North Carolina is truly one of the most visually beautiful states in the union. And while much of that beauty can be viewed from primary thoroughfares and country roads, even more is tucked away in our protected wilderness, free for all to see, yet not quite within reach of motorized vehicles. For those willing to get out of their cars and venture into the wilds, there is a plethora of treasures to be found.

Hiking allows people to get much closer to vegetation and wildlife, historic sites and geographic wonders that they would never have the opportunity to view out the window of the minivan. Waterfalls are a great example of this. While North Carolina is home to hundreds of picturesque cascades, only a handful can be viewed without at least a short hike. The same can be said for Eastern Carolina. While we lack waterfalls we make up for it with plant life, animals and stunning views of woods and wetlands.

GETTING STARTED

Preparation is important when it comes to hiking, both in understanding your own capabilities and learning the area you wish to hike. Trails vary greatly, from wide, flat paths to rocky, uneven terrain. Start small, with 1- to 2-mile hikes, to sample various difficulty levels. This will also give newcomers the opportunity to decide what type of clothing and shoes work well for them before isolating themselves on a longer hike with the wrong shoes or constrictive clothing.

Get connected with other hikers, either online or through a hiking club, and read as much as you can about hiking in your area. It may be that a certain trail is prone to mud during the early spring rains, although it is perfect for a hike in the fall. There are a variety of great websites, state trail guides and clubs that can help point a beginner in the right direction.

WHAT TO BRING

Hiking can be something of a balancing act. While you want to be sure to have the necessary supplies on hand, nobody wants to carry more than they have to, especially on longer hikes. The most common problem that people face is lack of supplies and planning.

Experts estimate that a person should carry about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of food per day, per person. Of course, you’ll need some way of heating that food, if applicable, and the ability to safely deal with the waste the meal produces. Foil packs of tuna and chicken are popular as well as pasta meals that can be boiled over a small flame. Both are lightweight and don’t take up much room in a backpack.

Other mandatory supplies include plenty of water, first aid kit, compass, cell phone, even though service may not be available, maps, wind or rain gear, flashlight, pocket knife, matches, whistle

sunscreen, bug spray, bedding for overnight trips and medications if needed.

SAFETY FIRST

When planning a hike, like many activities, it’s important to tell someone at home where you are going and how long you plan on being gone. Don’t overlook emergency safety items when taking off for a short day hike. A first aid kit, flashlight, cell phone, maps and compass should always be on hand, whether you’re headed out for an hour-long stroll in the woods or taking off for a week-long adventure. In both cases, always carry more water than you anticipate needing.

Make noise while hiking. Wildlife, especially large animals, do their best to avoid contact with humans. If you are making a little noise while underway, it gives them a chance to amble off into the woods. If you do encounter a bear or wild cat, maintain a safe distance and allow the animal to move away from the area without feeling threatened. There are several brands of bear deterrent spray on the market for hikers who are exploring regions with large bear populations.

Always cook, eat and relieve yourself away from your camp or shelter. Those scents often attract animals. Likewise it is always important to store food and trash safely, either hanging in a tree or in a bear canister.

In North Carolina, snake bites are also a concern, although it is important to note that few people in the US die from snakebites. Be watchful where you step and if you do encounter a snake, stay back and let him go along his way. Do not antagonize wild animals or reptiles in any way. If a bite does occur, clean it thoroughly with soap and water and call for help at the first chance possible. Be proactive and begin moving toward the trailhead if possible instead of waiting for help to reach you.

Keep in mind that weather is an ever-changing force of nature. After even a brief rainstorm, leaves and rocks can become extremely slippery and make passage more treacherous. Small trickles and streams can quickly become raging rivers that are challenging to pass. If in doubt, do not cross. If you do, keep your boots on to help with traction and protect your feet.

Always stay together while hiking and never assume that clear water along the trail is safe for human consumption.

LEAVE NO TRACE

Be prepared to cart out everything you take into the woods, this includes food waste and other trash. Human waste can be buried in a “cat hole” about six to eight inches deep, but remember to only do so a few hundred feet away from active camps.

