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Hammocks Beach North Carolina Travelogue



Lance, I’m going to answer your questions under a separate thread, for future Hammocks Beach reference. Hammocks is one of my favorite easy & awesome off-season barrier island paddle-in venues, and I encourage paddlers within striking distance, or travelling through proximity, to visit, especially if unfamiliar with the beauty and novelty of barrier island canoe camping.

Oceanside, it’s not just for kayaks anymore.

The only web page I found that should have had a water trail map was a dead link. Do you know of one that can be downloaded? And by "shollow water" do you mean paddle digging stand up and pole shallow? Or just take advantage of the tidal surge to help you along shallow?

Try this link. Go to the right margin and click on Campground Map, and Paddle Trails Map


By shallow at low tide I mean that the inlet to the beachfront sites may require wading the boats

IMG010 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

That drag was up the inlet en route to the beachfront sites. Sites 12, 13 and 14 are before, or at least a short drag alongside the inlet shallows on the way in. The large open basin past the inlet narrows towards the beachfront sites is usually deep enough to paddle across.

Still, I’d time the tides to paddle out (and back in) for near high tide, so there is paddle blade depth of water in the marsh. Obviously slack to falling tide on the way out helps, and vice versa on the way back. Not that critical for tidal depth along the marked trail through the marsh, but more water, moving in the right direction, is better. Tides done right much the trail is an assisted ride.

which campsite is that back in the trees? Looking at the reservation pages of the three paddle in only sites (12-14) 14 has no pictures, 13 shows wide open spaces and 12 shows trees. Do you know if there are trees back of all three sites?

Whadda ya want, an extensive, photo heavy travelogue? Happy to oblige, I think Hammocks Beach is another NC State Park off-season gem, on par with Merchants Millpond, but very different from that scenic cypress swamp paddle-in camper

Site 14 is back in the trees, and is my least favorite site. It is sometimes too shady and damp feeling, but it has room for multiple tents, tarps and larger parties.

P3172667 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Site 13 is, uh, interesting in a unique way. A split level site; a dozen steps away from the site landing is a sandy area with room for a tent.

P3172664 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Atop the towering dune immediately behind the site is another part, a second flat sandy area with room for a tent or two and a tarp. There is (dense) forest in back of the top plateau, but distant. Cool place to wander the high dune forest edge though.

The view from site 13’s top plateau area is amazing, far out into the Atlantic. But there isn’t much shade, other than the tall, steep dune backdrop at the bottom area in the evening, and zero escape from the wind.

P3172665 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Site 12 is my favorite. And open sandy area near the inlet with room for a tent and tarp, and an enclosed shady grotto enveloped by the limbs of a couple live oak. At low tide use the easier landing for site 13; it is not far away and there is a short trail between the two. If I wanted two inlet sites, with companions on a separate permit, I’d take 12 and 13.

P3152656 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

PA281464 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The beachfront sites, if that’s your thing, are trickier. The couple sites closest to the paddle-in landing, sites 5, 6 and 7, are kind of exposed to wind off the ocean.

IMG011 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

IMG012 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

And some of the dune sites are pretty small tent/tarp wise. That is site 5.

PA160408 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Site 8 is spacious, and has a tall dune in front of camp, which makes a good windblock from ocean breezes, but of course also takes a while to get sunny first thing in the chill off-season morning.

PA160416 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Nice view from atop that beachfront dune though

PA170435 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

BTW, all of those site observations are prior to last year’s hurricane. It’s a shifting barrier island, so. . . . .

Some of the sites further away from the landing are likewise very exposed and, although none are a long walk, hiking over loose sand encumbered with gear and potable water is its own challenge.

PA160433 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

PA150371 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

If you are lucky you might encounter King Canute’s empty throne on the beach, His Highness having been swept out to sea trying to turn back the tide

PA170443 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

(Seriously, another of those oft-windy places where a wind block extension on the chair is welcome )

Uh, the facilities, the bathhouse thing down-island near the ferry landing, is a long sandy-hiking ways away. I have never set foot it in it, or even gotten close. I really don’t want to see that kind of syphilization structure, and it too far to hike just to take a morning dump. I bring the wag-bag bucket toilet system instead. And the Fire In A Can of course (no fires permitted at Hammocks Beach, but the FIAC has always been Ranger pre-approved for use.

