Ecotourism in the Albemarle-Pamlico Region
Below is a list of ecoutourism destinations in the Albemarle-Pamlico Region. Listings may be searched using the map below and are also sorted by sub-region.
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Currituck Banks National Estuarine Research Reserve
Corolla, N.C., (252) 261-8891
This 965-acre site’s habitats include beach, sand dunes, grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, brackish and freshwater marshes, tidal flats and subtidal soft bottoms. N.C. 12 leads to an ocean beach ramp within the reserve site, but parking is allowed only on the beach. The reserve also may be reached by boat via Currituck Sound. All-terrain vehicle trails and footpaths crisscross the site, particularly the southern portion. The Erin Crowell Memorial Boardwalk leads to an observation deck on the Currituck Sound.
Currituck National Wildlife Refuge
Corolla, N.C., (252) 429-3100
A satellite of Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, this 4,570-acre refuge is at the northern portion of Currituck Sound. Occasional nesting sites for threatened piping plover and loggerhead sea turtle are present. Habitats include sandy beaches, grassy dunes, maritime forest, shrub thicket, fresh and brackish marshes. County ordinance designates a “wild” horse sanctuary from Corolla to Virginia state line. No facilities or public roads.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Manteo, N.C. (252) 473-5772
A reconstructed earthwork fortification marks the site of America’s first English settlement. The complex features a museum, film, exhibits, nature trail and interpretation by National Park Service staff. Free. Just north of the fort is the Waterside Theater, where “The Lost Colony,” the country’s oldest outdoor symphonic drama, is performed in summer. For information, visit www.thelostcolony.org.
Nags Head, N.C. (252) 255-1501
This 1,000 –foot, all-concrete public pier at Whalebone Junction is managed as an educational outpost for the NC Aquarium. It is a replacement for the original Jennette’s Pier, which opened in 1939 but most recently incurred major damage from Hurricane Isabel in 2005. The pier, open year-round, has exhibit and classroom space as well as a store. Fee charged.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Nags Head, N.C. (252) 441-7132
From atop the massive dunes at Jockey’s Ridge, visitors gain a sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States. The shifting dunes vary in height from 80 to 120 feet. The inhabitant racerunner lizard isn’t the only one scaling the dunes. Hang-gliding enthusiasts also ascend by the thousands to soar from the pinnacle. Park entrance is on the sound side of Nags Head at Mile Post 12 on US 158 Bypass.
Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve
Kitty Hawk, N.C. (252) 261-8891
This reserve includes 1,824 acres of a globally rare community: the maritime deciduous forest. Swamp forest and marsh provide opportunities for birding in the breeding season and fall migration. You might hear the uncommon Swainson’s warbler and spy the Acadian flycatcher and pileated woodpecker. Trails for hiking and horseback riding. Located at the widest part of Currituck Banks, it is accessible by SR 1206 (the Woods Road) and SR 1208 via the US 158 Bypass.
Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve
Kill Devil Hills, N.C. (252) 441-2525
One of the northern Outer Banks’ best-kept secrets, this 1,092-acre maritime forest with deciduous hardwoods is one the best remaining examples of this natural community in the mid-Atlantic. The pine-hardwood forest has trees up to 500 years old and an extensive system of dunes and wetlands. Freshwater ponds support turtles and salamanders and a diversity of floating plants, including the rare water violet. The fragile maritime forest is shielded from the Atlantic’s wind and salt spray by the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge. An extensive freshwater aquifer also contributes to the forest’s exceptional natural diversity. The preserve includes a visitor’s center and self-guided trail system. From U.S. 158, turn west near Mile Post 9 1/2 on Ocean Acres Drive and travel for 1 mile.
Oregon Inlet Fishing Center
N.C. 12, 8 miles south of Whalebone Junction
(252) 441-6301 or (800) 272-5199
The center is a full service marina at the north end of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge. The National Park Service maintains a free boat launch facility adjacent to and behind the center with parking for cars and trailers.
Roanoke Island Marshes Game Land
Manteo (Roanoke Sound), N.C.
