A New Trail for the Outer Banks
The state of North Carolina has declared 2023 the year of the trail, so it’s fitting that there’s a new trail on the Outer Banks. But this trail, the Jockey’s Trail, isn’t like any other trail that exists on this sandbar by the sea.
The Jockey’s Trail is a thru trail, much like, as an example, the Mountain to Sea Trail, and uses a combination of forest trails, roadways and beach hiking to take in 50 miles of northern Outer Banks scenery.
The trail begins at the entrance of Jockey’s Ridge State Park—which conveniently is also the eastern terminus of the Mountain to Sea Trail—and heads north to the boundary marker at the border of North Carolina and Virginia at Carova.
Although hikers can set their own pace, Luke Halton, who single-handedly conceived of the trail and pushed the project through, divided the trail into a four-day hike. There are still a few things he is hoping to add to the experience, but the trail itself is marked and ready to go.
Luke’s concept for the trail is based on his experience hiking in Europe, so he’s hoping to figure out a way to have lodging at the end of each day, but that’s one of the things he’s still working on through his OBX Way nonprofit.
The first day takes hikers through Nags Head Woods, past the Wright Brothers Memorial, and ends at the intersection of the Woods Road in Kitty Hawk and US158. That leg of the trek is 14 miles.
Day two uses the Southern Shores multi-use paths to link to the Duck Boardwalk and finally to the Pine Island Trail on the western side of the Currituck Banks, which is a wide hard packed path that often gets overlooked. The Pine Island Trail includes two Currituck Sound overlooks and is filled with songbirds year-round.
Day two ends at the Pine Island Racquet Club.
At 10 miles, the shortest leg of the hike is day three. Beginning in Pine Island, it ends at the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. There is a short section of the trail that has to use the shoulder of the highway, although the shoulder is fairly wide. However, once past that stretch, hikers or walkers will be on the Corolla Greenway, which is a wonderful multi-use path.
As the shortest leg, it does allow some time at the end of the day to climb the Corolla Beach Lighthouse and explore Historic Corolla Park, the location of the Whalehead Club, Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, and the Currituck Maritime Museum. All of those sites are worth a visit of their own.
It’s good that day three is the shortest distance because Day 4 may be the toughest hike of the four days..
It begins easily enough, heading north using the sidewalks and bike trails along the road. But then it gets to the 4WD area of the Currituck Banks, and that’s about 11 miles of sandy beach to the Virginia Border.
Of course, this is the realm of the Corolla Wild Horses, so there should be plenty to see and enjoy.
The trail, Luke mentioned, goes briefly into False Cape State Park in Virginia so it can loop back around to the boundary marker.
The way the Jockey’s Trail is mapped, the trail can double as a bike route. Much like the pace hikers set, a bike rider gets to go at their own speed. Certainly it could be done in one day, although the last stretch on the Carova beach is going to require fat tires and very strong legs.
The trail is very much the vision of one person—Luke Halton. His OBX Way nonprofit is truly a one-person operation. His European hiking has played a significant role in how he designed the trail, but he is also a Mountain to Sea thru-hiker, and those experiences have informed some of how he thinks about the trail.
When he had his grand reveal at the Outer Banks Brewing Station in early March, he mentioned he wanted to keep the trail segments to no more than 15 or so to avoid fatigue and blisters.
He also thought that the trail at four days will give hikers, who aren’t sure about a two or three-week commitment to a thru-hike, a taste of what it can be like without the 30-pound packs and logistics that go into a major hike.