Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve (Kilmarnock, Va)

IMG_9598It’s week three of an NC cold wave and I’m longing for our hot summer hike in Kilmarnock, Va. When traveling last summer we started looking for hiking suggestions with the All Trails app. Its helpful app lets you filter and search by distance, rating, suitability for kids, difficulty and more. With it being a hot July day and having small children we needed a shortish hike with easy water access. After a quick search we found Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve, which had a 2 mile trail and access to the Chesapeake Bay.

Location

The Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve is 200 acres of undeveloped land located on a peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay, about 15 minutes northeast of Kilmarnock off Route 605. It has a large sandy shoreline, marshy wetlands, forested areas, and is home to the federally threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle. Though we didn’t see any tiger beetles, we saw several shore birds, crabs, and bugs on our hike.

The Hike

IMG_9591After parking at the trailhead we walked along the wooden walkway through the forest. We soon saw a sign post, and turned left to follow the North Loop. Shortly after starting along the North Loop we arrived on the Chesapeake Bay’s beautiful sandy shoreline. The sudden change from forest to deserted beach was breathtaking. The girls immediately waded into the water, while the adults took in the beautiful views. Being a flat undeveloped area, every direction we looked gave different views of a sandy shoreline, endless bay water, or grassy wetlands. It almost felt like we were on a deserted island.

Despite the lack of signage, we headed south hoping the shoreline kept us on the right path. Because we hiked next to the water, the full sun beat down on us, making the little ones quickly tire. My sister and I, each, soon started carrying a little one on our backs. After walking about a half mile in the sand, we cheered as the trail met back up with the mainland.

IMG_9604We caught our breath at an observation deck where the swimming crabs distracted the little’s tears. This trail features a few observation decks that overlook the flat and vast wetland areas. After watching the crabs swim through the water we continued walking on the dirt trail back to the parking lot. Unfortunately, we ran into some dense bug families through the forested walk back. Since the girls regained their breath while watching the crabs, they miraculously sprinted through the dense bug fog, and made it back to the car in record time.

For this hike, I felt we arrived pretty unprepared. We didn’t anticipate half the hike being in full sun and sand, and we didn’t bring the necessary bug spray. The Chesapeake Bay’s beautiful views and undeveloped areas made up for our lack of planning. We treated ourselves to a quick stop at the Dog & Oyster Winery on our way back to Grey’s Point Camp. The girls munched on snacks, tried soft-shelled crabs and colored oyster shells while the adults tasted wines and grilled oysters – heavenly!

Thumbs up: breathtaking views, undeveloped land, crab spotting, bird watching

Thumbs down: signage, lots of bugs

2017 Holidays in the Parks

Even though Pullen Park’s Holiday Express has been sold out since July, there’s still plenty of other Holiday happenings in local parks. If you can’t make it to an event, explore a park soaking up Raleigh’s inevitable sunny winter days (remember Christmas Eve two years ago when it was almost 80 degrees). Grab coffee (and goldfish) to go and meet friends at a park, meet a friend for a bike ride or run on the greenway, or take a solo walk around a lake. Here’s a list of several indoor and outdoor programs sure to keep the kids busy (and the parents sane) happening across different parks through New Years including First Day Hikes.

