A local secret for years, Kitty Hawk Woods is one of five best maritime forests in the world. What makes it special is that plants and animals you would usually find in upland communities exist less than a quarter mile from the Atlantic Ocean. Protected from wind and weather, this creek is home to numerous types of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, otters, nutrias, and reptiles-lots of reptiles. The creek meanders through maritime shrub swamp, forest, sedge, and salt marsh habitat. Each zone has different plants and animals.
This 4-mile stretch of channel is known as Jean Guite Creek, High Bridge Creek, or Ginguite Creek, depending on whom you ask. Back in the 1800s, when the Outer Banks boasted a thriving lumber business, Jean Guite Creek served as a protected waterway on which log-carrying barges were towed. This 600-acre preserve is now co-managed by the Town of Kitty Hawk and the North Carolina Coastal Reserve.
The channel, widened but left relatively untouched, is perfect for a short trip, a full-day paddle, or as part of a multinight excursion. Although I describe a straight route, take time to explore the side creeks and coves that branch off from the main creek. They all end a short distance from the main course, so you can't get lost.
Protected from wind, peaceful, and filled with wildlife, this is where you can find the only wooden covered bridge in eastern North Carolina.
Trip Rating: Beginner to intermediate.
Trip Duration: Three hours to a full day; 8.5 miles, with an option for shortening the trip.
Navigation Aids: ADC Outer Banks Visitors Map (the best map for the area-to order call 703-750-0510); NOAA chart #12205.
Wind, not the moon, affects the water level here. With an east wind the water will be lower than with a west wind. The only time I've found it impassable is when the wind blew northeast, 25 to 35 miles per hour, for more than two days. With a strong west wind (greater than 20 miles per hour) you will be able to access some of the shallower side creeks that are impassable most of the time.
If you are at all squeamish about snakes, wait for cold weather to travel this creek. This is a prime habitat for the water moccasin (a venomous snake) and other harmless ones. Hundreds of people use this creek yearly and no snakebites have ever been reported. To avoid problems, just remember a few basic rules: 1) Never throw anything at a snake or splash it. 2) A snake in the water always has the right of way. 3) Stay out of the bushes on the side of the creek, where many snakes like to curl up in the branches.
Kitty Hawk Woods is open for day use only. I've found the best time of day for wildlife viewing is during mid-morning or in the evening. This route is accessible year-round. It is one of the few places you can paddle on the Outer Banks during high winds. The only time it may be difficult is if the wind has been blowing hard (25 knots or higher) from the northeast for several days. Wind like this will tend to blow the water out of the creek, making it difficult to paddle in the shallow water.
The launch site is located at milepost 1¼4 on U.S. 158. The mile markers on the Outer Banks start at mile marker "0" at the Wright Memorial Bridge in Kitty Hawk and run south to mile marker 24 in Nags Head. Driving from the bridge, heading south, turn right into the parking lot of Kitty Hawk Kayaks, which is located between Coastal Chevrolet and the Flag Store. This store is open only during the summer season, but you can park there all year for no fee. Be sure to ask for permission first. Park in front and carry your kayak around back to the launch site. A portable toilet is available from April to November, otherwise you will need to drive south for another mile to the mall.
start: From the ramp at the launch site, paddle south on Jean Guite (High Bridge) Creek. Just a few yards south of the launch site, you can take a right into a small cove. It dead-ends very shortly, but is a good spot for wildlife watching.
mile 0.75: A massive wooden bridge spans the creek. This "Bridge to Nowhere," as it is called, is at the site of a failed housing development. This is a good place for spotting cottonmouth snakes. Look for them on the bank to the south of the bridge. Just south of here is where I've seen white-tailed deer along the side of the creek.
mile 2.0: There are portable toilets at the public boat ramp. Note: This is a very busy boat launch during the summer months. The local fishermen launch from here to head out toward Kitty Hawk Bay.
mile 2.5: The canal takes a turn to the right after you pass Midgetts Pond. Keep an eye out for boats making this turn. Keep to the right.
mile 3.0: The canal widens as it merges with Fish House Creek. At this point, you may turn around and return along the same route, shortening the trip to 6 miles. Otherwise, turn left and paddle southeast between two marsh islands into Kitty Hawk Bay.
mile 3.25: Turn right (southwest) around Stone Island Point.
mile 3.75: You will be at the southernmost point of Stone Island. If you look south, you will see Colington Island. Follow the island's shoreline as it curves northwest toward Long Point.
mile 4.5: Turn right into Fish House Creek. This is a good area for bird-watching, fishing, or crabbing. Follow the creek as it winds its way between Stone Island and Middle Island.
mile 5.25: Fish House Creek widens just before you head back into Jean Guite (High Bridge) Creek. Paddle northeast into the creek, then follow it 3 miles to the takeout.
Where to Eat & Where to Stay
There are many places to eat within a mile of the launch site. A favorite is Southern Bean Coffee Shop (252-261-5282), located in the Market Place shops on U.S. 158. They make great coffee, muffins, bagels, and vegetarian sandwiches. lodging There are numerous places to stay in the immediate area. Contact the Dare County Tourist Bureau (252-473-2138) for a complete list. camping Outer Banks Hostel (252-261-2294) is open year-round; rates start at $15. Colington Park Campground (252-441-5468) is one of the few places in the area where you can paddle up and camp. Rates are $14 for two people. Open year-round.
What do you get when you cross a beaver with a rat? You'd probably get a nutria. Brought to the United States in 1899 from South America, nutrias are large aquatic rodents. They were introduced as a source of fur for garments. Nutrias, which weigh an average of 15 pounds, are larger than muskrats, and easier to breed. Their outer layer of hair is long and coarse but the underlayer is soft and thick.
Legend has it that they were penned on the ground and, as any self-respecting rodent would, they soon dug out. Nutrias may have up to five litters per year, so they did not take long to establish themselves in the wild. Although mainly vegetarian, they eat most anything, and they compete with our native species of muskrat and otter.
Nutrias live along riverbanks and in swamps and can cause extensive erosion damage by burrowing into the riverbanks. They resemble the otter when swimming, and are quite common along the North Carolina coast. Look for them in the marshes and creeks.
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.