Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, in the northeast corner of North Carolina, easily qualifies as remote. Just getting to this wildlife wonderland is a minor adventure.
The refuge is roughly 335 miles from Charlotte (about six hours), one way. At Currituck, northeast of Elizabeth City, take the free Knotts Island Ferry (another 45 minutes) to Mackey Island, on the Virginia border between the mainland and the Outer Banks.
To see and do
The refuge, established in 1960, covers a little more than 8,000 acres of marshland in northeast Currituck Sound. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, this protected area has provided safe haven for more than 50 years for shorebirds, snow and Canada geese, wading birds, ducks and raptors. Among the raptors are such endangered/threatened species as the American bald eagle and the peregrine falcon. Although the refuge draws about 75,000 visitors annually, the site has succeeded in maintaining a habitat that shelters its diverse population, retaining a feeling of quiet solitude. Mackay Island Refuge is one of a dozen sites listed on the Charles Kuralt Trail, named for the famed broadcast journalist who delighted in sharing the wonders of such remote and relatively-unknown places with his viewers. The "trail" is not so much a route to be followed as it is a listing of places to visit - all but one in North Carolina - that share common goals with regard to restoring and preserving natural habitats. (Other stops along the trail include Mattamuskeet, Alligator River, Great Dismal Swamp, and Pea Island refuges.)
The visitor contact station at the northwestern corner of the Mackay Island Refuge provides interpretive displays and literature, as does the red-roofed kiosk at the Kuralt Trail Overlook along N.C. 615. An elevated platform at this spot affords a scenic view of the Great Marsh, which covers about 75 percent of the total refuge area. During fall and winter, the marsh is an excellent location for viewing large concentrations of snow geese, tundra swans, and a variety of ducks. The Mackay Island Trail (2.9 miles) and the Live Oak Point Trail (5.5 miles) offer additional opportunities to see wildlife. There is a handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the East Pool impoundment. A small boat ramp is located near the dike gate on Mackay Island Road.
Note: Most of the refuge is closed to public until March 14 to reduce disturbance to wintering waterfowl.