Escape to the Coast this Fall
A fall trek to the mountains is the traditional way to celebrate the colors of the season. This year, why not head eastward for a different kind of fall drive?
Outer Banks National Scenic Byway
The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway (N.C. 12, which changes to U.S. 70 south of Cedar Island) begins at Whalebone Junction on Currituck Banks and passes through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore before ending at the seaport town of Beaufort (circa 1709) in Carteret County. Crossing nine barrier islands connected by bridges and ferries, the 142-mile drive provides easy access to 21 coastal villages, historic sites and attractions, walking/hiking trails, bird and wildlife sanctuaries. The English attempted a settlement here in 1587, but the fate of the “Lost Colony” remains a mystery. Four scenic lighthouses, including the 210-foot Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (completed in 1870), loom large on the coastal landscape. Overnight travelers may choose to camp in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore or stay in a variety of accommodations, including luxury resorts. Dining options range from local establishments such as Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar on Ocracoke Island to upscale restaurants such as the Lifesaving Station in Duck.
North of Whalebone is Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, where Wilbur and Orville Wright figured out the secret to manned flight in 1903. A bit farther north is the Currituck Sound, where the Corolla wild horses, left by Spanish explorers over four centuries ago, roam wild and free. They are best viewed from 4×4 vehicles or on wild horse tours. Visitors are also drawn to the 162-foot Currituck Beach Lighthouse (completed in 1875), the Audubon Pine Island Sanctuary and Center, and other attractions. Check out Cape Lookout National Seashore and the abandoned town of Portsmouth, accessible only by private ferry. Visit Portsmouth Village (from mid-May to mid-September), the 163-foot Cape Lookout Lighthouse (which dates to 1859), and see the wild horses that live on nearby Shackleford Banks.
Pamlico Scenic Byway
The Pamlico Scenic Byway is named for the river, the sound and Native Americans who inhabited the area. The road (U.S. 264) begins in the town of Washington and extends east for 122 miles before ending near Manteo, a sound-side village offering a variety of restaurants, ranging from Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop to Stripers Bar and Grille. The byway travels through the villages of Bath (founded in 1708, the state’s oldest town), Belhaven, Swan Quarter, Scranton (known for its naturally formed, seven-mile tree tunnel), Last Chance, Engelhard and Stumpy Point — nice places to unwind, relax and discover. The huge sound encompasses more than 1,600 square miles and connects to tributaries that harbor fish, oysters and clams, not to mention birds and wildlife. The tranquility and beauty of the sound-side banks attract outdoor adventurers, as well as photographers and nature lovers.
Pamlico Scenic Byway
The Pamlico Scenic Byway is named for the river, the sound and Native Americans who inhabited the area. The road (US 264) begins in the town of Washington and extends east for 122 miles before ending near Manteo, a soundside village offering a variety of restaurants, ranging from Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop to Stripers Bar and Grille. The byway travels through the villages of Bath (founded in 1708, the state’s oldest town), Belhaven, Swan Quarter, Scranton (known for its naturally formed, seven-mile tree tunnel), Last Chance, Engelhard and Stumpy Point — nice places to unwind, relax, and discover. The huge sound encompasses more than 1,600 square miles and connects to tributaries that harbor fish, oysters and clams, not to mention birds and wildlife. The tranquility and beauty of the sound-side banks attract outdoor adventurers, as well as photographers and nature lovers.
Brunswick Town Road
It may be one of the state’s shortest scenic byways (three miles long), but Brunswick Town Road offers a rich sampling of the area’s history. The byway begins at the intersection of N.C. 133 and Plantation Road (S.R. 1529) near Southport and follows Plantation Road until it ends at Town State Historic Site. Settled in 1725, Brunswick Town was named for King George I, the Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg. One of North Carolina’s primary colonial ports, the town endured attacks from the Spanish as well as both Revolutionary and Civil War battles. It was left in ruins in 1830 and is an archeological site today. Other historic sites to note include the Russelborough House ruins, Fort Anderson and Fort Lamb. The byway also passes Orton Plantation, built in 1725, which overlooks the Cape Fear River on Orton Point. Make time to enjoy Southport, voted “America’s Happiest Seaside Town for 2015” by Coastal Living readers.
Hilton Head Scenic Byway
The Hilton Head Island Scenic Byway (U.S. 278) begins at S.C. 170 near Okatie and continues through Beaufort County until it ends at Sea Pines Circle on Hilton Head Island — a 22-mile journey. Though heavily traveled, the multi-lane highway offers wonderful views of the Lowcountry, as it passes through wild wetlands, canopied by huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss and quaint historic villages such as Bluffton before crossing the causeway onto Hilton Head Island. Known for its wide beaches and upscale resorts, the island is a vacation paradise for golfers, tennis buffs and water sports enthusiasts who also enjoy shopping, dining and participating in cultural activities. Foodies are not disappointed in the offerings at The Crazy Crab at Jarvis Creek or Harbour Town and Alexander’s Restaurant & Wine Bar, standouts among the island’s over 250 restaurants.
Old Sheldon Church Road Scenic Byway
The Old Sheldon Church Road Scenic Byway (state secondary road S-7-21) begins south of Yemassee and ends in Gardens Corner, seven miles later. Traveling through Lowcountry plantations, forests and wetlands, visitors are often surprised when they come upon the ghostly Sheldon Church Ruins 17 miles north of Beaufort. The church was built in the Greek revival style between 1745 and 1755 as the Prince William’s Parish Church. After the British burned it in 1779, it was rebuilt in 1826, only to be burned twice in 1865 by Union forces. Grave markers at the site tell the story of those buried there. After checking out the ruins, head to historic Beaufort (founded in 1711) for a meal at Dukes Barbecue of Beaufort or the Boundary Street Café.
Ashley River National Scenic Byway
The Ashley River National Scenic Byway follows S.C. 61, paralleling the Ashley River for 11 miles. It begins at milepost 5.84 at the Church Creek Bridge in Charleston and ends at milepost 15.75 near the intersection of S.C. 165. Along the picturesque drive are historical treasures such as Old St. Andrews Parish Church, Drayton Hall plantation, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place plantation and Colonial Dorchester State Park. Marked by S.C. historical markers and open to the public year round, these places are a window into the past. The drive takes only 25 minutes, but visiting the sites requires more time. Traveling the Ashley River Byway is a way to see some of the surrounding area around historic Charleston, founded in 1670 and rated “the friendliest city in America” in 2015 by Conde Nast Traveler readers. Besides historic attractions, it’s home to popular restaurants such as Peninsula Grill, Slightly North of Broad Restaurant and Magnolias.