Adventure is what you make it… More tales of kayaking and camping

camping platforms on holladay Island

Camping platforms on Holladay Island – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Adventure is self-defining. You don’t have to risk your life for an adventure. You do have to get off the couch and push yourself into an unknown. I have never paddled the Amazon nor climbed Everest, but I have gotten off the couch. I have gotten hot and sweaty, wet and cold.  I have been uncomfortable for days at a time. Did I risk my life? Probably not. Did I have fun? Yes.

In 2010, four of us stood on the banks of the Chowan River and looked over at Holladay Island, our scheduled camping spot for the night. To the left of us the sun was dropping ever so quickly. To the right of us was a northerly wind blowing in our face at around ten mph. Before us was a mile of river, cold and choppy. The forecast for the night was continued windy conditions and a drop in the temperature to the upper thirties by morning.

I plan my adventures as carefully as I can, but when the weather changes you have to change. Steve and I are experienced kayakers, and we have dry gear and skirted sea kayaks. My other two friends were far less experienced with no dry gear and paddling sit on tops kayaks that provided no protection against the cold spray that the river would be throwing at us. Then there was the uncertainty of a very cold wet paddle in the morning.

Reluctantly but wisely, we decided to drive north to Merchant’s Millpond so Holladay Island would have to wait six more years for me to get there.

Paddlers exploring Merchants Millpond State Park

Canoe and kayak rentals are available at Merchants Millpond State Park – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Merchants Millpond

Merchants Millpond State Park, located in Gatesville, NC features a canoe-in campground with ten camp sites. This proved to be a perfect plan B. I had been to the millpond nine years earlier with new plastic kayaks. Steve and I drove down with another friend from Newport News, Virginia to paddle through this enchanted cypress swamp. Paddling the pond is scenic from the put in point to the other end. On the east side we ran into lily pads so thick we could not go any further. Personally I love paddling in and amongst the moss draped trees better than any open water paddling. I was happy to be back.

We followed the kayak trail in near darkness through the cypress trees which was well marked with buoys. The trail ends on the banks of the other side of the lake. There is no dock to greet you so at least one person is going to get wet feet when they get out of the kayak.

There are ten tent sites in the family camping area nestled among trees and a pit toilet, but no running water. A short paddle distance away there are three sites reserved for small groups. By the time we set up the tents, it was dark and well past dinner, but I pack for quick meals so we were eating in minutes.

We were happy with the change of plans, and we looked forward to paddling around the lake in the morning. The weather forecast was correct. The morning air was frigid and there was frost in places so I had to start my day sticking my feet into cold and wet neoprene boots before I even got into the boat. Because it was so cold, we did not paddle beyond the trail back to the ramp and we never saw any of the resident alligators.

The pond scum there clings to the hull of your kayak leaving a noticeable bathtub ring. When you take your canoes and kayaks out of the lake at the boat ramp, the park conveniently provides a cleaning station for cleaning your boat. Bring a little soap and a brush and you can save yourself some time when you get home. The park also rents canoes for overnight camping.

Holladay Island Platform Camping

Inside looking out –Platform Camping on Holladay Island – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

First night out at Holladay Island

Having spent most of my winters from January to April behind a desk, loading up the kayak and paddling away on the first Friday night after April 15th is always exceptionally refreshing. When you push off from the bank and take those first few paddle strokes, you enter a new world. You dip your paddle from side to side and quietly head upstream as one with nature. You might see beaver lodges and bird nests along the bank as you slowly pass by. Turtles wait a little longer on their logs. The bird songs are not lost in the noise of an outboard motor. You feel the warmth on your face of the sun reflecting off the water. It is magical.

We arrived at the boat ramp at Cannon’s Ferry later than we planned. It also took us longer to pack our kayaks. Packing the kayak the first night is always a race against time. Now the sun was setting as we left the canal leading into the Chowan River. My heart was racing as we turned north for our second attempt at camping on Holladay Island. As with our first attempt six years earlier, the wind was again in our face and the river sent some waves over our bows.