City of Raleigh Programs 

  • Wednesday, 12/13 (8-10pm) – Skywatching at Dorothea Dix Park – join volunteers and staff from several local astronomy clubs and the Morehead Planetarium to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower of 2017; Free; Meet at the Big Field
  • Thursday, 12/14 (5-6pm) – Creative Crafts Throughout the Holidays at Hill St Community Center: create a Christmas-themed craft; Free; program barcode #210494; ages 5-12
  • Friday, 12/15 (5-7pm) – Holiday Pajama Party at Greystone Community Center: bring the entire family dressed in your pajamas for a holiday movie, cocoa and cookies; $2 per participant; program barcode 210518; all ages, not many spots left
  • Saturday, 12/16 (7am-noon) – Christmas Bird Count at Walnut Creek Wetland Center: stroll along the greenway looking and listening for birds. 2016’s Christmas Bird Count netted 49 different species. Please bring your own binoculars, or you can borrow a pair of our children’s binoculars. Free; ages 12+; registration required; program barcode 217570
  • Saturday, 12/16 (10am-12pm) – Snacks with Santa at Chavis Community Center: enjoy holiday games, arts and craft activities and story time with Santa. Bring your camera to capture a photo with Santa. Please bring two nonperishable food items for this event; Free; ages 12 and under; program barcode 211028
  • Saturday, 12/16 (1-2:30pm) – Gingerbread House Decorating Competition at Method Rd Community Center: they provide the gingerbread houses and supplies and you build; $20 per family; program barcode 211845
  • Saturdays in December, January and February (11:30am-12:30pm) – Yoga at the COR Museum – bring your yoga mat and water for a free yoga class instructed by yoga studios from around Raleigh

Wake County Parks & Recreation

  • Sunday, 12/17 (2-3pm) – Family Feature: Winter Wrap Up at Crowder County Park: winter is a great time to explore nature at the park! Join a naturalist and learn how to identify tracks, explore conifers, and drink pine needle tea. Then, observe snow and ice through hands-on science experiments. Don’t forget to bring your scarf and mittens! For all ages; $1/person; Registration is required for all family members and children must have an adult accompaniment.
  • Dec 22 (10:30-noon or 2-3:30pm) Field School: The Ingalls Long Winter at Historic Yates Mill County Park – Learn what Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family did to survive one especially long winter and find out how the family celebrated Christmas. Taste an old-fashioned peppermint candy stick and bring home a home-made holiday craft. Feel free to dress in your best pioneer outfit! For ages 7 and up; $6/Child. Registration is required. This is a drop-off program but adults are welcome to stay – however, seating is limited.
  • Dec 30 (2-3pm) – FWS: Green and on the Scene at Blue Jay County Park – Join Blue Jay staff for an outdoor adventure hunting winter plants and trees that are green and on the scene. All participants must be independently mobile or in child backpacks. No strollers please!; $1 per participant; open to all ages though most appropriate for ages 5+

NC Parks

  • Sunday, 12/17 (2pm) – Holiday Sing-a-Long at Eno River State Park: Join a park ranger at the historic Piper-Cox House for cookies, hot chocolate and the chance to sing historic carols sung by the inhabitants of the Eno River Valley.
  • Saturday, 12/23 (2pm) – Happy Holidays to You & the Birds at Falls Lake State Recreation Area: meet at Shelter 24 at Beaver Dam Lake area to make bird feeder ornaments and decorate a tree in the park with wildlife friendly decorations.
  • Thursday, 12/28 (2pm) – Winter Wonders at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: explore the nothern portion of the lake with a Ranger!  Observe bald eagles, winter birds and water fowl.  The deck is located approximately 150 yards from the gravel parking lot with the walk being very easy.  Dress for the weather as it’s usually colder on the deck. Meet at observation deck off Martha’s Chapel Rd.
  • Friday, 12/29 (2pm) – Winter Wonders at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: explore the southern portion of the lake with a Ranger!  Observe bald eagles, winter birds and learn about the lake’s history.  Meet near the volleyball court at the Ebenezer Day Use Area.

