North Carolina has an extensive system of ferries connecting well-known destinations like Ocracoke and Hatteras to the mainland, but also linking lessor-known spots like Bayview, Aurora, Cherry Branch, and Minnesott Beach.
Even better, trips on some of these lessor-known routes are completely free of charge.
Bayview, North Carolina is a small community of about 350 people located in Beaufort County on the north side of the Pamlico River, not far from where the River becomes the Pamlico Sound.
Aurora is a small Beaufort County town on the south side of the Pamlico, just a little larger than Bayview. The town is home to the Aurora Fossil Museum, and the Bayview to Aurora ferry is a popular beginning for a visit to the Museum.
Lats month, we set off from Washington, North Carolina, and headed east through North Carolina’s oldest town, Bath, for our first ride on the ferry and our first visit to the Museum.
The ferry terminal is about 5 miles east of Bath just south of NC 92 on NC 306, a road that continues on the south side of the river after the ferry ride.
We arrived about 10:30 for the 11:00am departure, and were the first car in line.
The ferry is completely free, no tickets are necessary, and you can simply line up behind the white line just in front of the dock.
The terminal building includes offices, clean rest rooms, and vending machines.
As the ferry docks, the folks coming over from Aurora will drive off the ferry and the crew will allow you to board. We were first in line, so our well-worn and well-loved blue van had the prime spot forward on the ferry.
Enjoying our first ferry ride!
The Pamlico is notoriously shallow in some spots, so once the ferry leaves the dock, it travels east along a deep channel and then turns south to cross the river headed to Aurora.
The day was beautiful and the ride was completely smooth, without a single bump or sway.
The total ride is about 4 miles and takes around 30 minutes on most days.
Again, it’s totally free and is a great way to enjoy some time on the water.
We sailed on a Saturday, and while this particular route is frequently used by commuters and folks with a business need on the other side of the river, our ferry was filled with other families out for the ride, many of whom we saw at the Museum after the ride.
The Aurora side of the ferry route is located in the midst of the PotashCorp phosphate mine. After leaving the ferry, you may feel as if you have entered a wilderness of some sort. In addition to being an economic driver of Beaufort County and eastern North Carolina, the mine is the reason Aurora is one of the fossil capitals of the world.
The Museum’s website explains it best:
The geology of the area near the town of Aurora, North Carolina takes us back millions of years ago when the ocean covered this area of what is now part of the coastal plain. The complex sequence of sediments that make up the record of the past is exposed at the PotashCorp-Aurora phosphate mine located near the town of Aurora. The various layers of earth, called formations, can be seen in succession going from the surface down to the base of the valuable phosphate ore that is recovered. The layers are exposed allowing the geology to be studied in ways that could not be done without the mining operation. The information collected is valuable to science and allows us the opportunity to take an amazing journey back into the distant past of geologic time. Our trip will take us from existing land surface to the bottom of the Aurora phosphate mine, at approximately 160 feet below sea level.
Like the ferry, visiting the Museum is completely free, though donations of any size are welcome.
The Museum is located in several buildings in the 400 block of Main Street in Aurora. Just follow the signs (and likely a few others on the ferry) or use your GPS to find the exact spot. You can’t miss it and anyone in the area can give you directions. You can park along the street or in one of the lots surrounding the Museum.
The Museum is probably most famous for the ancient shark-tooth fossils found in the area.
The Museum has several exhibits that the kids will enjoy stepping into and hamming it up for the camera.
Fossilized teeth from the famous Megalodon shark are among the finds from the mine, and the kids…well…see for yourself…
For one more photo op, don’t miss the frame in the main reception area/gift shop.
One of the Museum’s main attractions is just across the street and includes many truck loads of material from the mine, loaded with fossils. Bring along a small bucket and a trowel or buy one from the Museum and dig in to find you own treasures.
A few examples of the fossils we found:
Shark teeth and coral
The Museum was definitely worth the visit and ferry ride made it all the better. You can back-track and return to the north side of the river via the ferry, but we headed back to Washington by road.
Washington, Bayview, and Aurora are all an easy drive from spots like Greenville, New Bern, Morehead City, Beaufort, and the beaches of the Crystal Coast. Also, Bayview is not far from one route to the Outer Banks (Highway 264) and would make a great side trip when headed to or from.
Please don’t hesitate to call or email if you have any questions!
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