Along The Way - US 158
350 Miles of mostly two lane rural scenery from Mocksville to Nags Head. There are brief encounters with dense populations, such as Winston-Salem, but mostly this is a lazy day road as it wanders across the top tier of North Carolina counties.
|Distance & Time||390 Miles / 7.1 Hours|
Before beginning your eastbound trek, take a few minutes to find Joppa Cemetery, located on US-601 at the northern edge of the Mocksville Business District. It is marked by an historical marker at the front of the property. Be careful when you slow down to turn in...the locals don't seem to understand we tourists are not paying close attention - I've nearly been hit twice here. Maybe it's not me paying attention?
Joppa Cemetery is the final resting place for the parents of Daniel Boone. They were interred here in the late 1700's. There are dozens of significant graves here, and researching the names will take you on an exciting trip through the early history of North Carolina.
Once established on US-158 from Mocksville you'll find about 19 miles of rural road in pretty fair condition. The scenery consists of small farms and a few small villages. I-40 Parallels the route just to the north, so if you get tired of wandering along at 50 MPH you can jump up to the Interstate and rush toward Winston-Salem at 75 MPH. But, you wanted to relax, so why not stay on US-158 and enjoy the ride?
Approaching Winston-Salem the fun factor reduces in discernable phases. Upon crossing NC-801 the road widens to four lanes and is known as Clemmons Road. It's busy, and the turn lanes can cause some anxiety, but until the road name turns to Stratford Road it isn't really that bad. In the area of Hanes Mall navigating the congestion becomes a chore and the surface of the road turns bad. Enjoying the ride just isn't possible. If you need a break, the Hanes Mall area has several fast food, buffet, and themed restaurants, plus a couple of large hotels if you are inclined to stay the night and wander around W-S dong the tourist thing.
Just beyond this point US-421 starts a short concurrency. You'll have to pay close attention because US-158 turns up to the through-way without much warning.
Don't even try to find the old sections of the original route. A maze of one way streets and circuitous turns will just get you lost in the uptown area. Some of the neighborhood areas are really beautiful, but everything eventually puts you into the uptown business section. If you want to do the tourist thing at Old Salem direction signs are there, but you have to pay attention or you'll just pass it by. There are also a couple of really intricate intersections with odd islands that can cause confusion - stay alert, the locals won't give you a break just because you are lost.
The exit for US-158 is clearly marked on the west side of town. You'll take a ramp to the right which gently dumps you onto a four lane divided that quickly turns into the rural environment to will pretty much be your joy until reaching Barco and the last few miles toward Kitty Hawk.
Westbound traffic through this section will have a much easier time staying on the route. The on ramp up to the freeway leaves you no choice and the off ramp to the original US-158 route is well marked on the east edge of the main business district.
The next few sections of US-158 are characterized by small towns, farm fields, tar snakes, fresh pavement, small creeks and rivers. It's just about 41 miles to Reidsville and you may expect to ride along at the posted speeds of 45-55 MPH.
US-220 intersects about halfway between the two towns, and you won't find many opportunities for food, fuel, or stopover sight seeing.
For the next 70 miles you are traveling through the only main road of Caswell, Person, and Granville Counties. The roadway is in good condition in most areas and many areas are freshly paved
to Roanoke Rapids
Passing through Oxford toward Henderson isn't very tedious. It's a pleasant town, so taking I-85 from Exit 206 to Exit 220 to avoid any traffic won't be necessary unless you just want to go 75 MPH for a few miles to clear the cobwebs from your mind. You also have the option of running Alt US-158 through Warrenton, which is the preferable route if you want to stay away from any disruption of your rural enjoyment. You will pay a price for the solitude, most of the way the posted speeds are only 45.
As NC-4 crosses US-158 you might enjoy a side trip and rest break at Medoc State Park. It's just 12 miles south, and once there you may rejoin US-158 with a quick 15 mile run up NC-48.
to Elizabeth City
In the next 100 miles US-158 becomes very interesting as it continues eastward through Northampton, Hertford, and Gates counties to Elizabeth City.
