North Carolina’s Crystal Coast is the only place in the state—and one of only a few places along the entire Atlantic shore—where you can view both sunrises and sunsets over the same clear, blue waters because of its unique, south-facing beach.
A collection of towns and communities known for their romantic scenery combine with wonderful restaurants and shopping, as well as historical and cultural sites to make up this area’s compelling getaway appeal. It’s also home to the 2,300-acre Rachel Carson Reserve, a complex of four islands including Carrot Island with its wild horses that travel across an unspoiled white sand beach.
“The Crystal Coast water sports scene is unique in its diversity,” says Michael Schrems, owner of Blown Kiteboarding. “We have many bodies of water and islands everywhere, [which] seem endless when you start exploring. We have surf, we have wind, and we have flat water bliss.”
So the next time you find yourself along the Crystal Coast, be adventurous and try one of these water activities on for size.
Down East Paddle Trails
Located near the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, Down East communities reflecting the past and present lie north east of Beaufort, North Carolina, with strong ties to the natural environment and ecosystem. Communities along Core Sound include Harkers Island, Marshallberg, Davis, Stacy and Cedar Island, to name a few.
Shallow waters, shoals and sloughs at Core and Shackleford Banks, plus creeks and salt marshes, characterize this Down East area of Carteret County. Plenty of kayak and paddle trails can be found here, particularly along the Byway.
Sixteen routes, from 2.3 miles to 13.7 miles, provide varying degrees of difficulty and opportunities for daylong or multi-day trips. There are so many options available, whether you travel along Core Sound and Core Banks, traverse Whitehurst Creek and the North River or paddle past Cape Lookout Lighthouse. You’ll find a number of paddle companies that can help you explore a full range of wildlife and highly varied plant life.
One of those companies is Beaufort Paddle, which offers SUP (stand up paddleboarding) rentals, lessons, tours and fun on the waters surrounding the Rachel Carson Reserve, according to owner/operator Rod Hoell. “Our home and business are located adjacent to 2,300 acres of the most pristine coastal estuary and maritime forest that exist in America. It’s simply beautiful,” he adds.
“We [assist] adventurous, intrepid souls who want to exit the crowds for backwater tranquility,” he says. Both seasoned water people and or first-time paddlers are welcome. “If you can stand, we can teach you SUP,” he adds. “There is nothing more rewarding to us than the wide-eyed amazement on first time visitors’ faces when they witness majestic wild horses on Carrot Island as we drift silently past on emerald waters.”
Water Sports in Bogue Sound
Bogue Sound is a haven for kiteboarding newbies, due to extensive shallow waters and good wind. Blown Kiteboarding is a visitor favorite. “We always operate in the Bogue Sound, which is just off of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway,” says owner Schrems. “We have a great location for beginners of kiteboarding, paddleboarding, and kayaking.”
“Our kiteboarding lessons start by loading up on a pontoon and heading out as a group for a journey into the awesomeness of kiteboarding. We land on a small island where we conduct all of our lessons. It is completely unique and well worth the adventure,” he adds. “Paddleboarding and kayaking are done on site, with kiteboarding in Broad Creek. [It] allows you to experience serenity in nature without too much current, boat traffic, or other distractions that could inhibit your experience.” He describes the experience as a “nature safari,” which takes you though a winding twisting waterway and marsh grass where you get to see fiddler crabs, ospreys and eagles.
The oldest town on Bogue Banks, Atlantic Beach showcases several centuries of American history. Inside Fort Macon State Park, you’ll find beautiful seashore, sunshine and scenic views. In the westernmost area of Bogue Banks, Emerald Isle features an unspoiled shoreline, quaint neighborhoods and a lively pier that draws a range of visitors, especially families. The warm, clear waters are perfect for surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking and paddle boarding; and many shops rent equipment.
Waters that resemble the Caribbean characterize the resort town of Indian Beach. Located in the middle of Bogue Banks between Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, this area features maritime forests and miles of soft sand.
Seasonal Fun Along the Crystal Coast
A number of events and seasonal happenings are always occurring on the Crystal Coast. Each fall, the area’s warm waters bring visitors to the seashore, with dozens of events each week ranging from historical tours and eco-adventures to special athletic events like the Tuna Run 200. Ready for a seafood celebration? Don’t miss the North Carolina Seafood Festival the first weekend of October in Morehead City, with activities, live music and delicious seafood for the whole family.
In the spring, kiteboarding enthusiasts hitch themselves to massive, brilliant-hued kites during the annual Bogue Banks Kiteboarding Festival. Wind currents pull them through rolling swells amid sparkling blue water during this lively event. Also in the spring, the Crystal Kai SUP Cup fills the Coast with standup paddleboard competitions and prizes that total up to $10,000!
Additional programs and celebrations take place regularly at The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Ranked among the nation’s best aquariums, it houses adorable otters, sea turtles, sharks, various fish, stingrays and more.
Remote and pristine forests, salt marshes, and undeveloped beaches with bright white sand dunes characterize Cape Lookout National Seashore, which includes the North Core and South Core as well as Shackleford Banks, where salt-pruned trees amid maritime forests seem otherworldly.
“You have only to fly over our beautiful Crystal Coast to realize the vast amount of quiet backwaters, waiting to be explored,” Hoell says. “What better way to visit these tranquil scenes than to glide in, quietly, by kayak or SUP.”
Ready to book your Crystal Coast adventure? Check out our Deals & Specials for big fall savings throughout the area.