Some trips are more challenging than others, like our recent trip to the Croatan National Forest. The route begins in New Bern with the first 5 miles on busy, paved highways. After entering the Croatan area, the roads turn to hard-packed gravel with occasional potholes and with little elevation change, this section is fast and fun. There is no signage along the route, so you will need a GPS and suggest studying the route in advance. There is a short half-mile section that requires a hike next to or on a train track, use caution.
The route takes you through Havelock for 10 miles on busy highways (convenient store and restaurants available) before returning to Croatan area and 5 more miles to the Pine Cliff Recreation Area. Perfect for camping, the scenic beach area of the Neuse River is bordered by towering pine and cypress trees, and overlooks an endless expanse of water. Unfortunately the harsh cold winds made that a bad choice, so we chose to continue for another 5 miles along the Neusiok Trail to the Copperhead Landing shelter with water source.
We had planned on 35 miles the first day but ended up going 40 miles. The Neusiok Trail is skinny, winding trail with lots of roots and bridge crossings making it difficult and slow with a loaded bike. Best choice of bike is a cross-style or gravel bike to handle the varied terrain. The bike will need to accommodate all your gear for camping overnight, so lightweight rack with panniers or combination of bike packs will work. I highly recommend front and rear lights for safety when traveling on busy highways. We like the Bontrager Ion 800 Front Light and Flare R Taillight.
The next morning we reversed the trip home with tough headwinds the entire way. The official route is a loop but 116 miles was just too far for us. Shorter options available if you are interested in this trip.
The highlight was returning to New Bern with lots of restaurant options. We went with the route recommendation of Beer Army Burger Company. Only 3 blocks to walk from where we parked, it had good tap selections and awesome burgers!
We found all the information for this trip at www.bikepacking.com/routes/croatan-gravel-vanish/