“Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC (“Toyota”) provided me with compensation and use of a RAV4 for a short period of time. The opinions I have shared about this vehicle are my own.”
If you haven’t already noticed, we are a HUGE fan of road trips. Going new places, the flexibility to stop at any seemingly interesting roadside attraction along the way, riding with the windows down and the radio turned UP! So, clearly, when we were offered an opportunity to check out the 2017 Toyota RAV4, I jumped at the opportunity, called my sister in PA, and we planned a epic dog-friendly road trip to the Outer Banks!
The day before we hit the road, we packed up all of my camping gear, and some extra gear for my camping newbie sister. Thankfully, the RAV4 has a good amount of trunk space to accommodate the ridiculous amount of gear that we wanted to bring, including some less than essential items (you’ll learn about that later on). Once we were done packing, we made the ultimate road trip playlist. We compiled a list of tunes from ballads, to rap, one hit wonders, 90s hits, rock, country, duets… you name it, it was probably on there.
We set the GPS for the Outer Banks and the dogs slept soundly in the backseat while we belted out the words we knew, and even those we didn’t, for the 5.5 hours drive to the beach. Not sure they were as impressed with the RAV4’s bluetooth music streaming capabilities as we were!
Tips and Info for an Epic Dog-Friendly OBX Road Trip
Where to Camp: OBX Beach Camping
There are 4 campgrounds in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Oregon Inlet (where we camped), Cape Point, Frisco, and Ocracoke. Knowing that we really wanted to spend a day at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, we opted for Oregon Inlet Campground, which is in the northern part of OBX and only a short drive from the park. We stayed in Loop A, which is tents only, to be away from the RVs, and it was so peaceful. The sites are primitive, just a place to park your vehicle, a sandy clearing for a tent, a picnic table, and a charcoal grill. If you get one of the sites on the East side, it is just a short walk through the dunes to the beach. There are also bathrooms and warm water showers a short walk away.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we ended up hitting the road a bit later than we anticipated, so we stopped only a few times for super quick gas/snack/potty breaks along the way and high-tailed it to the campground. We had a campsite reserved, but the reservations for Oregon Inlet Campground aren’t site specific and we wanted one of the primo spots tucked into the sand dunes. Less than 1/4 of the tent sites are beach-side and we GOT THE LAST ONE!
We made it JUST before dark and lucked out, saw a great site and pulled in before anyone else could snag it. The sites here are at a 45° angle from the road and a little tricky to back into, especially at night, so we SO thankful for the RAV4’s backup and Bird’s Eye View cameras. I’m seriously missing that feature already. It makes it so much easier to pull in and avoid all those common campsite obstacles… rocks, trees, posts with campsite numbers.
Upon arriving, we had all of 10 minutes to set up camp before it got completely dark, but we were SO relieved and excited with the site, that we didn’t even care. We rushed to set up the tent by lantern light, took the dogs for a quick walk, and settled in for the night after the long drive. We quickly realized that the rain fly on my brand new tent trapped in ALL of our body heat, which would have been great in the winter, but was way too much for an 80+ degree night. Taking our chances and hoping for a rain free night, we slept sans-fly with an awesome view of the stars. We were so tired that we didn’t even want to cook and ate Cheez-Its for dinner. No regrets!
Tips for camping here:
1. Reserve a site in advance, especially during the busy season, as they book up quickly. You can reserve your site here.
2. Arrive at the campground early if you want to get a good spot.
3. Bring sandals/shoes and KEEP THEM ON, especially in the grasses, as sand spurs are abundant here. (Your feet will thank you) You’ll also appreciate having sandals for the outdoor shower, which was really refreshing after a day in the sand and sun.
4. OBX is known for being really windy. Make sure you bring good tent stakes and stake down your tent really well. We saw a couple of people’s tents blow away.
5. Water is only available near the restrooms, so be sure to bring a water cooler or empty jugs to keep water at your site, especially if camping with dogs.
6. Unlike campgrounds in the woods, these sites have no natural shade. Consider bringing a canopy or other shelter to escape from the sun. Just make sure you can secure it to withstand the wind!
