Author: Debbie Tullos
There’s no better place for a day at the beach than North Carolina's Outer Banks. A must-visit beach for the adventurers among us is the beach at Bear Island, the crown jewel of Hammocks Beach State Park.
This nearly four-mile-long barrier island near Swansboro is completely undeveloped except for a bathhouse and a snack stand. Miles of unspoiled, pristine beach await those who make the trek. Just look at this sun-drenched awesomeness:
We have a few tips to help you have your best day at Bear Island.
- Know how the ferry works in advance. If you plan to ride the passenger ferry operated from the Hammocks Beach State Park Visitors’ Center, check the ferry schedule before you arrive. It changes throughout the year. Also, be aware that the tickets cannot be purchased in advance, and they are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. This means you need to arrive early. If a time slot is sold out, you can purchase the next available. Check all the ferry ticket sales and boarding procedures here. If you have a little wait before your boarding time, it’s cool. The Visitors' Center is spacious and comfy, with a large deck in the back overlooking the water. A lovely place to chill in the shade while you wait.
Of course, there are a few other ways to get to the island. There are private ferries that will take you there. For real adventurers, however, canoe or kayak is the way to go. Hammocks Beach State Park has an extensive network of paddle trails and launches that allow maximum exploration of Bear Island and other smaller islands, including Huggins Island.
- Pack light. You must carry everything you bring. With a half-mile hike from the ferry dock on Bear Island to the beach access, whatever you’re carrying feels heavier as you go. Even more so after a day at the beach when you’re tired. Carts and wagons are not allowed on the ferry due to space constraints, so keep it light and just take what you need.
Another tidbit about this hike. The path surface is rough paved. It’s less a trail and more like a small road used by park vehicles in addition to visitors on their way to the beach. Comfortable shoes are advisable. There is also little shade under a fierce sun. A hat may make the walk a bit more comfortable. *Note: There is a golf cart available for those who need physical assistance.
- Pack bug spray. Bear Island’s beach faces south, so the wind may blow from any direction (not just from the ocean). A wind coming in over the island may blow biting flies onto the beach from the middle of the island. Take the bug spray and reapply after every dip in the water. You’ll be happy you did. Don’t let this deter you from visiting, however. The winds change, and the flies disappear as quickly as they appear.
- Bring cash for the snack stand. If you plan to grab a snack at the snack stand, note that they only take cash. Also, no bills bigger than a $20. It’s a good idea to bring your own snacks and drinks to be prepared. Note that the snack stand is only open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
- Trash in/Trash out: There are no trash cans on the island, so be prepared to carry out EVERYTHING you take in, including every little scrap of trash you generate. Bear Island is a nesting site for sea turtles. These magnificent creatures will eat marine debris (trash from humans), so keep it clean for them. While you’re there, you may even want to pick up any trash you see left behind by less conscientious visitors. Sea-More the trash eating sculpture will be happy to take that for you as you leave the park.
- Enjoy the ride. The ferry ride is a breezy, leisurely 20-minute ride through the salt marsh as you make your way to the island. It’s a lovely moment to sit back, breathe, watch the birds, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a beautiful protected natural place. A lovely way to start the day, and a perfect way to end the day, too.