Jockey's Ridge State Park (5-28-16)
Jockey's Ridge State Park, located in the Outer Banks town of Nags Head, is the easternmost of North Carolina's 41 state park's. Encompassing around 426-acres, the park isn't huge by any stretch of the imagination but it is, regardless, one of the busiest in the entire system. The big draw at Jockey's Ridge are the dunes, the highest of which the park takes its name from. Rising some 150-ish-feet from the surrounding waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound the dunes are the highest on the eastern seaboard (though not in the eastern United States, despite what park literature might boast). The constantly shifting sands rise high above surrounding maritime forests of oak, pine, sweet gum, and bayberry. Its a wonderfully unique and thus fascinating environment, quite unlike anything you'll find at any of the states' other state parks.
Tourists have long been drawn to the dunes for the expansive views, to fly a kite, or to take to the air via hang-glider on the perpetual sea breezes which blow across the sands. Somewhat fewer, I imagine, visit for the reason I did this day...that is, to hike. The park only offers two short trails out into the dunes. The 1.5-mile Tracks in the Sand Trail leads from the park visitor center out across the open dunes to the shore of Roanoke Sound and back. The Soundside Nature Trail, a one-mile loop, explores the forested dunes at the southern end of the park. It was my intent to cover both of these trails on this stop...completing one and then driving over to complete the other. My plans changed however when I got out on the dunes and was able to see how easy it would be for me to do what I most enjoy doing...that is, wander. My hike turned into a lazy figure-eight style loop which started out from the visitor center, took in both trails, and connected them via unofficial paths along Roanoke Sound and over Jockey's Ridge itself.
This was a stop I had been wanting to make for a while but conditions or time had previously always conspired against me. What a pleasure it was then to have a warm, clear morning to finally step out onto the sands of Jockey's Ridge and explore as I had so long hoped to. So strap on your sandals, make sure you have plenty of water, and come on along with me as I explore yet another of North Carolina's fantastic state parks...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.963799, -75.632599
Route Type: Loop Difficulty: MODERATE (due to sand surface)
Mileage Hiked: 2.4 miles Hike Duration: 1:15
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 0' Max. Elevation: 140'
Total Vertical Gain: 200' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 83'
Trails Used (blaze color): Soundside Nature (unblazed), Tracks-in-the-Sand (white)