If uncrowded, unspoiled beach is what you’re after, look no further than Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. This state-maintained park at the southern tip of Pleasure Island – a few miles south of Wilmington – offers 6 miles of pristine, undeveloped shoreline. It’s the perfect spot for beachcombing, sunbathing or swimming. Just to the north, highly-developed and commercialized Carolina Beach and Kure Beach syphon off a lot of the summer traffic, so the sands of Fort Fisher Recreation Area are comparatively quiet. Plan to spend some pleasant hours in the company of sandpipers and seagulls, pelicans and plovers.
A boardwalk leads from the parking lot over the sand dunes to the beach.
Hikers will enjoy the easy 1.1-mile Basin Trail that leads though a salt marsh to an observation area overlooking the Cape Fear River on the park’s western side. The trail also provides good opportunities for bird watching. Anglers will find Fort Fisher to be a choice spot to hook a colorful assortment of fish, including red drum, black drum, bluefish, and speckled trout, as well as spot, flounder, and Virginia mullet.
Interested in doing some off-roading? Four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted within a specified, 4-mile corridor along the beach; times are limited and permits are required. (Beach vehicle-access permits are sold at the park’s visitor center.) Note: Soft sand and steep drops offs occasionally lead to vehicles being beached – literally – and the park staff is not equipped to recover stranded vehicles.
Four-wheeling is restricted for good reason. Fort Fisher Recreation Area holds important nesting areas for no less than 16,000 threatened or endangered species. One is the piping plover, a small bird that resembles a sandpiper. Another is the loggerhead turtle. The sandy beach at Fort Fisher offers good nesting habitat for loggerheads, and their nests are carefully marked off to prevent their being accidentally disturbed. You’re strongly cautioned to leave such nests untouched: Hatchlings already face a life-or-death race to the sea without the added danger of having their nests disturbed.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (www.ncparks.gov) opens daily at 8 a.m.; closing time varies seasonally. Admission: free.
In the area...
The remains of the area’s Confederate stronghold are preserved at Fort Fisher State Historic Site just up the road. The visitor center has details about the two battles that occurred here in 1864 and 1865. Admission is free. Details: www.nchistoricsites.org. Also nearby: the Fort Fisher branch of the N.C. Aquarium. Admission charged. Details: www.ncaquariums.com.
If you’re hungry/thirsty...
Britt’s Donut Shop, on the boardwalk in Carolina Beach, takes to heart the maxim, “Do one thing and do it well.” Since 1939, Britt’s has been selling – except for a small selection of drinks – just one thing: handmade glazed donuts (www.brittsdonutsfanclub.com).
Front Street Brewery in downtown Wilmington, serves up tasty sandwiches, dinner plates and some fine beers. Free tours and tastings are 3-5 p.m. daily. Details: www.frontstreetbrewery.com.