When European colonists appeared on North Carolina coasts, they were greeted by the Native American groups known collectively as the Croatans. These indigenous peoples thrived in the area where the Croatan National Forest sits today. Those who visit this forest may wonder how this setting of swamps, salt estuaries, bogs, and pocosins, which are wetland areas with deep acidic sandy peat soils that act like a sponge, could support a civilization. The answer is found in the depths of the Croatan National Forest, a 159,885-acre coastal wooded region surrounded on three sides by water. Where the early Europeans saw an impassable swamp, Native Americans saw an area filled with wildlife, abundant fishing, an incredible array of vegetables, and easy access to essential herbs. Exploring this forest in-depth begins at the forest's headquarters in faraway Asheville, NC, with support from nearby towns such as Morehead City, NC, and New Bern, NC.
The Cedar Point Tideland Trail is ideal for family activity as the path is easy for the smallest legs to navigate. Visitors wander through cedar forests, over wetlands via bridges and boardwalks, and along the edge of marshes. There is plenty of wildlife that calls this area home. Birds, including osprey and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, are often spotted here hunting for their daily meal.
Length: 1.4 miles
If you are looking for a hike through diverse environments, then the Neusiok Trail is the perfect trail for you. Expect to get your feet wet as some of the path is below sea level. At times, there is overgrowth that forces you to walk with care. The route goes through swamps, wetlands, pine forests, and grassy areas. Expect bugs—use your repellent before and during the hike.
Length: 20.6 miles
Intensity: Intermediate to Difficult
If you are looking for a shorter walk that features all the topography at Croatan National Forest, visit the Island Creek Forest Walk Trail. This loop trail features a river, forests, grasslands, swamps, marshes, and a mix of wildlife, birds, frogs, and fish.
Length: 2.8 miles
This nature trail winds its way through Long Leaf Pine Flat Woods, an open area spotted with ponds. While low-lying shrubs and herbs cover the ground, towering longleaf pines provide a light canopy that helps mitigate the hot sun during the summer months.
Length: 2.9 miles
The Weetock Trail skirts the shore of the slow-moving White Oaks River. The trail passes near active archeological digs documenting human occupation of the area for well over 5,000 years. The Weetock Trail moves through hardwood ridges, cypress-gum-palmetto swamps, managed wildlife clearings, creeks, and past beaver lodges.
Length: 18.7 miles
Intensity: Easy to Intermediate
The nutrient-rich estuaries and swamplands of the Croatan National Forest serve as natural nurseries for a fantastic array of fish, eels, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. The fishing along the banks of the rivers or off the coast is excellent.
The delicate environment of the Croatan National Forest is an issue for geocaches. Hiding a cache usually involves disturbing the soil, something the National Forest Service frowns on in this location. To set up a cache, you must contact the authorities to apply for a permit.
Stargazing at Croatan National Forest is better than what you find in a city setting but not as good as that found in elevated areas. Not only does the low elevation inhibit light from distant stars reaching a searching eye, but the light pollution from nearby towns has no interference from hills or mountains.
Address: 160 Zillicoa Street, Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801
Fee: Entry fee $0
The Croatan National Forest provides some of the most exotic natural features you will find anywhere in the country. Renting an RV to explore the entire forest leads to a vacation your family will remember for a lifetime.