First Day Hikes on Monday, January 1, 2018

  • William Umstead Park (9am): meet at Reedy Creek parking lot off Harrison Ave exit on I-40 for a moderate 4-mile hike that will be a bit off trail, on the Company Mill Trail; highlights include two millstones in the woods that were never finished, the old Craggy Garden Scout camp and the biggest rock formations in the park. Please call the park for more info or to register.
  • Walnut Creek Wetland Park (2-4pm): Jump-start your New Year’s resolutions and join our staff for a scenic guided walk along the Walnut Creek Greenway. Be prepared to walk at least a mile. Strollers are welcome! Preregistration is helpful but not required. FREE; all ages; program barcode 209308
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area (10am & 2pm start times) – Meet at the Rolling View Recreation Area for a hike on the kid-friendly Neuse Bend Trail; join a park ranger for an easy scavenger hunt/hike on the 0.75 mile Neuse Bend Trail in Rolling View Recreation Area. The Scavenger Hunt Hike is designed for ages 6-12 but all ages are encouraged to participate; Pre-registration is required and spots are limited: 919-676-1027
  • Eno River State Park (2pm) – meet at Fews Ford Picnic Shelter and choose between two hiking options: easy 2 mile hike or moderate 4-5 mile hike
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Hike #1 (9-11am) – meet at the New Hope Overlook Recreation area and hike the challenging 2.7 mile Blue Loop Trail; no pre-registration
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area Hike #2 (1-3pm) – meet at the Ebenezer Church Recreation Area shelter #8 for an easy 1 mile hike along the Old Oak Loop Trail; great for families; no pre-registration

Summer 2017 Bucket List Follow-up

Phew! Where did the Fall season go?! It’s almost December, but the recent warmer afternoon weather makes me reminisce about our amazing summer adventures with family and friends. Even though we didn’t cross off everything from our 2017 Bucket List, we explored so many new (to us) places in the mountains and at the beach.

We kept the weekdays simple, yet fun, with pool time and swim team with friends, and spent the weekends mostly traveling around NC and VA. We had lots of ups – amazing travels meeting up with friends and family, fresh seafood, gorgeous waterfalls; but, we also had some downs – getting lost down a one-way road with the Winnie, late night kiddo fevers in the Winnie, Winnie electrical outages in hot July, and the Hatteras Island evacuation. So, when things got out of our control, we tried to stay positive and improvise knowing that things will come full circle, which they eventually did! We somehow turned Winnie around at the end of Little Buck Creek Rd, fevers magically disappeared, my sister saved our food (and sanity) during the great electrical outage, and we moved our family vacation to beautiful Emerald Isle at the last minute.

As a summertime bonus, we survived a major kitchen renovation that is finally concluding, we celebrated what would have been my mom’s 60th birthday, Claire turned 4 years old, we celebrated Labor Day weekend with a crab feast and lots of Hokie buds and their littles, and we witnessed a total solar eclipse. I don’t know how we’ll top the mix of relaxation and travel from this past summer!

  1. Enjoy a low country boil (with the in-laws over Memorial Day weekend)
  2. Survive having two kids on summer swim team (it was touch-and-go at some points)
  3. See some waterfalls (Tom’s Creek & Roaring Fork Falls in western NC, Catawba Falls in Pisgah National Forest)
  4. Swim at a lake (Jordan Lake & Falls Lake Recreation Areas)
  5. Discover new & easy campfire recipes (garlic broccoli and potato pockets, french bread pizzas, rocky road dessert)
  6. Go blueberry picking (the farm was closed so we discovered nearby Kelly Rd Park instead)
  7. Discover new hiking trails on our travels (Hughlett Point Nature Preserve in Kilmarnock, Va, Emerald Isle Woods Park)
  8. Catch fireflies (Jordan Lake campsite and backyard)
  9. Try a new ice cream place (Sweet Spot in Emerald Isle, Fudge Factor in Beaufort)
  10. Visit a new museum (Museum of NC Minerals on Blue Ridge Parkway, Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mtn, NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort)
  11. Perfect my mojito making (muddle 8 sprigs of mint with slice of lime cut into quarters and spoonful of sugar, add 2 Tbsp simple syrup, add 1.5 oz of white rum, fill glass 3/4 full of ice, add enough club soda or La Croix to cover ice)
  12. Start composting (Bill put the nix to this idea)
  13. Have a water balloon fight (backyard sister fun)
  14. Read a long book together as a family (Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame)
  15. Enjoy Winnebago camping as a family (5 trips under our belt this summer)
  16. Visit a new brewery (Deep River Brewing Co in Clayton, Sierra Nevada & Wicked Weed in Asheville)

Top 5 Raleigh Parks for Partial Solar Eclipse Viewing

Months ago we planned one last Winnie mountain trip before the end of summer. We purposefully planned it to coincide with the solar eclipse so we could get close to being in the path of totality (words I never thought I’d hear myself saying). Not knowing the solar eclipse would become so popular we’re glad we booked our campsite so far in advance!