We had reserved the east side platform, but as we neared the island, we decided to turn to the southern platform, which is actually three platforms, instead of risking arriving after dark at the east platform. As we entered the grove of cypress trees we knew we had made the right decision.

When you arrive at a platform you should expect to do some housekeeping before you set up camp. We found the decks were covered with fall leaves and sticks, but a broom in the privy area helped us to clean off the deck. The next night we took a $3 broom to the site which was fortunate because there was no broom to sweep with.

With a swept deck and the tents erected, we sat down to enjoy dinner. In the nearby darkness an annoyed great heron voiced his displeasure with our encroachment on his territory by letting out a long scratchy discourse of discontentment as he flew to another tree. The evening then became silent of wildlife. There was just the occasional distant rumble of trucks on Highway 32.

Holladay Island has now moved to my first or second favorite place to camp while Barred Owl platform tops my list. It’s an interesting place. Even though it is an island, the ground is too wet for pines and other deciduous trees. It’s just black soggy floor of roots and cypress knees.

The next morning, the sun broke through the trees and you could see water on three sides. When you wake up to 40° temperatures, the sleeping bag is the coziest place in the world. Our intent was to skip breakfast on the platform and eat later in Edenton, so we packed our gear and circled the island before paddling back to the ramp.

The west side of Holladay Island was beautiful because you could paddle in and around cypress trees for most of the length of the island. It also blocked the northern wind. On the east side, there were no trees to paddle among and with the wind behind us it was an easy paddle to the ramp.

When we left the ramp the night before, we were the only vehicle in the lot, but we came back to a parking lot full of trucks and trailers. Some were fishing, but others were out fixing blinds for the duck season. Two of them were at the south end of the island at work on their blind when we left the platform.

Kayaks along Edenton, NC waterfront

Kayaks along Edenton, NC waterfront – Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Lunch and a change of plans in Edenton

Edenton is a great little town to hang out especially since I found they serve orangeades in several of the restaurants. After Holladay Island, we had planned to drive on to Barred Owl, but as we ate a late lunch, Steve asked, “Why don’t we camp here tonight?” It was like a V8 moment. Great idea!

Chowan County has three camping platforms on the south side of Pembroke Creek on John’s Island, which is actually a large peninsula just across from downtown Edenton. Sitting in the restaurant I went on line and reserved the platform for the night. The change of plans saved us an hour of driving so we set off to walk around the Cotton Mill Historic District before launching.

Edenton Harbor’s Colonial Park  has a floating dock for kayak launching. Since the park also caters to boaters, the park also has shower facilities should you need to clean up after a night of camping. There is also ample overnight parking.

Reaching the platform was a short paddle across Pembroke Creek and the location was well marked with a large sign. Although we were secluded in the trees, the route 17 bridge was not far away and we did notice more highway noise than we expected during the early part of the evening. It seems getting away from cars and planes is getting harder and harder to do now.

The County’s platforms feature a counter for cooking or other tasks that the platforms owned by the Roanoke River Partners do not. This is a nice luxury and made reheating my grilled steak and accompaniments much easier than sitting on the deck and cooking.

Morning bought cold temperatures, but a beautiful view through the trees looking across the creek. We paddled around to the group three platform site which is more secluded back in a smaller feeder creek.

Reservations* (see footnote below) may be available through Roanoke River Partners, but you get more information at the Edenton-Chowan Recreation Department.

Hertford's S Bridge Perquimans River

Hertford’s iconic “S” bridge spans the Perquimans River Photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Under the S Bridge in Hertford

When Route 17 took a detour around Hertford it left behind a swinging draw bridge built in 1928 locally called the “S” bridge because of its two curves. I have driven across the “S” bridge, but I never thought I would be paddling under it.

We were on our second night of camping in 2009, and it was one of the most picturesque settings ever.  As we left the municipal boat ramp, the Perquiman’s river was a mirror reflecting the bridge in the distance. There was no urgency to our quest, the glassy river seduced us into leisurely pace soaking up the awesome scene. Our destination took us under the “S” bridge, and up Mill Creek low bridge that was also part of the old Route 17.

