A Day of Sand Worn Trails at Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park is the perfect respite for campers and hikers and campers who love to hike, in Wilmington, NC area! The state park contains almost 9 miles of trails leading visitors through a wide variety of ecosystems that seem to melt into one another. Even with a watchful eye toward local flora and fauna I would occasionally be surprised that we were suddenly hiking through a swamp. Eagerly trotting along we explored an eastern coastal forest full of swamps, sand ridges, savannas, and pocosins while taking in a brilliantly new collection of plants and animals different from those in Pennsylvania.

After settling into our campsite, Derek and I found the Campground Trail right around a curve along the figure-eight. We decided to take a closer look at the campground and state park maps. Campers can delight to take note that several marked paths conveniently lead straight out of the campground, making it easy to connect with the main trail system or gather information at the visitor center. We had a great time walking out the front door, just to jump right onto the trail! During our stay at the park, we were able to hike most of the trails at least once. Each trail is marked with a unique color and shape.

Campground Trail - 1 mile loop - Easy - Blue Circle

This is one trail accessible from the campground, and was located very close to our site. Campground Trail can also be accessed from the Visitor Center parking lot or Sugarloaf Trail. The loop begins and ends at the visitor center, while also connecting to the Sugarloaf Trail. Coarse, sandy soil of this coastal sand ridge forest is perfect for growing longleaf pines and live oaks who seem to compete with one another for sunshine.

Snow’s Cut Trail - .75 miles one way - Easy - Red Diamond

We did not have a chance to visit Snow’s Cut Trail, the second trail with campground access. From the campground this trail leads to a picnic area near the marina and follows along Snow’s Cut. Large hardwood pines and views of the water can be seen along the hike.

Sugarloaf Trail - 3 mile loop - Easy - Orange Circle

While this trail begins at the marina parking lot, we actually jumped onto it from Campground Trail after stopping at the Visitor Center. I thought of Sugarloaf Trail as the heart of the park’s trail system, that in some way connected to each of the paths. Along the trail we stopped at three very unique limesink ponds. Each pond was home to a distinct vegetation and respectively called Cypress Pond, Lily Pond, and Grass Pond. Journeying through coastal forests, sandy-soiled forests, cypress swamps, and longleaf pine savannas we trekked onward to geological wonder and historical site- Sugarloaf Dune. Sugarloaf, a 50-foot sand dune with views of the Cape Fear River, was originally given its name in 1663 because it looked like a mound of crystallized sugar. The dune served as an important marker for river pilots since 1663 and was used strategically during the siege of Fort Fisher to house around 5,000 Confederate soldiers. Before Carolina State Park was established in 1969, Sugarloaf was open to the general public. The overuse led to major erosion to the dune’s fragile ecosystem. Now fences and designated pathways help maintain a healthy balance.

Oak Toe Trail - 0.25 miles one way - Easy - Blue Diamond

Oak Toe Trail spurs off Sugarloaf Trail taking visitors to a marsh overlook. Although we did not hike this trail, we discovered it leads to an overlook surrounded by brackish marsh with views of the Cape Fear River.

Swamp Trail - 0.75 miles one way - Easy - Red Circle

After spending some time at Sugarloaf Dune, we veered off the Sugarloaf Trail and onto Swamp Trail. This trails begins and ends along Sugarloaf trail; it provided a nice through way to the Flytrap Trail where we wanted to search for venus flytraps. This trail provides access to group camping areas and is a nice spot to stop for lunch or a bathroom break if no campers are present. Views of swamp and mash can be seen along the trail. While the whole park is a birding oasis, we saw the largest variety of birds in this area!

Flytrap Trail - 0.5 mile loop - Easy - Orange Diamond

A must hike trail, and location to the Carnivorous Plant Walk, the Flytrap Trail does not disappoint! This nature trail loop leads through pocosin wetlands, cypress swamp, and longleaf pine savannas. In several locations along the trail visitors travel atop wooden boardwalks to help maintain a healthy and natural ecosystem. We did find ourselves wishing for bug repellent while hunting for venus flytraps, native only within 60 to 70 miles of Wilmington, and other carnivorous plants along the walk. Even though venus flytraps can be seen along the edges of pocosins, we weren’t didn’t have any luck in finding one (unless the display at the Visitor Center counts). However, Derek and I did find a pitcher plant on one boardwalk near a habitat rehabilitation zone. Carnivorous plants have some fascinating adaptations! Since the soil in the area is often saturated, decay is difficult to achieve. The lack of decay creates a scarcity of nitrogen in the soil, which plants typically need to grow. Venus flytraps and other insectivorous plants adapted to collect nitrogen by catching and digesting insects! We were excited to see a pitcher plant this time out, but I would highly recommend taking advantage of the ranger led tours each Saturday and Sunday morning to have an over the top experience.

Hiking these trails was an energizing and enriching experience with nature! We spent an entire day hiking, then went back to enjoy some trails over again in the following days. If you find yourself in Wilmington, NC area, make sure to lace up your boots and take a trip to Carolina Beach State Park! To read about the rest of our trip to Wilmington [click here].


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