What to do: Catch a sunrise at the beach
One of our “must-do” activities was watching the sunrise from the beach, so we got up at 5:30 the next morning, just as the sky started to brighten and made the trek through the dunes to the ocean. There wasn’t another soul in sight and it was absolutely beautiful. It was a truly perfect way to start the day. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is dog-friendly, just be sure to keep your dogs on leash and on trail when walking through the dunes.
After our sunrise beach romp, we returned to the campsite, now in its’s full glory in the light of day, ate breakfast and planned our itinerary. First up would be a trip to see the Bodie Island Lighthouse, then a hike up the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, followed by lunch, some beach fun at Pea Island, and the rest we would plan as we went.
Getting Around: Outer Banks National Scenic Byway
Navigating through the Outer Banks is super easy. There is one main road that connect all of the islands and peninsulas that form what we know as OBX, which is the beautiful North Carolina Highway 12. It’s a 2-lane road that takes you through beach towns, over beautiful waterways, and along the dunes of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. To the east it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west lies the Pamlico Sound. It’s a beautiful drive and one you will be taking a lot if you visit here. Take your time, roll down your windows, and enjoy this beautiful beach cruise.
What to do: Lighthouse Hopping
I’m not sure what it is about lighthouses that makes them so majestic, but I definitely have the bug. Maybe it’s the history, or their impressive scale, or the beautiful areas in which they reside, but if you like lighthouses, the Outer Banks will not disappoint. There are 5 gorgeous lighthouses along it’s shores, Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo, Bodie Island Light Station in Nags Head, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, and Ocracoke Island Lighthouse on Ocracoke Island.
Trying to pack as much fun as possible into a short few days, we opted to visit the closest lighthouse to our campsite, Bodie Island Light Station, which was just a 5 minute drive up NC 12. Built in 1872 and standing 165 feet tall, the current Bodie Island lighthouse is actually the third that has stood in Bodie Island. The first was abandoned due to foundation issues and the second was blown up by Confederate troops during the Civil War, in fear that the Union soldiers would use it as a lookout. To this day, the Bodie Island Lighthouse light can be seen lighting up the sky, protecting sea captains from the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
What to do: Hike up the Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
After we were done exploring the grounds at the lighthouse (we didn’t climb the stairs because we had the pups with us), we traveled another 11 miles North to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. I had only been here once before, about 4 years ago, and couldn’t wait to share this awesome place with my sister. We got there early to avoid the heat (it was already in the 80s at 7am) and the crowds and headed toward the dunes. The dogs were so excited and raced to the top, where we were rewarded with a great view of the dunes and the ocean. Depending on the time of day, you can also watch people soaring from the dunes as part of the hang gliding lessons offered at the park.
I love these little hikers so much. They crushed the dunes like they were nothing and had such a blast along the way. Check out the video below to see Roxie fly up the dunes, as well as the view from the top!
Tips for hiking with dogs at Jockey’s Ridge:
Go early in the morning or later in the day if you plan to spend a lot of time here. The sand gets hot and there is no shade on the dunes. This is especially important if you’re bringing your dog.
Make sure you and your dog stay hydrated and watch the sand temperature to keep your dog’s paws from burning.
Also be aware of strong winds that carry sand. We had to shield the dogs’ eyes a few times. Doggles may be a good idea.
Dogs are welcome in the park, and on the dunes, but must be leashed and picked up after.
What to do: Explore Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a small barrier island (only 13 miles long) in the Outer Banks that was set aside as a nesting place for birds as well as a safe haven for endangered species like the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. While you’re here, be sure to explore the seemingly deserted beaches, check out the exhibits at the visitor center, and check out the wildlife and nature trails. It’s a nature lover’s paradise!
What to do: Taste the local flavors
OBX is full of cute little family owned restaurants and shops, many of which have outdoor patios that are dog friendly. While we tend to do most of our own cooking when we camp, when I think beach, I think ice cream! After a hot morning of hiking up sand dunes and playing in the sun, some old fashioned hand-scooped ice cream sounded like the perfect afternoon treat. The dogs were in heaven!
What to do: Beach Playtime
No road trip to the beach is complete without, well, the beach! I saw this flamingo tube online and just knew I had to have it for this trip. After all, that’s the best part about car camping, being able to bring ridiculous extra stuff, knowing that you don’t have to pack it in. We blew up the flamingo, packed drinks and toys for the dogs, and walked the trail from our campsite to the beach.