The Mill Creek camping site is a double platform operated by the Perquiman County. Its tucked way up Mill Creek where the creek is barely wider than our sea kayaks. When we visited them in 2010, they were nearly new with fresh looking deck boards and the raised counter for cooking that I like so much.

The County has a second triple platform on the Perquimans River west of the “S” Bridge. Recently I visited the Perquiman’s Chamber of Commerce tourism webpage and found they have also added three nice kayak launching sites. On the webpage are the coordinates and directions for each and downloadable paddle trail maps. The Perquiman’s sites do not have a link to any online reservation system, but according to their Chamber of Commerce office you should contact Steve Burkett at 252-426-3817. For more information about their water trails and camping visit the Chamber’s web page.

As Good as it Gets

Down in the Everglades you can paddle and camp on raised platforms called Chickees. They are in high demand by campers. Here in the Albemarle Sound basin, we have camping opportunities that rival the Everglades and almost anywhere else in the world. Come see for yourself, reserve your camping platform, and make your own adventure.

Publisher’s note: All campsites on Holladay Island and Johns Island are temporarily unavailable due to maintenance and repairs. 

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Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound Breweries, Bottle Shops & Further Adventures

craftbeerguideWelcome to the 2017 Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound! The clever digital guide is perfect for the beer enthusiast charting a course to the region where land and water merge.  It is designed to help visitors and locals navigate their way through breweries, tap rooms, local bottle shops, growler filling stations and a few small-batch brew fests that seasonally land along our shores. We also squeezed in an introduction to seasonal selections that are specially brewed for the holidays and winter. By no means is this a “definitive” guide but one emerging and a work-in-progress. We’re simply trying to maintain pace with the exploding craft beer movement taking hold in our state. Stay tuned, keep in touch and let us know about regional craft beer news brewing in the region.

Currently, the Old North State claims more than 180 craft breweries. Here in the northeastern corner of the state, more and more craft breweries are popping up in the low country. As you travel around the region, you’re sure to gain a better appreciation of our regional microbreweries as you sample the eclectic styles of beer, meet the passionate brewers, go behind the scenes on a brewery tour and hear the wonderful stories that are connected to these creative enterprises.

We encourage our readers to learn more about the brewing process, discover the camaraderie of the craft beer community and maybe even take a few field notes next time you’re out test driving a flight of locally brewed beer. Hopefully, our guide will help point you in the right direction.

Happy Trails!                           cheerstocraftbeeralbemarlesound

Craft Beer News around the Sound

The Outer Banks Brewing Station is spreading holiday cheer one sip at a time with their Christmas Beer release this month – a Belgian Trappist style ale crafted with locally sourced pecans. Yum! They’re teaming up this year with the Rum Boys over at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo, NC. OBBS is brewing the seasonal with “spent” pecans used to make the popular Kill Devil Hills Pecans and Honey Rum.

Just in time to welcome the cold weather, Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville released their Baltic Porter. A recent exploration of their website on the Our Beers menu described it as being “deep, rich and velvety soft with full blooded roasty character.” The brewers add, “This special brew rewards unhurried attention.” Sounds like good advice and the perfect beer to savor during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Also, a big shout out to the microbrewery for their award in the 5th Annual NC Brewers Cup held earlier this fall. The Duck-Rabbit Märzen won 2nd Place in the Commercial European Amber Lager Class. This year’s competition included 651 total entries, which included 477 commercial entries and 174 home-brew entries. The event is organized by the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild and also serves as a Beer Judge Certification Program.

 

 

Connecting Communities – Small batch brewers are “crafty” in their use of locally sourced ingredients. From barley, wheat, rye and hops to sorghum, pecans, figs, blackberries, sweet potatoes and persimmons. This plow-to-pint movement is cultivating “beer farms” that produce local ingredients for the craft beer & home brew industry.

