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! Once you arrive at 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. If you plan a long day you might be able to get carried out to the island and carried back in:) 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
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