The Nature Conservancy acquired, and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission owns, this tract—1,766 acres of the most undisturbed black needlerush marsh remaining in North Carolina. Many birders visit to add the state’s significantly rare black rail to their “life list.” Most see, rather than hear, this secretive bird. Visible from US 64 East over the bridge from Roanoke Island to the northern Outer Banks, the marsh is a popular feeding spot for river otter, wading birds and shorebirds. For a stationary view, turn south opposite Pirate’s Cove Marina to reach a parking area.
Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve
Buxton, N.C., (252) 261-8891
This 1,007-acre reserve includes a large part of the 2,500-acre Buxton Woods, the biggest stand of maritime forest on North Carolina’s barrier islands. The seaward edge of the forest is a shrub thicket dominated by live oak and red cedar. Within the forest are freshwater marsh ponds called sedges that support cattails, sawgrass, wild rice and spike rushes. At least 360 species of birds have been recorded. More than a dozen rare plant and animal species live here. An interpretive-loop hiking trail winds through the forest and passes a marsh and a section of the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail. A National Park Service campground is nearby at Cape Point.
National Park Service Campgrounds
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, (252) 473-2111
The National Park Service operates fee campgrounds April through October. There are 136 sites at Ocracoke, 202 sites at Cape Point, 127 sites at Frisco, and 120 sites at Oregon Inlet. Services include cold running water, flush toilets and trash disposal. For the most up-to date information, visit the website at www.nps.gov/caha and follow links to camping.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Hatteras Island, N.C. (252) 473-1131
Located at the north end of Hatteras Island, this premier birding refuge boasts more than 365 species. The refuge draws 2.7 million visitors annually. Refuge includes observation tower, platforms, public photo-blind, and a half-mile, fully handicapped-accessible trail, along with a visitor’s center with interpretive exhibits and concessions. Ten miles south of Nags Head on N.C. 12, the refuge stretches 13 miles from north to south and includes 5,834 acres of land and 25,700 acres of proclamation boundary waters. Habitat types include ocean beach, dunes, upland, fresh and brackish-water ponds, salt flats and salt marsh. The refuge harbors shorebird nesting and wading bird rookeries; a small number of sea turtles nest on the beachfront annually.
Fort Macon State Park
Atlantic Beach, N.C. (252) 726-3775
A brick Civil War fort is the showpiece of North Carolina’s most-visited state park. The pentagonal fort is surrounded on three sides by water—the Atlantic Ocean, Beaufort Inlet and Bogue Sound. Opportunities include tours of the fort, visiting the new LEED-certified Coastal Education and Visitor Center, salt marsh exploration, swimming and surf fishing. Fort is open daily. Free.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, (252) 728-2250
Portsmouth Village was established in 1753 and less than 20 years later, had become one of the largest settlements on the Outer Banks. Over the years, isolation, a depressed economy and hurricanes took their toll; the last residents departed in 1971. Exhibits interpret "lightering" (where cargo from heavy seafaring ships was unloaded onto smaller ships which could more easily navigate the shallow waters of the sound), community life, and survival in this village. Guided walking tours of Portsmouth Village are offered seasonally. Be prepared for primitive conditions. Public facilities are limited. Portsmouth Village is only accessible by boat. Ferry service from Ocracoke Island is available for a fee.
Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve
Beaufort, N.C., (252) 838-0890
Across Taylor’s Creek from the Beaufort waterfront, this complex of islands is on the sound side of Shackleford Banks. The reserve includes Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal and Horse Island. Middle Marsh is separated from the rest of the reserve by the North River channel. More than 200 species of birds have been observed here, including 23 that are rare or in decline. Traditionally a popular site to view feral horses, the reserve is about 100 yards across the channel by boat. Take a guided tour with Reserve staff, the N.C. Maritime Museum, select a local boat concession, or paddle on your own. A half-mile interpretive trail on the reserve’s western side and a boardwalk on Carrot Island offer opportunities to explore the island habitats on foot.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Off U.S. 64 and 264, 15 miles west of Manteo, N.C.