From the Tar River to Currituck Sound

Weeping Radish Brewery, Butchery & Farm located in Grandy, NC always brings joy to the holidays with their seasonal (Fall & Winter) Christmas Bier. The Doppelbock (Double Bock) is traditionally stronger than the German-style bock beer but not necessarily twice the strength as the double bock might suggest. The hearty beer tends to be exceptionally malty but surprisingly, not too bitter. These extraordinary beers trace their roots back to the 17th century. According to Weeping Radish’s website, “A Bavarian specialty first brewed in Munich by the monks of St. Francis of Paula.” One interesting side note — the Doppelbock is craft brewed using NC grown hops and malt.

Tarboro Brewing Company recently brewed and kegged their first Imperial Stout, which they named Southern Solstice. Talk about good timing – just in time for the Historic Tarboro’s Annual Weekend Christmas Crawl held last week. Hmm, might be a good idea to ring in the New Year with the folks at TBC and listen to some live local music, make new friends and check out the seasonal stout!

For all you “fest heads” out there, hurry up and buy tickets now if you want attend our region’s first craft beer festival of 2017! Greenville, North Carolina will be hosting the Jolly Skull Beer & Wine Festival on January 21, 2017. The seventh annual event showcases more than 50 American craft microbreweries and wineries. Approximately 125 beers and wines will be featured. Click here for tickets and more info.

Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound including Bottle Shops

further craft beer adventures albemarle sound

craftbeerfieldnotesalbemarlesound

The Craft Beer Guide to the Albemarle Sound & Beyond!

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Up the Creek with a Paddle Kayak Camping & Water Trails

Kayak Camping Roanoke River Paddle Trail

I haven’t backpacked since college. Although I have had a long love affair with camping, my only backpacking trip was more of a one-night stand. You know, one of those experiences that seemed like a better idea the night before than the morning after. Not that it was a bad experience. I just decided that carrying a 40-pound pack was not my thing. I always figured that bicycle camping would be my ticket for adventure travel until I ran across a picture in the Raleigh News and Observer. The photo captured a setting of several canoes tied to the dock of a small camping platform and nearly concealed within a cypress grove. Suddenly my desire to go camping was rekindled but this time I’d be sleeping out under the stars on camping platforms along a designated paddle trail.

Roanoke River Paddle Trail

The camping platform highlighted in the Raleigh News & Observer is part of a paddling trail network managed by the Roanoke River Partners — a grassroots non-profit serving the five North Carolina counties that border the Roanoke River. RRP operates 16 of these platforms that were constructed in the Roanoke River basin in order to bring tourist dollars into an area of North Carolina that had been hit hard by plant closings and the demise of the herring fishing industry.

When they were first built, locals weren’t so sure that they wanted outsiders paddling through their backyard playground but the project has proven to be quite successful. A recent study revealed that the Roanoke River Paddle Trail generates over $550,000 to the regional economy annually. This impact is the result of both the overnight campers and day-trippers utilizing the trail and facilities along the river. It is projected that since the construction of the first platform in 1997, the trail has attracted well over 15,000 overnight campers (with an estimated four to five times that many day trippers).

kayak boardwalk camping platform

Welcome Home!
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

The Internet can be an adventure traveler’s best friend and through RRP’s website, I had two platforms reserved along with a growing file of information on kayak camping. Man learned thousands of years ago that a boat was better than one’s back for carrying a load, and I was planning to put that into practice. Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

1st Outing – San Souci Shuffle

Our target launch date was the last Friday of April, which we hoped would still bring cool nights to minimize the bugs that inhabit swampland. My goal for our first trip was a short paddle the first night and a longer paddle on Saturday and Sunday. We intended on camping one night at Lost Boat and the other at Otter One. Both camping platforms rest within the Roanoke River basin and are located just off Route 17, south of Edenton, NC on the Cashie River.

We arrived at Lost Boat just barely before dark after a four-mile paddle from the Sans Souci ferry landing. The camping platform was nestled in a small cove just off the Cashie River. We quickly set up our tents anticipating that the resident mosquito population would soon arrive to party with us but the cool spring evening kept the bugs at bay. Our first night was exactly what I had hoped for. The night was quiet except for the nocturnal sounds of owls, frogs and other wildlife at play in the woods.