The beach is pristine. Still, it looks the same hiking up as hiking back; not as interesting as day paddling, or foot wandering behind the dunes or along the marsh side.

PA150371 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

And since they take reservations 11 months out is it too early to begin to rough out a trip plan?

Rough out a trip plan? Sure. But I have had good luck getting the site I wanted on short notice, at least in October/November or February/March. By short notice I mean a couple or threefour days out. I’m looking for a combination of three things.

Favorable tides for a morning paddle in, and an afternoon paddle out. That one at least is researchable for dates that work well in advance. Use Bogue Inlet, plus an hour for tides filling in or draining out at the mainland HQ launch back in the marsh.


Decently warm or dry weather. It can be 50+f or 30f on those shoulder seasons, or even mid-winter. Constant wind and cold is kinda brutal there.

Manageable winds, both speed and direction. Most of the route is marsh protected, but even at a measly 2.5 mile paddle I don’t want to bust my arse getting in or out. Or camp amidst howling winds and blowing sand.

Pick any two above; all three if you get lucky.

It would be a helluva place to paddle a big fast Mad River Northwoods loaded with gear and potable water ;-)

(Check to see if dogs are permitted)
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Great post, thanks so much! I have added it to my Destinations list. How did you handle water? Did you bring all of your water with you to the campsite or do you bring some and then refill at the visitor center? Thanks again the information and the photos are great.
Thanks, Mike. I was hoping for a little specific information but I see that you didn't have much to help out with. :rolleyes:

Seriously, thank you for the info. Nancy enjoyed reading it, too. Dogs are allowed in Bear Island but not on the ferry so the only way (short of towing them behind the ferry :eek:) is to bring them by boat. If Rosie will ever calm down enough to ever be predictable in a canoe. Maybe filling her full of benadryl would be the ticket. And tying her under the spray deck......with a hood over her eyes....and nose plugs.....maybe ear plugs, too.

Best regards,

How did you handle water? Did you bring all of your water with you to the campsite or do you bring some and then refill at the visitor center?

I have always brought water with me, usually from a friend’s place a couple hours away where I crashed overnight for a early morning launch and know the water is tasty. Coastal water is often “soft”, and sometimes less than delicious. Soft water makes horrible coffee, or oatmeal, or thirst quencher. It is drinkable, but so it Bud Lite.

I’m not sure I have tasted the water at the HQ Ranger Station on the mainland. If there is potable water available at the bathhouse on the island I would probably grimace at the questionable taste of “potable”. If I’m toting water in the canoe I can carry it with me in the truck on the way down.

And, even if the water at the bathhouse was surprisingly sweet (seriously doubt that), I’m not hiking a freaking mile each way hauling a dromedary bag along the beach.

Third time’s the charm for this photo; this is walking south along the beach, in the direction of the giant/tall bathhouse facility on down near the passenger ferry landing.

PA150371 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The bathhouse is somewhere beyond the curve out of photo. Do you really want to walk there and back for water? Or while squeezing cheeks to take a dump in the morning after the coffee hits?

I thought not. I bring all my potable water. And a wag-bag bucket toilet system. Closest I’ve been to that facility was paddling past on the interior, going to check out the group sites on the south end of the island.

BTW, the Huggins Island Maritime Forest, despite the visual proximity to Swansboro, is worth a day paddle circumnavigation and hop out, dense forest explore. There is a lot of history thereabouts, including pre and post Civil War eras uses and fortifications guarding Bogue Inlet.

The backside of Bear Island and marsh environs to the west even more so. Bear Island itself has a peculiar history. Look that history up on your own before you go.

Thanks, Mike. I was hoping for a little specific information but I see that you didn't have much to help out with.

Yeah, sorry about that. I had hoped to run on verbosely for thousands more words, in much greater detail, how many steps over the sand to each possible campsite, but our inter-net kept cutting out, and I effed up a couple photos trying to remember what I had already link grabbed.

Six-seven-eight trips to Hammocks Beach; with family, with companions and solo, so lots of old photos. Such an easy, enjoyable off-season place, I will keep going back.

BTW, I made the beach sound overly boring, and posted a dullness photo of hard, swept-sand (oops, twice). Hammocks is actually shell-interesting after a king tide or storm. Because the island, especially the north end, is so little visited off-season when the ferry stops running, the high tide seashell fringe is worth bringing a Field Guide to Sea Shells.

