Starting out in the congestion and chaos of Raleigh, US-264 is a 216 mile spur that turns into a scenic rural road as it wanders toward the Atlantic Ocean at Manns Harbor.
Raleigh to GreenvilleFor those are more excited about what they see along the way, you should consider Alt US-264 from Raleigh to Wilson. It gives a better look at the countryside. US-264 is constructed to Interstate standards and offers nothing more than a way to quickly get away from Raleigh.
Greenville to Manns HarborLimited access ceases at the intersection of US-17, but continues as four lane for the next 27 miles. The route doesn't change to two lane until a few miles east of Washington, near the intersection of NC-32 and NC-92. Washington is your last town of any size before reaching Manns Harbor and the Manteo area. If you are coming through later in the afternoon or early evening, it's advisable to stop here if you are staying in a motel, or get a campsite at Goose Creek State Park. This should also be your food and fuel stop, regardless of the time of day, there just isn't much on the roadside for the next 120 miles. The road surface is in excellent condition all the way to the beach, and it's really a treat to just relax and enjoy the sweeping corners of this less traveled road. The shoulders of the route are very sandy, so if you must stop for any reason be sure to place one of those little plastic landing pads under the foot of your side stand. For riders that just like to wander and see unusual places, a nice side trip is NC-92 into Bath and then NC-99 to Belhaven. Bath is the oldest town in North Carolina and has a checkered past. It was the home of pirates in the days that such things were of concern. It's a pleasant little town that offers a small grocery store with fuel, and two restaurants. A important tip, the restaurants close on Mondays, so avoid that if you want a meal. Just up the road from Bath is NC-306 and you can take a free ferry across the Pamlico Sound from here. It's a fun diversion and gives a chance for riders to put the marsh view into perspective. Belhaven, Leechville, Ponzer, and the county seat at Swan Quarter are all tiny fishing villages with no real desire to cater to tourists at all. There are places to eat, but the hours are odd and you'll not likely find them open. Fast food here is the fish that spit out the bait and got away from your landing net! At Swan Quarter there is another ferry across Pamlico Sound, this one goes to Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks. The two and one half hour crossing departs twice daily off season and four times a day during season. If not for the ferry landing and the fishing fleet here, its doubtful that Swan quarter would be anything more than a sleepy wide spot on a back road. I literally stood in the middle of this intersection for three or four minutes as I took a couple of photos, looked at my map, and tried to decide if I would take the ferry, or continue on US-264 to Manns Harbor.
While odd to me, it may not be unusual to the locals to see a tourist standing at the middle of the intersection. Just as I finished taking the last of these three photos I heard a voice walking from behind he say, "Would you like me to take a photo so that you can be in the shot?" The voice belonged to Tom Davis Jr, who describes himself as "The best attorney in town!" And who sheepishly follows that with the qualifier, "Of course, I'm the ONLY attorney here." He invited me to his office for a quick chat and opportunity to look at a couple of historic prints that have been in his family for generations and that now adorn the walls of that office. Tom affirmed to me that life in the salt marshes of eastern North Carolina is quite different from that of the rest of the state. From Swan Quarter over to the end of the route at Manns Harbor, the road is wide, in excellent condition, and reminds me of Highway 11 in northern Ontario, Canada. It's mile after mile of marsh land broken only by occasional gravel roads leading away from this last vestige of a normal world. What's found at the end of those roads I can only guess, but I assume people live down there in a special solitude. Lots of people laud the beach lifestyle of the Outer Banks, but I think those with the secret of a really relaxing vacation are those on the Inner Banks, at the edges of the sound where the slower pace of a natural world can be appreciated without the purchase of a mug, floppy hat, or a t-shirt. There are no fast food joints, no electronic billboards, no cable television, no WiFi, and no expectations of wild nights. You alone are responsible for your enjoyment. Few of us today can handle that challenge. The arrival back into a populated environment is abrupt, and occurs only a few miles from the end of the route, where the spur meets the parent route. It's four lanes, divided, watched over by innumerable patrols cars from the State Troopers office, and within seconds the peaceful mood of the last 120 miles is destroyed. Enjoy your ride, and try to come back this way some day.