Outstanding wilderness occupies this former site of a failed “superfarm” and peat-mining enterprise. With the help of generous conservation gifts, the 154,000-acre refuge on mainland Dare and Hyde counties was established to protect and preserve pocosins, a unique type of “raised bog” wetland with evergreen shrubs and peat substrate. One of the last remaining strongholds for black bear on the Eastern Seaboard, the refuge is also a reintroduction site for endangered red wolves. Refuge programs include “howling safaris,” sunset and canoe tours, and dove and deer hunting. With over 1,000 miles of estuarine shoreline, many slow-moving blackwater streams, and 15 miles of marked paddling trails, the refuge is ideal for canoeing and kayaking. All refuge roads are unpaved.
Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge Coastal Reserve
Tyrrell County, (252) 796-3709
At 27,372 acres, Buckridge is the largest single property in the N.C. Coastal Reserve system and its only inland site. Located approximately 15 miles south of Columbia, the reserve is situated between Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. It is part of the East Dismal Swamp, a wetlands complex that encompasses more than 320,000 acres in Dare, Tyrrell and Washington counties. The reserve features non-riverine swamp forest with patches of peatland, Atlantic white cedar forests and pond pine woodlands. It contains habitat for many rare, endangered and threatened species, including the red wolf, bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, Atlantic and Shortnose sturgeons and American alligator. A remote area, it includes no public facilities. Visitors may hike on existing roads, except in hunting season mid-Oct. through Dec., or visit by boat via the Alligator River.
Edenton National Fish Hatchery
Edenton, N.C., (252) 482-4118
Established in 1898, this facility works to restore native and endangered fish populations. It features aquariums, exhibits, a boardwalk and paths around hatchery ponds.
Merchants Millpond State Park
Gatesville, N.C., (252) 357-1191
Ancient bald cypress trees and draping Spanish moss wrap around a 760-acre millpond nearly 200 years old. Southern swamp forest mingles with coastal pond habitat. Mats of water lilies and knobby cypress knees meet at the surface of the still, black water. The pond’s upper end contains a grove of 800-year-old bald cypress and the state’s largest tupelo tree. More than 160 species of birds have been recorded, and waterfowl abound in winter. Elusive inhabitants include black bear, bobcat, gray fox and river otter. The park features a wheelchair-accessible trail (Cypress Point). Canoes may be rented, and canoe camping is allowed on a small island; upland camping is also permitted.
Columbia, N.C., (919) 967-2223
The Palmetto-Peartree Preserve includes 10,000 acres of wetland forest in Tyrrell County. The preserve was established to protect and provide habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Once prevalent throughout the southeast, the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers has declined by 99% since European settlement due to habitat loss and degradation. The preserve is also home to other protected species including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator, and red wolf, more than 100 species of migratory birds and waterfowl, as well as bobcats, black bears, white tail deer, and a wide variety of plant species. Activities include wildlife observation, river camping, hiking, biking, riding, paddling, and fishing. Located 5 miles east of Columbia, north of Hwy 64. Operated by The Conservation Fund.
Pettigrew State Park
Creswell, N.C., (252) 797-4475
North Carolina’s second largest natural lake (16,600 acres) comprises the bulk of this state park. Nature, history and recreation reign at Lake Phelps, a Carolina bay that has yielded dugout canoes as old as the pyramids. Some of the largest specimens of shagbark hickory, bays, gums, poplars, pawpaws and other trees are found. The red wolf is an occasional visitor.
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
Columbia, N.C., (252) 796-3004
The lands of this 110,106-acre refuge were once the southern extremity of the Great Dismal Swamp. Today, the refuge protects a unique type of wetland called a pocosin, which features organic soils and evergreen shrub bogs. Wetland restoration is under way on nearly 20,000 acres, including re-establishment of Atlantic white cedars. Concentrations of ducks, geese, tundra swans, raptors and black bears are found here. Other wildlife species include American alligator, red and gray foxes, pygmy rattlesnake, bobcat, otter, beaver and red wolf. Activities include small game and deer hunting, fishing and wildlife observation.
Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge
Windsor, N.C., (252) 794-3808
Dubbed one of the “last great places” by The Nature Conservancy, this refuge protects 20,978 acres and along with partner properties protects the largest intact and least-disturbed bottomland hardwood forest in the mid-Atlantic. The refuge boasts some of the state’s largest numbers of white-tailed deer and wild turkey. The swamp forests contain the highest diversity of breeding birds in North Carolina’s coastal plain: at least 220 species in all, with 88 breeding species, including 44 neo-tropical migrants. With tracts along 70 miles of Roanoke River, the refuge also hosts concentrations of wintering waterfowl, nesting ducks, raptors and osprey. The refuge contains the largest inland heron rookery in the state. Activities include fishing, hunting by special permit, and hiking and canoe trails. Natural river levees and trails off Highway 13/17 offer good bottomland birding opportunities and the only vehicle access. The Roanoke River Canoe Trail includes platform camping in the swamp. For information, call Roanoke River Partners at (252) 792-0070 or visit www.roanokeriverpartners.org
Scuppernong River Interpretive Boardwalk
Columbia, N.C., (252) 796-3008
A handicapped-accessible boardwalk affords a great view of the Scuppernong River and its natural features. The 0.75 mile loop wanders from the Walter B. Jones, Sr. Center for the Sounds through a cypress swamp, and along the Scuppernong River, with an extension leading into downtown Columbia. Operated by Partnership for the Sounds. Free.
Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge
Swan Quarter, N.C., (252) 225-2511
The main feature of this 14,480-acre refuge is an extensive, relatively undisturbed coastal marsh at the confluence of Pamlico and Core sounds. Black needlerush marshes provide breeding habitat for the secretive black rail. The refuge hosts concentrations of ducks, wading birds and shorebirds. Visitors can best appreciate the refuge’s marshes and bird life by canoe or kayak. Other activities include fishing and waterfowl hunting. The refuge is 40 miles northeast of Beaufort, accessible by U.S. 70 and N.C. 12. Two boat ramps, located by the Ferry Station at the north end of the island and at the end of the three-mile Lola Road to the south, provide access to the sound and bay.
Goose Creek State Park
Washington, N.C., (252) 923-2191
Towering oaks and cypresses line the broad, lazy Goose Creek, which joins brackish marshes of sawgrass and black needlerush up to 8 feet tall on the Pamlico River. Activities include primitive camping, picnicking, swimming, hiking and canoeing (marked trails). The park is 6 miles from historic Bath, North Carolina’s oldest incorporated town.
Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
New Holland, N.C., (252) 926-4021
The state’s largest natural lake (40,000 acres) occupies the majority of this 50,180-acre refuge. Lake Mattamuskeet is 18 miles long and 6 miles wide. Thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, tundra swans and 18 species of ducks spend winter here, drawn by its shallow depth. The refuge is home to 240 bird species. Opportunities for waterfowl viewing include a 5-milelong Wildlife Drive bordering the lake’s southern shore and an overlook on Highway 94 with spotting scope. Limited permits are available by lottery for deer and waterfowl hunting. Visitors may fish for largemouth bass, white perch, crappie, sunfish, catfish and blue crabs on the lake and canals. The grounds include biking and hiking trails and a historic lodge and pumping station. Headquarters entrance road is off Highway 94, just north of U.S. 264 between Swan Quarter and Engelhard.
Swanquarter National Wildlife Refuge
Swan Quarter, N.C., (252) 926-4021
This 16,411-acre refuge sits on the north shore of Pamlico Sound. An extensive coastal marsh provides habitat for ducks, wading birds and shorebirds. The refuge is accessible only by boat, with the exception of an area off US 264 two miles west of Swan Quarter. A fishing pier and canoe/kayak put-in area with parking are 6 miles west of the town, accessible by a 2-mile gravel access road. Opportunities include fishing, crabbing, wildlife observation and waterfowl hunting. Tens of thousands of canvasback, scaup, bufflehead, redhead and ruddy ducks are visible in winter from the Swan Quarter/Ocracoke ferry as it passes along the refuge.