We’re heading to the small town of Whittier, NC for camping, hiking and playing. On Monday we plan to drive an hour south to Andrews, NC for their big eclipse festival. If we stayed in Raleigh, we’d plan a picnic get-together with friends at a local park. Triangle residents can expect to see a partial solar eclipse beginning around 1:16pm, peaking at 2:44pm and ending at 4:06pm. 

Here are my suggestions for the Top 5 Raleigh Parks for viewing the solar eclipse:

  1. North Wake District Landfill Park
  2. Dorothea Dix Park’s Big Field – GPS coordinates for accessing big field: 35.766883, -78.663255
  3. Spring Forest Road Park
  4. Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve Park
  5. Annie Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park 

Be sure to bring your eclipse-approved safety glasses or go old school and make your own pinhole camera from supplies you have at home. Happy Viewing!

Kelly Rd Park (Apex, NC)

Sometimes, the best laid plans go amiss. After realizing the blueberry farm we were meeting friends at was closed to allow for more ripening, we adjusted our plans and rendezvoused at nearby Kelly Rd Park. I’ve been wanting to visit Kelly Rd Park for years, given that it’s one of the last wooden playgrounds (see Raleigh’s former All Children’s Playground) in the area. Exploring this park with friends made for a perfect morning for kiddos and mamas to catch up with each other.

The Town of Apex’s Kelly Rd Park is located at 1609 Kelly Rd in western Wake County just outside I-540. Kelly Rd Park features multiple playgrounds for all ages, swings, picnic shelters, baseball fields, and tennis courts. With 7 girls under the age of 7, we spent all of our time exploring the massive wooden playground areas also known as KidsTowne.

DSC_0132As you enter the KidsTowne playground area, the memorial honoring Kathy Carlisle Smith immediately catches your attention. The Town of Apex remembered Ms. Smith for her dedication to the Greater Apex area and making the KidsTowne playground a reality. KidsTowne has two playgrounds for the different age groups. The playgrounds have fencing all around except for the main entrance area in the middle. 

The smaller age playground features tot swings, one-level climbing areas, balance beams, bouncy bridges, and fun wooden paintings. A long bench sits nearby, perfect for watching the littles climb around.

DSC_0162The older age playground features an enormous wooden playground with multi-level, interconnected bridges, tunnels, slides, and towers. It resembles a fairy castle because of its purple and green stained wood, fire poles, decorative paintings, play boats, and towers. Regular swings and a tire swing sit behind the playground. The girls loved climbing the ropes and monkey bars, playing hide and seek, jumping on bridges, and finding shade. They also spent a ton of time flying high on the tire swing.

Though no one picked blueberries that day, we chatted about our kindergarten graduates and personal highlights, and made fun summer memories!

Thumbs up: unique wooden play structure, plenty of seating areas, fun climbing and swinging spots

Thumbs down: lack of shade

Jack Smith Park (Cary, NC)

Jack Smith Park splash padBack in June, my sister and niece visited the same weekend we planned a trip to Jack Smith Park with our Raleigh Jaycee friends. Jack Smith Park is located at 9725 Penny Rd and opened towards the end of last summer. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for outdoor fun, this is the park!

Jack Smith Park features a splash pad, multiple playgrounds for all ages, a rock climbing structure, walking trails, and a dog park. We arrived at the park at 10am when the splash pad opened. Luckily, some friends saved a table under the pavilion for our group to stash our gear while out playing. The splash pad features tall buckets that dump, gentle water fountains, circular misting fountains, and maneuverable water guns. Picnic tables with umbrellas, clean restroom facilities, large pavilion, and half-walls for sitting are adjacent to the splash pad. 

