Coastal Vacation Rentals
Enjoy Winter In NC's Coastal State Parks
Visitors to North Carolina’s coast in the winter experience an environment that the sunning, swimming tourists of summer miss. Discover the offseason activities five state parks and a maritime national forest have to offer when temperatures cool and the coast becomes less crowded and more serene.
Located on the Outer Banks, Jockey’s Ridge State Park boasts the tallest active sand dune on the East Coast. It is frequented by tourists in the summer, but there’s one activity that can only be experienced in winter months – sand-boarding. This sport allows participants to get the thrill of snowboarding without the snow and cold. Make sure to obtain a permit from the park office and only sand-board in designated areas.
For those looking for a less adventurous way to take in the coastal scenery, there’s also canoeing, kayaking, kite-flying, and hiking on the beaches.
Travel back in time with a visit to Fort Macon State Park, where a reconstructed fort stands guard over Beaufort Harbor as it did during the Civil War. History and educational programs are the focus of this Atlantic Beach park during the winter. Twenty-six vaulted rooms are in this fortress with 4-foot thick walls of brick and stone. See historic re-enactments on the parade ground and take a guided tour of the fort to learn more about its history.
Nearby are the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The turtle maze is a child favorite, teaching what it feels like for a just hatched sea turtle trying to make it to the sea while avoiding various types of danger.
The Croatan National Forest near Beaufort is the only true coastal forest in the east. Its 160,000 acres are filled with pine forests and surrounded by bodies of water. The water contributes to the diversity of wildlife; visitors can expect to see deer, black bears, turkey and alligators. There’s also opportunity to canoe and fish in the park’s blackwater creeks and saltwater marshes.
Fort Fisher State Park, near Wilmington, has more to offer than just pristine beaches. Visitors can rent off-road vehicles to view nature in certain areas of the park. If you’re lucky, you might even encounter one of the 16 threatened and endangered species that inhabit the park. Plus, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher allows visitors to get a closer look at the state’s diverse aquatic life including sea turtles, alligators and sharks.
The nearby Fort Fisher is a historical landmark that dates back to the Civil War. Admission to the fort is free and there are plenty of exhibits, trails and monuments to see.
Also near Wilmington, Carolina Beach State Park is ideal for fishing, bird watching and nature hikes. Six hiking trails allow visitors to observe the area’s plant and wildlife, and each offers different sights to see. Keep an eye out for Venus Flytraps, one of the world's most unique carnivorous plants. Stop by the visitor center to learn more about the park’s biodiversity and view interactive exhibits.
Hammocks Beach State Park, near Swansboro, is mostly located on Bear Island. During winter visitors must travel there by water taxi or private boat. Intrepid souls paddle here, following the markers on the kayak and canoe trail. You are likely to see bottle-nosed dolphins on the trip to the island. Loggerhead turtles, the park’s most famous inhabitants, are long gone before the onset of cold weather. However, foxes, raccoons and ghost crabs remain through the winter.
Hammocks Beach State Park is an unspoiled retreat for those who seek nothing more than the sea, the sand and the sky above. Pitch a tent at the dune-side campsites and after nightfall admire the clear sky and brilliant stars.
Whether you come to North Carolina’s coast this winter to commune with nature, to fish, or to paint or photograph the awe-inspiring landscape, it’s a winter trip worth taking.
added: December 29, 2008
updated: December 6, 2012