While the Morehead City kayaking scene may be overshadowed by neighboring communities like Beaufort or Atlantic Beach, the town is nevertheless a great place to get out and explore, thanks to miles of water in every direction, and “hidden gem” destinations like Harlowe Creek or Sugarloaf Island.
With lots of makeshift routes to explore, and conditions that can be conducive to newcomers and advanced paddlers alike, a Morehead City kayaking expedition can serve as a fine way to enjoy the local landscape from an entirely new perspective.
Where to go Kayaking
There are essentially two major bodies of water that a paddler can reach when they start an expedition from the confines of Morehead City.
The Newport River to the north is a somewhat inland yet salty river that connects with a wide number of creeks, bays, and channels, such as Calico Bay, Willis Creek, Crab Point Bay, and Harlowe Bay. As a result of this geography – as well as a network of almost secretive islands and marshes found throughout the miles-wide terrain – the region is a prime destination for exploring a wide array of different routes and local ecosystems.
The Bogue Sound to the south may be a busy route, thanks to its waters that coincide with the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), but it’s also one of the most scenic and most heavily explored regions by visiting kayakers. Paddlers can easily follow the borders of the downtown region for great views of the region, or can also easily cut across the Harbor Channel from the heart of the downtown area to pay a visit to Sugarloaf Island.
Sugarloaf Island is one of the most popular destinations for Morehead City kayakers. This small island that’s just 43 acres in size and is roughly 1/10th of a mile away from the downtown docks features a floating dock and soundside beaches for paddlers, an on-site nature trail, and a boardwalk, which makes it one of the prettiest and naturally enticing destinations in the Morehead City area. Best of all, the easiest way to reach this isolated region is by a kayak, so paddlers have a leg-up on enjoying this isolated destination.
Popular Launching Points
Once a paddler is ready to start exploring Morehead City, they’ll find a number of launching points that are ideal for a kayaking exploration.
Downtown Launching sites
10th Street Water Access & Boat Ramp – 1001 Shepard Street
This site which is just on the western outskirts of the busiest section of the downtown area is a great launching site for kayakers, thanks to ample parking, a pier, and a boat launch that’s designed for vessels that are 16’ feet long or less. From here, paddlers can easily shoot across the Harbor Channel to reach Sugarloaf Island.
11th Street Water Access – South 11th & Shepard Street
This launch site is adjacent to the sometimes popular Shepard Street docks, and is designed for kayakers and canoes. The area features public parking, as well as hand launching capabilities that are meant for paddles.
12th Street Water Access – 401 South 12th Street
This downtown launch site with a traditionally sandy and nicely shallow shoreline has rustic parking, a picnic table, and relatively easy launching conditions for kayaks who want to be close to Sugarloaf Island.
City Docks - 807 Shepard Street
This site which is found on the edge of Kaycee Park features 10 boat docks, public restrooms, and a modest amount of parking in the downtown area. The site serves as an easy launching point to reach the adjacent Sugarloaf Island within minutes.
6th Street Day Docks – South 6th & Evans Street
Though sometimes crowded, this site offers shared parking as well as day docks which can accommodate both paddlers and mariners of all varieties.
13th Street Water Access – South 13th Street & Shackleford Street
This site has very limited parking in the immediate area, but does have public water access with a boardwalk and dock, as well as adjacent grassy areas for equipment set-up.
16th Street Water Access – South 16th & Shackleford Street
This site with limited parking in the immediate area has a nice concrete walk that leads to a grassy set-up area and launching site on the western fringes of the downtown region.
28th Street Water Access – South 28th & Evans Street
This modest sized water access site has a handful of parking spaces, as well as access to the Bogue Sound to the west of the downtown region, and the Atlantic Beach Causeway
Mitchell Village Park – 4907 Holly Lane
This launching site that’s located directly west of the downtown area has 2 acres of space, as well as parking, water access, a gazebo, and other amenities.
Inland / Riverfront Launching Sites
Conchs Point – 608 Bay Street
This launch site may have limited street-side and unpaved parking, but it also has a pretty on-site gazebo and natural launching area into a calm section of the Calico Bay via the northern borders of Downtown Morehead City.
11th Street Water Access – North 11th & Edgewater Place
This somewhat-secretive site with limited parking features a grassy launching area, a long dock, and easy access to a calm and scenic section of Calico Bay to the north, and Calico Creek to the west. It’s also easy to reach, thanks to a northern Downtown Morehead City location.
