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Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC

Trip Overview

Where sea, sand, nature, and people come together in an uneasy mix-that's a good way to describe Cape Hatteras. It's not easy to get here, to live here, or to leave. It's wild and untamed. The land is never really owned, just borrowed until the next nor'easter or hurricane.

Cape Hatteras is now a vacationer's paradise, but it was once a captain's nightmare. Two currents come together here: the Labrador Current, which flows north to south, and the mighty Gulf Stream, which runs south to north. They collide just a few miles off Cape Point at the Diamond Shoals. Sometimes this is a gentle mix; sometimes they come together with such force that they throw fish and shells far into the air, sink ships, and flood the land.

This is the heart of the area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." More than 1,000 ships have sunk off the shores of the Northern Outer Banks, the victims of shallow shoals (sandbars close to shore), storms, and war. Ships tried to take advantage of the north- or south-flowing currents that passed nearby to speed their journey. Some never completed their trip and were blown aground by fierce nor'easters and hurricanes. Even today, ships are lost every year off the North Carolina Coast.

If you get a chance, walk the beach a while. The shelling is great, and sometimes the waves uncover what they once claimed. I've walked on the beach during the winter and spring and come upon shipwrecks uncovered where there was once just sand, only to return the next week to find it covered back up again.

The salt marsh on the sound side of Buxton is protected from the wind. The water is very clear and full of fish and shellfish. This is where the "Lost Colony" supposedly ended up. Artifacts such as arrowheads and other remains of an Indian village can be found in the clear, shallow water. I've found several arrowheads in the peat very close to the shore. The Indian village is now underwater, so you will need to look there. An east wind will blow the water out of the sound and make for easier hunting.

Trip Highlights: This area is noted for its clear water, Indian history, and windsurfing. The launch site is known as "Canadian Hole." It got its name from all the folks from Canada who come to the Outer Banks to windsurf. They fill the parking lot to over-flowing during the windy spring and fall months.

Trip Rating: Beginner.

Trip Duration: Three to four hours; 6 miles.

Navigation Aids: USGS Map NC0091, Buxton, 1:24,000.

Tidal Information: No direct tidal influence.

Cautions: Stingrays are common in the sound here, and stepping on their stingers can be very painful. If you need to exit your kayak in the water, make sure you have water shoes on. If you walk any distance in the water, shuffle your feet as you walk to scare off the stingrays.

Trip Planning: It's best to plan your trip here during the summer and fall months when the weather is milder. During the more turbulent winter and spring, the winds tend to make paddling difficult. It can be quite buggy at the launch site during the summer, so bring insect repellent.

Launch Site: From Avon, travel south on NC-12 for 0.5 mile and look for a paved parking area on your right. If you hit Buxton, turn around; you've gone too far. You can park anywhere. There are portable toilets here, and a wide sandy beach. You can launch from anywhere on the beach.


start: From the launch site, turn to your left and paddle south, following the shoreline. Most of the wildlife will be in the marshy area along the shore.
mile 1.0: As you approach Great Island, keep to your left, close to the shore. Just past the island, a
small creek on the left has several branches worth exploring. Turn around when the creek dead-ends and turn left again when you reach the sound. Note: When I paddled this route, road crews were working on NC-12 just opposite this creek. This is the narrowest point on Hatteras Island. The creek is just a few yards from the highway, so it was a little noisy when they were working.
mile 1.5: As you exit the creek, Bald Point is due east. Keep Bald Point on your right as you paddle. Follow the shoreline south to a longish creek on the left that is usually a good place for bird-watching. Turn around when it dead-ends. Paddle northwest toward Bald Point, turning left into the canal that curves around between islands until it opens up opposite Cape Creek (which will be on your left).

mile 2.5: At Cape Creek, you have come as far south as possible. Turn right and head west, keeping
the shore on your left. This is the area where the Algonquin Indians were thought to have lived. Keep an eye on the mudflats when they are exposed for artifacts such as arrowheads and pieces of pottery.
mile 3.25: When you reach the northernmost point of the shore, turn around and paddle east until you reach Cape Creek, then turn north and retrace your route back to the launch site.

Where to Eat & Where to Stay
The Orange Blossom Cafe and Bakery (252-995-4109) in Buxton on NC-12 is about 2 miles south of the launch site, on the right, just past the turnoff to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Get there early for the sweet rolls and bakery items. The lunch specials are to die for. Order a great big veggie or chicken burrito with rice, beans, cheese, and other great fillings, and have a picnic.
Lodging: Falcon Motel (252-995-5968 or 800-635-6911, is 1 mile south of the launch site. You can also launch from behind the motel on a small creek that leads out to the sound.
Camping: Buxton Campground (252-473-2111), Cape Hatteras National Seashore, 3 miles south of launch site, just past the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

Excerpted from Guide to Sea Kayaking in North Carolina : The Best Day Trips and Tours from Currituck to Cape Fear by Pam Malec with permission from Falcon Publishing.

  • Duration: Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: Flat/Sheltered Water

Locations on this Trip