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Beach or bust in a Cessna 170

Vacationing at the beach has been a favorite summertime staple of mine since childhood. Spending hours in a car, often in traffic jams, to get there is not. After buying my Cessna 170B in 2014, I was excited to turn those long road trips into short flights.

  • The sun fills the sky with brilliant colors as it rises over the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware State Seashore State Park. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • The beach is in the distance approaching Runway 18 at Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina for a birthday weekend of camping, sun, sand, and waves. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Birds flock over crashing waves at Myrtle Beach State Park. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Birds and anglers line the Myrtle Beach State Park pier. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Packing everything in the back of a Cessna 170B makes for a minimalist campsite. Having a shaded area to camp is a plus, but you still might need to buy a portable battery-powered electric fan to circulate the air in the tent at night. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Camping at Delaware State Seashore State Park in the full sun keeps you away from the tents and on the beach during the day, but the sea breeze cools things down at night. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • The sun's reflection across the ocean is a favorite early morning view. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • The Myrtle Beach State Park pier is great for fishing, crabbing, bird watching, and enjoying the sea breeze and ocean views. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.
  • Lush grass leads to the beach at Myrtle Beach State Park. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.

For a couple of years, I flew daytrips from Frederick, Maryland, to Ocean City, Maryland, and Ocean City, New Jersey—each city was less than a two-hour flight with airports close enough to the beach that I could take a taxi or Uber, or pack my folding bike and be self-sufficient.

Soon, I was ready to expand the utility I could get out of the Cessna 170 and spend more time enjoying the sun, sand, and waves. Flying to camp out at the beach fit the bill.

My Cessna 170 has weight and balance sheets with the rear seat installed and uninstalled. The taildragger’s cabin offers cavernous space with the rear seat removed, perfect for loading with tents, air mattresses (call me a wimp, but I need an air mattress if I’m tent camping!), coolers, beach gear, and more.

A friend and I researched beaches close to Frederick so that we could plan a weekend getaway but easily come back early if camping didn’t pan out or if the weather forecast started to deteriorate.

Delaware State Seashore State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was just a 1.5-hour flight away, boasted views of the ocean and the bay, and was less than 30 miles from Delaware Coastal Airport. I arranged to have a rental car ready at the airport so that we could quickly unload our gear and head to the beach.

The state park features six miles of Atlantic shoreline that you can walk (I love looking for shells), and the bay side includes 20 miles of shoreline along the Rehoboth and Indian River bays. Fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, hiking, and biking are all popular activities.

We camped in an area without shade, so we stayed on the beach all day, but at night a nice breeze helped to cool things off. The air mattress proved essential, not just a creature comfort: The sand at our site was so packed that it felt as hard as concrete to lie on without the mattress.

Perfect weather graced our flight to and from the beach, leaving me relaxed and ready for another beach adventure, this time farther away: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I would vacation each summer growing up. This would be a four-hour flight in the Cessna 170 and would cross enough of the Eastern region that weather could be a complicating factor.

The 145-horsepower Cessna 170B climbed slowly over the Atlantic coast after departing Myrtle Beach International Airport with full fuel, two adults, and camping gear on a hot, humid August day. Photo by Alyssa J. Cobb.

My husband and I decided to camp at Myrtle Beach State Park for my birthday in August. The park sits just off the end of Runway 36 at Myrtle Beach International Airport, so we would be able to watch general aviation, airline, and military operations arrive and depart while lounging on the beach.

I planned to pick up a rental car on site instead of reserving one in advance. That was a mistake: When we landed and went into the FBO to get a car, we learned that all the cars had already been rented out that day. We had to find transportation to the commercial side of the airport to rent a car in the passenger terminal. The state park is three miles from the airport, but a car is essential for hauling camping equipment and making grocery runs. But it also makes it possible to drive and enjoy other attractions such as shopping, putt-putt golf (Hawaiian Rumble Minigolf with a 40-foot volcano in North Myrtle Beach is my longtime favorite), shows, restaurants, and sightseeing.

Myrtle Beach State Park opened in 1936 and features cabins; tent sites; and campsites with electric, water, and sewer hookups. The park’s fishing pier offers fishing and crabbing, but if you are like me, it’s best for enjoying the sea breeze and views of the shoreline early of the morning. The park also offers equestrian, walking, and biking trails; bird watching; and swimming in an area with a lifeguard or anywhere along the coast at your own risk.

After a couple of days at the beach, our planned departure back to Maryland was uneventful with perfect VFR weather the entire route. Camping at state parks with immediate beach access gave me a new appreciation for the natural beauty of crashing waves, sand, and sunrises and sunsets without the hustle and bustle of crowds of people coming and going from beach houses, condos, and boardwalks. And the Cessna 170 made it possible to enjoy without the traffic jams.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media
AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media, Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: U.S. Travel

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