Grab your paddles and head on down to the Outer Banks, where paddling enthusiasts can soak up every opportunity to venture the fresh water ways and smooth coasts.
By Joe O’Grady of Coastal Kayak Touring Company
The Outer Banks of North Carolina offers some of the best coastal kayak touring options in the country. In one day you can kayak in six distinct ecosystems: fresh, salt and brackish marshes, maritime forest, swamps and the ocean. Each of these ecosystems offers different wildlife opportunities, and each system plays a vital role in the ecology of the Outer Banks. Most of the tours are conducted on the sheltered side of the Outer Banks where the waters remain calm and are typically shallow.
The marshes of the northern Outer Banks are fresh water because of the distance from the tidal influences of the Oregon inlet 30 plus miles away. The Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary and marshes further north extend across the state line of Virginia like a maze designed for kayakers. These marsh islands and creeks are inhabited by river otter and many nesting osprey.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, located just south of the Oregon inlet on Hatteras Island, is the Outer Banks premier salt marsh for kayaking. Known as a “birder’s paradise,” 365 species of birds have been documented on this refuge. The waters are quite clear due to its close proximity to the tidal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, making this a great location for viewing sting ray and a wide variety of other aquatic life.
Ginguite Creek, which meanders through Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, is one of the world’s only preserved maritime forests. More than 1,800 acres have been protected from development by efforts of the Nature Conservancy. This location also explores brackish marsh where freshwater and saltwater species mix. Since the protection of the Nature Conservancy, both bald eagle and osprey, two formerly endangered species, have begun nesting on this preserve.
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a swamp tour. Don’t let the word swamp fool you; this is one of the most beautiful locations to kayak anywhere. The waters here are the coloration of dark tea from the tannic acids of the bald cypress, loblolly pine and Atlantic white cedar. Winding creeks lead to mirror image lakes where alligators can often be seen sunning on floating grass fields (slough grass) or a protruding cypress stump.
By choosing a reputable kayak touring company, you can relax and leave all the planning to them. The tours include basic instruction and all necessary kayak gear. In addition to providing instruction, your guide will also give you a narrative on local history and coastal ecology. A kayak tour on the Outer Banks will be the highlight of your vacation.