Road Trip to Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island

Cape Hatteras Light

As we finalized our packing and preparation, I loaded my Yakima Easy Rider trailer in my “cargo without kayak” configuration. The empty space afforded by leaving the kayak home provides room for three more items, bags, or cargo boxes. For this trip, I added one additional Plano box and a cargo bag. One Roam Adventure box is permanently mounted to the trailer floor and the other on the Yakima Skinny Warrior cargo basket.

Roam Waterproof Boxes and Plano Outdoorsman Storage Boxes

We started our road trip in April 2022, departing Kansas City and heading toward Athens, Georgia for a wedding. We stopped in Hopkinsville, KY as an overnight stop, staying at the Hampton Inn Oak Grove Fort Campbell. When we travel cross country, we generally get a motel room along the route so we don’t have to detour to a campground and setup and tear down in the dark. We continued to Buford, Georgia, stayed at the The HOME2 SUITES BY HILTON BUFORD MALL OF GEORGIA and attended our granddaughter’s wedding.

Nestled between the big rigs in trailer parking at a rest stop

From Buford, we left on Saturday morning, and headed northeast on I-85, through Charlotte, to Raleigh Durham. Along the way, we tried to make reservations down the road, and found campgrounds full, and hotels full or over $200. We found a Tru By Hilton room for about $150 near the Raleigh-Durham airport, booked it, so we drove farther that day than we has planned. In the morning, with four and a half hours left to Hatteras, we set out early. The weather was great for the end of April, sunny, with a high in the low 80s and overnight lows in the high 50s.

Heading east on NC Route 64, the terrain after Raleigh flattened out and become less populated the further east we drove. Along the route, I had trouble understanding the heavy accents of new people we encountered. At one gas station, the pump said I had to pre-pay inside. The gal asked how much gas I wanted, and I said I wanted to fill it up. She tried to estimate how much I needed, saying “Yawn-eee?” My reply was Huh? “Yawn-eee? I finally understood what she was asking. Translation, “Are you on E?” I just got $50 and moved on! At another stop, we went into a grocery store to get some wine to take to the campground. At the register, the lady said, “Hun, you can’t buy that four noon on Sunday.”

After Columbia, NC, we crossed over onto the Outer Banks at Mann’s Harbor, crossing the Croatan Sound and Roanoke Sound. After reaching the outer banks of Cape Hatteras, we headed south on NC-12, the only main road down the peninsula. From the Cape Hatteras Visitor’s Center, it was a 48-mile drive down two lane roads to the Cape Hatteras Light House. We could generally see the ocean all along the way, and on narrow stretches, we could see water on both inner coastal and ocean side on narrow strips of sand.

On our way down to the campground, we stopped for lunch in Avon at the Froggy Dog Restaurant and Pub. We were both ready to get some fresh seafood, and got our seats on the outdoor deck. Our server, Liza, was a very nice gal, and prompt and attentive. She shared that she is also a Kindergarten teacher! The food was fast, hot, and great. Seafood enchilada Sunday special for me, and a shrimp po boy for Diane, with a couple of cold local drafts. About a $42 lunch with tip. We highly recommend the Froggy Dog! I was not compensated or given free food for this review. Darn.

Entering the town of Frisco, we reached our campground, about 1/2 mile off the main drag. We camped at Frisco Campground, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, National Park Service.

Frisco Campground near southern tip of Cape Hatteras

Frisco Campground is southwest of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse near the small town of Frisco, NC. When we arrived, the access shack was unattended, with a sign to proceed to our campsite. There is a long winding one-lane paved one-way road that circles the campground counterclockwise. The whole area is a hilly dune, with the campground between the sand dunes and a shrub thicket. There is a public boardwalk that provides access to the beach, bathhouses. This is a primitive campground with 117 sites, no electric, max RV length is 40 feet. Reservations can be made at http://www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. The campground is closed for winter November 29 through April 1st.

There is no camp store, ice, firewood, or laundry. The Frisco Market and gas station is on Hwy 12 right at the entrance to the campground road. In the campground, potable water is available. Wood fires are not permitted, charcoal fires are permitted in a grill, stove or other self contained unit. Flush toilets and cold showers are available.

