North Carolina's Bike-In Camp at Jordan Lake

For 2017’s Bike Travel Weekend, I rode greenways through Cary, North Carolina and then some country roads to reach this lakeside campground at the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area.

Bicycle Adventurers: Solo trip 

When: June 2017, Bike Travel Weekend

Accommodations: New Hope Overlook Campground at North Carolina’s Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Distance: 58 miles over two days.

Bonus tip for this adventure?

  • Campsite A1 is next to a small gravel beach on the lakeshore!
  • It’s worth noting the train station at Cary, North Carolina can be a convenient point to start a multi-modal bike trip. Taking the train to Durham, Burlington, or Greensboro and then cycling back could be a nice adventure. 

Day One

The New Hope Overlook Campground in North Carolina’s Jordan Lake State Recreation Area has been on my to-do list for a while. It’s a simple, hike-in campground located near the southern end of Jordan Lake, just over 15 miles from my house as the crow flies. I can ride most of the way on greenways, so it’s fairly low-stress to get there by bike. 

I headed out around mid-morning on Saturday and used marked bike lanes, greenways, and residential streets to make my way to downtown Cary, North Carolina. I checked out the new park at the corner of Dry Avenue and South Academy Street. A huge fountain fills the center of this small park with benches and bistro tables scattered around, as well as an outdoor ping-pong table and checkers/chess tables. I didn’t linger long, but would definitely like to come back and spend more time here. 

Academy Street runs through the heart of this small town and features many options you would expect at a growing downtown scene. There are several small places to grab a bite to eat or drink like the Academy Street Bistro, Serendipity Gourmet Deli, or Ashworth Drugs with its old-time soda fountain. A block or two away, you can find The Cary, a restored movie theater, and Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage. Bond Brothers Beer Company and Jordan Lake Brewing are just a few blocks further. 

I could go on naming fun places a cyclist might like to check out further, but I had somewhere to go.

A few blocks west of downtown I found the Northwoods Greenway, which led me to the longest greenway in Cary. Black Creek Greenway starts at Umstead State Park on the north side of Cary and runs southwest across town to Bond Park. I joined it right in the middle. 

Where the greenway isn’t completely separated from traffic, a wider than normal sidewalk is provided. One stretch like this runs along Maynard Road, which is where I found the Cycling Spoken Here bike shop. I stopped in to pick up a spare tube, just in case. 

Great Harvest Bread Company is located another block down the street. I stopped in there to pick up some spare sweet treats, just in case. Tom and Paige Williams, owners and operators of Great Harvest, are cyclists themselves. I’m told Tom often bikes to the bakery. He doesn’t have to worry much about traffic, not at 4 am. Their staff is always friendly, plus they give out free samples! 

After I ate one pastry at the tables out front and figured out how to carefully pack several others into my panniers, I continued down the greenway and through Bond Park. 

The White Oak Creek Greenway starts in Bond Park where the Black Creek Greenway ends. It led me almost all the way to the American Tobacco Trail (ATT), a rail trail that runs 22 miles from Durham to Apex. The greenway ends about a mile from the ATT. A straight shot down a mile of paved rural road connects the two. 

But I didn’t turn onto the ATT when I got there. I had another stop in mind. I kept going and turned at the next left, onto Wimberly Road, and then turned right onto Castleberry Road. That brought me to the Cloer Family Vineyard, less than half a mile from the ATT. The Cloers are cycling supporters and have hosted an annual ride for the East Coast Greenway Association the last two years. Participants ride down the ATT from Durham, have a little celebration, and then ride back. 

I propped my bike in the shade and found Pam Cloer in the air-conditioned tasting room. Two ladies were just starting a tasting and invited me to join them despite my cycling attire, helmet-hair, and road dust. I especially enjoyed the wines made from the muscadine grapes grown on site. Those wines have the distinct muscadine flavor, but were not overly sweet. We traded stories back and forth and laughed until the ladies decided it was time to move on to their next tasting stop. 