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After my kids tired of the splash pad they played on the playground areas and rock climbing structure. The smaller kid playground features several slides, a small rock climbing wall, sails for shade, and a curved climbing ladder. The bigger kid playground features a tall spider web climbing net, challenging curved climbing ladders, gyro spinners, slides, and stepping stones. The regular swings, baby swings, and tire swing are located near the perimeter of the park. When I wasn’t poking my head around parents and play things to keep an eye on the girls, I was pushing the girls on the tire swing. Boy, do they LOVE a tire swing!

And, my oldest daughter loves rock climbing! She’s pretty fearless and persistent, and loves the challenge that rock climbing presents. The park’s rock climbing structure is at the far end of the park. Large natural rocks surround the structure which sits upon a rubbery surface. She tried multiple times to climb the hardest section of the rock before trying her hand at the flatter sides. Though she didn’t climb up very far, she enjoyed climbing alongside the bigger kids.

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The Town of Cary parks always impress me with their attention to landscaping, public art, and availability of public restrooms. Young trees surrounded by half-walls create nice sitting areas for parents. The park features several ornamental grasses, flowering shrubs, and a large open grassy field down from the playground. Many benches and shaded picnic tables also scatter the perimeter. Vollis Simpson’s folksy art sculptures take center stage as you park near the playground. Finally, the restrooms are very clean and roomy, and have water fountains and a nearby hand shower for spraying off the treated water.

Despite being super busy on a weekend morning, I look forward to bringing the girls back here one day. Splash pads offer a quick water alternative to cooling off in the pool. And, with so many other activities at this park, it makes for many fun-filled hours!

Thumbs up: one-stop shop for fun, rock climbing structure, mixing water play with dry activities, outdoor art, natural climbing rocks, nice landscaping, lots of seating options

Thumbs down: very crowded, can be difficult to manage multiple small kids

Upcoming Fall 2017 Dorothea Dix Park Events

Dorothea Dix ParkHave you visited Dorothea Dix Park lately? Located just south of Downtown Raleigh, its rolling hills and grassy open fields are the perfect spot for a picnic, skyline photos (mine are courtesy of the super talented MasonDee Photography), or attending a City of Raleigh event or program.

The City of Raleigh purchased Dorothea Dix Park two years ago from the state of NC to develop a destination park. Though construction is still years away, master planning is underway. I’m super excited to begin my workgroup involvement in the master planning of the park this fall. I know the city will look for lots of public input into the park and now is the time to visit!

Whether you’re looking for child-friendly events, volunteer opportunities, or historical walking tours here are some of their upcoming park events:

  • Sun., Aug 13 from 2-6pm: Recess Raleigh – attend a free annual summer cookout to benefit Helping Hands Mission of Raleigh. Summer cookout features food and drink prepared by Capital Club 16, games, activities, music and art; FREE; all ages; Dix Park Athletic Field
  • Wed., Aug. 16 at 12pm: Urban Design Center Talks: Bold Ideas for Dix – visit the City of Raleigh Museum and listen to a monthly lecture series highlighting bold ideas, issues, and topics important to the development of the new Dorothea Dix Park. Each monthly lecture features a different presenter covering topics such as inclusivity, ecology, access, arts and culture, history, transportation, economic development, and connectivity; FREE and open to the public; registration not required
  • Wed., Aug. 16 at 1pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Water Wonders – meet in the big field and explore activities and games featuring water! Ages 2+; free; pre-registration is required
  • Wed., Aug. 23 from 6-8pm or Tues., Sept 12 from 5:30-7:30pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Guided Walking Tour – go on a 2 hour, 3.5 mile walking tour to learn about the history, current use, and future plans for the Dorothea Dix park; FREE; all ages; pre-registration is required
  • Sat., Sept. 9 from 9am-12pm: Explore Dorothea Dix Park: Volunteer Invasive Species Removal – round up your friends and neighbors and volunteer your time removing invasive plants threatening natural habitats of the park; FREE; ages 16+; volunteers under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult; registration information via Cervistech
  • Wed., Oct. 18 from 12pm-1:15pm: Trolley Tour of Dorothea Dix Park – go on a 1.5 hour tour of Dorothea Dix Park and learn about the history, current use and future plans for the park; FREE; pre-registration is required

