Summer Beach Camping at Carolina Beach, NC
We left after work Friday and headed for a little edge piece of NC shoreline, stopping to eat once then pushing through. Where we were headed only 4 x 4 vehicles were allowed and secretly I thought maybe they were being a little strict about that.
It wasn't a far drive but after a long work week, getting there at midnight felt a little excessive. The truck stopped and as Andy paid to enter the park we rolled down windows to get a feel for things.
I'll never forget the first impression of the ocean that night. As the windows opened a straight, fresh wind hit us and all sleepiness flew away on the back of it. The stars were out by the millions, all attending a glittering black-tie gala, and the indigo air, cool. As we entered it was plain that my assumption earlier about the beach being easy to drive on was naive because even with 4-wheel drive we were having trouble getting through to our spot.
SETTING UP CAMP - FREEMAN PARK
There are few things I like to avoid more than setting up camp at midnight, but tonight it went together well and in no time flat we were standing chatting, far too invigorated by the wind and adrenaline to think of sleeping. At 2 am, after sitting for awhile with a lamp as our campfire, we thought it might be best to try to sleep.
I was not one whit sleepy and no amount of counting sand grains was going to change that, on top of which, the wind kept collapsing my tent. We hadn't taken the time to find the best set up for the tent city, and mine was parked on a hill in the back (which seemed like a good choice at the time). Wrong. No sooner had I popped the tent back up after collapsing before I was sliding down hill off my sleeping bag. Back on the sleeping bag it was a matter of staring at the tent skeleton again wondering which gust was going to bring it down again.
I'm not a saint, and the lack of sleepiness was making me mad. Getting mad only increases the wakefulness and I should've gone for a night run, but instead dug out the old Kindle and attacked a journalist's book on the current dilemma of our agriculture in America. At 3am. Riveting.
Joy does comes in the morning.
It was a sun-drenched morning, and we were beach camping! In all the excitement of complaining about the night woes I haven't mentioned yet that I've been longing to do this ever since moving to NC. Sometime I'd like to tackle the islands, but for now it was nice to at least have the option of a port-a-potty. I know, some of you just clocked out right then and there and it does take a certain "letting go" to enjoy a weekend like this.
After you accept the fact that there will be sand all weekend (believe it or not it brushes off dry skin pretty easily) and just relax it becomes a ton of fun.
Cold brew coffee was what got me up and going that morning. I had brewed it at home and strained it so we only needed to add cream if wanted, and have a lovely time drinking coffee while watching the endless waves. It's the life.
Someone's awfully crabby over not getting coffee.
A word of advice? Don't go with spring skin. I hadn't achieved a base tan for the summer (desk job) and was starting to fry by about lunch. It was actually quite funny; because when it was hot by midday and I could feel my skin starting to shine brightly with the sun, I retreated under a beach umbrella I'd thought to tuck in and fretted about already having a burn. Two hours later, still hiding out and napping intermittently it dawned on me that I was laying under a pink umbrella, casting a deep fuschia hue on my skin. I was slightly burned, but not nearly as bad as imagined. <eye roll>
Others took refuge under vehicles.
Some didn't need to take refuge.
Swimming in the ocean was grand, and the waves just big enough to try to catch a few for a rush in to shore. We swam, walked, read, and napped as we felt like, and despite the heat enjoyed it thoroughly. At one point a couple of us walked the pier and stalked the fisherman for their catches.
To escape the sand for a moment we went hunting for local restaurant featuring the catches of that day. It was fun to ride through town and see more of Carolina Beach; it's a great little town with charming pastel houses. I have no photos of the houses, but here is one of Mason who is even more adorable.
Oh wait, I do have one photo of a house. This one because it had so many plants, which must be a pain to water, and a great joy to have around.
We choose Jack Mackerels and ended up waiting a little over half an hour, which is usually a sign of a good restaurant. James ordered a pound of fresh-steamed shrimp for us all, seasoned in Old Bay and accompanied with butter and a tomato sauce, which was excellent, and many of us ordered the catch-of-the-day (mahi-mahi) for our entree. It was all fresh and flavorful. One hardly wants heavy, fried food after a day on the beach and the food hit the spot.
We took our time going back to the ocean, and drove by some of the fun in town.
Back to the Atlantic, the guys built a fire because the weather was cooler again and the only thing to make a rolling ocean sound even better is the sound of a campfire.
And all was well in the world.
There was more to our trip: music, jokes, food, and beautiful views, but these are things that stamp a trip with unique memories and must be experienced for yourself. If you go, here are a few parting, practical mentions that may help.
- Bring as much pre-cooked food as possible. For example, I prepared the bacon and cold-brew coffee at home, after which it was a cinch to throw together breakfast sandwiches (camp stove for the eggs) and have a yummy meal.
- If it's a summer trip, bring an umbrella.
- Costs vary from campground to campground. We stayed at Freeman Park where I believe a reserved permit or pass is necessary for around $30. I'm fuzzy on this because the guys took care of it, but a day pass may also be necessary. Check the website here.
- Above all, mindset: there will be sand all weekend. But if you relax and accept that you're just going to be a little dirtier than usual and bring extra water and all-purpose wipes, it's a ton of fun. You're all in it together, and it makes the best memories. Next time I might stay at a house, or might not, but for beach camping I'd choose a cooler time of year.