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Posted: Friday, Mar. 30, 2012

Croatan National Forest: Hiking, camping along the N.C. coast

By Gary McCullough
Published in: Southeast Excursions
  • Details

    Croatan National Forest is open daily. Admission: free; fee for camping (call for details). Details/camping reservations: 252-638-5628;

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    Of the four national forests in North Carolina, Croatan is the only one located along the coast and is the only true coastal forest east of the Mississippi. Croatan National Forest protects nearly 160,000 acres of pine forests, saltwater estuaries, bogs and pocosins; in particular, the pocosin ecosystems – essentially raised swamplands – are unique geological features of this forest. Bordered on the north by the Neuse River, on the south by Bogue Sound, and on the west by the White Oak River, activities include swimming, canoeing, boating, and fishing. Distance

    Croatan National Forest is roughly 260 miles from Charlotte, about a 5-hour drive, one way.

    To see and do

    Croatan National Forest, established in 1936, protects stands of old growth beech and oaks, virgin longleaf pines and cypress. There are several access points, each offering different amenities. The Neuse River Campground is situated on a bluff overlooking the river and has hot showers, flush toilets, and some electric hook-ups. Flanners Beach, located here, beckons swimmers.

    There are 43 miles of trails for hiking and nature walks.

    The 3-mile Neuse River Trail, rated easy, appeals to both hikers and mountain bike riders. The Cedar Point Campground features the Tideland Trail. This National Recreation Trail has gravel paths, raised walkways and boardwalks. It is rated easy: The trail is level, wide enough for wheelchairs, and has numerous benches for resting and viewing. Along this trail, you may spot egrets, deer, and herds of fiddler crabs. A 0.6-mile loop trail edges and crosses a salt marsh; interpretive signs along the way provide information about this vital ecosystem. A 1.3-mile loop trail connecting to this shorter loop skirts the edge of the White Oak River, crosses over the marsh, and passes through the woods.

    Picnic facilities are near the campground; a boat ramp at Cedar Point provides easy access to the Intracoastal Waterway. Neusiok is Croatan’s longest trail, running 21 miles from north to south through the eastern portion of the forest, traversing pine stands and swampland; it is a part of North Carolina’s Mountain-to-Sea Trail.

    Unique to Croatan is the Saltwater Adventure Trail at Brice’s Creek. The canoe trail is suitable for novices. Anglers, meanwhile, can test their skills along rivers, creeks, lakes, and marshes; catfish, perch, flounder, and largemouth bass are common.

    Although Croatan National Forest has many pleasant recreational opportunities, it is also home to some truly wild wildlife, including black bears, alligators, and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. In warmer months, chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, and deer flies are plentiful. Even some of the plants seem inhospitable – such carnivorous species as Venus flytrap, butterwort, pitcher plant, and sundew grow here. You also need to recognize and guard against patches of poison ivy.

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