Cape Lookout, NC to Cape Henry, VA

I’ve just earned a bonus week off next week, and for your average working Joe, weeks off are hard to come by. So a serious consideration, very weather dependant, is being dropped off at the end of Harker’s Island, paddling out around Cape Lookout, and what looks to be about 160 nautical miles around Cape Hatteras and up to Virginia Beach.

Ocracoke is as far north as I’ve paddled along the NC coast. The rule of thumb I’ve found on these sand barrier islands is that high tide shapes the steepest part of the beach, and is typically the most undesirable time to land. But when the surf gets any size to it, it breaks once further out before reforming and breaking again less powerfully closest to the beach. Does anyone have experience along the NC outer banks in this regard that would differ for any reason? Any serious issues with landings and camping along this stretch? Keep in mind, I know how far I travel each day is up to mother nature, so in a very practical sense, I don’t have much control over pre-mapping my stopping points day to day.

I believe they’re called the Diamond Shoals around Cape Hatteras, and I assume similar characteristics to Cape Fear (which I paddled around yesterday), or Cape Lookout. Any special helpful advice for anyone familiar with that area, or just treat it with the same respect as other shoals along the capes? Is it breaking like a beach as far as the eye can see? How big of a role does tide level play?

Very weather dependant of course. Long period storm swells would mean I may not be able to punch out. A pattern of strong north wind would rule out making that kind of distance. A pattern of nice summery southwest light wind would be ideal, or even light breezes from the north would be doable. West is fine. Sustained north and northeast wind problematic.

Any stretches completely off limits (military, private ownership, state park sticklers who would have no empathy towards my adventure)? I’m sure a sea kayak pulling up on the beach would be quite unusual. But sometimes areas have a kind of feel to them that lend themselves to being more receptive, or more stingy in nature, especially when it comes to public patrol and enforcement. I won’t be able to land travel to campgrounds. Just me and a kayak. Any suggestions?

I’ve done a trip along Hatteras Island
I did a solo, unsupported trip of the oceanside of Hatteras Island - it was going to be a circumnav but that is a different story. Have paddled some pretty good chunks of the area between Hatteras Island and VA Beach.

Some things to keep in mind - the surf can be quite dumpy for the reasons you mentioned; I don’t claim to be an expert but was paddling regularly at the time of my trip and with the winds and dumping surf I found landing and launches to be challenging from Cape Point (the tip of Cape Hatteras) up to Oregon Inlet. There is a reason the Wright Brothers came to the Outer Banks with Gliders - the wind blows, a lot and with gusto much of the time. You could hit a quiet wind, flat spell but that was not my experience. The trip can be done but it is not one I would just “grab a boat and go”.

All of Hatteras Island (except the villages) are National Seashore and do not allow camping except for in the official campgrounds. Beach usage is a huge, contentious issue and the Park Police are not likely to turn a blind eye. Also, many of the campgrounds close early in the season, so make sure you have your overnights planned out in the park. If I was going to commando camp, I’d wait until close to dark and carry all gear and boat over the dunes as most of the patrolling is done by vehicle on the beach. Fines will not be inexpensive if discovered.

Once above Oregon Inlet, you won’t have to worry so much about the Park Police, but will have to map out your spots as this is a more developed area with beach houses much of the way.

Once you hit Virginia, there is camping at False Cape State Park although I think the campground shuts earlier as well. Your last day you can tuck into the Bay past Cape Henry and camp at First Landing State Park - might help to have someone local hook you up with a spot near the Bay and a walkway.

Feel free to drop me a PM if I can help further.

Diamond Shoals
Forgot to mention- Diamond Shoals are really the continuation of the point of Cape Hatteras. In a kayak, you aren’t going to be able to go far enough offshore to get around them (IMO) which means paddling through. Depending on conditions when you get there this can be no big deal to an absolute boat eating washing machine. This area is a mecca for surf fisherman so you need to stay far enough off to not get entangled. It is one of my favorite places to paddle, but just be prepared for waves breaking in every direction due to the convergence of swells on the shoals. The good news is that it is a pretty narrow stretch of trashy stuff most of the time.

Others have paddled the OBX more frequently than me, so might offer more insight. Between Hatteras village and Cape Point, you are in Hatteras Bight and my experience has been that generally this area is more sheltered with less dumping surf; that can obviously change with wind direction.

Thanks for the information
The campsite situation adds a significant burden. Every launch becomes an all or nothing situation instead of just being able to go with a time and conditions judgement call. That adds some level of risk to be sure. If I do map out and contact campgrounds, are there places where I would be in a reasonable situation standing on the beach next to my loaded kayak, needing to make the rest of my way to a campsite? Even typing it seems like an unreasonable prospect. Are there points you know of that would put me in a pretty good situation as such?

Thanks again.

Pretty point specific
I actually stayed in a motel one night because of a lack of campsites where I needed to end. I had laid out lots of options with bearings off the Cape Hatteras light to help make sure that I got close. Also when landing look for existing cut throughs and wooden walkways - dragging a kayak over the dunes would be highly frowned upon. One other thing to make it difficult is you will have to be careful of the beach closures due to shore bird and turtle nesting sites.

Another option would be able to hop into the sound at Hatteras Inlet and paddle the sound side up to Oregon Inlet. There are several campgrounds on the Sound Side and you eliminate the conditions dependent landings. In many ways the sound is a more interesting paddle for scenery; the ocean side certainly has more conditions and waves to make it interesting in its own way. I think camping is wide open on Core Banks all the way up to Plymouth but have never done it.

Again, hopefully someone else has some ideas of how to make it an “easy” trip, but despite it being fairly accessible (you are never more than a mile from Rt 12 on Hatteras Island; it is logistically challenging.

I had a fold up cart that helped with things once I got off the beach or at least onto hardpack sand, but still lots of dragging of a fully loaded boat.

I’ve still got my charts, etc if you want to talk through it. Drop me a PM and I can share.

Some Suggestions
In the last 18 months I’ve done from Ocracoke to the VA line on the sound side with a small group. Even on the sound side we had to get creative with camp sites I expect ocean side to be even more of a challenge. There are a few camp grounds along the stretch and for a little extra cash they were willing to pick us up and drop us off at the water again.

Other than that we hadthe chances of being made to move in the mi success contacting local businesses and again, for a few bucks they would let us camp on the lawn. You have to spend a little, but ddle of the night or getting a citation from the park service go away.

Using either of these options means you’ll need to make some predetermined distance each day, to do that you may have to plan less mileage each day to give yourself some margin for the weather.

If you’re interested in more details drop me an email and I can give the specifics on where we stayed.

By the way I’m jealous, going around each of the NC capes is a goal of mine, but I’m finding limited interest among friends and I’d rather not go it alone.

Sound side interest
My .02 on paddling the sound side is that it was rather boring. The water is so shallow on the back side of the islands that we often found ourselves a couple of miles off shore. At that distance you might as well be in the ocean you just don’t have the bumpy water to look forward to. YMMV.