July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Crystal Coast: North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks offer many attractions

North Carolina’s Crystal Coast has drawn recognition for centuries. The Spaniards were the first to explore the area in the 1500s, and their wild horses still roam the protected Shackleford Banks. Civil War battles were fought along the shores in the 1800s. Blackbeard the Pirate lived in Beaufort, and his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, is still located in its watery grave off the coast. The black and white diamond pattern on the Cape Lookout lighthouse has beckoned to visitors since 1859. And most recently, Nicholas Sparks has set many of his best-selling novels in the region.
As part of North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks, the Crystal Coast is found in Carteret County, a location filled with diverse communities. Starting at the bottom of Carteret County, a long island called Bogue Banks is home to several villages that are now covered with beach homes and condominiums. The Bogue Banks aren’t terribly commercialized, though. Emerald Isle is set on the Atlantic Ocean and is filled with many lavish beach homes. Next up the coast is Indian Beach, a community settled in 1893 by 15 families of fishermen. Salter Path, the next community, is well-known for seafood. The North Carolina Aquarium is located in Pine Knoll Shores, a community established by descendants of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Pevensey, a sunken Confederate blockade runner, still is located offshore. The last community on Bogue Banks, Atlantic Beach, is the most commercialized. Many nightclubs, shops and public beaches are found on this stretch of beach.
At the very end of the island, Fort Macon, a Civil War fort and state park, includes 398 acres of land that includes a huge public sand beach, a restored Civil War fortress and a museum. The state park is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Beaufort Inlet and Bogue Sound — depending where visitors stand on the beach, you can see the vast expanse of the Atlantic, or various towns on different coasts.
Once visitors cross the Intracoastal Waterway, many towns can be explored throughout Carteret County. Morehead City is the largest community, and it offers a variety of restaurants, stores and hotels. The city is sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Newport River, and the location fosters a water-friendly community.
After crossing the Newport River, Beaufort is the next quaint town. As North Carolina’s third oldest town, Beaufort is filled with history, including the Old Burying Ground, a cemetery dating back to the early 1700s. Throughout the town’s Historic District, more than 100 homes are at least 100 years old and were once owned by merchants, shippers and sea captains. Currently many are private residences, but some are open to the public as bed and breakfasts. The heart of town includes quaint shops and waterfront restaurants. Once an active seaport, the shores of Beaufort are surrounded by the Intracoastal Waterway, Newport River and North River. The waterfront now is filled with private boats.
After winding around Beaufort’s peninsula, travelers will reach Down East, a remote part of the Crystal Coast filled with marshes and the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitor Center. The national seashore is only accessible by ferry — ferry services are available from Morehead City, Beaufort and Harkers Island, part of Down East.
The Cape Lookout National Seashore is comprised of three undeveloped barrier islands. Shackleford Banks, closest to Down East and Beaufort, is home to the Spanish wild horses. The island also has a multitude of seashells, available for the taking.
Another area is Cape Lookout — with the Cape Lookout Lighthouse — that serves as the bottom point of the South Core Banks. South Core Banks and North Core Banks are the other two barrier islands in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Core Sound.
At the top point of North Core Banks is historic Portsmouth Village, an abandoned 19th century town that once had 685 residents. Aside from cemeteries, the buildings that remain include a Life Saving Station, church, post office and school.
Because the South Core Banks and North Core Banks are part of a National Seashore, visitors are allowed to explore the undeveloped islands. The islands have no maintained roads, though, and have very few restrooms. No stores or restaurants are found on the islands, so all food and water must be brought — and removed — by visitors. Camping facilities are not available, but camping still is welcome. Visitors who plan to explore the islands should plan on roughing it.
One of the Crystal Coast’s inland — and non-water-related — attractions is Croatan National Forest, close to Bogue Banks. At the upper part of Carteret County, Cedar Island is home to a National Wildlife Refuge, along with a ferry stop to Ocracoke Island; Ocracoke is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and technically is not part of the Crystal Coast.
For visitors still looking for things to do, Crystal Coast has been named the Top Overall Dive Destination in North America by “Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine.” The area also is an excellent spot for fly fishing, surf fishing and pier fishing. With all of the surrounding water, boating is very popular. With so many attractions, vacationers who long for something other than a quiet and relaxing week at the beach will find plenty to do along the Crystal Coast.
Bernstein may be reached at 330-721-4057 or accent@ohio.net.