Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations

Tavish on the beach by Jennette's Pier

OBX:  three little letters stand for North Carolina’s Outer Banks and a summer full of fun for dogs and people alike. Many locations along the Outer Banks are denoted simply by their milepost number along U.S. Highway 158.  At Whalebone Junction, the road becomes a decidedly less-congested N.C. Route 12 and is the gateway to Cape Hatteras, designated the country’s first national seashore in 1953. Beaches are dog-friendly, with regulations varying by town and season. Here are the Intrepid Pup’s picks for the top five scenic and sandy spots at this east coast playground:

Bodie Island Light Station

After wandering the grounds, be sure to follow the 1/8-mile boardwalk through the marsh for a picture-perfect view.

35° 49′ 5.30″ N,  75° 33′ 51.53″ W
Bodie Island Light Station
, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Open March – December

Throughout the centuries, the storms and shoals defining this stretch of coastline have wrecked more than 600 ships. Were it not for the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving services, this Graveyard of the Atlantic would have claimed even more. Don’t miss Bodie Island Light Station, the 164.4-foot black and white striped beacon whose light is visible from 19 miles at sea. Constructed in 1872, it’s actually the third light station to occupy that approximate location. Since 2000, it’s been maintained by the National Park Service, and you can even take a ranger-led tour up the tower.  While dogs aren’t currently allowed inside the light station, that wasn’t always the case. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess used to climb the tower every day, accompanying his master Vernon Gaskill who served as Bodie Island’s last civilian-era keeper (1919-1939).  According to Elinor De Wire’s book, The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie—on sale in the light station’s gift shopChess had no problem with the heights but apparently drew the line at entering the lantern room, because he didn’t like the odor of kerosene!

Tavish at the Lost Colony

The emptiness here adds to the mystery and kind of proves a point. After all, it is the Lost Colony.

35° 56′ 9.79″ N,  75° 42′ 35.35″ W
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Open year-round

A newly renovated visitor center at this National Park Service site interprets the history of Roanoke Island, from Algonquian homeland in the 1500s to a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War. But the spot is perhaps best known for what it wasn’t, namely a successful English colony. In fact, no one knows for certain what became of the English settlers who’d arrived in 1587.  When Governor John White returned to check on his transplants to the New World three years later, the 117 colonists plus White’s ill-fated granddaughter Virginia Dare (the first Christian baby born in Virginia) seemed to have vanished into thin air.  An abandoned fort and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post are the scant clues in this unsolved mystery.

You, too, can explore the grounds of the lost colony. Pass a reconstructed version of the original earthen fort and join up with the Hariot Nature Trail for what amounts to about a 20-minute walk. We came upon a flock of ibises unhurriedly picking their way through the clearing. The wooded trail is slightly overgrown in spots and is punctuated by markers identifying types of trees and habitats. Sprinkled in are quotes drawn from accounts in Old English affirming the myriad challenges that the colonists faced. The trail provides a  picturesque view of Albemarle Sound before circling back to the Visitor Center.  Let us know if you happen to make the separate 2.5-mile round-trip hike on the Freedom Trail out to Croatan Sound—we were unfortunately thwarted in our attempt by a severe thunderstorm!

NagsHeadBeach

The Intrepid Pup officially “off duty” on the beaches of Nags Head.

35° 54′ 36.32″ N,  75° 35′ 43.77″ W
Nags Head Beaches & Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 16.5)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towns of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Southern Shores all permit dogs on their beaches with varying degrees of seasonal access and leash laws. Team Tavish and the Intrepid Pup particularly like the beaches in Nags Head, because dogs are allowed on the beach year-round and at any time of day so long as they are on a maximum 10-ft leash and owners clean up.

Jennette's Pier

A bronze sea turtle stands watch by the pier house on Jeannette’s Pier.