It’s always recommended that stoves be used for cooking, but if you do need to light a campfire, try to do so in an already established fire ring. Avoid burning trash as it emits fumes and can affect wildlife in the area.

As a good steward of the environment, it’s always nice to keep your trash bag close so you can pick up the litter left behind by less courteous hikers as well.

Most importantly, enjoy the journey. The waterfall or overlook you’re heading for is certainly worth the trip, but don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers along the way. You never know what you may stumble upon.

When folks start to plan a trip to the Crystal Coast they inevitably think about our sandy shores, the fishing, the dining, the great historic sites. Rarely, however, do they relate hiking to the beach. That’s more aptly matched with a trip to the mountains, right? Not at all! Given Carteret County’s rich and diverse geography, hiking is not only a regular activity– it’s a must-do for anyone interested in seeing the wide range of natural settings Eastern North Carolina has to offer. From marshy wetlands to dense forest, the region is best viewed on foot. And with the coast’s inclusion in the state’s Mountains to the Sea Trail, more people than ever are finding that the Crystal Coast has so much more to offer than a sunny day along our shores. Here is a sampling of hiking trails available in the area.

Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge

Length: 16 miles total/five trails

Overview: Ranging from easy to strenuous, the five trails in the wildlife refuge provide a nice introduction to coastal Carolina with views of the largest marsh on the eastern seaboard. Hikers can expect to see ducks, waterfowl, snakes, black bear and small mammals.

Directions: Take Hwy 70 E from Beaufort, turning to follow Hwy 12 to Cedar Island. Turn right on Lola Road. The refuge headquarters is at the end of the road, with parking available for hikers.

Contact: Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge: 252-225-2511, www.fws.gov/refuge/cedarisland

Hoffman & Roosevelt Trails

Length: 1.2 & .5 miles

Overview: Located at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, the more strenuous Roosevelt Trail and the .5 mile family-friendly Alice Hoffman Nature Trail roam through the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area on Bogue Banks, passing marshes winding their way through the maritime forest. Be sure to call ahead as the trails can only be accessed during aquarium hours. Aquarium entry fees may apply

Directions: The aquarium is located on Roosevelt Boulevard, off of Hwy 58, 5 miles from Atlantic Beach.

Contact: NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, 252-247-4003, www.ncaquariums.com.

Hoop Pole Creek

Length: .5 miles

Overview: This family-friendly sound-side nature walk lets visitors observe where Hoop Pole Creek meets Bogue Sound, mixing salt water with fresh water. View a variety of plants, shrubs and grasses as well abundant wildlife, egrets, ibis, herons, deer, turtle, red fox and more. A trail guide that corresponds with trail markers can be found at the NC Coastal Federation website.

Directions: The trailhead is located next to the Atlantic Station Shopping Center, mile marker 3.5 on Hwy 58 in Atlantic Beach.

Contact: www.nccoast.org

Patsy Pond

Length: 3 trails ranging from .75 to 1.9 miles

Overview: With three clearly marked trails (.75, 1 and 1.9 miles), the Patsy Pond Nature Trail is great for family outings or avid hikers and provides a great introduction to North Carolina’s long leaf pine. Visitors may get a glimpse at the red-cockaded woodpecker that makes his home in the long leaf pines about 20-50 feet above the ground. There is also an array of additional wildlife and vegetation to spot along the way as well as a few sink holes and ponds. A trail guide that corresponds with trail markers can be found at the NC Coastal Federation website.

Directions: The trail head is located directly across Hwy 24 from the NC Coastal Federation office in the small community of Ocean.

Contact: www.nccoast.org

Cedar Point Tideland Trail

Length: 1.3 miles

Overview: Catch beautiful views of the White Oak River and a distant glimpse of the town of Swansboro on this easy loop trail. Visitors will find a hardwood and pine forest with a variety of wading birds, osprey and ducks waiting in the nearby waters.

Directions: From Morehead City, take Hwy 24 to Cape Carteret and turn right on Hwy 58. About a mile down, turn left onto VFW Road. A trail head parking lot is located near the Cedar Point Campground.

