Core Sound is the heart of “Down East” North Carolina; a group of small quaint fishing villages, hammocks, sea islands and a national seashore that to me has always equated with the best sea kayaking area in the state.
Best Put-in and Take-out:
Shell Point at Harkers Island and Cedar Island Campground (both seem relatively safe and are free to leave a vehicle)
Issues to be Concerned With:
strong winds, currents/tides near Cape Lookout, deep mud at areas on low tide on the seashore and mosquitoes.
Best time to go: I’d say early October through about Thanksgiving. Spring is often too windy, summers too hot and humid, September is too buggy and the Winters are too cold.
Direction: Core Sound runs from the SW to the NE and the prevailing winds are from the SW, especially in the Summer and Spring. Thus which direction you go will probably be dictated by that.
Day 1: With NW winds predicted under 15 mph forecast for several days in a row, our group of three paddlers chose to leave a shuttle car at the Harkers Island Ferry Parking lot and launch at Cedar Island car and RV Campground where there is also a modest hotel and restaurant.
Since gearing up and driving to such a place takes a lot of time, we chose to explore the gorgeous and closer Hog Island area and paddled just 6 miles to our back country (no permits required) campsite on the back side of Hog Island Point. Really nice beach here with some pretty trees. Onshore breeze and cooler weather helped keep the bugs at bay (but it can be really bad here):
Day 2 : Paddled about 15-16 miles crossing Cedar Island Bay to get around Cedar Pt. In doing so we noticed several other possible nice beach campsites on the mainland side of the sound just past Rumley Bay and Lookout Point.
Since the wind was still fairly stiff we hugged the coastline to avoid the fetch on the other side near the National Seashore and stopped for lunch here:
Coordinates: (34.8844661, -76.3308865)
From there we headed diagonally across the Sound about 7 miles to get up the other side of the National Seashore about 5-6 miles south of Drum Inlet. There are also nice sandy beaches for camping on each side of Drum but we needed to get further South. On low tides there can be lots of mud and too much see grass to easily reach the beaches unless you find one of the “hurricane cuts” like this one:
Coordinates: (34.8256015, -76.3516740)
This spot is drop dead gorgeous although you do have to pack your gear about 100 yards to camp right on the ocean.
Day 3: We had planned to paddle south along the Seashore about 15 miles to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse but due to some issues that came up on the home front (there is cell phone coverage out there), we had to head back across the sound again heading for the take out at Harkers Island.
Since the sound is a little more narrow here we headed for the private Davis Ferry building (red tin roof you can see from about a mile offshore). We ate lunch at the beach to the right of the ferry but got kicked off it later as it is private land (sorry). A better spot for lunch might be here just on the other side of the ferry building:
Coordinates: (34.7963260, -76.4572776)
From there we continued about 9 more miles passing Jarrett Bay. We did take note of the big gorgeous beach located here at Davis Island:
Coordinates: (34.7623304, -76.4895043)
Padding past Brown Island it was VERY tempting to stop because of the many nice beaches. However it is my understanding that it belongs to the military and nobody is allowed.
When reaching the point at Harkers you have to paddle around it to the small Kayak take out. Be aware that the structures under water protecting the point and ferry docks can create some pretty turbulent confused waters (unless you paddle several hundred yards out and around it).
Coordinates: (34.6845616, -76.5288282)
Once inside the little break wall for kayaks there is a small sandy beach and grass area to unload your boats. There are also bathrooms and our car was just a short walk away.
Overall I rate this as probably my number 1 favorite sea kayaking trip in the Carolinas. I’ve been paddling in NC for 25 years now but IMO, it doesn’t really get any better than this.
better than this.