While Tavish loves the water, he isn’t big on swimming, and that’s actually just fine here, because one does have to be mindful of the dangerous rip currents that can lurk offshore. But the beaches are clean and wide…perfect for an Intrepid Pup to snuffle the sand, poke at shells, crabs and seaweed, and skitter through the foamy surf. Walk the beach at sunrise and you’re sure to catch glimpses of skimming pelicans and playful porpoises offshore. Hard to miss at the heart of the beach’s Whalebone District is Jennette’s Pier (see photo at top). It’s been at this location since 1939, and  its current iteration is all concrete and extends 1,000 feet  into the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs aren’t permitted in or beyond the pier house, but you can get as far as the oversize bronze sculpture of a sea turtle. From that vantage point you can watch all the anglers heading out onto the pier to catch bluefish, cobia, skate, pigfish, mackerel, sea mullet, and more.

Tavish at Jockey's Ridge

The dunes at this state park are very cool…just be mindful of your dog’s paws, because the sand can get hot, hot, HOT!

35° 57′ 50.37″ N,  75° 37′ 59.38″ W
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 12)
Open year-round

Did you know that this 420-acre state park represents the eastern United States’ largest natural dune system? It’s open to the public year-round, though park hours vary by season. Parking and general access are free. Dogs are allowed, so long as they remain on 6-foot leashes. From the visitor center, you can stroll a 360-foot boardwalk to a dune overlook, set out on the 1.5-mile “Tracks in the Sand” interpretive trail, take a mile-long walk on the “Soundside” nature trail…or simply scale the dunes. The shifting sands create a ridge that varies in height from 80 to 100 feet, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. With fairly steady prevailing winds, Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite destination for kiteboarders and sandboarders. On the morning of our visit, hang gliding lessons were just getting underway, and the park was also gearing up for a big kite festival. We’d been forewarned that the sand at Jockey’s Ridge can get anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so Tavish came prepared wearing his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler™ vest (a real godsend that made all the difference in his comfort in the dry heat), and he had his protective paw booties at the ready.  A word to the wise:  try taking off your shoes. If it’s too hot to walk on the dunes barefoot, it’ll definitely be too hot for your pup!  When we reached the ridge, the radio announcer for the kite festival approached us to pet  Tavish. Taking stock of all of our water bottles and gear, he remarked, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many people I see come up here with no water for themselves, let alone for their dogs. Big mistake.”

Tavish Wright Brothers National Memorial

The sky’s the limit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial!

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)
Open year-round

Modern aviation is indebted to two Ohio brothers who journeyed to what at the turn-of-the 20th century was a remote patch of dunes. Carefully chosen for the winds, lack of distractions, and sandy landings, Kill Devil Hills was where Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903.  You can follow in the brothers’ flight path with a visit to this National Park Service memorial. With Tavish in tow, we covered a total of approximately 1.5 miles walking the grounds. A pathway with stone markers traces the trajectories and landings of the Wrights’ first four powered flights. Trek uphill to get a panorama of the site, topped by a 60-foot granite memorial; it’s the same promontory from which the Wrights had earlier experimented with glider flights. Before turning back to further explore the informative Visitor Center, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the trail loop is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture group entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures the same instant of first flight as the iconic photograph and makes for a pretty nifty photo opp all its own!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansYou see a lot of dogs on the Outer Banks enjoying outdoor activities a-plenty. So at first we were puzzled by the fact that dog-friendly lodging and dining weren’t as abundant. It turns out that many dog-owning OBX vacationers rent beach houses by the week (Sunday to Saturday) so they’re not needing as many hotels and always have the option of cooking in.  That being said, there are approximately a dozen pet-friendly overnight accommodations. We stayed at the Dolphin Oceanfront Motel (milepost 16.5), finding it to be minimalist but functional, with its key attribute being that it had a primo location right on the beach. By no means inexpensive, it was still comparatively less pricey than the pet-friendly rooms at the national hotel chains and some of the local B&Bs.

Tavish at the Front Porch Cafe

Chillaxing at the Front Porch Cafe

Foodwise, we stopped at a couple places with patio dining only to discover that dogs weren’t allowed.  We hit the jackpot, though, in finding the Front Porch Cafe for breakfast. We ate at their locations in Nags Head (milepost 10.5) and Kill Devil Hills (milepost 6). In addition to making a good cup o’ joe, they have a wide assortment of muffins, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. We sat outside in roomy Adirondack chairs, and the staff was quick to offer Tavish dog biscuits and a bowl of water.  Pigman’s Bar-B-Que was our other find. We took our order out to their picnic tables, and Tavish happily sampled our Carolina-style Que, hush puppies, fries, slaw, baked beans, and cornbread. OBX ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for providing enough canine fun in the sun, sand and surf to blow Tavish’s ears back! Grab a leash and go!