The next day we could have paddled back to our launch site to restock for day two and paddled downstream to Otter One. Instead, we opted to take out our kayaks and spend part of the day in nearby Plymouth, which was hosting a large Civil War reenactment. After lunch and a tour of the town, we launched from Route 45 and paddled across the intersection of the Roanoke River, Middle River back to the Cashie River and down to end of Broad Creek.

Despite the five-mile paddle, Otter One was not far from Plymouth for the average crow, and the evening’s peace was occasionally broken by cannon fire and musket volleys from the rabble-rousing reenactors in town. It’s always good to bring a book along for the evenings on the platform since you can’t build a campfire on the deck and roast marshmallows for entertainment.

Paddle the Same River Basin Twice

Our second annual excursion took us to Royal Fern. We left the boat ramp at the beginning of beautiful Conaby Creek and paddled three miles to the end of a smaller creek. Royal Fern was the most secluded place I have ever camped. There were absolutely no sounds of civilization of any kind and animals bounded through the woods in and out of the creek all night long. The swamp forests along the Roanoke River floodplain provide ideal habitat for bears and this area is no exception.  Although no bear encounters have been reported around the platform in a couple of years, I could not resist shining my flashlight out of my tent during the night to see if any eyes were looking back from the darkness.

Campers on Roanoke River camping platform

Three’s a charm while platform camping in the Roanoke River Basin
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

For this trip, Steve and I decided to make it a three-day expedition. Leaving Royal Fern on Saturday morning we paddled out to the Roanoke River for a 12-mile paddle that routed us into the Albemarle Sound for our second overnight at Otter One on the Cashie River. Unlike the prior year when a 15 mph wind had kept the fisherman at home for the weekend, this year we passed fishing boats throughout the day.

We had hoped to find a portion of beach about halfway through the trip to allow us to snack and stretch our legs but the shore of the Sound was lined with dense trees and logs pushed ashore by two hurricanes. We were left with no place to get out of the kayaks so we rested while floating in an eddy behind some fallen trees at the mouth of the Cashie. By the time we arrived at Otter One, we were anxious to get out of the boats.

By foregoing a mid-day trip into town, we arrived earlier in the afternoon than we had planned. This gave us more time on the platform than we were accustomed to and a sort of “what do we do now” kind of experience. After a short nap, I opted to fish, and Steve paddled off to a nearby eagles’ nest before we cooked dinner.

Three’s a Charm

On our third trip to the backwaters, we were able to recruit two others to join us. Launching from a private ramp at the River’s Edge Restaurant in Jamesville, we paddled three miles up river to the Barred Owl platform. Barred Owl was the first camping platform, and it has one of the most beautiful settings as it stands over the water at the end of a long creek.

That night we were blessed with a clear night, a full moon and a leafless tree canopy. The sound of fish feeding on the surface and hoots of the neighboring barred owls filled the night and left us thinking, “Camping doesn’t get any better than this!”

Saturday’s treat was to return to Jamesville and lunch at the Cypress Grill. It is widely known for its fried herring that were once abundant in the Roanoke River. The Grill is a quaint riverside shack of a place with friendly folk, homemade pies and numerous other fried fish entrées. The Grill is a seasonal restaurant and it’s only open from January to April.

After an abundant lunch of fish and pie, we paddled nine miles to Three Sisters, which was typical of other platforms with its small dock and walkway leading back to a raised platform in the trees. A few platforms have near water level piers but most require the paddler to climb out the kayak onto a dock about one foot above the water.

We completed this trip by completing a circle back to Jamesville via Cut Cypress Creek. This route completes a short cut across the top of a “V” formed by the Roanoke River as it flows past Jamesville. The creek is a scenic passage through a tree canopy until it reconnects with the Roanoke.

roanoke river trail packing kayak

The art & craft of platform camping
photo courtesy of Tom Carmine

Packing a kayak for camping is like packing a backpack. The stuff has got to fit, and the weight has got to be properly distributed. Since we were not taking canoes, there was no place for coolers and lawn chairs.

