Elevated on Holladay Island Paddling & Camping on the Chowan River

 

kayakerapproacheshollodayisland

Kayaker approaching Holladay Island on the Chowan River
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

“It’s supposed to be really nice tomorrow, highs 70s, sunny, and no winds. You want to check out the platforms on Holladay Island?” I asked Elaine, my paddling partner.  An avid birder and biologist for US Fish and Wildlife, I tempt her with sightings of birds and promise of good weather.

“Sounds neat. But only if we leave early enough to see the sunrise and what birds might be there.”  

The dark drive goes quick, but dawn is slow to arrive. Low gray clouds move in as small raindrops land on the sand beach.

In a flat voice, Elaine looks at me, “you said sunshine.”

I shrug. “We’ve got rain coats. The rain and mist add character.”

The Chowan turns from inky black into a gun-metal gray, the mist silently and slowly moves over the water, sometimes hiding the island. Our red Wilderness System Tsunami kayaks stand out against the gray.

The rain was gentle; dissipating once we reach the platforms. Rays of sun appear before the clouds reform, closing the gap. An occasional song bird jumps from branch to branch for Elaine.

Sign for Holladay Island Camping Platform

Kayaker entering Holladay West Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Elevated Paradise

It’s correct to call Holladay Island an island; the 159 acres is fully surrounded by the Chowan River. But don’t assume “island” means dry land. The inky black of the Chowan, the natural color of rivers in eastern North Carolina, slowly weaves around the cypress, tupelo trees, and vegetation holding the island’s soil in place. Making landfall here means docking your boat on one of the five wooden 16’ x 14’ platforms.

The island is now owned by Chowan County, who also maintains the platforms. European settlers first noticed the island in 1586 when Sir Walter Raleigh led an expedition up the river.  The island’s namesake, Thomas Holladay purchased the land in 1730.

The island remains as it was before eastern North Carolina developed into what it is today. Rain or shine, you sense the primitiveness of the land. The trees were never cut for timber and the lack of dry ground prohibited any permanent building. Not until the construction of the platforms did humans dramatically influence the island.  

Holladay’s tupelo and cypress trees provide ample shade and obstacles to paddle around. The shoreline is difficult to determine – the four to six-foot diameter, 120 foot tall trees grow close in the island’s core to twenty feet away from their neighbors in the open water.

As you paddle around the trees, your view extends out several miles over the Chowan. Each platform provides a view – the west platform is sunsets with an open forest view, while the east platform is known for sunrises and vegetation seeking to take over the platform. The south cluster of three platforms forms a water world village; a winding walkway two foot wide connects each platform. The cluster is tucked back, secretly, amongst the trees.

walkway to Holladay Island Camping platforms

Walkway leading to Holladay Island Camping Platforms
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Holladay Island Paddling Logistics

When the wind conditions are perfect (less than than twelve to fifteen miles per hour), Holladay Island is an easy and relaxing paddle. But because you must paddle at least a mile of open water to reach the island, go with calm wind, or have skills to paddle the chop and wind.

Chowan County and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission provide different launch points off Cannon’s Ferry Road. The Commission boat ramp is a standard motor boat ramp while the County offers a riverwalk park and a small sand launch point. Either location works well.  

Once on the water, Holladay is easy to spot – it is the only island. Reaching the island, look for the large blue signs for each platform once you near their location. The east and west platforms are easy to find but the south island cluster requires a search amongst the tupelo for its secret location.  To get back, retrace your steps.

 

Bring your own portable potty kit – The platforms are pack-in-pack-out. Newspaper, plastic grocery bags, and a 3.3L square rubbermaid resealable container does the job for one to two people up to two nights.

For a free detailed trail description, digital map, and more photos of Holladay Island, visit BeautifulPaddles.com guide to Holladay Island. To learn more about the rules, regulations and registration procedures for platform camping in the region, click here.

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Paddle + Camp along Hidden Lake on Albemarle Sound

raft of kayaks - Hidden Lakes

Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Ghost trees, barren and bleached by the seasons, stand forlorn off the shoreline. The glassy Albemarle Sound brightly reflects the early spring sun and the quick shadows of osprey on the hunt. Hidden Lake provides the osprey plenty of prey, and excellent birding and fishing for paddlers, once you find your way to its ten acres.

Is it straight or right? The red 2005 Corolla slows to a stop, tires crunching the last bit of gravel left on the old dirt road. Straight ahead, the dirt is smooth and pothole free, appearing well-travelled. Right…small lakes cover the worn tire tracks, leaving only the sides and middle somewhat dry; the early spring vegetation leans into the road, searching for sunlight.

Fingers tap on the wheel, as I ponder which direction to take. Though I spent six years by this point paddling and living in eastern North Carolina, I sometimes forget how remote the best paddles are, despite 4 bar LTE. Google Maps indicates a right turn, down the rough road.

The Corolla eases down the road, the left tire riding through the first lake puddle without issue. With care, the Corolla easily skirts the remaining puddles for the next .3 miles. The road bends next to Navy Tower primitive (and not maintained) boat ramp, as pines needles carpet the less exciting but easier to drive forest road.

At the small kiosk I pull into the small six car parking space.

kayaker on Hidden Lake

Smiling kayaker on Hidden Lake
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Palmetto-Peartree Preserve Snapshot

With 14 miles of shoreline along the Albemarle Sound, the 17-year-old preserve offers numerous private pocket beaches, deep blue glassy water, a camping platform, and excellent birding. The 10,000 acres serves as both vital habitat to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (as well as to numerous black bears, osprey, and other wildlife) and a protection buffer to highway 64.

While the Conservation Fund formerly owned and managed the preserve, in July 2016 NCDOT took ownership until another agency or organization indicates a desire for the long-term management and ownership of the land.

Soundside Observations

With a fish in its talons, the bald eagle flies low and slow over the sound, disappearing past Palmetto Point. The 16’ sea kayak glides smoothly over the clear shallow water and remaining stumps of trees once marking the shoreline. The empty Albemarle Sound extends to the horizon.

Every pocket beach initially appears as the entrance to the lake, and on the fifth attempt, I find the entrance and paddle up the twelve-foot wide creek. Cypress, pine, and other trees shade the creek until it unexpectedly widens at the ten-acre lake. Paddling towards the camping platform, I count four active osprey nests and lose count of the turtles swimming away.

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake offers overnight camping options for the adventurous paddler
Photo courtesy of Beautiful Paddles

Hidden Lake Field Notes

Easily reached from Edenton, Columbia, and the Outer Banks the preserve has four soundside access points and one canal access, offering casual half day paddles to longer adventure paddles with platform camping.

The access points are primitive and not maintained. From the small parking lot at the boardwalk (the main launch point), carry your boat 138 yards (a cart with large wheels will work if you do not carry your boat) along the trail to a small sand beach.

Once on the water, head left (west) 1.56 miles past the prominent Palmetto Point. With care, you can find the entrance to Hidden Lake on your first try. If you reach Ship Point and see houses in the distance, you paddled a half mile too far. There is no obvious sign of the creek except for light color water, indicating the less brackish water of the creek.

The creek to Hidden Lake is 1000 feet long; the platform is 400 feet from the confluence of the creek and lake, on your left as you head in.

For more detailed paddle trail description, digital map, and photos of this paddle, visit http://beautifulpaddles.com/palmetto-peartree-paddle-guide/

 

Hidden Lake trip tip – The lake is worth exploring and offers high quality fishing and birding. Bring your pole and binoculars.
Brad Beggs, Beautiful Paddles.

 

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