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OutpostUSA

Getting There

Hatteras

sand dune
The Fast Route
The Ferries
Peaks of Otter
Washington DC
Williamsburg
The trip to and from Hatteras can really become a major part of the vacation. There are five outstanding routes between the Outer Banks and the Ohio Valley and each offers wonderful stops. But you should abandon the idea of making this a one day marathon. It was possible to do that for about two decades after the interstates were completed. But since 2000, traffic has been increasing on I-64, I-94, I-40, State 17 between Norfolk and Kitty Hawk and State 64 between Rocky Mount and Manteo. Today, you're likely to get caught in bumper to bumper traffic. So we suggest you pick one of the five major routes and figure on spending the night along the way. We also suggest you take a different route home than you did down. This doubles your experience. Plus, it winds up your vacation with a final punch, helping dispel that melancholy mood as you pack up to leave the beach. We know we're really stretching it to suggest you take two days down and another two back. But we're going to go a step further and suggest you stretch it even further and make the trip home three days. Especially if you have kids along, this allows you to explore all the wonderful sites along the way.
University of North Carolina The first option is The Fast Route, staying overnight at Chapel Hill. This is a very scenic and relaxing drive with a great stopover in a fine college town with a beautiful hotel and good restaurants. If you have big basketball fans in your family or group, you can drop two miles over to the Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and if you have teenagers you can tour the University of North Carolina and Duke campuses. That's UNC in the photo at left. The first day of this drive features spectacular mountain scenery coming through West Virginia and Virginia. The second day features several hours of wetland forest. Keep your cameras and binoculars handy.
The second option is to drive further South and take a ferry across Pamlico Sound. Whenever we take someone with us who has never been there before, this is the way we go in. The first day is the same as The Fast Route, overnighting in Chapel Hill. But the second day gives you a choice of either the Swan Quarter or Cedar Island Ferry, either of which will take you to Ocracoke Island, from which you take a second ferry to Hatteras. You bypass all the traffic with these routes, and put fewer miles on your vehicle, but the ferry ride itself is almost three hours. Remember to reserve a space a few weeks in advance, as the ferries are extremely popular. ferry
Williamsburg The third option is an overnight at Williamsburg. You could easily spend a week there, so staying over an extra night is not at all unreasonable. If you went to Hatteras every year, spending two nights and one day at Williamsburg would allow you to gradually, over several years, take in all the attractions. If you leave Lexington at 9 a.m., you will arrive in Williamsburg around 6-7 pm, just in time for dinner. You'll take I-64 the whole way, but expect heavy traffic coming through Richmond, Petersburg and the final stretch of I-64. Not only Hatteras, but also Virginia Beach and Eastern Shore traffic travels this same route and they have not widened the road to handle it. The next morning, expect a 4-5 hour drive to Hatteras and assume you'll be caught in at least two major backups, one around Moyock (NC) and the other approaching the Currituck Sound Bridge. We think this works better as a stop on the way down.
The fourth option is Peaks of Otter. This gives you a vacation of extremes --- one national park featuring the finest natural beaches in North America and one national park featuring one of the nation's finest high mountain wildernesses. This is a good option either way, but we think it works better on the way home. Like the others, two nights and a day here would be ideal. There is a beautiful lodge and fine restaurant at Peaks of Otter, and the windows of both look out on this view. There's an hour hiking trail around the lake and a two hour trail to the top of the mountain. It only takes about an hour to come back down. The views are spectacular. The Appalachian Trail passes across the road, so you could hike a section of that. Or you could drive an hour or so along the Blue Ridge Parkway with its many scenic overlooks down into the Shenandoah Valley and back across the Piedmont. Peaks of Otter
White House This is also a great opportunity to include an annual visit to Washington D.C. This is definitely a better option for the way home, and, like Williamsburg, it begs for you to stay two nights and one day and over several years explore different attractions each time. Coming up from Hatteras, do not try to go up the western route and follow I-95 to Washington. Traffic there backs up to a standstill every single day. Instead, take I-64 around to the Chespeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and go up the Eastern Shore. Coming home, leave Washington heading West on I-66, pick up I-81 take it down the Shenandoah Valley to I-64, and follow I-64 on home.
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