Guide to Coastal North Carolina
Significant Natural Areas of the Southern NC Beaches

Southern Beaches

Families and day trippers may like the beaches of southeastern North Carolina a little better than the north from the convenience stand point. These beaches are generally much easier to get to and offer more of the traditional comforts that vacationers expect. There are still large undeveloped beaches to explore along this section of the coast as well as other attractions to keep the kids from getting bored.

Fort Macon State Park

Turn south on US 70 in Morehead City, crossing the bridge to Atlantic Beach. Turn left onto Highway 58 South. Open: November-February the bathhouse area is open from 8am-5:30 pm - the Fort area is open 8:00 am - 6:00 pm; March and October the bathhouse area is open from 8am-7pm - the Fort area is open 8 am - 6 pm; April, May, and September the bathhouse area is open 8:00 am-8:00 pm - the fort area is open 8:00 am - 7:00 pm; June-August the bathhouse area is open from 8:00 am-9:00 pm - the Fort is open 8:00 am - 8:00 pm.

Fort Macon State Park
PO Box 127
Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Telephone: Park office (252) 726-3775; Fax: (252) 726-2497


This restored Civil War fort sits at Beaufort Inlet just across from Shackleford Banks. Nature trail. Popular fishing spot with easy access to the inlet. Swimming and beachcombing. Museum.

The fort is intact and is the scene for historic reenactments.

NC Maritime Museum

Four blocks off Highway 70 East at 315 Front Street in Beaufort, NC Schedule: Open year round except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years

The NC Maritime Museum
315 Front Street
Beaufort, NC 28516
(252) 728-7317


This museum dedicates itself to North Carolina's nautical traditions and includes displays of seashells, mounted gamefish, waterfowl and decoys as well as watercraft, lighthouses, life saving and more. They are also involved in maintaining wooden boat building traditions and are currently archiving the artifacts being brought up from Beauford Inlet of the pirate Blackbeards' supposed ship, the "Queen Annes' Revenge".

The museum also features an excellent bookstore and giftshop.

They conduct a large number of workshops, research and field trips in environmental education.

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

1 Roosevelt Drive, Pine Knoll Shores, NC - five miles from Atlantic Beach on NC 58.Follow highway signs. Open: Open Unitl August 1999, then closed for remodeling until Spring 2001. 9:00 am - 5:00 pm weekdays and Saturday 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day

NC Aquarium-Pine Knoll Shores
Post Office Box 580
Atlantic Beach, NC28512
Phone Number: 252/247-4004 Fax Number: 252/247-0663


The aquarium exhibits a collection of unique and colorful fishes and marine animals native to North Carolina. The education program offers daily public programs including films, slide presentations, live animal demonstrations, marsh and beach walks. Fee programs include dredge and trawl trips, canoe trips, craft classes, etc. Special request programs are available to schools and other groups as staff and time permits. Quarterly public program calendars and education program guides are available.

Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area.

Adjacent to the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. Open: 9:00am-5:00pm Monday through Friday and 1:00pm-5:00pm Sunday.

Theodore Roosevelt State Rec Area
PO Box 127
Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Telephone: Park office (252) 726-3775; Fax (252) 726-2497.


A 265 acre nature preserve adjacent to the NC Aquarium, showcasing the Barrier Island ecosysytem, including maritime forest and marsh habitats. The marine habitat is a rich area for shellfish and abundant birdlife. Self-guiding nature trail.

Cedar Point Tideland Trail

Near Swansboro and Cape Carteret. From the intersection of NC 58 and NC 24, go north on NC 58 to Dudley Rd. and turn left.

USDA Forest Service
141 E. Fisher Avenue
New Bern, N.C. 28560
Phone (252) 638-5628.

The Cedar Point Tideland Trail, in the Croatan National Forest, offers an opportunity to view and understand the ecology of an estuary. Located at the mouth of the White Oak River across from Swansboro, North Carolina, this trail meanders through hardwood and pine forests, crossing tidal marsh areas on cypress boardwalks. Interpretive signs and wildlife viewing blinds along the trail help you experience the natural wonders of this special area, and observe the ecological balance of the estuary.

