The View from Two Wheels
See Roanoke Island differently on a bicycle.
Story by Hannah Bunn West
Photographs by Julie Dreelin
Roanoke Island is filled with magic, and the best way to uncover it is to swap four wheels for two and explore by bicycle.
Not cycling with its skinny wheels and expensive spandex (although the island can be good for that, too). But leisurely, social biking with big, plush seats and wide handlebars for perching your feet or a friend. The bike rides on which you have time to wave at the residents working in their flowering yards, to take in the smell of the island’s salt air, to notice that Manteo still has a barber pole and a clock on the street corner.
With its small-town charm, natural beauty, 8-mile multiuse path and side streets with minimal traffic, the island is an ideal place for a safe, leisurely bike ride. Pedaling here is perfect for all ages, and the perfect way to slow everything down.
Roanoke Island is anchored by bridges: the Washington Baum Bridge, leading to the beach; the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, leading to the mainland; and the William B. Umstead Bridge on the northern tip. In between, sidewalks and the 8-mile paved multiuse path run alongside U.S. Highway 64, allowing bikers to safely travel a good portion of the island’s length. A network of peaceful residential streets branches out to the east and west of the sidewalk and path. Downtown Manteo sits in about the middle of the island, and water views are everywhere. You can even reach nearly all of the island’s numerous attractions by bicycle, all except the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island – it’s at the end of a narrow road with no shoulder for bikes.
“Even if you don’t know exactly where you are or where you’re going, you always end up somewhere beautiful,” says Skyla Lamberto-Egan, a Manteo native who frequently enjoys bike rides around town. “And it’s an island so you can never get too lost!”
To begin your own Manteo biking adventure, find a place to park your gas guzzler. In addition to street-side parking, the town has six free public parking lots in and around downtown. Bring your own bikes or rent them. If you need to rent bikes, head to Manteo Cyclery on U.S. Highway 64. Owner Brian Brockway specializes in bike repair and rentals, and can provide a local’s helpful knowledge of the island. From there, you’re just a short ride to the historic downtown waterfront. Kitty Hawk Kites on Queen Elizabeth Avenue downtown also rents bicycles.
On the waterfront you can pedal along the boardwalk to see the Elizabeth II sailing ship, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse and the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum or head over a small bridge to Roanoke Island Festival Park. You can stop and relax on a bench or visit the playground. You can duck into the local coffeehouse, catch a flick at the historic Pioneer Theatre or grab a bite at an eatery and a craft brew at Lost Colony Brewery. You can poke in and out of shops, art galleries and boutiques, or, if you’re there on an in-season Saturday, visit the Manteo Farmers’ Market. There are a few bike racks around the waterfront area.
When you’ve had enough of city life, get off the beaten path and onto the bike path, turning right to head out to the North End or left to ride south through Manteo past several restaurants and shopping centers. For biking east to the Pirate’s Cove community and marina, a wide bike lane allows relatively safe travel, but it’s not safe to bicycle over the Baum Bridge all the way to the beaches.
Heading to the north from downtown, turning off on Scuppernong Road or Mother Vineyard Road offers a scenic detour and more history. The Mother Vineyard neighborhood is named for the five massive grapevines that grow there. Historians believe the vines to be more than 400 years old. You’ll enjoy biking past the residents’ manicured lawns and under tall trees that arch over the narrow road, and you’ll want to stop to take in the breathtaking views of the Roanoke Sound that reveal the back side of Jockey’s Ridge to the east.
If you follow the multiuse path to the North End, you’ll ride alongside Island Farm’s animal pens and historic site. Keep going a few miles in the shade of live oaks and crape myrtles and you’ll come to the entrance of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, The Elizabethan Gardens and Waterside Theatre, home of “The Lost Colony.” Wander the streets and paths of Fort Raleigh and you’ll lose yourself in the footprints of history.
Still have energy? Pedal out to the end of the multiuse path and you’ll wind up on a soundside beach that’s the perfect place to rest, wade and explore (the trails behind the beach will take you back to Fort Raleigh). At day’s end, this is the place to seek out the splendor of an Outer Banks sunset, but any of the many other waterfront locations on the island will do, too.
Don’t worry too much about having a specific plan for your biking expedition. Just hop on and explore.
The Manteo native and biking enthusiast, Skyla Lamberto-Egan, has learned the pleasures of this approach. “When I’m driving, it’s usually with a specific destination in mind,” she muses. “When I take a bicycle, it’s quiet and serene. I simply allow myself to see where I go and where I end up.”
Want to go?
Manteo Cyclery owner Brian Brockway recommends two routes:
Downtown Manteo to Mother Vineyard
About 5 miles
Downtown Manteo is a quick ride. Weaving up and down the quiet streets that branch from the old courthouse will take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on how many side streets you explore. You can cycle on the boardwalks but use caution to avoid walkers or falling into the water.
After you’ve explored downtown, head to the end of Queen Elizabeth Avenue and cross the bridge to Roanoke Island Festival Park, where you’ll find a short, scenic boardwalk encircling the island.
Head back over the bridge and turn right on Croatan Avenue. Then turn left onto John Borden Avenue and then right onto Wingina Avenue. Turn right on Scuppernong Road, which forms a 2-mile loop with Mother Vineyard Road. All along this route you’ll pass quaint cottages and beautiful homes. After completing the loop, turn left on Wingina to head back to downtown.
Downtown to North End
About 8 miles
Leave downtown along Wingina Avenue heading north or take the sidewalk along U.S. 64 heading north. You will access the paved bike path at the intersection of Mother Vineyard Road and U.S. 64.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is approximately 2 miles from Mother Vineyard Road, and the northern end of Roanoke Island is about 1 mile farther.
In the parking lot of The Elizabethan Gardens at Fort Raleigh is a trailhead for a hidden, but not secret, wooded trail. You can off-road cycle this shaded trail to a Croatan Sound beach on the north end of the island. You can return to the downtown area on the multiuse path. Explore side streets and neighborhoods if you’d like a longer ride.
Rent bikes in Manteo
312 U.S. Hwy. 64, Manteo, (252) 305-0306, manteocyclery.com
Kitty Hawk Kites
307 Queen Elizabeth Ave., Manteo, (252) 473-2357, kittyhawk.com