Contact: www.fs.usda.gov

Emerald Isle Woods Trail

Length: 1.1 miles

Overview: This well-maintained trail is part of Emerald Isle Woods Park, a 41-acre recreational area off of Coast Guard Road in Emerald Isle. Expect beautiful views of Bogue Sound and the high-rise bridge and the chance to see deer, egrets, shore birds and woodpeckers. Additional amenities include disc golf, a floating dock, picnic pavilion and a floating dock.

Directions: From Morehead City, take Hwy 24 to Hwy 58, turning left to cross the B. Cameron Langston Bridge. At the first light, turn right onto Coast Guard Road, turning right just before reaching Deer Horn Dunes.

Contact: Emerald Isle Parks & Recreation, 252-354-6350.

Neusiok Trail

Length: 22 miles

Overview: The crown jewel of Carteret County’s hiking options and a testament to the hard work of the many volunteers who have participated in its maintenance, the Neusiok Trail winds more than 20 miles through sandy beaches, hardwood forests, cypress swamps, bogs and long leaf pine savannahs. The Neusiok, named after a tribe of Native Americans who made their home in the area, provides views of the Neuse and Newport rivers and has three shelters along its route. The easy to moderately difficult trail is home to a variety of wildlife and plants, including the elusive Venus flytrap. The site is part of the almost 1,000-mile long Mountains-to-Sea Trail which meanders from the Tennessee border to the ocean.

Directions: The north end of the trail is located at the Pine Cliff Picnic Area just off of Hwy 101. From Beaufort, turn right on Hwy 306 and follow along 3.3 miles to Forest Road 132. Turn left and go 1.7 miles to the picnic area. The south terminus is at Oyster Point, between Beaufort and Newport. Leaving Beaufort on Hwy 101, turn left on Old Winberry Road and right on Mill Creek Road. Oyster Point is on the left. There are several access points for the Neusiok Trail making it easy to break it up into small day hikes and several downloadable guides to help you chart your course.

Contact: Visit www.neusioktrail.org

Weetock Trail

Length: 11 miles

Overview: Located in the western end of the Croatan National Forest, the Weetock Trail is a favorite spot for bird watchers. In addition, a variety of rare plant species can be seen in the area, including locally-rare orchids. Moderately easy, the trail can get a bit wet at times, so hikers should be prepared if hiking after a rainy stretch. Primitive camping, a boat ramp and restrooms are available at the trail head at Haywood Landing.

Directions: From Morehead City, head south on Hwy 24, turning right on Hwy 58 in Cape Carteret. Travel 10 miles to Long Point Road and turn left. The trail begins at the intersection with Loopy Road. The other end of the trail is located on Hwy 58 across from Davis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church.

Contact: Visit www.neusioktrail.org/weetock

Willow Pond

Length: .1 mile to .8 mile

Overview: This collection of four short trails weave through the natural area surrounding the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum on Harkers Island. Take a short walk around Patsy Pond or follow the Soundside Loop up the shoreline. A great spot for bird watching, the trail offers remarkable views of wetlands and maritime woodlands.

Directions: The museum is located at the end of Island Road on Harkers Island. Follow Hwy 70 east through Down East Carteret County. Make a right on Harkers Island Road in Otway and follow it to the end. The museum is on the left hand side.

Contact: Visit www.coresound.com

Elliott Coues’ Trail

Length: 3.2 miles

Overview: This new addition to Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, loops through the maritime forest, marsh and sand dunes that abut the park. The moderate trail can be accessed through the fort’s beach access location or through the main parking area at the fort. It is accompanied by Yarrow’s Loop, a quarter-mile nature trail that offers information about the region’s common plants and animals.

Directions: Fort Macon is located at 2303 E. Fort Macon Road in Atlantic Beach. From Morehead City, cross the bridge to Atlantic Beach and turn left on Hwy 58/Fort Macon Road. The fort can be found at the end of the road.

Contact: www.ncparks.gov/fort-macon-state-park

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