Getting Out and About in Vacationland

Just learned about the inaugural Great Maine Outdoor Weekend taking place this March 2-4, 2012. It’s being touted as a bi-annual celebration with a “series of events scheduled all across the great state of Maine to help connect [people] with the natural world, and promote fun, physical activity, and good health.”

Well, if that isn’t something that appeals to the Intrepid Pup’s sensibilities, we don’t know what will! Tavish isn’t in Maine this weekend to help celebrate, but he did spend the first 5½ years of his life in “Vacationland” living the state’s motto “Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” And in that time, he had ample opportunity to sample and enjoy some of the best trails, views and natural beauty the state has to offer. So, while this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some of the Intrepid Pup’s top picks, by region, for getting out and about with your dog in Vacationland:

Dogging the Details

wag-a-meter set at 2

The three excursions described below all rank “2” on the Wag-a-meter as these are active, outdoor adventures with some pre-planning required. You’ll also be out-and-about pretty much the whole day with your dog, so be sure to pack along food/treats, water, and doggie bags.

 

 

 

MAINE BEACHES

43°20′51.32″ N, 70°28′50.92″ W
Kennebunk Beach, Kennebunk, Maine

Kennebunk BeachIf you’ve always associated Maine with craggy shorelines, there are plenty. But you might be surprised to learn that beautiful sandy beaches can be found in coastal towns throughout southern Maine. One favorite is Kennebunk Beach. At low tide, this crescent-shaped swath of sand extends out about a hundred yards before receding into the Atlantic Ocean. Then, if you could even see this far, the next land you’d spot would be Portugal. Seriously. The surrounding communities, collectively known as the Kennebunks, are tourist magnets (particularly in the summer and fall), but Kennebunk Beach holds a year-round allure even after temperatures for swimming and sun-bathing are but distant memories. The sidewalk follows the shoreline and is great for dog-walking, complete with several waste receptacles and doggie-bag dispensers. In fact, this same scenic route along the seawall is used by the area’s Animal Welfare Society for its insanely popular (and fun) annual “Strut Your Mutt” fundraiser.

Within certain hours, dogs are allowed ON the beach, too, provided you follow the regulations. Kennebunk Beach is a great spot for your dog to run, swim, and enjoy the company of the myriad other dogs and dog owners you’ll find. Do note that in the summer, nearby parking requires a beach permit.

Want to spend a full day exploring the Kennebunks with your dog? If it’s between June 15 and the day after Labor Day, time your romp on Kennebunk Beach to be either before 9 AM or after 5 PM. For the rest of the day, consider heading to Kennebunk’s very own dog park just a short drive from the beach up Sea Road. This fenced-in dog park shares an entrance with Kennebunk’s recycling center and is open daily from dawn to dusk. Still have energy to burn? From the dog park, go across Sea Road into the parking lot for Sea Road School. On the left-hand side, you’ll be able to access the trailhead for the Bridle Path, going southeast. Since it’s the former rail bed for the Boston & Maine Railroad from 1883, it’s pretty flat. For a little ways you’ll snake behind neighborhoods, but before long, you’re surrounded by woods and marshland. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the Mousam River to the west; it’s a favorite for birders and kayakers. In this direction, the trail ends in about 2 miles at the junction with Western Avenue. Reward yourself and your dog for a day well-spent by heading into the heart of nearby Kennebunkport. Just a block off Dock Square, along Ocean Avenue, you’ll find Scalawags, a marvelous pet boutique, where a bowl of fresh water always awaits. Owner Mary Beth does a great job of sourcing tasty dog treats and an array of truly unique Maine-made and Maine-inspired wares (think rope leashes hand-crafted by Maine lobstermen!) for your four-legged friends. Extending your stay is always an option, and you’re in luck in that the Kennebunks are home to a number of pet-friendly accommodations like the Captain Jefferds Inn, the Colony Hotel, the Hounds Tooth Inn, and the Yachtsman.