 

 

Tom’s Creek Falls & Roaring Fork Falls

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

Roaring Fork FallsFor our next Winnie adventure we headed to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains near Marion, NC. We stayed at the Mountain Stream RV Resort off Hwy 80 at 6954 Buck Creek Rd. After making a wrong turn down a one-lane gravel road (Little Buck Creek Rd) we drove a white-knuckling 3 miles to the road’s end. This was not how I expected our first big Winnie adventure to begin. After several deep breaths, I jumped out of the car to instruct Bill on turning around. Easy Peasy!

Nothing will test your marriage’s communication skills like trying to make a 3-point turn with a 20-foot trailer. Cue the Austin Power’s 3-point turn parking scene! Luckily, our family has previous experience driving down harrowing gravel roads (see my Yosemite post), so we tried to remain calm and go back on course!

Mountain Stream RV Resort

DSC_0071The Mountain Stream RV Resort was the perfect spot for camping. They have 40 camp sites situated around a loop gravel road with a grassy median. A cool, clear mountain stream runs behind more than half of the campsites. We stayed in one of their prime spots near the back of the campsite with easy kid-friendly access to the stream. We loved splashing in the water, walking upstream, and sitting at the campsite listening to the babbling stream.

Despite some big thunderstorms that came through during the weekend, we really enjoyed our time in the Winnie. The girls made friends with the neighbors, rode bikes around the gravel loop, and played in the stream. During the daytime downpours, the girls also had downtime playing cards and watching movies. We tried to go fishing, but big floods from past years pretty much wiped out the fish habitats.

We grilled yummy steak tips, broccoli, and potato wedges one night and chicken quesadillas the other night in honor of Bill’s birthday weekend. For Father’s Day breakfast, I made homemade biscuits with my new pie irons. Though they didn’t rise completely, they still tasted delicious smothered with steak, eggs and cheese. The girls gobbled down the Bisquick Shake ‘N Pour pancakes. When we weren’t eating, sleeping or playing at the campsite, we were hiking.

Tom’s Creek Falls

DSC_0115We spent all day Saturday hiking waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest and exploring interesting places off the Blue Ridge Parkway. First, we explored the Tom’s Creek Falls, located about 20 minutes northeast of our campsite. Tom’s Creek Falls trailhead is about 1.3 miles from the intersection of US-221 and Huskins Branch Rd. This trail is about 1-mile roundtrip hike with wide gravel paths, lush green forest, and spots along the way for splashing in the creek. It’s an easy, shaded hike with gentle switchbacks towards the top. It even has benches near a clearing to rest. Along the way we spotted a lot of mica (from old mining days), ferns, and mountain laurel.

We climbed to the overlook area and then followed a narrow path to the right to access the water. Wanting to get a closer look at the falls, both girls scurried up the rocks (with our help) to the bottom of the falls, reaching an elevation of approximately 1800 ft. The water flows at three different levels before dumping into Tom’s Creek. We loved splashing in the water and being so close to the falls. 

Roaring Fork Falls

07402233-DCCE-443C-B72F-47997007596EAfter leaving Tom’s Creek Falls, we drove about 45 minutes northwest to the Roaring Fork Falls trailhead. Roaring Fork Falls trailhead is located near the intersection of S Toe River Rd and State Hwy 80. Follow the signs for about 1/2 mile until the road dead ends into a small parking lot.

