Ok, so, we're in the planning stages here folks. Our new-ish 4x4 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk hasn't been set free onto one of North Carolina's many drivable beaches yet...but we're planning on it. We were going to drive on Emerald Isle this winter but were easily distracted by the new drone.
We drove over to the Cape Lookout Visitor's Center on Harkers Island (this is one of many visitor centers for Cape Lookout National Seashore - here's the others). We browsed exhibits in the building and eventually purchased passenger ferry tickets to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We shoved off, quickly stopped by nearby Shackleford Banks to drop off visitors (pictured below), and eventually arrived at a dock on the cape near the lighthouse.
Cape Lookout National Seashore includes 3 large undeveloped barrier islands that stretch over 50 miles (the islands are South Core Banks, North Core Banks, and Portsmouth Island). You can get to all three using various park and/or private ferry services. Some of these services are how we will one day get our 4x4 vehicle to the islands.
On this trip we were just trying to feel out the vibe of the place. This lighthouse side of the island has another small visitors center to explore, you can beach it on the bay or ocean side of the island, climb the lighthouse, fish, or just relax and search for shells. Like many spots along the coast, all trash you bring to the island must come back with you. I'm always a little suspect of these systems while our state is still trying to kick itslitter habit. While walking the beach on the ocean side we saw quite a few vehicles and I started pondering the specifics of getting our Jeep out here. Here's what learned (in the form of tons of helpful links!).
Driving, Parking, & Getting There
*Here's some general info from the park about driving at Cape Lookout National Seashore
*Here's alist of the ferries that can transport passengers and vehicles from the mainland, it's gonna cost you $75 and up to get your vehicle out here, the boats leave from different places on the mainland
*You should have 4-wheel drive, gear to get you unstuck from the sand, and deflate your tires to around 20 psi for more coverage/grip in the sand
*You'll need to pick up a free ORV Education Certificate decal (online or at the park) to display on your ride
*There is longterm parking available on the islands - for folks who want to leave their rig there and passenger ferry back and forth to save $
*Here's a great blog post about driving on the islands/beach
Camping and Cabins to Extend the Trip
*Cabins to rent
*Camping (you can actually make a campfire!)
*Paddling from the mainland to the islands
*Here's amap of all of the islands
I'm going to leave you with a few more links regarding Portsmouth Island - the smallest of the three islands and home to Portsmouth Village - a cool and deserted historical seaside village. The park info doesn't really mention driving here, probably because the possibility of a flooded road. Some of the other info makes it seem easy.
*Visiting Portsmouth Village
*Somehistory and how to get there
*Driving there - flooded roads, bugs, and more!
*Portsmouth Island ATV tours (this looks fun)
We had a great time in our short visit and are excited about planning a longer stay with the Jeep. Since the cost is pretty high to get out there ($75 for our vehicle), it seems smart to camp by your ride or book a cabin to get the most out of it. More on that story as it develops!
~Paul & Amber everyonestravelclub.com
It took a little work, but Captain Wifey finally gave in to my pleading. "I'm going to be 40 before we get a fun car!" I would say. She finally caved and here we are. Proud owners of a hot little red Italian 4x4. Even though it's a stock Jeep - no big tires, big lights, and bars on the front - it's a far cry from 20 years of affordable and efficient compact Japanese sedans. Full disclosure: I still have one of those sedans and some wager it will outlast this new SUV...where's the fun in that?
The new SUV is the perfect ride to tour nearby Croatan National Forest. We live right up next to the 160,000 acre forest and have ventured along its long, straight, and bumpy gravel roads a few times before. With the added suspension, driving through the forest was a piece of cake (take that sedan!). The roads are pretty well maintained, lots of ruts though. If you stay away from a few optional off-road paths, four wheel drive isn't necessary - just stay on the mapped roads and expect lots of gravel.
We ventured to two of the lakes located within the forest - Great Lake and Catfish Lake. These Carolina Bays will be great places to explore by kayak in the future (fun fact: there are alligators!). We took a few quick pictures but kept driving across the forest toward the Neuse River Recreation Area, a.k.a. Flanners Beach on the banks of the Neuse River.
As you can see, for this post we actually made two trips to Flanners Beach (one sunny and one cloudy). There's wooded trails for day hiking, a managed campground (fee required), and a great Pacific-Northwesty sandy beach on the Neuse River. Like most NC parks, day parking is free.
All and all, a great little trip. On our way back we stopped by the Croatan National Forest Headquarters along highway 70 a grabbed a few maps for our next Jeep safari! Check out the map links below to plan your next adventures in Croatan!
~Paul, Amber, Dad ETC
Link to Flanners Beach trails and campground
Link to Croatan National Forest map
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