The ladies were kind enough to pay for my tasting, so I paid that forward by buying a glass of Isobella’s Blush from Pam and sitting on their covered porch to enjoy it. Two other cyclists arrived and chatted for a few minutes. The guy was interested in my Novara Safari touring bike and Ortlieb pannier setup. He had ridden part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route a few years ago with rear panniers on a hard-tail mountain bike, appropriate for those gravel roads and trails in the Rockies. 

I eventually got back on my bike and rode to the south end of the American Tobacco Trail. Ten more miles of lightly traveled country roads brought me to the campground. Along the way, the road passed over part of Jordan Lake. I stopped to watch boats swarming around and people enjoying some “lake life.” Traffic looked a lot busier on the water than on the roads I was riding! 

The guys at the entrance booth to the New Hope Overlook area didn’t think anyone was camped on Loop A of the campground. Both loops consist of hike-in sites, meaning there's a parking lot at each and you have to hike your camping gear down to the sites. That’s perfect for cyclists! Our stuff is already loaded onto something with wheels when we arrive. 

I followed the mile-long gravel park road to Loop A and stopped at the first site, A1, to check things out. My mileage for the day was just over 32 miles. 

A well-used path led from the site through the woods and down to the water’s edge. I checked out the other sites but they didn’t appear as nice, except for maybe a few sites at the end. They were occupied with tents so I didn’t get a good look. I also found the centrally located pit toilets and a water spigot. All of the sites have their own picnic table, fire ring, and lantern/trash bag post. 

I chose to stick with site A1. It was the farthest from the other campers and it had that path to the lake. Exploring the water’s edge a little more, I found a small 20-inch-wide private gravel beach. Most of the shoreline is clay cliff. After setting up my tent, I sat on the beach in the shade for a few hours watching the boats churn up the lake. Sometimes it is good to just relax and decompress! 

Contrary to my concerns about the campground being busy, I only saw two groups of people from the other sites walk by all evening. I read a little, ate dinner (did I mention pastries before?), and went to bed. I never heard the other campers during the night, but I did hear a raccoon get into one of the metal trash cans by the parking area.

Day Two

The birds woke me when the sky started to lighten, followed shortly by the sound of a loudspeaker booming across the lake. Apparently, the start and swim area for the Raleigh Half-Ironman race was across the lake. From my little beach, I could just see the buoys marking off the swim section. Every ten minutes, another set of triathletes got to dash into the water and drown their pre-race butterflies. 

I ate breakfast (did I mention pastries before?) and broke camp without seeing any of the other campers. 

The race route passed right by the campground entrance, which had me a little worried. But when I arrived there, the only sign of the race was a lone cyclist. I chose to backtrack along yesterday’s route, which let me ride against racer-traffic flow. They were mostly heads down, trying to find their groove. They still had a long way to go, and the day was heating up quickly. A few of them looked up and waved. Hundreds did not, which is ok since I would have been really tired from waving back at all of them! 

When I reached Bond Park, I decided to turn onto Cary Parkway and follow it back to my side of town. This four-lane road has a planted median separating the two sides. Sunday morning traffic is fairly light so I decided to give it a try. The Town of Cary has signed this part of the road as Bike Route #3, and the outside lane is wider, so I wasn’t completely crazy. This route change shaved about six miles off my total for the day. Since this was day two of my get-in-shape-as-you-go training program (you know, the day when you’re still sore from day one), I was happy to cut off a few miles. 

I finished up my 2017 Bike Travel Weekend ride on the familiar residential streets and bike lanes of my local workout ride route. 

Totals for the weekend: 58 miles, 4 pastries, 1 noisy raccoon, and 0 flats.

Your favorite local bike shop? Performance Bicycle, 653 Cary Towne Blvd, Cary, North Carolina 27511 

Bike overnight tips and tricks?

  • Favorite gear: my Crazy Creek camp chair. Being able to sit down and relax with back support makes all the difference for me!
  • Or was it the MSR Dromedary bag, which let me easily bring three liters of water to the campsite from the camp spigot.

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