The Cape Fear region, which inlcudes Carolina Beach, Southport and Wilmington, is blessed with a flat landscape and well-maintained roads, which makes touring the coastal plain by bicycle a pleasurable experience. The area offers a few dedicated bicycle lanes and trails, and designated bicycle routes link many of the region's most popular attractions. Of course, it is always advisable to be aware of sharing the road with motor vehicles and take all necessary safety precautions.
U.S. Highway 421 on Pleasure Island has about 4 feet of roadway on each side marked and identified as a bike path for about 4.5 miles, from the ferry dock at Fort Fisher to just north of Kure Beach. This segment connects the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Fort Fisher State Park. The path also connects with one that starts at the state boat launch area on Snow's Cut just east of Bridge Barrier Road in Carolina Beach. The entire 16-mile round trip route, known as the Pleasure Island Pedal Route, connects the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal with Carolina Beach State Park, and is part of the Ports of Call Route (see below).
Bikers also can ride the quiet roadways within Carolina Beach State Park. Four-foot-wide bike lanes also run along each side of River Road from U.S. 421 just north of Snow's Cut Bridge to Greenfield Lake on the south side of downtown Wilmington. This pleasant trip of 10 miles (one way) offers beautiful views of the Cape Fear River.
For visitors pedaling to downtown, you'll find bicycle racks, designed by a local artist, throughout the downtown area. Tired of pedaling? Although bus service doesn't extend to Carolina Beach,bike to Monkey Junction and catch a Wave Transit bus, as they are equipped with racks to carry two bicycles (no extra charge). For information on this program, call (910) 343-0106.
Wilmington cyclists are enthusiastic about the new Cross-City Trail, a 20-mile, off-road, multi-use path providing bicycle and pedestrian access to five city parks, three elementary schools, UNCW, the Cameron Art Museum, three major shopping centers and Wrightsville Beach. The Cross-City Trail is a spine in a developing city-wide trails and greenways system which will make alternative transportation in Wilmington a safer, more convenient option for everyone. For more information, please visit www.crosscitytrail.com.
Several sections of the trail in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach are currently open to cyclists: James E. L. Wade Park (.6 mile), Halyburton Park (1.2 miles), the south side of Eastwood Road between Cardinal Drive and Military Cutoff (1.8 miles) and Summer Rest (.8 mile), South 17th Street between John D. Barry Drive and Museum Drive (.9 mile), Independence Boulevard between Museum Drive and Croquet Drive (.7 mile), Independence Boulevard between Converse Road and Randall Parkway (2.8 miles), and Randall Parkway between Independence Boulevard and South College Road (1.7 miles).
The on-road and off-road River-to-Sea Bikeway (WMPO Bicycle Route 1) stretches from Riverfront Park at the foot of Market Street in Wilmington to Johnny Mercer's Pier in Wrightsville Beach, a one-way stretch of more than 10 miles. The bikeway follows the route of the historic trolley line, which ran from downtown Wilmington to Wrightsville Beach in the early twentieth century. Most of the bikeway follows quiet tree-lined residential streets. However, portions of the route are along on-road bicycle lanes and off-road multi-use paths, and there are a few busy roadway crossings. In the downtown area, the bikeway follows the Ann Street Bicycle Boulevard, the first of its kind in North Carolina. The bicycle boulevard gives priority to bicyclists along the corridor through the incorporation of traffic calming devices, special signs and pavement markings and high-tech bicycle and pedestrian crossings at major arterials.
