Kya’s Marshes: Take an NC Trip Inspired by 'Where the Crawdads Sing'

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens’ 2018 coming-of-age novel, has spent nearly 200 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list. And with the 2022 release of the film, now’s the perfect time to plan a trip inspired by Kya, a child who grows up in the remote marshes of North Carolina and must navigate self-reliance, love, heartbreak and murder. 

Get to know the (fictional) Barkley Cove marshes Kya calls home with this two-day tour through North Carolina’s Inner Banks and Wilmington area

Day 1: Croatan National Forest and New Bern 

Croatan National Forest, one of four national forests in NC and the only true coastal forest on the East Coast, is a must-visit for that Where the Crawdads Sing feel. With 160,000 acres of pine forests, estuaries, bogs and swamps, plus tons of wildlife unique to the region as referenced in the book, you can practically picture Kya paddling through the waterways.

Aerial of kayaker paddling through meandering marsh in coastal forest

Try the 100-mile Saltwater Adventure Trail if you’re looking to get on the water yourself – it's the only national forest saltwater trail in the nation, and it’s suitable for novices. Rather stay on dry land? The Patsy Pond Nature Trail offers three loops of varying lengths that meander past longleaf pines, natural ponds and native flora. Pack a picnic for lunch to take in even more nature and wildlife, including plants from Kya's drawings.

New Bern, North Carolina’s first state capital, can be your home base for the rest of the day. With more than 300 years of history, this charming riverside town offers plenty of options for unique diversions if you’re interested in extending your stay.  

Check in to Aerie Bed & Breakfast, conveniently located within the Downtown Historic District and offering luxury accommodations with modern amenities. Afterward, dinner is just a 5-minute walk away. 

Cypress Hall Kitchen + Bar provides a culinary adventure of Southern cuisine using the freshest ingredients from Eastern North Carolina. Pull up a chair at the window – it folds open to offer Middle Street views – and check out the ever-changing cocktail menu and featured dishes.  

It’s easy to be captivated by New Bern. If you stay an extra day to take in all 300+ years of the town’s history, consider enjoying a Pepsi at the Birthplace of Pepsi, participating in living history at Tryon Palace, hopping aboard a New Bern Trolley Tour, admiring the sunset on a dinner cruise or taking a walking tour of locations featured in Nicholas Sparks’ novels. 

Day 2: Carolina Beach, Fort Fisher and Wilmington 

After enjoying your full hot breakfast at Aerie, take the easy two-hour drive south to Wilmington. When you pass through Burgaw, make a quick stop in Piggly Wiggly – the grocery store chain where Kya would spend her weekly dollar – for lunch items to enjoy later.  

Once in Wilmington, head straight to Carolina Beach State Park. It offers 9 miles of trails through a variety of distinct habitats and maritime forests. The trails are relatively flat and easy to walk, offering an opportunity to observe the diversity of plant and animal life in the park, including the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants growing in the wild (take a picture and let the plants be – it’s illegal to poach them). Before leaving the park, drive down to the marina to see landscapes like those in Where the Crawdads Sing. Refuel before heading on to the next stop; the picnic area is between the marina and campground.  

Make your way south past Kure Beach to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, the island’s oceanside state park. The Basin Trail, an easy 1.1-mile walk, winds through maritime forest and marshland just like in Where the Crawdads Sing. Then take a stroll along the undeveloped beach, which was used in filming for Safe Haven and The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Long-range shot of marsh, water and trails under pretty sky

Well worth one more stop before heading to your hotel is the 67-acre Airlie Gardens. You'll be enchanted by seaside gardens, 10 acres of lakes, more than 75,000 azaleas, wildlife and the Airlie Oak that dates back to 1545. Keep an eye out for filming locations you might recognize from One Tree Hill, Dawson's Creek and more.

After your explorations, head to The Hive, an all-suites boutique hotel that puts you in the heart of downtown Wilmington for the rest of your stay. After freshening up in your huge bathroom with an oversized, walk-in shower – it's dinner time.  

Take the scenic route through Greenfield Park on the way to dinner and see this urban oasis with Spanish moss-draped ancient cypress trees, pines, live oaks and magnolias. You'll surely be reminded of Where the Crawdads Sing

Off to dinner! Located in the trendy South Front District, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria is owned by celebrity chef Vivian Howard (of PBS TV show A Chef’s Life) and husband Ben Knight, who take Italian pizzas to the next level with a decidedly Southern flair. 

Walk off your pies on the Wilmington Riverwalk, yet another popular filming location, and sip on a drink alfresco before retiring to your plush bed at The Hive. You might even want to revisit Kya’s world and read a little before bed. You did just get a first-hand look at her mysterious life, after all. 

Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.

Updated August 1, 2022
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