Neusiok Trail – Havelock/Newport, NC – This hike has been on the books for some time. The area is in the eastern part of the state and can be a muddy slog. Additionally, In order to avoid the ubiquitous mosquitoes, this trail is best done in the winter. We got rained out a few years ago for a fall trip, and if you have read anything about this, the trails become swampy with rainfall. Finally, our window of opportunity presented itself in January of this year, so we loaded up the gear and set out for this 21-mile section of the Mountains to Sea trail.
We arrived at Oyster Point in the afternoon. We had arranged a shuttle with the local hiking club that manages this section of trail. We threw three backpacks into the back of a small four-door sedan, and then made a 20 minute traverse back up to Pine Cliff Overlook. We had been encouraged to do this tour from North to South for a variety of reasons. The first being that there are nice camping areas just a mile in on the shore of the Neuse river. The second, is that the trail can be wet on the Southern end, and it is better to save that fun for last.
We got out gear together and paid our shuttle fee. As our driver pulled away, we noticed two hammock campers set up in the park. There were signs all over the area to warn against doing this, but they did so anyway. We started the sandy hike and ventured out about a mile, untill we found a nice area to set up camp. We elected to tent camp on this trip, seeing how it was a bit cooler in January. After completing this tour, I can highly recommend hammock camping. The search for dry or flat areas to pitch a tent are somewhat limited here.
We found a wonderful tree that would serve as our kitchen, and I was able to pitch a day hammock to relax in. The temperatures steadily dropped, so we set out to find some deadwood to start a fire. A good start to our weekend, but we really had only completed 5 percent of the hike, so Saturday and Sunday would be full days.
The next morning, we awoke and broke camp quickly. The trail continued along the shore for a bit, but then climbed the bank up to a horse camp (horse riders do use sections of this trail). This might have been a better camp spot as it was more protected from the wind and had a proper fire ring and picnic table, but we were fine with our earlier accommodations. A few miles further and we hit the first of three shelters (Copperhead Landing). Eric used the pump to gain some additional water. He used tabs, and the water had a delicious copper color. Today, huge section of the trail were on elevated walkways, which made for more pounding on the feet and legs.
We pressed on, hiking past the second shelter, Black Jack Lodge. We had our lunch here, using a gravity filter to refill our containers (with less rust). The water should be treated, but all three shelters had pumps that were working (once you primed them). We continued on to a small pond and large field. This would have been a perfect place to set up camp as we feet were ready, but a Boy Scout Group had beat us to the spot. We pressed on and found another (small) clearing and we set up our tents and enjoyed cocktail hour. This was really the last available spot for us, as the next section of the trail was a 2-mile portion of dirt road.
The temperatures had warmed up quite a bit, so we would likely have a more comfortable sleep that evening. Again, we were able to find enough deadfall to have a fire. We chatted the evening away, retiring early as rain was in the forecast for Sunday. We woke early and had coffee as we broke camp. We had a 10-mile hike to get out, and we were hoping to beat the bulk of the rain, so we left shortly after sunrise. Despite our efforts, before long, we had a steady rain which caused the trail to disappear. Not the location of the trail, but the dirt that we were walking on. Trail traveling was much slower as we had to negotiate the trail-stream of water. The other thing that was quite disappointing was that the vegetation was quite robust, not offering long views as you would expect during a January backpacking trip. We completed the day, soaked to the bones and quite cold. Thankfully we all brought a change of clothes and shoes, and we headed to New Bern for a much-deserved burger & fries. We enjoyed the hike, and are glad we completed it.