For the most part, these paddle trips are without too much technical challenge but our trips have not been without some memorable moments. On our first trip we learned that even a small river like the Roanoke could quickly whip up some waves when driven by 15 mph winds. Cut Cypress Creek runs a small but steady current from west to east, which makes it difficult to maneuver long sea kayaks around fallen and submerged trees. One in our group twice learned that you don’t limbo too far to one side when passing under fallen trees across a creek. And finally, in emergencies, help is generally reachable by cell phone or by other boaters during the day. However, always be well prepared and plan accordingly.

After three trips, I can say that the logistics for camping on these platforms are easy. They are simple to reserve, and there are so many options for short or long paddle trips.  The platforms average around 400 square feet. They provide posts for stringing tarps or hammocks, and they have a private area for your own portable privy. Summer campers report that bug spray is a must, but cooler weather campers can enjoy bug free nights. For more information, to make online reservations, or link to other camping platforms in the region visit Roanoke River Partners website at www.roanokeriverpartners.org.

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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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10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

passport to 10 albemarle sound outingsWe’ve assembled a collection of outings that circumnavigate the region of the Albemarle Sound. Most of these explorations have been featured in our blog posts, digital guides and maps. Others are recommendations from some of our soundside friends, local guides and park rangers.  Sample a few of these destinations on your next day trip or create your own Albemarle Sound Passport and visit each of the ten locations listed below. You’re sure to develop a better appreciation of our beloved Albemarle Sound! Check out the interactive map to help guide you effortlessly along your next journey through the area. Some of the links direct you to more in-depth information that we’ve showcased in our articles while others land you directly onto a map or website. Either way, we’d like to point you in the right direction and encourage you to get out and explore the enchanting region of land and water.

If you discover other hidden treasures along your journey, please let us know and we’ll add them to our growing list of special places along the Albemarle Sound. Our “Things to Do” map includes over 200 regional listings devoted to those who travel with adventure in their hearts and a guide in their pocket!

Choose Your Flavor

10 Outings around the Albemarle Sound

 

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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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Paddling Season!

Perquimans River

Historic Hertford, NC along the Perquimans River

My wife and I have officially begun the 2016 paddling season. April Fools Day marked our first anniversary residing in northeastern NC. This year we’re expanding our paddling region so public access and boat landings have been on our minds ever since we’ve been researching the countless options along the creeks, rivers and open waters of the Albemarle Sound Basin. Here’s two paddling parks on the north side of the sound that provide convenient access, safe parking and additional amenities that enhance the paddling experience –one’s a hometown favorite and the other’s just a short drive down the sound.

Discover the Perquimans River

Every time I drive over the Perquimans River, I slow down, stretch my neck out and look out over the broad body of water and the cypress-lined banks. There’s several paddling trails along the river and it’s tributaries. On a recent scouting trip, my wife and I drove to Historic Hertford and spent an afternoon paddling a section of the Perquimans. We put in at Missing Mill Park, which is located just a few blocks from downtown Hertford. The park facilities include picnic tables, a canoe/kayak launch, a fishing pier and a boardwalk.

missing mill park

Missing Mill Park paddle sport launch

There are several route options paddlers can access from Missing Mill Park including Raccoon Creek Trail, Mill Creek Trail and sections of the Perquimans River Trail. Most of these trails offer overnight camping platforms for multi-day trips. We launched our boats in 15 mph winds with gusts over 20 mph so we opted for a shorter trip upstream. We paddled along the eastern side to avoid a strong headwind and turned around at Windfall Park, which provides an alternative launching area. On our return we wanted to explore Tom’s Creek but a large power line was obstructing the entrance under the railroad trestle. These “discovery” trips give one a taste of paddling in a new area and a chance to check out other trails and public access areas for future adventures. Up next for us will be a morning excursion along the Mill Creek Trail.

