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Masonboro Island
Carolina Beach
Southport-Oak Island
South Brunswick Islands
       Holden Beach
         Ocean Isle
         Sunset Beach

Topsail Island

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spacer.gif (818 bytes)These ever-changing shores have witnessed an epic succession of campers, from ancient Siouan and Algonquian gatherers whose shell middens littered the coast, to ill-fated European settlers who initially could gain no foothold on the low-lying land, to today's tourists who play the nomad on soil once thick with plantation rice and cotton. Despite the fact that most of the finest tracts of coastline have been built over, campers can still live -- if only for a few days -- a simpler life at the edge of the quiet spectacle of the Atlantic.

For the most part there isn't much roughing it when camping around here. Campgrounds nearest the beaches are generally RV towns with ample amenities. So, if you'd like to take along the kitchen sink, you may as well take your electric bug-zapper too. But, if you wear your home on your back and have the use of a small boat, leave the parking-lot-style camping behind for the isolation of Masonboro Island. In the off-season, your only neighbors may be pelicans and rabbits.

Bicycle campers will find campgrounds about a day's ride apart except in the Wilmington vicinity, where campgrounds are more numerous. In any event, camping the southern coast is ideal for visitors on a budget, anglers who want to walk to the water each morning and anyone for whom recreation is re-creation.

Naturally, the highest rates at private campgrounds apply during the summer and holiday weekends, averaging from about $13 to $24. Some campgrounds charge less, others more. Tent sites are cheaper than RV sites. At most private grounds, weekly rates often discount the seventh day if payment is made in advance. Rentals by the month or longer are extremely limited from April to August. Some campgrounds offer camper storage for a monthly fee.

As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared, especially for blistering sun, sudden electrical storms with heavy downpours, voracious marsh mosquitoes and insidious "no-see-ums" in summer. Temperatures in the region generally are mild, except for the occasional frost in winter. Average summer peak temperature is 88; average winter low, 36. April and October average the least rainfall, about three inches each, while July averages the most, nearly eight inches. Be prepared for rain in any season.

Sunscreen is essential. Hats and eye protection are wise and insect repellent useful. For tent camping, a waterproof tent fly is a must, and a tarp or dining fly is handy when cooking. Pack longer tent stakes or sand stakes for protection against high winds. Stay abreast of weather reports, especially during hurricane season, and always bring a radio. A lightweight camp stove and cook set will come in handy when restaurants aren't convenient and at the many sites where fires are prohibited.

The primary creature hazards are poisonous snakes, which are prevalent in forested areas, and ticks, which have been known to carry disease. Raccoons and other small nocturnal animals are seldom more than a nuisance, although rabid animals are occasionally reported in the rural interior. Normally, the animals posing the greatest threat are human, which is why open fires and alcoholic beverages are restricted in most campgrounds. Beware of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac in brushwood and forests.

For hikers or cyclists carrying packs, there are two noteworthy local retail outlets for equipment. In business for more than 50 years, Canady's Sport Center, 3220 Wrightsville Avenue, (910) 791-6280, is an excellent outdoor outfitter with a varied inventory (closed on Sunday). Also remarkable is Cape Fear Outfitters in the Plaza East Shopping Center, 1934-A Eastwood Road near Wrightsville Beach, (910) 256-1258 (open seven days a week). They carry a less varied but complete line of equipment for sale and rent. Your other choices for field gear are discount stores such as Kmart, 815 S. College Road, (910) 799-5360, which keeps a decent inventory of fishing and hunting gear in season, and the two area Wal-Mart stores, 352 S. College Road, (910) 392-4034, and 5511 Carolina Beach Road at Monkey Junction, (910) 452-0944 -- good choices for novices and tailgate campers.

We've provided here a list of the area's nicest, most popular camping destinations. (For information on children's summer camps, refer to our Kidstuff chapter.)