Hiking & Biking
Coastal Scenic Hiking Trails
A trip to the North Carolina Coast isn’t just about swimming and sunbathing. Several hiking trails offer you the opportunity to experience ecosystems found only in a few places worldwide.
According to conservationists, Bald Head Island's 800 acres of mature maritime forest are the finest remaining example of this threatened coastal ecosystem in the state. Some of the massive trees here took root 300 years ago.
The 0.5-mile Kent Mitchell Nature Trail provides a fascinating glimpse of local wildlife. Randy Johnson, who has paddled his kayak at Cape Fear and was a participant in North Carolina’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail Association, writes in his book, “Hiking North Carolina”: "The boardwalk presents a nice perspective: three small islands barely rise above the tidal ebb and flow that animates the thousands of acres of marshy wetlands visible all around. This is the preserved home of more than a third of the animal species listed as endangered in the United States. Its birdlife includes bald eagles and red-cockaded woodpeckers. There are also otters, raccoons, alligators and minks...”
Bald Head is nationally recognized for the relatively high amount of active nesting by endangered loggerhead turtles.
You can only get to the island by way of the ferry, which leaves from Southport, NC. Cost for a round trip is $15 for adults and $8 for children 12 and younger. Once on Bald Head, the only modes of transportation are golf carts, bicycles and feet.
Many consider this 0.5-mile handicap accessible trail to be the best for viewing wildlife in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. State wildlife agencies plant large areas here to provide food for migrating and native waterfowl and more than 365 species of birds have been identified at the refuge.
The trail ends at a two-story observation tower. Climb it and you can look out over ocean beach, sand dunes, ponds and salt flats and marshes.
To get to Pea Island, head south from Nags Head on N.C. 12. The northernmost 13 miles of Hatteras Island make up the refuge.
Download a map at fws.gov/PeaIsland/images/NPonds.pdf
Located south of New Bern, NC, Croatan National Forest looks more like it should be in the mountains of the eastern United States rather than on the Coast. Oaks, hickories and beech trees line the 0.5-mile Island Creek Trail. Farther down the trail you’ll see tupelos and cypress trees with Spanish moss.
“Cypress trees were logged extensively in the Croatan and the coastal area, but this trail is the best place to see these impressive old trees with their knees protruding out of the water,” Johnson writes. “The Island Creek forest is a rare ecosystem, and geologically unique. … The underlying alkaline rock neutralizes the normally acidic soil and provides a base for the plant community. Twelve types of plant community have been identified here.”
During your hike, follow the signs and associated interpretive information to unlock the significance of this area.
Take U.S. 70 south from New Bern, NC, to N.C. 1004 in Craven County to access the trailhead.
According to The Nature Conservancy, the combination of maritime swamp forest and maritime deciduous forest that you'll find at Nags Head Forest Preserve exists in just a few places in the world.
Johnson considers the Sweetgum Swamp Trail - together with the connecting Blueberry Ridge Trail - to be “the premier nature walk on North Carolina's barrier islands.”
The Sweetgum Swamp Trail will take you across a number of sand ridges. You’ll hike through a mixed forest of beeches, hickories, hollies, southern red oaks and loblolly pines – some of which are more than 300 years old. Deer, otters and egrets are often encountered along the trail.
The entrance to the preserve is located on Ocean Acres Drive, which is at mile post 9.5 of U.S. 158 near Kill Devil Hills, NC.
by Peter Anderson
by Peter Anderson
added: July 27, 2009
updated: July 31, 2009