Hammocks Beach State Park

Hammocks Beach State Park

On a moderately warm October weekend in 2006 I went to the beach with my sea kayak. The goal was to paddle to Bear Island. I had a long pleasant drive from Wilkes County to Bogue Banks, just west of Atlantic Beach, which is further southwest from Morehead City, NC.


I stayed at one of my favorite campgrounds, Cedar Point in Croatan National Forest. It costs a little more than the average federal campground, but it has hot running water, showers, fairly widely spaced campsites and electrical hookups at some of the sites for my C-PAP machine. It also has a scenic interpretive hiking trail that winds through the cedar and pine forest between Bogue Sound and White Oak River. For economy I ate most of my meals over a camp stove at the campground. For enjoyment a couple of evenings I had nice seafood dinners at local blue collar restaurants. One night I drove north to Salter Path and another night I drove south to the causeway leading into Swansboro.

Bear Island is a barrier island and is the seaward part of Hammocks Beach State Park. The park headquarters and visitors center are on the mainland, facing the sound, just south of Swansboro. Connecting the two parts of the park is a series of water trails barely marked through the estuary. One trail follows the Intracoastal Waterway. Another follows the ferry route from the visitors center to the dock on Bear Island. A third trail swings to the east end of Bear Island and ends in the big lagoon just west of Bogue Inlet, at the west end of Bogue Banks. Incidentally, Bogue Banks is the real name of that barrier island, but the local Chambers of Commerce have conspired to rename it the more tourist inducive Emerald Isle.

On of the tricks to sea kayaking is to paddle with the tide, or at least not against it. Try to schedule your trip so that the tide is going out when you are going out, and coming in when you want to do the same. Otherwise, the effect is paddling against a current, like going upriver. It is doable, but tougher. Also, the water is shallow in the estuary where the trails run, so in addition to moving with the tide, you don't want to be traversing the flats when the tide is low. It is better to go when the tide is rising or falling, or at its height. Otherwise you will be dragging the bottom of your boat on sand bars and trying to walk across impassable, shoe sucking mud and grass bars.

On this trip I paddled the first day to the lagoon at the east end of Bear Island. The weather was cooperatively warm. The sea was calm with a little chop and just enough wind to know I was at the beach but not swing my bow around. I saw two or three other paddle boats on the trails. Playing in the water at Bogue Inlet were several families off of motor boats moored nearby.

On the second day I paddled from the Cedar Point dock and boat launch around the south tip end of the mainland into the White Oak River. At the coast, rivers look more like bays. Where the White Oak River meets Bogue Inlet it is about a mile across. There are no trails or markers here, so you are on your own to navigate to wherever you are going and find your way back home again. By keeping close to the shore on the eastern side of the river I was able to keep fairly good track of where I was going. Eventually the river bank becomes part of the Cedar Point interpretive trail system, so I paddled into the estuary and under some of the beautiful wooden bridges on the trail.

Another navigation feature I found is that near the beginning of the Cedar Point trail is a distinctively tall tree with a large osprey nest in the top of it. This tree stands out from the forest because a prior hurricane knocked down most of the trees around it and left this tall one standing alone. As I paddled up the east bank of the White Oak River I could see the osprey nest tree in the distance. By keeping that tree to the east off my right shoulder while going north up the river (and off my left shoulder while returning south down the river) I could keep track of my north / south progress. Later, back home on my computer, looking at the area on Google Earth, I was amazed to see that the osprey tree was so distinctive that it showed up on the global photographic map.

My next goal on a return trip is to paddle to Bear Island with my overnight gear and camp out for several days. I would also like to head further up the White Oak River to the next National Forest campground and make an overnight trip there, too.

It was a good trip.

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.