While the air temps were in the 90s, it IS still April and the water was pretty frigid. Swimming wasn’t really an option, so we ran and played in the surf, well, except Roxie who avoided the approaching water like the plague. She likes water just fine, but was not a fan of it chasing her! Then we brought out the flamingo and decided to take some pics in the water. My sister went first, sans dog, and sat in the surf, moving only slightly as the tube clung to the sand. Fairly certain that I could expect a similar result, Ringo and I headed out to the same spot for a photo op… and got swept out to sea. OF COURSE!
Wave after wave, we got pulled out into the freezing sea and then pushed back up the beach in the surf. I clung to Ringo for dear life, who was tense but very brave and seemed to trust in me to keep him safe. Every time we got close to land, I tried to lift myself and Ringo out of the tube, only to get pulled back out before I could get my footing. On my third attempt, I managed to lift Ringo out of the tube and onto the shore, where he ran to my sister, who was laughing uncontrollably. Literally seconds later, I got flipped by an incoming wave and thrown from the tube. Thankfully, the video evidence of this is super shaky and barely recognizable because Mindy was laughing so hard. Freezing and covered in sand, we all headed back to the campground to rinse off and relax.
Downtime at Camp
We planned to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing back at camp. The dogs took a nap in the one tiny shaded area under the picnic area and when it got too hot for that, they napped in the shade in the car with all the doors and windows opened. We even joined them for a while to get out of the relentless sun. The plan was to grill some brats on the charcoal grill for dinner, so we got everything out and attempted to light our match-light bag of charcoal… for 20 minutes! I mean, come on, it’s match light!
It was SOOO windy that no matter what we tried… changing the direction the grill was facing, blocking the wind with our bodies an beach towels, blocking holes in the grill with cardboard, we could NOT get it to light. While we were struggling to cook dinner, our camp chairs kept trying to blow away and other campers arriving for the evening were fighting to set up their tents. One couple pulled into the site next to us, cursed and groaned for 45 minutes trying to get their tent set up in the wind, and decided to give up and leave! Okay, we get the memo. Grilling is not going to happen. Instead, we headed down the street a ways and picked up some fast food burgers, including an extra one for the dogs to share.
Little did we know, the wind would only get worse. It’s windy in OBX , sure, but this was something else. Something was off. Our burgers blew off the table, WHOLE burgers, not just the wrappers! Weighted down plates and napkins went flying, anything not staked to the ground was blowing away and we were laughing so hard that we could barely get our food down.
The dogs were hiding from the blowing sand inside the tent, which was getting pummeled by the wind, and were getting visibly nervous. We put them in the RAV4 where it was quieter and made the difficult decision to pack up camp. It was supposed to start thunder storming at midnight and it was still too hot to sleep with the rain fly on, plus you literally couldn’t hang out outside. We took the dogs on the shortest pee walk ever and packed our whole campsite back into the car in 10 minutes flat. 15 minutes later, the skies turned black and a crazy storm started. We had definitely made the right decision. It was after 8pm and we wouldn’t get home until 2 or 3 in the morning, driving thought rain the whole way, but it was worth it.
A quick thank you to this beautiful blue RAV4, for guiding us safely to our beach camping destination, for facilitating our epic sing-alongs, for assisting with backing up in precarious situations, shielding us from sun and wind when there was no other shelter to be had, and for getting us home safely through crazy storms and even crazier drivers. This trip was one for the books.
It was worth every flamingo wave crash, every sand spur in our feet and every one I dug out of the dogs’ paws, the cooking mishaps, the flying gear, the sand blowing in our eyes… because it was also filled with sunshine, laughter, puppy kisses, tent snuggles, beautiful sunrises and a carload of memories that we will never forget. If you know us, you know our track record with mishaps and misadventures. You also know that we have learned to embrace these moments of chaos and run with them, not knowing where they will lead, but trusting that it will be great!
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to leave us a comment. Hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures and found our tips helpful if you’re planning your own OBX road trip!
Thanks for reading!
Debbie & the mutts