When you mention the Alligator River area of North Carolina to folks, you usually get one of two responses, first “are their really alligators there? The second response is unfortunate, as many visitors reply “I’ve never heard of it…”
This area, near Eastlake, is truly a gem of the Outer Banks! I would encourage everyone to carve a 4-6 hour window of time on their OBX visit, and explore the area by kayak.
Yes, there are alligators. Personally, I have only ever seen small ones (under 3 or 4 feet long) in my trips throughout the years, and sightings were very rare. For those who would avoid paddling entirely because of the “alligator” element, please reconsider. I truly believe it is a case of “they are more afraid of us, than we are of them”. I have seen incredible birds, including bald eagles, foxes, and heard the howls of the red wolves!
Here is a wonderful map provided by the refuge. Firstly, it shows driving directions, and clearly where to turn for Buffalo City road, the launching point. Secondly, it shows the flag system used to identify the kayak trails. I would strongly encourage first-timers to paddle the red trail first (see red flag markers (circle) on map near Sandy Ridge Road, page 1). Why? It is short and do-able for a novice. Also, splits your time paddling with some time in the lake (open water) and some time on trails thru the woods (great shelter if the wind picks up, but remember bug spray). I also think the trail section is a great place to see non-alligator wildlife. See my pic below of a huge turkey buzzard in the trees!
- You can rent a kayak, or arrange a guided tour with one of the many firms that paddle groups there. Kitty Hawk Kites is the one I see there often.
- My stuff to take: Camera/phone (may be best kept in ziplock bag), Bug spray, bottled water, SPF lotion, hat, sunglasses, copy of the provided map, compass & cliff bar.
- I love flip flops, but choose crocs or an old pair of running shoes to wear here. You will probably get them wet entering/exiting the kayak.
- It goes without saying, but watch the weather and the wind. I like a light NE breeze, as temps are cooler, and the bugs are fewer.
- Yes, there are 2 port-a-potties at the launch site!
- Consider a seat back or pad, if you like an extra comfy kayak seat setup. Also, I usually take a rope, in case I have to tow someone else back in. You never know, have fun!