Roaring Fork Falls is a 1.5 mile out and back trail, despite the “Falls .5 miles” sign near the parking lot. With the forecast calling for heavy rains, we booked it up this trail. The trail begins on an old logging road in a heavily wooded forest. The trail is slightly uphill and mostly shaded with pockets of sunlight throughout. After crossing a small wooden bridge, we climbed over roots and small stones to reach the falls. The falls cascaded down several levels creating the large roaring effect.

Ashley and Bill climbed down to the bottom of the falls while Claire and I waited on the trail. The heavy rain caused the rocks to become very slick, so we stayed safe on the trail. After a quick dip in the water, they carefully climbed back to the trail and we all rushed to the car. The rain started pouring heavier on our hike back to the car, but carrying Claire on my shoulders kept my back dry! 

The girls changed into dry clothes at the car and we enjoyed a much-deserved picnic lunch. After lunch, we hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and visited the NC Minerals Museum (MP 331) and Linville Caverns. After driving at least 100 miles around mountains all day, we returned to our campsite hungry for food and thankful for nature. Watching, touching and listening to the waterfalls made us appreciate the mountains even more.

Hike Info

Thumbs up: little traffic along hikes, beautiful views, exciting waterfalls, easy family hikes, comfortable campsites

Thumbs down: no cell phone reception (although I’d put this in the thumbs up column)

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

DSC_0015After school let out for the summer we headed with friends to Duck, NC for the weekend. The Town of Duck is located on the northern section of the Outer Banks mainland, not far (physically) from the Virginia border. We wanted to take advantage of staying in the northern Outer Banks, so we explored the Currituck Beach Lighthouse one morning.

Ever since watching Pete’s Dragon as a child, lighthouses and light keepers always fascinated me. After reading “The Light Between Oceans” my fascination only grew stronger. Maybe I love the simplicity of their lifestyle or their strong connection to the water and ships they protect. Whatever the reason for my fascination, I’m thankful for being able to explore these historical landmarks.

History

Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located north of Duck in the historic village of Corolla, NC at 1101 Corolla Village Rd. In 1873 construction began on Currituck Beach Lighthouse to fill the gap of coastal darkness between Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach and Bodie Island Lighthouse, just south of Nags Head, NC. It stands 162 ft tall overlooking the Currituck Sound and Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse is unique in that they did not paint the exterior bricks. The lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the adjacent Victorian-style home until the 1930s when the U.S. Coast Guard assumed lighthouse duties. The U.S. Coast Guard automated the beacon, which continues to flash in 20-second intervals to alert ships at sea.

The lighthouse sat abandoned for decades after automating the beacon. In 1980, the non-profit Outer Banks Conservationists began to slowly restore the lighthouse over the next decade. The lighthouse opened to the public in 1990 and one of the keeper’s houses opened later as the gift shop. The main keepers’ house remains closed until restoration efforts finish.

DSC_0054Climbing the Lighthouse

The base and first two landings of the lighthouse feature interesting exhibits about the lighthouse’s history. After paying the $10 admission fee and signing the waiver, I made separate trips with both girls up the winding 220 steps. Small landings between each floor offer chances to catch your breath and let others pass. We climbed slowly, but still reached the top of the lighthouse in a little over 5 minutes. We (so very carefully) walked around the outside of the lighthouse admiring the gorgeous panoramic water views. 

When climbing the lighthouse stairs, small signs display in the windows letting patrons know the height and cardinal direction. The girls enjoyed learning how high up they climbed and looking out the windows. After climbing down the lighthouse we visited the museum gift shop and walked around nearby Historic Corolla Village.

Thumbs up: beautiful views, informative lighthouse museum, friendly volunteer workers

Thumbs down: nothing to report

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: Poplar Point Campground

For our maiden voyage in the Winnie, we headed to Jordan Lake State Recreation Area for a quick 24-hr overnight trip. We wanted to get a small sample of camping while staying close to home. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is located about 30 minutes west of Raleigh off US-64. Whether you’re going for a short trip or several days, Jordan Lake has lots of outdoor experiences and recreational activities to offer.

