The Croatan Gravel Vanish
116 Mi.(187 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Even the most seemingly uninteresting of locales can harbor a good two day bikepacking route. To prove that point we created this overnighter in a particularly monotonous area of the United States. Eastern North Carolina is generally bereft of tantalizing cycling terrain; it’s fairly flat with pine forests that seem to go on forever. And until you veer off the main highways, it can seem relatively lackluster. However, after poking around Google Earth and Open Cycle Map, this route materialized and became irresistible.
Other than its start in New Bern, the route is almost entirely within the boundary of the Croatan National Forest. The name of which and the word Croatan may ring a bell for some folks. Most likely in reference to the Lost Colony of Roanoke who mysteriously vanished from a nearby island in 1587. The colonists left nothing but the word ‘CROATOAN’ carved on fence board. To this day, there has been no conclusive evidence as to what exactly happened. The word actually comes from a small coastal Native American group.
The route itself was designed to be a gravel/cyclocross style route using the bolt-straight gravel roads in the forest. And that it does, but it also has one hidden gem in the middle which takes it a step beyond gravel grinder—a 16 mile section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail called the Neusiok. The Neusiok Trail is a fairly mellow twisting track that can be swampy at times, and on occasion strewn with gnarled roots, or nothing but thick sand. It weaves its way through hardwood and pine forests out to a remote stretch of beach near the mouth of the Neuse River. Unexpectedly, this section became the perfect punctuation within the route that makes it a great escape.
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- Alone time in the forest spinning on long stretches of gravel.
- Spotting wildlife such as owl, deer, wild turkey, lizards, and butterflies.
- The Neusiok Trail, a 16 mile section of the route that weaves through hardwood forests swamps, and out to the beach at the Neuse River.
- A couple of nice country roads around Newport.
- Low-country vegetation such as spanish moss draped oak trees and bald cypress rising from the black water swamps.
- The historic town of New Bern makes for a good place to start and stop.
- This area can be extremely hot during the summer months; for tolerable temperatures we recommend this route from mid-September through the middle of May.
- It can also be very buggy; mosquitos, ticks, and gnats abound in the summer months.
- August through October is hurricane season on the NC coast; as always, check the weather before riding.
- The Croatan is bear country; hang your food at night.
- Avoid this route or take great precaution during deer hunting season.
- There are a couple of stretches of paved road on route; I found the drivers to be fairly polite, but you are in the South, so ride at your own risk, wear bright colors, and use blinkie lights.
- This route was designed for a cross-style gravel bike. I rode the Niner RLT 9 Steel.
- There is a short section that requires a hike next to or on a train track (mile 19.5). Proceed with caution; these are active tracks.
- There are three nice backpacker shelters on the Neusiok; so one of the great things about this route is that it can be done without a tent (or without a rainfly if you want bug protection).
- There are a couple beach sites good for tent camping; one is marked on the GPX.
- There are also plenty of other options for wild camping throughout the route.
- There are five main resupply points noted on the map; those should be sufficient.
- It wasn’t noted whether the water pumps at each of the three shelters requires filtering; we would assume so.
- The longest stretch without water is the last 30+ miles between the last noted resupply and New Bern.
- There are plenty of places in New Bern for a post-ride beer; check out the Beer Army Burger Company for a good tap selection.
- The route can be reversed, but if you want to camp at one of the shelters on the Neusiok, you’ll have a bigger day on day 1.
- The Neusiok Loop can also be ridden clockwise.
- If it has rained recently, or may rain, it’s advisable to skip the Neusiok Trail loop.
- There isn’t too much you can do to lengthen the route, unless you don’t mind adding paved miles.
- There are several options to shorten it; 1.the route could potentially be started and finished at the corner of Perrytown and Brices Creek roads, but you’d want to ask the owner of the corner store there about parking; 2. at mile 20, take 70 south to Greenfield BLVD to cut a corner; 3. At mile 33.2, you can cut out the upper portion of the Neusiok loop (this is the highlight of the route, though); 4. At mile 51.4, you could cut out the corner of the Neusiok on some dirt roads.
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