Clemmons Educational State Forest
Clayton, N.C., (919) 553-5651
The first of North Carolina’s Educational State Forests was established here in 1977. The grounds feature self-guided trails through pine and hardwood forests, streams and rock formations, exhibits, including “talking trees,” and ranger-conducted classes. Open mid-March through mid-November. Free.
Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
Seven Springs, N.C., (919) 778-6234
In Lenoir County, the Neuse River has carved a 100-foot canyon—a unique feature on a coastal plain river. The towering bluff of sedimentary rock is the namesake of this park southeast of Goldsboro. Activities include, hiking, fishing and free ranger-led programs. Camping, boating and swimming available for a fee.
Medoc Mountain State Park
Hollister, N.C., (252) 586-6588
The core of a once mighty range of mountains, Medoc Mountain reaches an elevation of only 325 feet. Its northern and western faces have steep slopes, dropping 160 feet over a distance of less than one-quarter mile. Such rugged terrain is unusual for the eastern Piedmont. The rare Carolina mudpuppy, a large aquatic salamander found only in the Neuse and Tar river systems, has been seen in the park’s Little Fishing Creek. Activities include camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking and interpretive programs.
Neuseway Nature Park
Kinston, N.C., (252) 939-3367
Situated on 55 acres of land along the Neuse River in Kinston, the Neuseway Nature Park features a Nature Center with wildlife exhibits, nature trails and a saltwater touch tank, Planetarium, Health & Science Museum, fishing ponds, a miniature train ride (small fee charged) and picnic area. Enjoy camping, hiking, fishing, biking, picnicking and canoeing. Free admission.
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences
Raleigh, N.C., (919) 733-7450 or toll free (877) 4NATSCI
Four floors of exhibits explore the nature of North Carolina’s diverse geography, geology, plants and animals. The museum explores many of the Coastal and Piedmont habitats found in the Albemarle-Pamlico region. Free.
River Park North
Greenville, N.C., (252) 329-4560
A 324 acre nature park offering a variety of activities including pedal boating, wildlife observation, camping, a fossil pit, picnicking, hiking, fishing, and the Walter L. Stasavich Science & Nature Center. The Nature Center features a 10,000 gallon freshwater aquarium, live animals, and interactive exhibits.
Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park
Scotland Neck, N.C., (252) 826-3186
The 18-acre facility features large, walk-through aviaries displaying birds from South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Tranquil gardens and lush natural areas enhance the beauty of the birds on exhibit. The Park's newest attractions, including the Bird's Nest Treehouse and Beaver Pond Blind, showcase the fascinating world of Eastern North Carolina's native animals and plants. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Admission charged.
Goldsboro, N.C., (919) 778-6234
Fish, hike or picnic while enjoying the history of Waynesboro. A hiking and nature trail system passes along the Neuse and Little Rivers and is part of the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Virginia Beach, Va., (757) 301-7329
This 9,250-acre refuge is located along a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands, flanked by the Atlantic on the east and the fresh waters of Back Bay on the west. About 10,000 snow geese and a variety of ducks visit during peak fall migration. It is also home to threatened and endangered species like loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
False Cape State Park
Virginia Beach, Va., (757) 426-7128
Located in southern Virginia Beach, False Cape State Park is a mile-wide barrier spit between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and one of the last undisturbed coastal environments on the East Coast. Personal access is through the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and is limited to foot traffic, bicycle or boat. Hike or bike in via the beach or interior trails, or boat through Back Bay. During the season, a special beach vehicle, “the Terra Gator,” transports tourists, and a round-trip tram from Little Island City Park will carry visitors for a one-hour exploration of the Barbour Hill area. Primitive camping is permitted at 12 sites; reservations are required. Wash Woods Environmental Center, a converted waterfowl hunting clubhouse, offers ecological study opportunities for day and overnight groups.