Dry Camping at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

To the Cape

We knew we wanted to stay at the southern end of the Outer Banks.  There are many private campgrounds that get decent reviews online in our desired area, but we were looking for something a bit more peaceful for the Labor Day holiday weekend.  A lot of the beaches in the Outer Banks are part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which also contains three campgrounds.  Some online research revealed that the Frisco campground was the best of the bunch – so we set our sites there.  It was further than the other two campgrounds, but it turned out to be worth it.

 

Wide, perfect beaches and nice waves – Hatteras Island beaches are great!

 

We arrived on Friday afternoon.  It was walk-up only (no reservations) – so we were a bit nervous about getting a good spot – but we basically had our pick of the place.  The BEST spots are at the top of the outer loop (the P loop – site 57, specifically) – they’re on the top of a hill and have an amazing view of the campground, the dunes, and the ocean.  Unfortunately, those were all taken.

 

The view from the top of the campground. Trudy sure sticks out!

 

We ended up choosing a spot close to the boardwalk that had a private annex behind some bushes.  We never used the annex but we really enjoyed our site.

 

Site P18. No neighbors!

 

Revisiting Frisco

Years (well, decades) ago, I tent camped at the Frisco campground with my dad.  I have great memories of it.  I remember the awesome beach, the ever-threatening sand cacti, the intense storms, and the bright green frogs that live in the bathhouse.  I even caught one of those frogs and brought it back home… where I’m sure it promptly died.  Anyway, my dad and I had some great times in Frisco – fishing, kayaking, swimming, going out to eat.  It was great to make it back there and revisit it.  Sure enough, we got to fully experience the awesome beach, the cacti, the storms, and even the bathhouse frogs again.

 

Dry Camping: Testing the Waters

The National Seashore campgrounds are all non-electric sites and have no hookups.  They don’t even have a water fill or dump station at the campground – you have to drive down the road several miles.  Knowing this, we filled our fresh water tank before leaving First Landing State Park in Virginia and obviously dumped our tanks.

We were very conservative with electricity and water since this was our first time dry camping.  We didn’t want to fill the tanks too fast (or run out of water) and have to leave before we were ready!  It wasn’t oppressively hot, so we got away with running the generator for an hour or two each day – usually during Calla’s nap.  We went without A/C for the remainder of the time – but the 12 volt fantastic fans and open windows kept a nice breeze going.

We also took advantage of every opportunity we could to save on water use:

  • We filled our two 7 gallon Aqua-Tainers at the bathhouse and we used that for washing dishes and rinsing off after the beach.
  • We used the bathhouse showers instead of our own when we could (when it wasn’t dark or raining, basically).  They only have cold water, but they’re actually pretty nice!
  • We used minimal utensils and plates and kept meals simple in order to cut down on dirty dishes.
  • Funny story – we forgot to turn the water heater on one day.  We realized when it was time for Calla’s bath.  Fortunately, one of the Aqua-Tainers was half-full and was in direct sunlight all day.  It was the perfect amount and the temperature – problem solved!

We dry camped for 3 full days and were not close to filling our tanks.  Our fresh water tank was still 2/3 full!  Yes, I fully acknowledge that we “cheated” a bit by using the bathhouses, but hey, why not?  Overall, we’re very proud of our conservation abilities!

I will say that non-electric campgrounds have a different feel to them.  We were the largest rig at the campground – most people were in tents, popup campers, or maybe a smaller travel trailer.  I spied a few people staring at our rig, some with a look of intrigue, others with a look of disgust.  That’s fine – they have no idea that our entire lives are stored in this thing!

Side Note: When I was wiring up the Escape for towing, I discovered that the 7-pin connector at Trudy’s tow hitch didn’t have the constant 12 volt feed that I was counting on to power our supplemental braking system.  It was go time before I had the chance to wire up a new lead, so instead we bought a decent portable power unit from Amazon.  It gets buckled into the passenger seat of the zombie Escape (the battery is disconnected) and powers the Blue Ox Patriot system.  I was hoping this would work out – and it certainly does!  A day of towing uses about 5% of the battery capacity.  It turns out that it also comes in VERY handy when you’re dry camping!  We used this thing almost constantly to charge phones, laptops (when combined with our 200W inverter), the baby monitor, etc. when we weren’t running the generator.  We’re all about multi-use items!

