The guide to camping on a desolate island

Atlantic wind in your face, sand in your toes and no one in sight. Sounds like a dream doesn’t it? Well, it’s not, it’s called North Core Banks or Portsmouth Island. Which is a small desolate island located on the lower portion of the North Carolina outer banks, but unlike like many of the other islands on the outer banks, you can beach camp on this one. The island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, which actually consists of three undeveloped barrier islands, for now we will focus on Portsmouth island and what you need to camp.

Portsmouth Island

Learn the rules and regulations

Read all the rules and regulations for the Cape Lookout National Seashore and understand them. Call the ranger stations ahead of time and read up about it on their websites remember this is the North Core banks (Portsmouth Island) not the South Core banks. While you’re researching online about the rules take some time to learn about the old Portsmouth Village, which is located on the northern point of the island. The village is a few hundred years old and has some incredible history.

Cape Lookout National Seashore Government website

Portsmouth Village history link

Portsmouth Village

Transportation to the island

There are no roads to or from the island, there aren’t even roads on the island actually. The only way to Portsmouth is by boat, this means you’ll have to reserve a ride on the Morris Marina Ferry. Pricing cost $80-$150 for a trip to and from the island. The price mainly depends on the vehicle size with accessories and weight you bring. You will need to specify a departure date and time from the mainland and a pickup date and time from the island. Depending on the season reserve at minimum 5-6 months in advance. They have limited spots available.

Morris Marina Ferry Link  

Portsmouth Island

Camping on the island

On Portsmouth island there are no campgrounds, no designated areas to camp, you can camp anywhere you want, except the dunes which are off limits. I highly suggest getting a tide chart and camping above the high tide line. Unless you want to camp with the fishes. My favorite camp spot is the southern tip of the island which gives you a nice view east and west for the sunrise and sunset on the horizon. Camping on the island via tent is free.

Portsmouth Island

Legalities tip

Because there are no roads to or from Portsmouth Island the National Park requires a 4×4 vehicle only if your method of transportation is a vehicle. Foot traffic is completely fine. If you do get stuck the tow truck bill is $500-$1,000.00 per occurrence and I’ve been told AAA and other tow plans do not cover the island. I suggest calling your road side assistance and asking, but I do suggest bringing a shovel and other recovery gear.

If you bring a vehicle to the island you’ll need a driving permit, which is completely free so no worries. Once you arrive to the island you’ll need to drive straight to the ranger check in and chat with a ranger for a moment. They will most likely give you tide charts, island info and the permit which will need to be stuck on the lower driver side window.

If you want to coastal fish and you’re not a resident of North Carolina you’ll need to purchase the  non-resident 10 Day Coastal Fishing license. The nearest place I personally know has it will be about 30 minutes away from Morris Marina in Morehead city which is a good size city with Walmart and other mega stores.

Portsmouth Island

Points of interest

You can’t beat a warm shower in a private bath house, the island has a generator to power the rangers station and powers the hot water heater for the island bath house which is a single building with two separate large rooms with a hot shower, sink, mirror, and bench. Directly outside of the shower you have a fish wash station with a water spigot you can use. I personally wouldn’t drink the spigot water unless it was an absolute life or death situation even then I’d use proper purification methods.

The Portsmouth Village is a beautiful history rich place, it’s kept up by a sweet husband and wife volunteer team. If you have the time be sure to sit down with them and learn some of the village’s history. Before you reach the village you will cross the “Flats” which is a one mile long stretch of flooded ground. This area is normally safe for the average 4×4 but you should always tread slowly and control the wake in front of your vehicle. Use caution though the flats because this area rises and lowers with the tide, so arrive early after the high tide. Once you cross the flats you continue through the bushy area and will eventually stop at a Portsmouth Village sign, here you’ll stop and walk into the village. Use your bug repellent and bring it and other supplies before you head into the village, its spread across a large area.

Portsmouth Island Outer banks

What supplies will you need?

Lots of water and food to sustain everyone multiple days past your departure date.

Fuel; make sure you have a topped off the fuel tank and it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra 5 gallons.

Bug spray is a life saver, depending on the season green head flies and mosquitoes can be rough. But not if you’re prepared. I suggest Burts bees natural spray, it was the only brand that worked for all of us.

Bring recovery gear, shovels, traction ramps, sand ladders, alternate emergency recovery gear that can be utilized is floor mats, carpet, wood and logs that can be stuffed in front or rear of the tire.

Backup battery packs or portable solar panels are a life saver if you stay a long time.

Guide by

Joshua Shaw – Earthbound Overland

Photo credits

Jonny Herrera – Skavyngr Designs

Dunn Fout – Homegrown Overland

Joshua Shaw / Ceatta Collins – Earthbound Overland

Question / comments?

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