Pembroke Creek Park

Chowan County has recently completed a public water access for paddle sport and fishing at Pembroke Creek Park in Edenton, NC. The improvement project included new handicap parking areas, installation of two 50’ piers, and a floating dock for kayak and canoe launch. A storage shed, solar lighting along the boardwalk, a new bulkhead and an improved entrance were also part of the project, which was funded through a $149,720 grant from the NC Public Beach and Coastal Waterfront Access Program with matching funds from the county. The park is located at 716 West Queen St. approximately 1.5 miles west of downtown Edenton.

Pembroke Creek Park

Pembroke Creek Park improvements include a new floating paddle sport launch

My wife and I recently utilized the new floating launch pad and found it very user-friendly for both launching and take out. The two 50’ piers, which were built perpendicular to an existing boardwalk allow anglers access to deeper water and provide more surface area for casting. We also noticed new picnic tables and a few new benches installed along the boardwalk. Be sure to come by for a picnic or a day-trip along the creek and enjoy the new improvements.

The 4-mile Pembroke Creek Trail includes a couple of point-to-point options requiring a shuttle or multiple vehicles. There are three sets of camping platforms located on John’s Island. Most local paddlers put in at the Edenton’s Town Harbor floating dock or Pembroke Creek Park. There are several smaller creeks to explore, light development and beautiful cypress and gum forested banks. The area is popular among bass anglers so there can be moderate motorboat activity especially on weekends during fishing tournaments. Boaters should also be cautious on the stretch of open water while paddling along the shallow bay that can quickly turn rough on windy days and storms.

Both of these paddle trails offer many options from short day-trips to overnight camping. So if you’re looking for a couple of convenient paddle-friendly parks, check out these two gems and set aside a little time to visit the charming waterfront towns while you’re exploring the area.

 

 

 

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Autumn Solitude on Bodie Island

bodieislandlighthouse

We’re still on our fall discovery tour and taking advantage of good weather and fewer crowds. I call this the “edge effect” which occurs between two seasons. I’ve sneaked in some of my best adventures during these opportunistic times. I’m back on the road and trail and this time I’m exploring Cape Hatteras National Seashore. In 1953, Congress protected this coastal resource, which was designated as being natural and recreational significant to preserve forever. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is administered by the National Park Service, which preserves and protects the windswept seacoast stretching nearly 80 miles. The seashore spans north to south across three islands – Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Seasonal Notes

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round although facilities, programs and activities change with the seasons. For example, the three lighthouses along these islands are not open for climbing after Columbus Day and don’t reopen until the third Friday in April 2016. Cape Point Campground located on Cape Hatteras, is the only National Park Service campground open during the fall through the end of November.

So during the off-season, I’ve personally found you give up a few perks offered during summer’s peak season including interpretive programs but you end up with rewarding self-guided and intimate adventures.

Editor’s note: The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing year round. Only base tours are available during the summer.

bodieislandlighthouse

Accessible Adventures

One of the first points of interest on the northern section of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Bodie Island Visitor Center & Lighthouse. It is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).

From the parking lot in front of the lighthouse, visitors can conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. During a recent trip, the only visitors I observed were wildlife photographers, birders and birds. According to the NC Birding Trail, late fall and early winter is the perfect time to observe wading birds and numerous waterfowl species which migrate and/or winter along Hatteras.

The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. The last day of October, I observed Horned Grebes, Northern Shovelors, several Black Scoters, and a Tri-colored Heron feeding among the cordgrass.

bodieislandblackducks

American Black Ducks – Bodie Island

Another wildlife area to explore begins at the gravel road near the south end of the parking lot. A gated service road extends out to a tidal creek and a dock owned by a private hunting club. Anglers are often seen fishing this local creek from the dock and small skiffs. I enjoyed watching two fly fisherman or “water whippers” roll casting along the edge of the bank.

Visitors often see marsh rabbits, turtles, crabs along the creek and marshlands. Occasionally, one can hear the short series of clacking sounds from the Clapper Rail but seldom do hikers get a chance to view this large rail species– one that locals refer to as a marsh hen or mud chicken. Both of the walks reward the hiker with wide open vistas, wildlife viewing and of course, strategic views of the 170’ lighthouse.