IMG021 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

IMG022 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Maybe a field guide to birds as well, if the spring/fall migration is still running. That easterly NC projection into the Atlantic flyway lands a lot of migratory stuff, from warblers to sea birds.

heck, maybe bring a surf rod; not my thing. I’ve seen jon-boats there with clam rakes, and locals gathering buckets full of “Mud oysters” or “Dog oysters” or some such local colloquial name. The oysters didn’t sound appetizing, but they may call them that to keep Yankee visitors from foraging for evening chowder.

Sure do wish I could think of more useful and specific information about paddle camping Hammocks Beach. You’ll just have to go and experience for yourself.

Trip report please. Take lots of photos. Very cool place, with lots to see and do.
A Hammocks beach correction (and further suggestions)

The bathhouse is in fact (barely) visible in the photo of friend Willie hiking up the nice firm low tide beach, peaked roof just to the right above his head. That is the closest I’ve ever been while afoot, and we had wandered a fair piece up the beach at that point. That hike to the bathhouse is still a nope for me from the beachfront sites.

If camped on inlet sites 12-13-14, eh, I’d pack a bag lunch for your morning ablutions hike to the facilities. Seriously, bring a wag bag bucket toilet system and carry out. Or commit to that long walk; I don’t want to see cat hole crap and toilet paper protruding from that shifting windblown sand.

Atlantic tides are important for both paddle-in depth, and beachfront hiking timing. Just print out for the tides the duration of your stay. Not just for a well-watered paddle out, but for hiking the beach at low tide.

That beach can be compacted firm easy, or, at high tide, you may be walking up near the dunes, soft sand post-holing it every step of the way. That feet sinking every step is a helluva workout for your calf muscles. Also a nope for me.

A site selection aside: One new moon, high tide trip to spacious site 8, behind the tall dune, it proved to be a bit below that high tide waterline on the beachfront. It took hours to seep through, but the sand in that basin became noticeably damp. The next morning we were asking each other “Why is everything so wet?”

Some of that beach (and beyond) surface is fine sand. Unless you are on a wind protected site a mostly mesh tent will not be your friend if it is blowy enough.

Any tent at Hammocks Beach is a good place for a piece of artificial grass carpet in the entry vestibule. Most hardware stores (ask about remnants)


That stuff works so well at brushing off knees and feet that I bring a piece for the entry vestibule on every trip. Sticky pine needles, damp leaf litter, dirt and mud; I’d much rather have that debris scraped off before I climb into the tent. But especially sand. Sand in the tent is insidious. Sand inevitably gets inside the sleepy bag. Sleep gritty my friend.

Definitely pack layers, including a wind block layer, for one-season-colder than you anticipate on off season trips; the constant NC coast wind will wear your arse down otherwise.

I will harp again on the advantage of a simple windblock extension on the back of a chair. Off-season, on the almost always windy NC coast (or MD coast, or etc), a bit of easily positioned, back-to-the-wind personal shelter will be appreciated.

If my choices are hunkered down, huddled inside the tent for wind relief, or seated outside, back to the wind in high-rise extension chair, watching the barrier island world go by, shouting “Is this the best you got!”, I’ll take the latter every time. Day or night.

Post-sunset into dark of night is its own special time on the Atlantic front. Back in the forested northwoods I usually can’t see much but a wee patch of sky. Out on an open-sky barrier island is way different. Stay awake for a bit.

If it is a clear night, and you don’t know your stars and constellations, a rotating Planisphere disk is an awesome no-weight star gazing addition.


I love the oddities of barrier islands.
............................I’d much rather have that debris scraped off before I climb into the tent. But especially sand. Sand in the tent is insidious. Sand inevitably gets inside the sleepy bag. Sleep gritty my friend."....................

The last 15 years or so a lot of my camping has had my tent on sand beaches and I struggled keeping sand out of the tent. I developed the following technique to resolve most of the issue. I dedicate a pair, or 2, of wool socks that I wear around sandy camp. Whether dry or wet, almost all the sand sticks to the socks. When going into the tent, the socks come off at the door, staying outside. My feet are mostly free of sand, they just need a quick brushing to remove the little that has worked its way through the fabric. This has helped immensely as trying to get all the wet sand of your bare feet can take quite awhile. This method vastly shortens the time I spend at the tent door qetting myself free of sand.