Set Sail on the Albemarle Loop
A nautical trail gives boaters access to waterfront gemsBy Gary Lico and Claude Milot
North Carolina has hundreds of miles of hiking trails — more than 600 in state parks alone. But there is another kind of trail at the eastern end of the state that you won’t find on any hiking map. This “trail,” the Albemarle Loop, winds its way around the open water of the Albemarle Sound.
The Albemarle Sound is the expansive, relatively shallow body of fresh water west of the Outer Banks. It’s immensely popular with boaters, from power to sail, from day-trippers to “liveaboards.”
The Intracoastal Waterway sees thousands of boaters heading north for the summer or south for the winter, and five years ago, a group from Albemarle Plantation in Hertford sought to bring more visitors to the area and rallied the region to coordinate marketing efforts. The Albemarle Loop links marinas and waterfront towns on a water-borne journey of nearly 200 miles covering 450 square miles of water.
“We’re trying to get them to pause, turn west, and visit us,” says Jack Atwell, chief organizer of The Loop. “Boaters are always looking for new places to explore, places off the beaten track.”
It’s catching on: This past season, The Loop saw a visitor increase of almost 80 percent from just a few years ago.
For sailors with a seaworthy vessel and time on their hands, here’s what awaits:
Shallowbag Marina is a popular stop for those on an annual spring migration up the Intracoastal Waterway from Florida to Norfolk, and where we will begin the Loop. From here you can visit Manteo or refuel and grab a bite at the Alligator River Marina before heading west into Albemarle Sound.
Next stop along the south shore is Columbia, gateway to many natural habitats in this part of the country. Columbia has two marinas. One is the municipal dock on the Scuppernong River, a short distance from the Pocosin Arts Center and the Scuppernong River Interpretive Trail. Not far away is Yacht Doc at Cyprus Cove marina, a complete boat storage, service and repair facility.
Sailing west once again, sailors come to the mouth of the Roanoke River. Upstream is the town of Plymouth, famous for the annual NC Black Bear Festival in June and its re-enactment of the Civil War Battle of Plymouth. Directly north across the Sound is 51 House, a fine-dining establishment reminiscent of Edenton’s colonial era.
East of 51 House and just around the corner, nautically speaking, is Edenton, “The South’s Prettiest Small Town” and former capital of North Carolina, with its many shops and restaurants, guided walking tours of its many magnificent mansions along tree-lined streets, some dating back to the 1800s.
From Edenton, boaters sail east to Albemarle Plantation, which boasts a 166-slip marina and a community with a wide range of amenities available to visitors, including restaurants, a championship golf course, a swimming pool and three well-kept Bocce Ball courts.
Sailing around Durant’s Neck and up the Perquimans River, sailors now come to Hertford, where they can visit the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum dedicated to the Baseball Hall of Famer and the town’s favorite son.
From Hertford, boaters sail down the Perquimans and then up the Pasquotank River to Elizabeth City for a stay at the city’s municipal dock or the nearby Pelican Marina. Both are within walking distance of the splendid Museum of the Albemarle and a vibrant downtown with restaurants, shopping and art galleries.
Finally, sailors enter the Dismal Swamp Canal and tie up at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center for an overnight stay and a visit just across the canal to Dismal Swamp State Park before the last leg of their journey to Norfolk and the completion of the Albemarle Loop.
Most members of the Loop — marinas and town docks — offer two nights of free dockage to any Loop visitors (several require advance reservations), which can save travelers more than $2,000. A Passport program encourages just that: Frequent visitors can qualify for discounts on services, supplies, and fuel at participating member stops. There’s even a loaner car at two locations to tool around town.
With miles and miles of open sky and the beauty of Albemarle Sound, the Albemarle Loop awaits adventurers, pleasure boaters and visitors of all kinds.
Life on the Loop
Visit albemarleloop.com for more information about the trail, including marina details, coupons and events. This May, the Albemarle Loop is presenting “Life on the Loop — Spring Celebration,” a first-time festival of events in sites and towns along Albemarle Sound. Events will highlight the best in the region’s culinary and visual arts, history, music, boating, sports and local festivals.
About the AuthorGary Lico is a television executive and creator of “Forensic Files” who now calls Eastern NC home. Claude Milot is a Hertford-based writer.
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