At the end of April, I was invited to tour North Carolina’s Crystal Coast area, spending several days birding and enjoying the sights. I spent one day Birding by Boat with Crystal Coast Ecotours (read about it here). Back on dry land, I found plenty more to see and do… read on to learn more.
Even on dry land, you’re never far from water when you’re on the Crystal Coast, at the southern end of North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks. Whether you’re combing the beach, walking a nature trail, or touring America’s Coolest Small Town, the influence of the ocean is all around, and wildlife is everywhere. Below are some ways to explore the area, along with photo highlights. To view more pictures from my Crystal Coast trip, click here.
Visit the Islands: The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands just offshore from the mainland, and along the Crystal Coast many are accessible by bridge or ferry. Some, like Emerald Isle, contain vacation communities full of restaurants and rental homes. Others, like Shackleford, are left to the winds and waves, and these are the places where birds, butterflies, and more are just waiting to be discovered. Take a hike over the sand dunes, wander the shorelines, and keep your eyes open – wild horses are always just around the corner.
Take a Walk: Nature trails abound along the Crystal Coast. Visit Cape Lookout Lighthouse and walk the trails nearby to see shorebirds aplenty. On the mainland, Croatan National Forest is the only true coastal forest in the east, and offers an astounding 1,600 miles of hiking trails. Fort Macon State Park blends Civil War history with amazing scenic views. Hidden gems are everywhere in the Crystal Coast, like the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Trail, found behind the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. The 1.2 mile trail takes you through a maritime forest, saltwater marsh, and along Bogue Sound. Birding here is great – in about 90 minutes, we spotted or heard 25 species, including Indigo Buntings, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and Brown Thrashers.
Explore the Heritage: North Carolina is rich in history, and the Crystal Coast is no exception. Learn more about this area’s heritage by visiting the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum on Harker’s Island, or the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Speaking of Beaufort, it was recently voted Coolest Small Town in America by Budget Travel magazine, and its historic district contains a home rumored to have been used by Blackbeard – yup, the pirate! The upcoming Old Homes & Gardens Tour in late June would be a great time to visit.
Jill’s Tip: When you’re choosing local restaurants for dining, be sure to ask if they participate in the Cartaret Catch program. Fishing has been important to the Crystal Coast for hundreds of years, and the Cartaret Catch program recognizes restaurants that focus on serving local seafood. We loved Amos Mosquito’s in Atlantic Beach, which offers at least two varieties of fresh local fish each night.
With just a few days to explore the area, I was really only able to scratch the surface. If you enjoy the Crystal Coast of North Carolina as much I did, take a moment to drop by the comments section below and offer some recommendations of great places or activities I may have missed!