An estuary is the area at the lower end of a river where its fresh water meets sea water, and is influenced by tides. Ninety five percent of all ocean life either originates in or is dependent upon estuaries.

Hammocks Beach State Park

Bear Island. The mainland portion of Hammocks Beach State Park is located in Onslow County between Jacksonville and Morehead City. From Swansboro, SR 1511 (Hammocks Beach Road) leads to the park entrance adjacent to Queens Creek. From here, the passenger ferry departs for Bear Island. The island is also accessible by private boat or marine taxi service. Park Hours: September-May 8am-6pm; June-August 8am-7pm. Office hours: 8am-5pm Monday through Friday (October-April); 8am-5pm daily (May-September).

Hammocks Beach State Park
1572 Hammocks Beach Road
Swansboro NC 28584
Telephone: Park office (910) 326-4881; Island (910) 326-3553; FAX (910) 326-2060


Undisturbed Barrier Island ecosystem accessible only by boat or ferry, with visitation limited to how many people can cross on the ferry. A National Natural Landmark. This 3 mile long Barrier Island ecosystem features pristine dunes, salt marshes, tidal estuaries and maritime forests.

Many of the shells here are 7000-10,000 years old and are being uncovered as the island moves towards the mainland.

Camping is permitted with a permit on a first come - first served basis, but camping is restricted during the 3 days of the full moon of June, July and August for the benefit of the Loggerhead Turtles that nest here. There is a seasonally lifeguard protected beach with a bath house and picnic shelters.

It is an important nesting area for the Loggerhead Turtle.

North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve at Masonboro Island


Accessible by boat only with no facilities and no vehicles allowed. This is the largest undisturbed Barrier Island in the southern part of the state. It is an outdoor laboratory of salt marshes and mudflats. Shorebirds, including the rare piping plover and Loggerhead turtles.

This is an overwash island with hardly any dunes and wide beaches.

Carolina Beach State Park

Ten miles south of Wilmington off NC Highway 421. Park Hours: November-February 8am-6pm; March/October 8am-7pm; April, May, September 8am-8pm; June-August 8am-10pm.

Carolina Beach State Park
PO Box 475
Carolina Beach, NC 28428
Telephone: Park office (910) 458-8206; Marina (910) 458-7770; FAX (910) 458-6350


1773 acre state park along the Cape Fear River features coastal plain ecology and rare carniverous plants. Hiking trails, camping, swimming, fishing and boating.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Five miles south of Carolina Beach off US 421. Open: November-February 8am-6pm; March, October 8am-7pm; April, May, September 8am-8pm; June-August 8am-9pm.

Fort Fisher State Rec. Area
PO Box 243
Kure Beach, NC 28449
Telephone: Park office (910) 458-5798; FAX (910) 458-3722


A four mile stretch of undeveloped beach with 4-wheel drive access attracts many fishermen. Trails. Wildlife include many birds and Loggerhead Turtles.

Near the entrance are two exhibit buildings. One features the history of Ft. Fisher which was an important Civil War fort that saw a lot of action in defending the port of Wilmington and the other is an exhibit of Underwater Archealogy from the NC State Div. of Archives and History that houses underwater artifacts.

This is also an area that illustrates the effects of erosion very well. Much of the original area of the fort has been lost to the sea.

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Adjacent to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Post Office Box 130
Kure Beach, NC28449-0130
Phone Number: 910/458-8257; Education Department910/458-7468 Fax Number: 910/458-6812

Other NC Aquariums are located at Manteo, NC and at Pine Knoll Shores, NC.


The newly remodeled 84,000-square-foot building houses aquariums ranging from 11 gallons to 235,000 gallons, a touch tank, interactive exhibits, classrooms, meeting rooms, a large auditorium and a gift shop. Outside is a natural marsh area and nature trail. Exhibits feature marine life of the Cape Fear Coast and alligators.

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