Croatan National Forest
May 13, 2019
Croatan National Forest. I bet it’s really a neat place to camp and hike.
Someday, we hope to find out.
Located in eastern North Carolina near New Bern, Croatan National Forest offers hiking, boating, and camping. The park bordered on two sides by water – the Neuse River and the Bogue Sound – is known for its carnivorous plants (e.g. Venus fly trap, pitcher plant). It is home to black bear and rattlesnakes. And it is the about as far north as the American Alligator is likely to roam. All this makes it sound like the perfect spot for some adventure.
With 159,00 acres, it is 80% the size of Dallas, Texas. There is more than one entrance into the park, so it is important to check the park map to see which of the seven recreation areas has the activities you seek. We chose the Pine Cliff Recreation area.
Our goal was to day-hike a section of the Neusiok Trail. We were determined to get some miles on our legs in preparation for an upcoming Grand Canyon hike. The Neusiok Trail, part of the 1100+ mile Mountains-to-Sea route, offers over 20 miles of hiking. Flat, but trail nonetheless. Perfect.
Our trip, however, became a demonstration of a travel fail.
We had forgotten our loaded backpacks.
That’s OK. We had small daypacks and our hiking boots. Onward.
Passing the sign for the Flanners Beach entrance, we laugh at the “closed until further notice” sign. That isn’t our destination. We are headed to the Pine Cliff Recreation area. Onward.
One-hundred yards after turning into our area, we encounter a barrier with a “Closed to all traffic” sign. The road to our trailhead is closed.
We pull into the equestrian parking area. We attempt to open the national forest website. Is the road closed to hikers as well? We have no cell service.
The horse trails are open. There is only one horse trailer in the lot so we decide to hike the equestrian trails instead. Onward.
Walking over to the billboard near the trailhead, we expect to get a map of the Croatan National Forest trails. There are no printed maps. The broken glass in the billboard reveals a blank board. Whatever large map may have existed is missing. We’ll just follow the hoof prints. Onward.
Not far from the start, the trail splits. Should we follow the Red, Blue or Yellow trail? We chose Blue, hoping the B stood for bears. Onward.
The scenery is pleasant. The secluded trail is well-maintained with only a few boot-sucking spots. Other than two pick-up trucks illegally off-roading, there are no sounds of traffic. Onward.
The tree reflections in the tannin-colored pocosin bog (e.g. black-water swampy areas) make for interesting photos. We aren’t botanists so perhaps we overlooked them, but we spot zero meat-eating plants. Onward.
The bears are hiding. In fact, most of the wildlife is out-of-sight. A glimpse of a black racer snake and one camera-loving five-lined skink are all we spot.
Well, unless you count flies as animals. There were plenty of those. Welcome to eastern North Carolina in the spring. In the far depths of the daypack, we find some insect repellent. Onward.
The blue trail takes us to the Neuse River. After scaring off a heron on the beach with our arrival, we check our phones. We have cell service. Hurrah! Let’s see if the blue trail is a loop or an out-and-back.
But the national forest website is down for maintenance. No official park map for us. Google map shows we are near the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. But it won’t show us where the blue trail goes. Sigh. We decide to retrace our steps rather than continue on a trail that may or may not be a loop. Onward.
Reaching our van, we encounter a group of hikers returning from the direction of the “closed” sign. They are the only people we encounter during our 2-hour hike. We call that peaceful.
All-in-all, Croatan National Forest looks like it has great potential for playtime and exploring — once the hurricane repairs are complete. It is undoubtedly a region of environmental significance for preservation. We look forward to revisiting the park and updating this post in the future.
If you decide to go, call the Croatan National Forest headquarters to see what is open. Their website is tough to navigate. Trail closure alerts are not always evident, timely or accurate on the website.
If you need camping outside the park, check out Bright Star Farm. And for a picnic lunch to take with you to the park, stop by The Sea Glass Cafe in New Bern. You can’t go wrong with their roasted chicken or hummus sandwiches.
- Trip date: April 2019
- Name: Croatan National Forest
- Location: eastern NC, near New Bern North Carolina. Seven recreation areas to choose from – parking locations vary.
- Cost: Free for day use. Fees for camping and some other activities