Cooler weather is best for camping out

Published 12:57 pm Friday, March 14, 2014




By Fred Bonner



I’ve often been asked what my favorite time of the year is for a camping trip. No questions about it, it would be the early spring when it’s cool enough to comfortably sleep in a warm sleeping bag, yet not so cold that you freeze your “buns off.” I can always put on enough clothes to be comfortable when it’s colder weather. Just try and time your camping trip so that you’re not camping in a pouring down rain.

As for going camping in the heat of the summer, this is, in my opinion, a miserable time to camp. The insects are usually terrible and you can’t take off enough clothes to stay cool (Although some do occasionally do sun and swim sans clothing on the Outer Banks).

As for some of my favorite places to go camping in this cooler weather, I’d try and plan a trip down to the Outer Banks and, more specifically, to the Cape Lookout National Seashore (Park). The opportunities for good adventures on this part of the Outer Banks are many during the early spring.

It was nearly thirty years ago that I was single and a member of the Raleigh Ski and Outing Club. I’d volunteered to guide a group of “city slicker” young women to Cape Lookout for a good time and some lessons on learning to subsist on things we could easily catch to eat on these islands. We took along our fresh water and enough store-bought victuals to satisfy our hunger should all else fail.

We set up our tents on Morgan’s Island that’s on the right as you cross over to Cape Lookout from Harker’s Island. Being careful not to anchor our boat where the low tide wouldn’t leave us stranded, we began to scatter out to the nearby flats to gather whatever edible sea life we might come across.

After convincing the women that we shouldn’t encounter any undesirable critters like sharks, sting rays, crabs and stinging jellyfish we commenced to gather quahog clams, ribbed and horse mussels, pin shells, conchs, oysters and, using some very basic fishing gear, small pinfish such as croakers, sea mullets, and Norfolk spots. Within a couple of hours, we had gathered enough seafood to have a real down east steamed supper.

Later that evening, we took a Coleman gas lantern out onto the flats and, using a simple dip net and gig, we collected shrimp, blue crabs, stone crabs and enough flounder to give everyone a small taste. It was amazing how the variety of sea life differed from the daylight hours into the dark of the night.

There aren’t any really dangerous kinds of wildlife to be worried about on these islands, although there is a good population of raccoons that live in the marshes, and these varmints can cause damage to any food that’s not properly put away. Tent campers on the Shackleford Banks have been occasionally startled by loud “snorting” noises at night as small groups of the wild horses get too close to camp.

The weather was warm enough that we could wade in the shallows yet cool enough that we could sleep in moderately warm sleeping bags. There were few insects to bother us, and, best of all, it wasn’t raining. I feel sure that the campers experienced something they’d never forget and they had a good time doing it.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore Headquarters is located in Beaufort and a complete set of rules for the islands is available there. Camping is for the taking with no permit required. Just pick a spot and throw up a tent. There are some facilities available near the Cape Lookout Light but not elsewhere. If you take a dog along it must be kept on a leash to protect the wide variety of birds and wildlife that are found on the islands. Shell collecting is fascinating on these islands and, since there was once a thriving village on the island, sand polished sea glass can be found there.

There are several commercial boats that ferry tourists to and from the banks or, you can take you own boat over. It’s not unusual to see kayakers paddling over from Harker’s Island, as long as it’s calm enough. The crossing from Harker’s Island can be notoriously rough when a combination of strong tides and wind oppose each other. The channels are well marked, but boaters need to pay strict attention to the buoys and not try to take short cuts between the markers. Even very shallow running boats can easily go aground if you don’t stay exactly in the channels

It’s one thing to make a day trip over to Cape Lookout and it’s quite another thing to go camping over there. There aren’t any gas stations, grocery stores or minute markets available so try and remember to take anything with you that you might need. This should include a well-equipped first aid kit for any minor cuts and scrapes that might happen.

If you are lucky enough to pick up enough driftwood to make a campfire it’s okay as long as the fire is well attended. For cooking I’d recommend taking a portable gas stove along. The banks are well known for having strong winds so be careful with your fire. With the wind in mind another good thing to remember is to have a tent that’s self-standing and have tent pegs that will hold in the ever-present sand.

Cell phone service is available to call for help, if needed, in the middle of the night and the Harker’s Island Rescue Squad knows how to navigate the treacherous channels over to the Cape in the middle of the night.

If the hunting seasons are open at the time of your trip you are allowed to hunt any wild game that is legal in North Carolina at this time.  Hunting and/or fishing licenses are necessary if you’re 16 years of age or older and rules and regulations must be followed as the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and Wildlife Resources Commission requires.