Site P66, Loop F

When we arrived at our site just after noon, I was surprised by how small it was. Backing in our small trailer, there was just enough room for the front of the car to be clear of the road. The picnic table was right next to the paved pad, and there was not enough room to put our new Eureka Northern Breeze 10×10 Screen House over it like I had planned to. I did a review of this screen house and you can read my review here. Our site was small, but isolated from others, and we couldn’t see other sites from ours. We did have a view of the ocean, about 1/4 mile east of our site. Before setting up, we did a recon of the area. There were no easy paths to the restrooms. We had to either walk the road or drive around to Loop A to get to the restrooms and a water spigot. This nearest restroom was clean, but basic with flushable toilets, cold water sinks, and hand dryers.

Tent setup on pad, and screen room in the only place it would fit

When we got back to the campground, it was warm and windy, with windy days continuing throughout our stay. I opened the roof top tent, with the ladder just barely fitting next to the brush. I set up the Eureka Screen House next to the picnic table, which was the only place it would fit. We had brought this specifically for the bugs, which we knew were prevalent. There were some small scrub thorns I had to cut out, and didn’t want to put down the optional floor we had bought for the screen house. It is made to work without the floor. Unfortunately, the area was not completely flat, and it caused some gaps around the base, letting some bugs in. Even with Deep Woods Off with Deet, the bugs were bad. I ended up with several bites and a tick on my back.

Eureka! Screen Room with CGEAR sand mat

The screen house has panels on all four sides that can be rolled up to use as a screen room, or all four could be rolled down to use it as a tent. We left the back and side facing the road rolled down for privacy, and the other two sides open for ventilation. Overall, I was very happy with the quality of construction, screens, zippers and aluminum pole system. It is also very flexible for use as a screen room, tent, or shade tent. There is a screen door zipper on both sides, and those two sides can be unzipped to roll up for an open passthrough. I will review the Eureka! Northern Breeze in more detail separately after I put it up with the optional floor. Inside the screen house, I put down our 10×10 CGEAR sand mat, which was perfect over the short scrub thorns I had cut back. It is more heavy duty than the optional tent floor, and I wasn’t concerned about damage. The mat allows sand to filter down through multiple layers, and it kept the area very sand free. Using the screen house as a seating area, we put our Snow Peak folding chairs in it, as well as our portable camping toilet for middle of the night necessities. I also put our Goal Zero solar generator in it for light and to charge phones, iPad and watch.

We drove down to the beach and parked next to Ramp 49, an access point open to the public for vehicle beach access. With a proper permit and a beach worthy vehicle, you can drive on the beach. There are specific restrictions, including the requirement to let air out or your tires to help them “float” on the sand. Our SUV has run flat tires with rigid sidewalls, which are not recommended to be deflated, so we didn’t do that. Other beach permit requirements are located here.

After a short walk, we came to the pedestrian boardwalk to the beach. I set up our Helinox chairs with mesh sand pads while Diane explored for shells. She wasn’t impressed with the finds that day. She found some large shells, but almost all were broken, many, presumably, by the beach driving.

Parasailers enjoying the breeze

Back at our campsite, I broke out the Snow Peak Tabiki Grill/Fireplace (Small) to make a couple of large tenderloin steaks. This photo shows the grill and accessories consisting of a base plate, charcoal insert and grill rack. It held half of a 5 pound bag of charcoal briquets. I found this a good picnic table size, but it is so small we only ended up with a single layer of coals, and it wasn’t well suited for cooking thick steaks. It would be fine for burgers and dogs for two people, but I would recommend a medium or large for specific whole meal grilling. I will review this grill in a separate blog.  

We settled in for the night in our screen tent seating area, recharged our devices, and checked out our photos from the day. We went to bed in the Yakima tent on the trailer, and got up early in the morning for our trip to Ocracoke Island.

