lots of shoreline, trails, wildlife, and beach to explore. Its closeness to a great seaside town make the adventure even better. We highly recommend this trip! Questions about the paddle? Need help deciding on a restaurant for some post-paddle grub? Leave them in the comment section and we'll answer quick!
~Paul, Amber, Ann, & Eleanor ETC
Link to NC Division of Coastal Management info on the Rachel Carson Reserve
Queens Creek is a great little ENC paddle spot, located near the towns of Hubert and Swansboro. It also happens to be just around the corner from the kayak launch at Hammocks Beach State Park (our last post:). It's closeness to other launches is kinda important since the creek doesn't actually have the most convenient launch sites for paddlers.
For this post we launched from the gravel-ly beach next to the Queens Creek Road bridge. Although many folks use this launch and there's actually a decent number of parking spots, it has a bit of a rogue vibe with a few private property signs posted. This is not an official state launch by any means, and most boats larger than kayaks should launch from somewhere else as it can get shallow at low tide (see a few other options below). For us it worked and I always see people launching from here.
Paddling down river will bring you to Hammocks Beach State Park fairly quickly (especially if the current is heading out to sea). There's been some interesting developments at the park that will likely increase the launch options for Queens Creek in the future. Check out part of the story here as the park plans its expansion after recently acquiring several hundred more acres with waterfront access to the creek. Paddling upriver is cool too - some residential areas and wild parts. The creek gets pretty deep this way.
Other launch sites close to the creek include Shell Rock Landing (reopening January 2018), Great Neck Landing (private ramp with fee to launch), and Willis Landing (pictured below). Out of these three I'd probably hold out for the reopening of Shell Rock Landing. It will be free and have a good amount of parking. Another option is always launching from Hammocks Beach State Park and turning a right to head up the creek.
So, if you fancy a paddle with the locals, try Queens Creek. Add it to your network of close-to-Swansboro paddling destinations. It's nice to have a town nearby to fuel up before or after the adventure. We really love Santorini Mediterranean Grill, great for waterfront views and legit Greek beer (hence our greek beer commercial photo above - #opa!).
Paul & Amber ETC
P.S. - We drank the Greek beer after the paddle, not before. Safety first!
P.P.S. - Santorini did not pay us in Greek beer to plug their restaurant...although we're ready to start the bidding...opa! Opa! More opa!
Psst! - the unofficial bridge launch we used is on the opposite side of the map marker above:)
Well, daylight saving time just ended. It's dark. Winter is coming. At least it's the perfect time to reminisce about an amazing summer spent here in Coastal North Carolina. I try to go on new adventures most of the time, but sometimes certain trips have such a great vibe they just keep calling me back. My most frequent trip from this summer was to Bear Island.
The destination: Bear Island, part of Hammocks Beach State Park. It's a 3 mile long barrier island just off the coast of North Carolina near the town of Swansboro. It's completely undeveloped, has campsites (registration required), and is accessible by two ways: passenger ferry (in season only) or by boat (like, your boat).
Arrival via Passenger Ferry
Most folks will arrive by passenger ferry. It's quick (about 15 mins), runs once or twice an hour from the Visitors Center, and is pretty cheap ($5 roundtrip last season). Summers and big weekends can get busy so show up early to purchase a ticket at the Hammocks Beach State Park Visitors Center main desk. Here's a link to the ferry schedule, just remember it runs during the season only - generally from April to October.
A few other fun facts and recommendations: 1) Once you arrive you've got a little .5 mile walk from the passenger ferry dock to the beach. It's mostly paved/loose gravel/and boardwalk. You'll get to the picnic areas and bathroom first. The seasonally open snack shack is there too. 2) You'll need snacks and water. I can't believe how many folks we see arriving for a day at the beach unprepared for the sun and heat. Be prepared. 3) You pack your trash out. All of it. Even if you purchase a can of soda at the shack, you take the can with you. Is this a good idea with in a state that arguably has a litter problem? Luckily it actually seems to be working out OK! 4) There are bathrooms and a water fountain to refill water bottles. Need more facts? Check the official page here:)
Arrival via Kayak
Since wonder-mutt isn't allowed on the passenger ferry, the only way to storm the island with pooch is to arrive by our own vessel. There's a large parking lot at the visitors center, a seasonally open kayak rental booth if you need a boat, and a nice floating launch to shove off. Wind, tide, & current will affect how long it takes to get to the island, we've made it one-way (in our high-powered inflatable kayak ) in as little as 32 minutes and as long as 1 1/2 hours. Unlike other parts of the country that have still, hot, dry, summer days, North Carolina usually has wind. Rarely have we paddled out to Bear Island with calm winds in both directions.
Once you set off all you have to do is follow the colored poles - yellow to Huggins Island, white to Bear Island. Here's a link to a great paddle map from NC parks. P.S. - Don't try and take short cuts - it gets a little confusing out there - ha! The picture (above) is the kayak landing on Bear Island - it's super close to the ocean, just walk over a dune and you're there. Another hint: we like to start the paddle around slack tide. We've found this is one way to minimize the chances of big current and waves (it doesn't always work though).
Also, if it's crazy windy you might hit-up a plan B: just paddle around and stop at little nearby islands for fun. Always be mindful of the current - if you stop paddling and notice you are getting swept out to sea it's probably going to be a strenuous return paddle. Another challenge can be really low tide. It can make the kayak landing on Bear Island tricky to get to - we've had to walk and pull the kayak a few times. This is something to think about if you were arriving in the winter and weren't prepared for a chilly-feet-in-the-water 20 min walk.
Finally, remember that tide and current are 2 related but separate things - the tide could be at slack but the current could still be moving. Tide is the vertical movement of water, current is the horizontal movement of water. Unfortunately, probably because of the popularity of power boats, there aren't current charts around these parts. That makes it hard to predict how fast and which direction the water is moving. If you're a local and have some tricks to help figure this out, leave a comment!
Without development, Bear Island is a pretty wild place. You may find, from top left going clockwise: mermaid's purses, blowfish skeletons, sponges, sharks, horseshoe crabs, and various natural seaweed art. Low tide is a great time to find unbroken sand dollars.
Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island are amazing. The memories of summer trips here will keep us warm as winter sets in. Our next adventure on the island? Camping. We plan to make a reservation, paddle in, and do that before the busy season starts back up again. Questions or comments about the trip? Just leave a comment below and we'll answer quick!
~Paul, Amber, & Eleanor (woof) ETC
Emerald Isle Woods
Cedar Point Boat Launch
Cedar Point Tideland Trail
THE ETC Membership Card!
Discounts where you adventure!
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