Beaches less traveled Vacation at the ocean, far from the madding crowd but not too far from home

May 02, 1993|By Joe Surkiewicz | Joe Surkiewicz,Contributing Writer

In Sunday's Travel section, the phone number for the Cap Cod National Seashore's Salt Pond Visitor Center was incorrect. The number is (508) 255-3421.

The Sun regrets the errors.

For many folks, summer vacation means escaping to a place that offers equal doses of surf, sun, boardwalk fries, arcades, amusement parks, miniature golf . . . and crowds.

In other words, Ocean City.

But there is another kind of surf-and-sun vacation. Picture wide, empty beaches, long walks, nesting osprey and egret, unhurried time with family and friends.


If such a summer getaway sounds intriguing, you're in luck: the Eastern seaboard between North Carolina and Massachusetts boasts a variety of beaches off the beaten track.

North Carolina's Sunset Beach, for example, "is quiet and family-oriented -- and I can enjoy the environment," says Celeste Korby of Cockeysville. With her husband, Mel, and their four children, Ms. Korby has vacationed on the barrier island for the last four years. And they're going back this summer.

It wasn't easy for the family to make the transition from a crowded resort to an island connected to the mainland by a one-lane pontoon bridge.

"Before we first went, Mel's idea of a beach was Ocean City," Ms. Korby says. "We had trouble getting him to go -- he didn't understand what you do all day. Now Mel loves it. He takes his binoculars and watches birds and shrimp boats at sea."

Regina Clayton of Parkville, who last summer visited Nags Head, N.C., for the first time with her husband, Dave, and two sons, 4 and 6, says, "It's amazing how little money we spend" by going to a secluded beach. "The only drawback is the drive," she adds, "but I think it's worth it."

If a long drive is not appealing, try Assateague Island. This barrier island offers visitors a chance to explore lush marshlands, 37 miles of unspoiled beaches and scenic, uncrowded landscapes. Activities include camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, crabbing, most water sports, and, of course, just plain loafing.

Be sure to pack a pair of binoculars. Wildlife on the island includes 44 species of mammals and 260 species of birds, including snow geese, great blue herons, snowy egrets, peregrine falcons and the endangered piping plover. And there's Assateague's most famous inhabitants, the wild ponies.

Accommodations are limited to 300 campsites in Assateague Island State Park on the north end of the island; reservations are a must during the summer. Ocean City and Berlin are less than 20 miles away.

Looking southward

If you're seeking more comfort in an out-of-the-way beach, look south to Bald Head Island, N.C., near Cape Fear. A private passenger ferry is the only way to reach the island. Old Baldy, North Carolina's oldest lighthouse, is the only high-rise in sight. And transportation on island roads is restricted to bicycles and electric vehicles.

Bald Head Island's 2,000 acres teem with plant and animal life, and feature a maritime forest and 14 miles of unspoiled beaches. Visitors can also play golf and croquet; fish and canoe through a salt marsh; and take advantage of a marina with access to the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. Accommodations include condominiums with ocean, marsh and forest views, as well as individual homes for rent.

Farther north, on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is another barrier island that's virtually all beach and reachable // only by ferry. At the southern end of the 14-mile-long island, the village of Ocracoke offers isolation and serenity. Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in 1823, is the oldest lighthouse operating in North Carolina. Visitors looking for lodging can choose between a dozen inns and motels.

And while the island is isolated, it still has a fascinating history. The village was once the home of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Legend has it he buried a treasure somewhere

on the island, which has yet to be discovered.

Virginia beaches

Virginia boasts two outstanding barrier-island destinations that will delight nature lovers. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, south of Virginia Beach, are side-by-side on a mile-wide barrier spit between Back Bay and the Atlantic.

Back Bay Refuge's 4,608 acres include beaches, dunes, woodland and marsh. About 20,000 snow geese and a variety of ducks visit Back Bay Refuge each year, as well as loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons and bald eagles. It's a birder's paradise.

Other activities in the refuge include hiking, fishing and mountain biking. Leave your swimsuits at home, though -- Back Bay is a wildlife refuge, and swimming, sunbathing and surfing are not permitted.

False Cape State Park is nestled between Back Bay Refuge and the North Carolina state line, and is only accessible by foot or bicycle on a five-mile trail through Back Bay Refuge.

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