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The Fast Route

Hatteras

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We've been going to Hatteras Island for our whole lives. We've driven down and back on every possible route, stayed in every town, eaten at every restaurant, unpacked lunch at every rest stop, and stopped at most of the gas stations. From these decades of experience, take our word for it : the fastest route to Hatteras Island from Kentucky and the Ohio Valley is to get on I-40. From Western Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, follow I-65 South to Nashville and I-40. From Central or Eastern Kentucky, Ohio or Michigan go East on I-64 or I-70 to I-79 and I-77 South (I-79 becomes I-77 in Charleston) and follow it through West Virginia and Virginia to I-40 in North Carolina. From Western Pennsylvania or West Virginia just get on I-79 South and follow it and I-77 through Virginia to I-74 in North Carolina. I-74 takes you past Mt. Airy and Pilot Mountain, then through Winston Salem to I-40. Once on I-40, head East to Chapel Hill, which we recommend as your overnight stop. Next day, head East on I-40 and turn off on State Route 64, which you follow straight to Route 12, the Outer Banks Highway.

wetlands
Sam's Hot Dogs If you're coming down through West Virginia on I-77 ("The West Virginia Turnpike"), we recommend a stop at Marmet, a tiny village with a gas station and Sam's Hot Dog Stand. Sam's claims to have The World's Greatest Hot Dogs. That's an outrageous claim, but they just might be. The secret is the three ladies make The World's Greatest Chili and The World's Greatest Cole Slaw, and you have a choice of having one or the other on your hot dog. If you've never had a Slaw Dog, you have try one of these. They're incredible. And if you thought you liked Chili Dogs, you really have to try one of these. Nothing else compares. It's all carryout. The tiny concrete block building is all kitchen and a counter inside. And the price is right : two for $3.50.
Just off I-40 in Chapel Hill (it's on Europa Drive) is our recommendation for lodging : The Sheraton. This is a beautiful hotel, with a great restaurant, great fitness center, and great outdoor pool. With AAA rates, family rates and other discounts, you can get very good deals, especially if you're travelling on weekends. The Sheraton is two miles from the University of North Carolina campus and the Dean Dome. There are great Mexican and Seafood restaurants just across the highway and up the hill (you pass them coming in off I-40). Rooms on the back side have windows looking out on a pine forest. Rooms on the front have windows looking out on the pool. In this photo, the section to the right is the 1663 Restaurant. Sheraton Chapel Hill
1663 restaurant The Sheraton's 1663 Restaurant is either the best restaurant in Chapel Hill, or one of the two or three best, according to your taste. The 1663 is named for the date of the King's Treaty which established the Carolina Colony, then including both South Carolina and Tennessee. The 1663 specializes in "Classic Southern Cuisine With A 21st Century Edge." They're most famous for their Sweet Tea Pie, a dessert you can't get anywhere else. But their Shrimp & Grits, Farm House Vegetable Stew, and Carolina Fried Chicken are also notable. There's a whole page of Classic Sandwiches. They offer a good wine list and if you don't fancy Sweet Tea Pie the other desserts are also delicious.
If you also stop at the Sheraton on the way home, or if you stay an extra night to explore Chapel Hill, the Nantucket Grill across the road is also a great restaurant. Tucked into the back of the Huntington Bank Building, the Nantucket Grill specializes in New England style seafood. Their signature items are their Clam Chowder, Lobster Bisque, Crab Cakes, Stuffed Flounder, Sea Scallops, Whole Belly Clams and Seafood Ravioli. But they have a full menu offering various Chicken, Steak and Barbequed Pork Ribs. They run a bakery next door, which also makes their desserts, and they're epic. There's a whole page of delights, and they specialize in cakes. Saturday night is Free Cake Night. Everyone who orders an entree also receives a free piece of cake. A lot of Chapel Hill residents and UNC students drop by just for a piece of their cake. Nantucket Grill
La Hacienda La Hacienda is across the highway about a quarter of a mile back toward I-40. The Chapel Hill - Durham - Cary metropolitan area has 65 Mexican restaurants so competition is intense. La Hacienda has the biggest menu and is considered by local Latinos as the most authentic food. Their chips and salsa are the best in the area, and their signature items are their Spinach Enchiladas, Camerones Chipotle, Chicken Mole and various vegetarian entrees, especially the El Vegetariano. They used to have a Mariachi band on weekend evenings but lately its appearance has been inconsistent. Service is a bit slow but after a day's driving you can relax with a nice drink while you wait. The lengthy menu can be a problem because it offers so many enticing choices you may have a hard time deciding. We have noticed over time that their entrees vary in quality : some are outstanding while others are just average. But portions are huge and prices are moderate. There's an outdoor patio which is very classy.
As you head East on State Route 64, the Roanoke River swings in from your left (north), where it originates in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The Roanoke will empty into Albemarle Sound at Plymouth, which has a historic riverfront and lighthouse several blocks to your left as you drive through town. The Roanoke is a popular canoeing and kayaking river, but as the coastal wetlands begin, there's not enough dry land to camp on. So the local tourist commission has established tent platforms, visible in the rear left in this photo. and raised walk ways. If you have a day or so to spare, you might consider bringing a canoe or renting one locally and paddling a section of the river. You'll see a wide range of birds and wildlife and the wetland forest is impressive. Roanoke River
Scuppernong River

As you continue on State Route 64, you'll pass through two hours of wetlands. The small town of Columbia is the heart of the Scuppernong River country, which is a gateway to the whole region. There is a series of rivers, canals, lakes and sounds here which is a paddler's paradise. If you can spare a day, consider paddling part of it. You'll see everything from Alligators and Red Fox to Muskrats and various raptors. As you enter Columbia there is a beautiful visitor's center with maps, advisors and displays. There is also a brand new canoe launching ramp. This is a Paradise for fishing, photography and birdwatching.

From Columbia, you'll continue through wetland forest, cross the Alligator River, drive through more wetland forest, cross Croatan Sound, Roanoke Island, Roanoke Sound and turn South on Route 12 at Whalebone Junction. From there, it's about an hour to Buxton and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

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