 

GREATER PORTLAND AND CASCO BAY

43°39′02.59″ N, 70°11′41.37″ W
Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks IslandTeam Tavish dug back into the Intrepid Pup archives for this pic of an approximately 11-week-old Tavish on one of his very first trips to what would become a frequent destination: Peaks Island. Of the several hundred island communities that dot Casco Bay, Peaks is the most populous with ~1,100 year-round residents, though that number swells to 4,000+ during the summer months. Peaks is actually part of the City of Portland, but its history has been punctuated by various—and as yet, unsuccessful—secessionist movements. It’s accessible via a 15-minute ride from downtown Portland on the Casco Bay Lines ferry and is thus a popular day-trip destination. Vehicle traffic is minimal, with bicycles and golf-carts easily outnumbering cars on the roads. At just 2 miles long and about a mile wide, Peaks is both walkable and eminently picturesque.

Dogs are allowed on the ferry but do need their own tickets. Climb aboard and take a seat on the open-air top deck. It’s not uncommon to spot harbor seals en route. Once you arrive at the ferry landing on Peaks, walk up the ramp to Downfront, where you can fortify yourself with an ice cream cone. As you head out the door, hook a right to stay on  Island Avenue and go back past the ferry landing, a little park, and a few restaurants. Within about 1/4 mile, the road will curve inland. Make a right on Whitehead and look for the short walking trail that leads down to Picnic Point and Hadlock Cove, where this photo of Tavish was taken. Here’s your craggy coastline and a stunning view of Casco Bay! If you bring along a picnic and a camera and never get any further in exploring Peaks, you won’t be disappointed. There is, however, much more to see. For a longer walk, rejoin the main road heading east, and within a few hundred feet you’ll come upon the Fifth Maine Museum. Its Memorial Hall cottage was constructed in 1888 as a memorial and reunion site for members of the Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry (1861-1864) active during the Civil War. The museum’s exhibitions and programming cover regimental history and, more broadly, various facets of the island’s settlement. The museum is also playing a key role in the statewide sesquicentennial commemoration of Maine’s role in the Civil War. Heading right (east) from the Fifth Maine Museum, Seashore Avenue passes the 8th Maine Regiment building (now a lodge) and then quickly opens onto panoramic shoreline vistas. Seashore Avenue makes a circuit of the island and winds up being a little more than a 3-mile walk, ultimately reconnecting to Island Avenue, delivering you past the quirky, seasonally-open Umbrella Cover Museum and right back to where you started at the ferry landing. You can trim your overall distance by turning off Seashore Avenue onto any of the roads that bisect the island (see map). If you have time to spare before catching your return ferry, enjoy Shipyard Brewing Company beverages and a meal at the Inn on Peaks. When outdoor seating is available, your dog can join you on the patio.

MIDCOAST

44°13′22.91″ N, 69°04′07.73″ W
Mount Battie, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, Maine

Mount BattieCamden, Maine is a charming Midcoast town with quaint shops and inns, great seafood, schooner charters, and a bustling autumn Windjammer Festival that spotlights Camden’s picturesque marina. It’s also great base from which to undertake some hiking. Just over a mile outside the town center, heading north on Belfast Road/Route 1, is the main entrance on the left to Camden Hills State Park. The 30+ miles of trails are well-maintained and well-marked, but they do intersect one another frequently within the park’s 5,700 acres, so it helps to request a map at the ranger station and have a ranger suggest an appropriate route, based upon the time you have available.

A favorite of Team Tavish is the Mount Battie Trail, which is accessed from the parking area just beyond the ranger station. While the trail isn’t technically challenging (heck, it even crisscrosses the auto road to the summit, but driving up would be “cheating”!), it’s a lovely couple miles of walking in the woods, and the payoff is huge. The trail tops out at a smooth rock outcropping 780′ above sea level with a breath-taking view of Camden Harbor immediately below and Penobscot Bay beyond. In autumn, leaf-peeping and spotting the migrating hawks are additional draws. For a longer foray, daisy-chain the trails and try out Bald Mountain (1200′), Mount Megunticook (1385′), or Maiden Cliff (800′).

Word has it that the next Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is already slated for September 28-30, 2012.  Stay tuned for the Intrepid Pup to share more of his favorite Maine excursions then!