Sunset Drive Water Access – South 32nd & Sunset Drive
This water access point may have limited street-side parking, but it also boasts a typically wide sandy beach and adjacent grassy area and boardwalk that makes set-up and launching a fairly easy venture.
Newport River Boat Ramps & Pier (Radio Island) - 301 Highway 70
This massive site attracts mariners of all varieties, but there are plenty of amenities to go around. With more than 50 parking spaces, public restrooms, a 418’ ft. fishing pier, and instant Newport River access, it’s a popular destination for experienced local kayakers.
Kayak Sales and Rentals
When it comes to purchasing or renting a kayak, Morehead City visitors will find plenty of options, both in town, and in the many surrounding coastal communities.
For sales, Morehead City visitors can head to several chain sporting goods stores as well as big box stores that are found within the main commercial section of Highway 70 / Arendell Drive, just a few miles west of the downtown area. Here, visitors will find both inexpensive and top-notch kayaks from established brands, (like Pelican, Old Town, and Sun Dolphin), depending on where they land.
In addition, the neighboring towns of Beaufort and Atlantic Beach have a collection of watersports stores that sell both new and used kayaks to prospective full-time paddlers. There are also several kayak-specific companies, like Kitty Hawk Kites or Down East Kayaks, where patrons will find a wide array of equipment for sale.
For kayak rentals, visitors will want to take a few miles’ drive to Atlantic Beach or Beaufort to pick up an hourly, daily, or even weekly kayak to enjoy while staying in Morehead City. Both communities have several watersports companies that specialize in kayak rentals, and which provide a nice array of options such as one or two-seaters, or sit-in versus sit-on-top varieties. Atlantic Beach is probably the best and closest option for kayak rentals, as the majority of the town’s kayak rental businesses are stationed just across from Morehead City, on the southern terminus of the Atlantic Beach Causeway.
Guided Kayak Tours and Expeditions
Visitors who are unfamiliar with the local waters, and / or who want to make the most out of their paddling expeditions will want to sign up for a guided kayaking tour, which is readily available throughout the Crystal Coast.
The nearby town of Beaufort, (roughly a 10 minute drive away), is a great place to start, as the coastal community has a wide range of kayak tour providers which provide sunset expeditions, eco-tours, and a variety of other paddling trips through the scenic adjacent downtown, or to the neighboring Rachel Carson Reserve.
There are also several kayak tour providers located on the soundside of Atlantic Beach – also a 10 minute drive away – which can guide visitors to scenic sections of the Bogue Sound, including local marshes, creeks that connect with the ICW, and even Sugarloaf Island.
A third option for paddling tours is found in Harkers Island, which is roughly a 30-40 minute drive away, but which feels like an entirely different world thanks to an authentic maritime heritage and a small town charm. From here, visitors can tour The Straits, the Core Sound, and / or the Back Sound via an easy launch from a local Harkers Island Beach.
The great news is that regardless of where a paddler wants to explore, Morehead City is a fine and central launching point. From cool wooded paddling trails in the inland town of Newport to the west, to the busy Taylor’s Creek waterway that runs parallel to Downtown Beaufort to the east, any direction will present a myriad of options when it comes to guided tours.
Safety Tips and Smart Mores for Morehead City Kayaking
- One of the few drawbacks of kayaking close to the Downtown Waterfront is that the adjacent Harbour Channel and Bogue Sound waters are utilized by a wide variety of ICW and maritime traffic. As such, inexperienced paddlers will want to stick close to shore, and explore with caution – especially during the prime summer months.
- Morehead City locals and frequent visitors who want to acquire a kayak at a discount should peruse local watersports stores and rental businesses after Labor Day. Many tour companies and kayak purveyors offer deep discounts on rental kayaks at the end of the summer season.
- Want to amp up your kayak expedition? Bring along a fishing pole! The Bogue Sound waters are famed for fishing, and kayak fishermen can catch a wide array of seasonal species – like gray or speckled trout, red drum, puppy drum, black drum, flounder, or even cobia – by bringing a fishing pole along.
- Look for waterfront vacation rentals for 24/7 kayak access. A number of vacation rentals in the Morehead City area have private docks or waterfront borders where it’s easy to launch and explore.
Considering that one of Morehead City’s most remote attractions – Sugarloaf Island - can only be reached by a small vessel or kayak, and that the town looks its best from a waterfront perspective, it should come as no surprise that paddlers are taking this central Crystal Coast region by storm.
From quick skirmishes across the channel to the remote Sugarloaf Island, to long explorations of the northern Newport River, any paddling adventure can be accommodated in this hopping town that is veritably surrounded by water.