 

Beautiful, but Dangerous

When we first got to the campground, the host happily informed me that the place had tons of deer as well as cottonmouth snakes and “that aggressive snake” (copperheads).  Great.  There’s also an infinite supply of sand spurs.  They’re EVERYWHERE.  There also are tons of low, camouflaged cacti with 1″ spines.

We dealt with some intense thunderstorms a few nights that kept us up for hours.  The thunder, lightning and wind you get when you’re right on the coast is completely different from what we got at home – and even worse in an RV.  Fortunately, Calla slept right through it.  There were people camping in tents when the first storm came through that weren’t there when we woke up – so either they got washed into the ocean, or they packed it up and left in the night.  That sounds awful either way.

 

Rain makes us glad to have a larger RV!

 

It’s clear that this place is not friendly to humans.  But it’s so darn beautiful that it doesn’t matter.  Well, it would matter, but the National Park Service maintains the campground very well and builds in safety where it’s needed.  Thanks, NPS!

 

Finally – the Beach!

You have to walk out a boardwalk and climb over a dune to get to the beach.  The boardwalk takes you through the brush and over a swampy area full of screeching frogs and other critters (thanks again, NPS). It’s so pretty – we enjoyed the walk to beach almost as much as the beach itself!

 

 

The boardwalk to the ocean.

 

The rest of the boardwalk – after emerging from the brush.

 

Hatteras Island has a wonderful beach.  It’s really broad and has lighter sand than northern East Coast beaches.  It also has great waves – I couldn’t resist going out and riding some while Hannah and Calla played in the sand.

 

Exploring the tides!

 

Loving the sand and shells.

 

Of course, many people go to the National Seashore because you can drive on the beach.  You have to purchase a permit – and your vehicle has to be off-road capable – so we couldn’t take the Escape on the beach.  When my dad and I came down, we had the old ’88 Toyota or his Blazer 4×4, so we always drove on the beach.  It makes the beach even better when you can drive to a point where you literally can’t see anyone on either side of you!

 

*Tears up* the 4×4 access ramp

 

Anyway, we were fine without the 4WD vehicle, but I was shaking my head at the people who decided to park, at most, tens of yards past the access ramp.  Right in front of the beach access for our campground.  You couldn’t find a better spot in the miles and miles of beaches that you paid to explore?

 

Checking out the Attractions

Okay, so the disadvantage of going all of the way down to Frisco is that there really aren’t many attractions.  There are some small markets, some museums, etc., but nothing like what’s up near Kittyhawk or at other commercialized beach towns.

From a “going out” perspective, we got some fresh seafood for dinner one evening and we visited the Cape Hatteras Light Station one day.  It was fun to visit the lighthouse and its accompanying museum, but small children aren’t allowed inside, so we couldn’t actually climb the 12 stories of steps to the top.  It’s actually the tallest lighthouse in the country – pretty cool!

We tried to check out “the point” (Cape Hatteras proper) while we were in the area, but it ended up being too far of a walk from the parking area.  That parking area and 4×4 ramp were incredibly busy – we found out later it was all because people wanted to see and probably swim out to Shelly Island!

 

Checking out the lighthouse

 

Retreating north

After our successful dry camping experience, we were ready for some amenities.  For example, electricity and warm showers.  While we had decent enough internet in Frisco, working from there would be challenging without constant electricity.  Rather than push our limits, we moved about 45 minutes north to a private campground called Camp Hatteras in Waves.  We’ll talk about our time there in another post!

 

This sunset indicates the end of that day and also the end of this post.

5 Comments

  1. Hoping this message makes it your way. I am loving every minute of your journal entries and pics. Now I’m ready for a fall trip to the Outer Banks. Maybe with our ATVs this time.

    Beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Sue! We were both familiar with OBX but felt we got to experience a whole new side to it – the wild side! Hope you can make it there this fall!

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