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Outer Banks have a lot more than beaches
Travels with Joe
Wright Flyer
Joe Gillam stands in front of the Wright Flyer in a museum at Kitty Hawk, NC. - photo by Photo provided.

Summer is here and we have our nice South Georgia heat. My recommendation for a few days of relief is a road trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks. Fresh sea air and an always a cool breeze off the Atlantic make this short trip seem like the other side of the world. And, like all our trips, getting there just might be more fun than being there.

This trip includes a 2-hour car ferry ride from Cedar Point, NC, over to the southern point of the Banks, Ocracoke Island. I like coastal route US-17 up the South Carolina coast to Jacksonville, NC, then NC-12 out to the ferry terminal at Cedar Point. The US-17 leg across the Carolinas is a well maintained, mostly four-lane road with lots of attractions. Get an early start so you can pick out one of the delicious seafood restaurants in Myrtle Beach for lunch. Plan for an hour or so to see the World War II battleship North Carolina just off US-17 in Wilmington, NC. A great self-paced tour with an interesting museum and ship’s store.

On to Jacksonville, where you pick up NC Route 12 that takes you out across the marshes to Cedar Point. My recommendation is to stay the night in Jacksonville, then catch the ferry in the morning to fully enjoy the ride. There is topside seating or air-conditioned interior seating. Summers can get busy, so make sure you have a ferry reservation.

It’s about a two-hour ride from Cedar Point to the first island of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke. As soon as you drive off the ferry you will be swamped by souvenir shops, coffee houses and ice cream stands. Caution, everything you see in the first mile will be a lot less expensive as you make your way north. The Outer Banks are composed of five larger islands. Unlike the Florida Keys that are connected by bridges the Banks are all connected by ferries. The trip over from the mainland is the only toll ferry, the rest are free and are 5 to 10 minute rides. No reservations are needed for these as they are constantly on the move.

Things to see on the Banks are the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Beautiful clean sandy beaches, but some nice chilly water that treks in from the North Atlantic year around. A famous attraction is the Cape Hatteras Light House. Built in 1871, it had to be moved 2,900 feet inland in 1999 due to beach erosion. One can climb to the top — some 200 feet — and get a spectacular view of the North Carolina coastline for many miles. And don’t dare leave without seeing the site of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk. A nice museum, gift shop and reproduction of the Wright Flyer is on the site.

There are all kinds of places to eat along the way, and, of course, seafood is the specialty of the Outer Banks. Lodging can be tight and sometimes expensive. Google away and find the right water-front motel at the right price. Along the way, you can find whale watching and dolphin tours and my favorite the party boat fishing, either one-half or full day. So, take your cooler along.

No ferry is needed to get back to the mainland from the north end of the Outer Banks. US 17 or US 64 takes you over to I-95 with its straight shot south to home. Chong and I have made three trips to the Outer Banks. Each one with some more exploring and new sights. If you have not made this trip, get it on your bucket list. A lot of fun and really close to home.

See you in the rest area!

Gillam is a retired HPD officer.

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