In the morning, I made coffee and boiled some eggs using our JetBoil Backpacking Stove and 1.5 Liter pot. We disconnected the trailer and I put a lock on the coupler so somebody wouldn’t drive off with it. After a quick breakfast at the campground, we drove south to the Hatteras to Ocracoke Ferry about 7 miles away. The drive-on ferry was free, and we cue’d up in line for the next available space. The ferry runs every 30 minutes. We arrived before 8:00 AM, and were able to get onto the next available ferry after waiting about 20 minutes. Vehicles of all kinds, including semis and commercial trucks take the ferry and space is limited. About 40 passenger cars would fit if there were no trucks or big RVs and trailers. Surprisingly, getting on was very easy. There were no tickets involved and we never had to get out of the car.

The ferry ride was uneventful, and took about 70 minutes. We stayed in our car, and were able to get out and walk around once the ferry was underway. Arriving at Ocracoke, they dropped the gate on the stern side of the boat and we drove onto the island.

Ocracoke Island is small, only about 2 miles at its widest, and 14 miles long. This was originally the pirate hideout of Blackbeard the Pirate, and an early fishing community. The Ocracoke ferry docks on the northern side of the island, and it is a remote part of the island. It was about a 10-mile drive south on two-lane roads to the main town. We spent most of the day here, with Diane shelling on the beach and checking out the small community.

We visited the Ocracoke Lighthouse, and Diane checked the local beach for shelling, without much luck.

For lunch, we ate at Smacknally’s in the village. I had an excellent blackened Drum (fish of the day) grilled fish sandwich and Diane had a fried shrimp sandwich. Both were large portions and very fresh and tasty. I had never had Drum…it was like a firm cod, not too fishy. I did get a few small bones.

With a few local brews, lunch with tip was about $50. Again, no comps!

After lunch, we went to Springer’s Point Reserve near the lighthouse. This was a short nature trail that local legend attributes to BlackBeard’s hideout. It was a nice little walk among scrub and mangrove trees, but we didn’t see any hideouts or pirates. We then drove back up mid-way toward the ferry to the wild horse pens and saw the horses cared for there, descendants of Spanish ponies brought over in the late 1500s. Across the street is a beach access which had been recommended for shelling by a local park ranger, and Diane was more successful finding some nice shells and a piece of coral.

About 1:45, we decided to head back to Hatteras and drove back up to the ferry. This time, however, there was a long cue of cars. Also, there was a priority lane for vehicles with a special pass like delivery trucks and road workers that by-passed us, pushing everybody back in line. Presumably, these are all legit businesses, workers, commercial trucks, etc.  It was aggravating to be behind a huge camper trailer with a connected tow vehicle taking up the space of 4 cars.  We did have a huge RV in front of use that had to wait for the next ferry because there wasn’t room, and three cars got on in his place.  

It took us an hour and 15 minutes in the cue before we got on the return ferry, then another 70 minute ride back to Hatteras. Once back at the campground in late afternoon, we cooked steak kabobs on the grill. Using the rest of the charcoal bag, I had to take the kabobs apart and cook everything on the grill grating to get it all done. The tenderloin steak chunks had been marinating overnight in the fridge and turned out excellent!

We went out and explored the local area a little bit, and got gas and supplies at the Frisco Market, right at the campground exit. After a quiet night at the campground, we had an easy breakfast at the campground. We had three nights reserved, but decided we had seen everything we wanted to see in the area, so did a leisurely pack up and departed a day early.

On our way out, I wanted to find the Futuro House that we had seen on a trip here 4 years ago. We found it on Google, right off the main drag of Highway 12 in Frisco. This wacky structure was actually pre-fabricated in the 1960s as a house of the future. Only about 100 were made, and estimates are that 50 survive. This has been moved around the Frisco area over the years, and was once was a hamburger stand.

While we were taking pics, a car pulled in, and it was the owner’s daughter who lives in a house behind it! She was friendly and happy to talk about it. Her dad, Leroy Reynolds, had seen it when visiting Hatteras as a child, and after getting out of the Marines, he moved back there and bought it. He thinks it makes people happy, and sometimes puts on a green alien outfit to greet visitors. The city has wanted it demolished for years and told her it didn’t pass building code, so she told us she called NASA and asked if there were building codes for UFOs…they said no. She said that this was the 2d most visited attraction on Hatteras next to the Hatteras Lighthouse! She said they are saving up to repaint it. Leroy would like to restore it, open it as a shop, and sell tourist merchandise.

