24 March 2010

Driving up to Kitty Hawk

One of the most remarkable geographical features of the U.S. state of North Carolina (pop. 10 million) — besides the highest mountain in the Appalachian chain, Mount Mitchell — is the long strip of coastal sandbars called the Outer Banks. The Banks are a string of barrier islands and they are far off shore for much of their length. They enclose a very large body of salt water.

My home town is at the very southern end of the Outer Banks. I grew up about 12 miles from Cape Lookout. Along with Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear, Lookout is one of the three sharp North Carolina capes that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Eastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks
Raleigh, the state capital, is 150 miles from Morehead City

I should have titled this post "Driving Miss Mary and Miss Annie" — they are my mother and her sister. I'll be driving them up to Kitty Hawk on Thursday morning. We are just going for fun, mostly. We'll spend the night in Nags Head, and we'll drive through Outer Banks places named Kill Devil Hills, Whalebone, Rodanthe, Little Kinnakeet, Salvo, and Ocracoke.

On the way north, we'll take the inland route, passing through the towns of New Bern, "Little" Washington, Plymouth, and Manteo. The inland trip covers about 190 miles (300 km) and takes 3½ hours.

On the way back south, we'll drive down the length of the Banks, and we'll ride two ferries. There's a short ride of 45 minutes or so from Hatteras Village to the island called Ocracoke, which is very narrow and about 12 miles long. You can only get to Ocracoke by boat, and the population of Ocracoke Village is about 500.

Here's the route of the trip.
Roads are in red and ferry routes in blue.

The second ferry ride takes 2½ hours. The ferry carries cars and passengers from Ocracoke Village over to a place called Cedar Island, in Carteret County, N.C. I was born and grew up 9in Carteret Country, and spent my childhood here. Cedar Island (pop. 350) is a 45-minute drive through salt marshes and a string of little fishing villages from my home town, Morehead City.

The distance from Kitty Hawk to Morehead City via Hatteras and Ocracoke is only about 150 miles (250 km), but because of the boat rides the trip takes 4½ hours.

The Outer Banks are amazingly narrow. In many places you can see the ocean waters on one side and the sound waters on the other as you drive down the road. There are extensive salt marshes on the sound side, and there are long beaches and often heavy surf on the ocean side.

The N.C. fishing industry is on the decline, and the old villages are being overtaken by development aimed at tourists and summer residents. The old English-sounding brogue is dying out. But despite rampant overbuilding (vacation homes and strip malls), the Outer Banks are still a world unto themselves.

I'll be on the road and won't be blogging for the next couple of days.


  1. Thanks for the tour around my neck of the woods, Ken. If you can keep the good weather there, we will probably return to New Bern from Florida in the next two or three weeks.

    Enjoy your visit and please give your Mother my best regards.


  2. Bonne route- most of all I wish you good weather so that you can takes some good photos for us.

  3. Hi BettyAnn, sorry I'm missing you this time. I hoped I would hear from you. It is pretty nice here right now. We're looking forward to the trip to the Banks.

    Thanks, Evelyn. I'm hoping to take some good pictures.

  4. Wow, that sounds like a wonderful drive. I just had never thought of North Carolina as being so coastal (hmmm... tells you about my lack of U.S. Geography studying, that's for sure). I would love that. I think that Elliot and I should do a trip there, what do you think? We love anyplace with water and ferries and ocean and seafood and small towns and peacefulness. I'll enjoy seeing the photos I know you'll eventually be posting for us:) Thanks in advance, and safe driving!


  5. Hi Judy, N.C. has a very long coastline, and parts of it are pretty remote. A long stretch of it is national park land, with no roads or bridges over to the barrier islands. The "inner coast" — mainland shores along the sounds — is very long too and is rapidly being developed. It is certainly a good candidate for a vacation trip.

  6. Ken, you're going so close to Edenton and not stopping in? It's one of the prettiest towns on the east coast. BBQ at Laney's is not bad (we've had Wilber's, your fave; Wilber's might be better but you should try them all!)

    Have a good trip with your mother and aunt.

  7. Hi Ken,

    I may have written to you about my couple of trips to the Outer Banks, but today's piece brought back fine memories of stays in Duck, near the northern tip of the Banks.

    You're so right -- the O.B. are so overdeveloped. I remember trying to get off the Banks a year ago last summer (all the rentals end on Saturday or Sunday), and it made getting off Cape Cod in July or August look like a day at the beach (pun intended).

    The trip by ferry to Ocracoke is highly recommended, and the beach there is phenomenal.

    I've never made it as far south as Morehead City nor the inner coastal area of North Carolina. Your description is an enticement.

    Have a great trip with your mother and your aunt. What a wonderful chance to spend time with them.

  8. Hi Carolyn, I'm afraid going to Edenton is not going to be in the cards this time. We have a rendez-vous in Manteo and will need to go directly there. I've been to Edenton before and it is beautiful.

    Bob, nice to hear from you. I've actually never been up to Duck. But I've been to Ocracoke and ridden those ferries dozens of times. I'm looking forward to the trip, even if there is a high chance of rain on Friday.

  9. Ken, Have a nice outing. I'm sure your mother and aunt will enjoy it! I hope there is no hurricane warning as those Outer Banks look pretty close to the sea :). And don't forget to get some good seafood!

  10. More than just the fishing industry is disappearing. That's just the way it is these days.

  11. Ocracoke. Oh, my. I hadn't thought it in ages. Your post, however, brings to mind glorious summer camping in the National Parks all up and down Cape Hatteras from Kill Devil Hills down to Ocracoke. Please take lots of pictures! The area will have inevitably changed since my college days, but I'd love to see it again. Regards to Miss MA.


  12. Hi Susie, We'll think of you as we drive down the Banks. MA sends her best. Hope you, Ray, and Ray's mother are doing well.

  13. I want to cry thinking of the Outer Banks. We used to spend our vacations at Nags Head - many, many years ago when you could still rent a grey wood slat cabin on the beach where the nearest neighbor couldn't look in your windows. When we moved to Chapel Hill some years back, we traveled through the Outer Banks and it was unrecognizable - not in a good way. I suppose if you've been there the whole time, the changes aren't so jarring. I hope your mini-vacation is enjoyable.

    I love North Carolina. Give it a hug from me.

  14. Great pics! I love, love NC and would really love to live there! Have a great outing, I'm sure you all will have a wonderful time filled with fun things!


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