Winter at Coastal State Parks

Winter at Coastal State Parks

Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach

Visitors to North Carolina’s coast in the winter experience an exciting environment that the sun-seeking tourists of summer miss. Discover the offseason activity five state parks have to offer when the temperature drops 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. In the summer the park is frequented by tourists looking to explore or take hang gliding lessons, but there’s one activity that can only be explored in the winter months: sand-boarding. This sport allows participants to get the thrill of snowboarding without the snow by whizzing down the side of a sand dune. You’ll need to obtain a permit from the park and only sand-board in designated areas.

For those looking for a more traditional way to take in the coastal scenery, there’s also canoeing, kayaking, kite-flying and hiking on the nearby 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 in the winter. See historic reenactments on the parade ground and take a guided tour of the fort to learn more about its history.

Nearby, the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores also make for great winter destinations. The turtle maze is a kid favorite, teaching what it feels like for a just-hatched turtle to make it to the sea.

Fort Fisher State Park, just south of Wilmington, has more to offer than just pristine beaches. If you have an off-road vehicle, you can explore the beach here at your own leisure. Who knows, you might encounter one of the 16 threatened and endangered species while you’re here. Fort Fisher, the park’s namesake, is a historical landmark dating back to the Civil War. Winter’s a great time to explore here as reenactors celebrate the fort’s fall every January. Plus, the nearby North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher allows you to get a closer look at the state’s diverse aquatic life including sea turtles, alligators and sharks.

Carolina Beach State Park, also close to Wilmington, is ideal for fishing, bird watching and nature hikes. Six hiking trails allow you to observe the area’s plants and wildlife, including the indigenous Venus flytrap, 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, the only way to get there is by water taxi or private boat, making the journey part of the adventure. Intrepid souls paddle here, following the markers on the kayak and canoe trail. You’re likely to see a bottle-nosed dolphin on a trip to the island. Loggerhead turtles, the park’s most famous resident, are gone long before the onset of cold weather, but fox, raccoons and ghost crabs remain throughout winter.

Hammocks Beach State Parks offer an unspoiled retreat for those who seek solace. Pitch a tent at the dune-side campsites and after nightfall, admire the clear sky and brilliant stars.

Jason Frye

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