As we were leaving Hatteras traveling north, we passed Bodie Lighthouse on Bodie Island. As we turned west on NC Route 64, we left Hatteras and a bridge took us over Roanoke Island. We stopped in the little town of Manteo to see “The Mother Vine,” the oldest grape vine in the US, estimated at 400 years old and planted by either early English settlers or the Croatan Indians. It is in a nice couple’s front yard and they encourage visitors to stop and take pictures. They sold clippings several years ago, and wine is still being produced from the scuppernong grapes. It produces white grapes that are on the sweet side. You can buy a bottle from the Duplin Winery here.

After this stop, we drove to the north side of Roanoke Island, and visited Fort Raleigh, where 112 settlers in lost colony had vanished. There are remains of an earthen fort they had built to protect against local Indians and Spanish invaders. The leader had returned to England for supplies, but it took three years before he got back and nobody was there. The best guess theory is the settlers split into smaller groups and moved in different directions to survive.

As we started the 19-hour trip home, we stopped in quaint and historic New Bern, NC and visited family in nearby Kinston, NC. We also stopped in a nice museum holding the remains of the Confederate Ironclad CSS Neuse.

On our way home, I realized I had a flat on my trailer while at a stop for gas. I bought a can of fix a flat and got out my brand new handy battery powered compressor. It pumped it up fine, and after heading down the road a bit, I still had air in the tire an hour later. After reaching our destination that night back at the Hampton Inn in Oak Grove, Kentucky, I put the compressor back on it to check the pressure and the tire was just about flat again. Then, the compressor died and would not come back on. I changed the flat using my HighLift jack and a soft shackle. When we got home, the compressor went straight back to Amazon for refund and I put two new tires on the trailer. I replaced the compressor with a much more expensive but capable DeWalt battery compressor that I can use with batteries for other DeWalt power tools.

I got my new compressor and decided to test it before our next trip. The Dewalt compressor works exceptionally well. It is loud at 82db, but the display is large and easy to read. A dial on the right sets the pressure. It took about three minutes to top the tire below from 47 pounds to 80. It shakes slightly while running, but sits firmly on the ground. I filled the other tire from 47 to 80 pounds and topped off the spare with 7 more pounds. The 5AH DeWalt battery did not show any depletion in charge. This should be powerful enough to re-inflate car tires after airing down for sand (if I take the other SUV without run flats). It also has a 12V DC plug stowed in a compartment if the battery is run down or not connected. When it comes to a road side breakdown, it is well worth the money. It is now part of my road kit. It should also be very handy around the house and yard, not having to tote the bigger compressor and extension cord. It also has a larger diameter hose for inflating air mattresses, balls, rafts, or things with a larger filler hole. Note that this link for the DeWalt 20V Max Cordless Tire Inflator is for the tool only. It doesn’t include a battery or 110v adapter. It will accept the whole family of DeWalt 20V batteries, but I bought this large 5 Amp Hour one to do multiple jobs without recharging.

All and all, this was a great trip. We love going to the ocean, and Cape Hatteras is a great place to visit. It was good to get back home from a fun and eventful trip, and our Lhasa Apso Gracie was very happy to see us. We are already getting ready for our next road trip, “Oregon Coast by way of the Columbia River Gorge” later this month. Check back!

2 responses to “Road Trip to Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke Island”

  1. Ray Sr and Mary Avatar
    Ray Sr and Mary

    WOW! What a wonderful trip and VERY creative with any problems!!! Our trip to Hatteras was remarkable, loved the ocean and the lighthouse! You and Alan slept in a pup tent and we slept in the bigger tent. Wondered why the motels had swimming pools but found the sting rays and other dangerous creatures were often found in the ocean!

  2. And mom says, ” He started out as a Boy Scout and then an officer in the Army. Was ALWAYS goal oriented!

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