This is part three of a three part series about beach riding in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You can check out part one here and part two here.
We Pick up the story with two ferry rides to get from Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island and then out to South Core Bank.
Have you ever heard of the Core Banks?…or the Cape Lookout National Seashore? Yep… me neither. But maybe that’s a good way to tell if a place is going to be heavenly for fat-bike beach riding. I came across references to the Core Banks in the guidebook that I used to help me along in the OBX. As I mentioned in part two of this series, the Park Ranger that I spoke with at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore told me that the Core Banks and Cape Lookout was where, I would find the most remote and pristine beaches in the region. The Core Banks are the natural continuation of the sandy shoals of the Outer Banks, but they’re in a different National Seashore, called the Cape Lookout National Seashore (CLNS). The (CLNS) allows beach camping (unlike Cape Hatteras) and also allows off-road vehicles (like Cape Hatteras) on both North and South Core. There are no paved roads on South Core and ferry service is run by privateers. The (CLNS) is commonly referred to as the Core Banks. They’re named after the Coree Tribe of Native Americans that used to paddle out there for clam bakes and what not. Along the roads that lead from the Ferry Docks at Cedar Island, there are no surf shops and souvenir chain stores, like in the OBX…and in their place, are small quaint mom-and-pop – bait shops – grocery stores and lots of salt marsh.
I had almost given up on my search for the idealistic picture, that I had in my head, from a trip that I had taken two years ago, fat-packing in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, that features, camping on the beach (near a lighthouse) with basically a square mile of waterfront, paradise….all to myself. Well, it took me a week, but on the eighth day of my road trip, I landed on sunny, South Core Bank and found exactly what I had dreamed about….that perfect idealistic beach-bike dreamscape. While in North Carolina I discovered that they embrace a long tradition of driving their cars on the beach and even on this most undeveloped federally managed, National Seashore, OHV’s are allowed. So my dream beach scenario in NC had to be modified to include the automobile. But you know what they say….’When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
So after a quick re-supply of groceries and ice, at a really cool little market that had lots of home-made goodies, I took a ferry ride across the 3 miles of the shallow, Core Sound and landed on the South Core Bank. I let 10 seconds of air out of my tires on the truck and I got my first beach driving experience. I only got stuck once….and that was for a very short spell, which didn’t require any digging, so I consider that a rousing success! I had about two hours of daylight left, so I rolled down the sand double-track, that runs the length of the sound, past the lighthouse, and claimed my square mile of beach paradise. This left me just enough time to jump on the bike and ride back a couple of miles on the beach to check out the lighthouse. On the way I found a big gorgeous shell! After a bit, I took one of the beach ramps over the shallow dune and then headed into a small grove of gnarled pines only to emerge onto the sound-side of the bank, under the shadow of the one hundred and sixty-three foot tall, Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Beach riding and lighthouses are like two peas in a pod. The existence of scenic lighthouse vistas, should probably be a litmus test for deciding which beaches to explore. This particular lighthouse was rock’n an Argyll paint-job and I had the entire facility to myself (photo at the top of the page). Now, granted…. it was 6:30 PM on a Monday night in the off-season, but I got that magic moment on the bike that I had been seeking for over a week. With the day’s light fading, I rode back to camp and then grilled steak on the tailgate of my truck. North and South Core Banks is where I wished I had spent my entire trip. But you just don’t know that sort of thing until you go out and explore new places. If I ever go back to ride North Carolina beaches, I would spend a whole week riding and camping on North and South Core Bank.
I got up the next morning at dawn and captured some pictures of Otis. I pressed some coffee and had breakfast with my toes in the sand. I studied the map to see where I could explore the South Core beaches on my Fatback and still make it back to the ferry dock on time. I had roughly 3 hours to spend riding, so I headed north. The nesting closures and restrictions are handled a little bit differently on the core banks. On the core banks the closures don’t go all the way to the water so you can ride the entire length of the beaches on the island. I can see why the national Park closes off sections of beach, where american oyster catchers are nesting. I rode past four or five of these sections that each contain a pair of nesting oyster catchers. When I rode by both the male and female (OC) basically go ape-shit crazy and fly away from their nest….and that can’t be good for brooding eggs.
The ride was spectacular. Perfect weather and gorgeous, low tide, ocean beach riding for three hours with just me, Otis and some Oyster Catchers on their honeymoon. I’ll remember my time on South Core for a long time to come. On my way, back to the ferry dock, I spoke with a Park Ranger about extended beach touring, using fat bikes in both Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashore’s. He enthusiastically supported my theory that the Nags Head to Ocracoke to Core Banks route would make a perfect week plus adventure. He even went on to suggest adding the Shackleford Bank as a last day finale’. There are wild horses on Shackleford and no OHV’s allowed.
The Core Banks were the two best days of trip…but having already extended my trip by a few days, it was time for me to pack it up and drive back to Wisconsin. I hope you’ve enjoyed our three part series about beach riding in the Outer and Core Banks of North Carolina. If you take a fat-bike trip, don’t be shy about sending us a post card! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Makes me want to go there now
Awesome write up! I’m headed down to NC in July. (I know tourists). It’s a family trip to Topsail Island a bit further South than your trip. Any tips of how to find out where to ride. I’m hoping to sneak away on the Pugs and check out some beach riding. Thanks!
really enjoyed your story, thank you. I am new to fat bike riding this year and have been enjoying Lake Michigan beach rides the past few weekends…Love it!
Great story , the wife and I ride our pugs at Frisco on Hatteras Island , but the closures for nesting birds is making it so you can’t ride alot of the beach area, or use your OHV.
It has changed alot over the few years ,but still a beautiful place ,fun to ride
I just read your first part , of this OBX ride .I’m a little perplexed ,last year I was told the same thing about riding our bikes below the high water mark, 2 weeks ago we were riding between beach ramps 49 and 44 near the Cape point , between Buxton and Frisco N.C.and a ranger told us we had to stay in the water or the ” wash area”, not a nice thing for bikes ,he asked us to turn around to the open beach ,3 1/2 miles back.