Some state-funded bicycling routes pass through Wilmington and along the neighboring coast using existing streets and roadways. They're marked by rectangular road signs bearing a green ellipse, a bicycle icon and the route number. The Ports of Call Route (N.C. Bicycling Highway 3), is a 319-mile seaside excursion from the South Carolina border to the Virginia state line. Approximately 110 miles of it are along the southern coast, giving access to miles of beaches, the Southport/Fort Fisher Ferry, and downtown Wilmington. Points of interest along this route include Fort Fisher State Historic Site, Carolina Beach State Park, the Croatan National Forest Recreation Areas, Tryon Palace, Goose Creek State Park and Merchants Millpond State Park. In the Cape Fear region, this route follows U.S. 421 on Pleasure Island (on-road bicycle lanes), River Road (on-road bicycle lanes), North and South Front Street, Princess Street, North 23rd Street and Blue Clay Road. There are a few busy roadway crossings. Please use caution and operate your bicycle according to North Carolina vehicular laws and regulations when riding on-road.
The Cape Fear Run (N.C. Bicycling Highway 5): This 160-mile route roughly parallels the course of the Cape Fear River following U. S. Highway 421 from Currie and crossing the Cape Fear River at the Isabel Holmes Bridge. Entering downtown Wilmington at Third Street, it merges with the Ports of Call Route and follows it to the Fort Fisher Ferry where it crosses the lower Cape Fear River into Brunswick County.through the southeast coastal plain to the sea. Rolling hills soon give way to flat land in the swamps and Carolina bays typical of this region of the state. Notable points of interest include Jones Lake State Park, Moore's Creek National Military Park, the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial, Brunswick Town State Historic Site, Carolina Beach State Park, and Fort Fisher State Historic Site. In the Cape Fear region, this route follows U.S. 421 on Pleasure Island (on-road bicycle lanes), River Road (on-road bicycle lanes), North and South Front Street, the Isabel Holmes Bridge and U.S. 421 north of downtown Wilmington. There are a few busy roadway crossings. Please use caution and operate your bicycle according to North Carolina vehicular laws and regulations when riding on-road.
Brunswick County, which is essentially rural with small towns, has many biking opportunities on lesser-traveled roads through the countryside, in the towns and residential developments. In addition, there is a designated route of 32 miles from the historic fishing village of Southport to Orton Plantation and Brunswick Town Historic Site. A 3-mile segment of paved shoulder bike paths links the state ferry dock to downtown Southport. At the Oak Island Recreation Center, you can obtain a pocket-sized booklet of bicycle trail maps. In it you will find 11 maps, including text description and trail length, with names like Heron Loop, Crab Dock Loop and Scenic Walkway Loop. Bald Head Island features an 8-mile loop trail that includes Old Baldy Lighthouse. This island is accessible only by private ferry from Southport; the fare is $16 per person plus $15 per bicycle for a round trip. Primarily residential with fine beach homes, Bald Head Island has a unique maritime forest and an excellent marina. No automobiles are permitted, so golf carts and bicycles are popular modes of travel.
Pender County is primarily rural and is traversed by both North Carolina Bicycling Highways 3 and 5. There are also many lesser-traveled roadways available for bike touring. In Onslow County there are two designated bicycle-touring routes: the Richlands Loop Bicycle Route and the Jacksonville City to the Sea Route. The Richlands route can be 50 or 20 miles, depending on your preference. The route is marked by green and white bike route signs. The terrain is level, and all roads are paved. The Jacksonville trip takes you from the Jacksonville Mall to Hammock's Beach State Park. This route intersects with the Ports of Call Route. Brochures and information can be obtained from Onslow County Tourism or Onslow County Parks & Recreation, 1244 Onslow Pines Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540; (910) 347-5332, www.co.onslow.nc.us/parks/ .
Local bicycle maps and route descriptions are available at www.bikewilmington.com, or by writing to the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, P.O. Box 1810, Wilmington, NC 28402. Their phone number is (910) 341-3258. To obtain maps and descriptions of all of the North Carolina Bicycling Highways, contact the NCDOT, Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation, 1552 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1552; (919) 807-0777. Although the maps are updated regularly, be ready to improvise when it comes to information on campgrounds and detours. Detailed information, maps and map order forms are available online at www.ncdot.org/transit/bicycle/