With one or two small exceptions, the road continues as a two lane route and is in good condition. The scenery changes dramatically as the geography moves from highland farm areas to the swamps and marshes of the Inner Banks.
Baseball fans that remember Catfish Hunter will want to stop at Hertford. It's a pleasant little town with a long history and a nice restaurant or two in the historic district. Plan to get here for lunch and strike up a conversation with the locals - most are very friendly and willing to spend a bit of time telling you their inside tourism secrets.
Look in the yard of the old courthouse to find a small monument honoring Catfish - a favorite son that brought joy to the locals every time he took to the mound, even when he was a teenager. That's proven by the fact that his high school years are the first of his career listings on the memorial. Hunter died here in 1999 after a fall attributed to his struggle with ALS. He is buried in Cedarwood Cemetery.
Got lots of time? Plan to picnic or camp at Merchants Millpond State Park. They have a limited number of primitive tent sites and another, slightly larger, area with showers available. Weekday visitors probably won't have a problem being a "walk up" camper, but weekends will always require a reservation. The swamp views here are really amazing, and very peaceful. Crowds are rarely a problem.
to Barco (NC-168)
Elizabeth City, the county seat of Pasquotank County, is a moderately sized Inner Banks port with a small waterfront area in the downtown business section. A few motels and restaurants to choose from, as well as some B&B Inns in the large historic district.
Heading east, US-158 is briefly a two lane rural highway as it passes through Camden County and into Currituck, intersecting NC-168 at Barco. Distance between the two points is 17 miles and there are only one or two fuel opportunities along the way. Watch out for the school zone as you approach the town of Camden, it will sneak up on you.
to Nags Head
The next 19 miles begin the transition from a peaceful and very scenic route to a sometimes frantic race toward the ocean. Mostly the road is five lanes wide and there are a couple of high bridges crossing the rivers and canals that flow to Albemarle Sound.
Two good opportunities for a rest break exist at Coinjock. Veteran's Memorial park is reached by turning east on Worthguard Rd to Coinjock Canal Road where the park is located, and Coinjock Marina Restaurant is on the south side of the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) on Waterlilly Road. Both offer an extremely peaceful setting to enjoy before pressing on to Nags Head.
There is also a state operated rest area about two miles below the ICW. Beyond that there are several small villages, each offering limited opportunities for food, fuel, and lodging. A word of caution to those that are not monster truck fans, "Grave Digger" inhabits the area just east of this rest stop and small cars left unattended are subject to being crushed!
Deputy Jason Dowdy of the Currituck County Sheriff's Office asks all of you to be careful in this area - it can get busy during the weekends and many of those traveling here are strangers whose confusion can cause problems. I met the deputy at the rest area and our discussion led me to believe the Currituck Sheriff really is oriented to service and more than willing to help out tourists.
Once across the twin bridges at Point Harbor the next 20 miles to End of Route are five lanes of boredom and surprise. For all of the buzz about how beautiful the Outer Banks of North Carolina are - it/s impossible to see the ocean along most of this road. Both sides of the highway are populated by commercial buildings and the beach side parallel, NC-12, is equally populated by four story "cottages" that combine with the natural dunes to block any view of the water. This is the biggest disappointment of this route, and it doesn't get any better as you continue on down NC-12 to Okracoke Island.
Be sure to plan a stop at the Wright Brothers Memorial - excellent place to rest and get a high vantage point view of the Atlantic Ocean near Kitty Hawk. The best time to visit is before 9 AM when the only crowd you will encounter are local residents out for a brisk morning walk. Time it properly and you'll be able to slide through the gate without having to pay the entrance fee but still find the visitor center open on the way out. (I know, but saving money is important too, even if it short the government a buck or two!)
End of Route is at US-64 in Dare County, where there are lots of places to stay, eat, and play. Have fun and ride safe on the way home.