Camping

A few weeks before our trip we reserved a campsite online with electric and water hook-ups at Poplar Point Campground. The entrance for Poplar Point Campground is located at 558 Beaver Creek Rd in Apex. Jordan Lake State Recreation Area is enormous with over 1,000 RV and tent campsites scattered over five different areas. We chose Poplar Point Campground because it has many waterfront campsites available with water and electric hook-ups and a recreation beach at Loop E. We reserved spot 58 at Loop H, which is a back-in spot, like most at the park. The NC State Park registration system is very useful. You can search by amenities, whether you need a pull-through spot, and length of site. Similar to hotel room booking systems, it also shows multiple pictures of each campsite.

We arrived early on a Saturday morning and checked-in at the Poplar Point front gate. The ranger confirmed that we could switch our spot for the more popular first-come, first-serve spots at Loop E if we wanted. Loop E features a beach area, playground and more waterfront sites. But, after driving by our site at Loop H, we decided to stick with our original plan. We were anxious to set-up the Winnie and explore the campground. 

IMG_2418Our partially shaded campsite featured a flat gravel pad, picnic table and grill. There’s a short walk to the water, which we were hoping to use for fishing access, but unfortunately there was more poison ivy than we wanted to dodge. We found another access to the water, but the low-lying trees made casting difficult for the girls. Surprisingly, we didn’t have any neighbors during our entire stay. Though the girls were sad because they couldn’t play with new friends, it also meant they could run around like maniacs without worrying about traffic.

We spent about 45 minutes setting up camp by rolling out the rug, organizing the outdoor food station, hooking up the water and electric, and making sure the party lights hung perfectly. This park (and most state parks) features a dump station near the entrance, which we used on the way out to empty our gray and black tanks. For lunch, we quickly cooked hot dogs and grilled deli sandwiches on the griddle before heading to the beach. 

Recreation Area

4After lunch we headed to the recreation area to cool off in the beach. The recreation area at Loop E features a large sandy shoreline with designated swimming area. The water was refreshing and the boats racing by made fun waves for the girls. The girls loved catching the waves with their inner tubes and building sand castles on the shore. They enjoyed racing into the water and diving into the calm water. Even though the water was a little murky, they didn’t seem to mind.

The recreation area has a narrow forested area near the parking lot with picnic tables and benches. We spotted several fishermen fishing further down the shoreline. We also saw a pontoon boat selling shave ice and snacks on the shoreline. Even though we just missed the shave ice, we watched the boat motor to the recreation area on the opposite side of the lake.

Unfortunately we left several of our beach essentials (beach chairs, umbrellas, sand toys) at home, placing greater attention on our camping items. We bought inner tubes at the convenience store off US-64, which proved crucial beach toys. Despite not having all our regular beach things, we spent over two hours at the lake beach having a fabulous time.

Dinner Camping

IMG_2425After playing at the beach we headed back to our campsite for showers and dinner prep. The girls helped shuck corn for grilling on the fire pit while I made mac n cheese on the trailer range. We grilled chicken sausages, corn on the cob, hot dogs and cinnamon sugar filled apples for dessert. 

After cleaning up dinner we settled in for puzzles and Uno. I also taught the girls how to play the card game, War, which immediately became their favorite game! Once the sun went down, we chased fireflies around the loop and used our campfire to make s’mores. Then, we read a bit of Wind in the Willows around the campfire before tucking the girls into their bunks.  

Though it took the girls a little longer to fall asleep, they slept soundly until morning. Bill and I enjoyed some music around the campfire while listening to insects chirp near the water. Overall, our first overnight trailer trip was a big success! Camping in the trailer was an exciting, but relaxing experience while Jordan Lake offered lots of fun at a quick drive away. 

Thumbs up: campsite space, large beach recreation area, affordable family camping, 

Thumbs down: poison ivy down to the water near campground