Bodie Island can be enjoyed as a brief stopover or a half-day excursion. Binoculars are recommended to get up close and personal with our feathered friends. Also, be sure to check the local hunting season scheduled during the fall/winter. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is open daily, 9am to 5pm, September – May; 9am to 6pm. Oh yeah, act like a local and be sure to pronounce Bodie correctly (Body).

 

 

 

 

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WaveLINKS Autumn Gear Review

wavelinksgearreview

Cheers to cooler weather and lower humidity! For some of us outdoor adventurers, autumn is the perfect season for camping, paddling, hunting, biking and hiking. Here are a few pocket-size and affordable gear options that are sure to lighten your load and sweeten your next outing.

waveLINKS gear reveiw

photo courtesy of Sawyer Products

H20 on the Go!

Regardless of your pleasure, safe potable water is essential to any outdoor experience. It can also be one of the most challenging elements to carry. Remember the rhyme, “A pint’s a pound, the world around” so 8 pints to the gallon weighs eight pounds. Three quarts (6 lbs.) per person per day may be sufficient for the average day hiker while a kayaker may get by on less especially during a cool overcast day. A portable filtration system turns streams and springs into a valuable asset and in some cases, a lighter hydration alternative. Whenever I venture into the woods, paddle skinny water or tour back roads of eastern NC, I often include a water filter in my gear checklist.

The Sawyer MINI is one of the most versatile and effective portable filtration systems that I’ve personally used. According to Sawyer’s product details listed on their website, the MINI removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli. It also removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium.

The high performance filter fits in the palm of your hand and attaches directly to the reusable drinking pouch, standard disposable bottles and hydration packs. Or simply use the system’s straw to drink directly from your water source. A cleaning plunger provides easy backwashing after extended use.

WaveLINKS gear review - MSR Rapid Cooking Pocketrocket™ Fuel to Gruel

Our second piece of gear pairs well with the Sawyer MINI especially if you like hot beverages or tasty food while exploring overnight adventures. Again if you prefer palm-size convenience and lightweight options, you’re sure to appreciate the MSR Rapid Cooking Pocketrocket™ ultralite canister stove. It’s one, two, three and your ready to fire up some cowboy coffee or cook a delicious one-pot meal. The stove and valve body fit inside a small plastic case. Simply connect the stove with an IsoPro canister, (80/20 blend of isobutane and propane), then light a match over the edge of the burner head, open the flame adjuster valve and presto, you’re ready to boil the pint of water you just filtered in only a few minutes! The glove-friendly flame adjuster control is a nice addition and is easy to ‘dial in’ from simmer to full boil positions.

waveLINKS gear review

photo courtesy of Hydrapak™

Collapsible & Adaptable

Our last autumn gear tip features an innovative design and eliminates the waste of plastic disposable bottles. Hydropak is a company whose slogan boasts, “Always Innovate. Never Compromise.” Their outdoor athletes-tested personal hydration products are quickly becoming one of the most popular and most functional products in the industry. They have been designing multi-purpose and collapsible bottles, flasks and reservoirs for the past 12 years. One of my favorite bottles is the Hydrapak™ 500 ml (17 oz.) Softflask™. The flask is made of  thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) film body with a molded screw cap. The leak-proof design is easy to use and it collapses to a fifth of the original size when empty. The bottle includes a comfortable high flow soft silicone bite valve, twist shutoff valve, dust cap and nylon finger loop. The softflask works well for paddle boarding, running and cycling and it neatly packs away when empty. The sportflask™ line also includes 350 (12 oz.) & 750 ml. (77 oz.) bottles.

So all you gear geeks out there, be sure to give these products a field test during your next autumn adventure.

 

 

Suspension Therapy – When’s the last time you laid in a hammock? Check out Eagle Nest Outfitters hammocks for some serious hang time. Not only are they way cool, they are also comfortable, lightweight and durable. When used responsibly, they have a minimum impact on the trees and surrounding environment.
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