No matter where a visitor lands in the Crystal Coast, Down East, or Inner Banks regions, chances are that they are remarkably close to the Croatan National Forest. This massive parcel of land that expands for more than 159,000 acres is a paradise for hikers, campers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and anyone who enjoys a walk on the wild side, and is a fascinating component of the North Carolina coastline that simply adds to its inherently natural character.
About the Croatan National Forest
The Croatan National Forest covers a little more than 159,000 acres of land in the eastern region of North Carolina, with New Bern acting as its northern border, and Morehead City and Swansboro acting as its southern border, respectively. The large parcel of terrain is bordered on three sides by rivers or large bodies of water – including the Bogue Sound, the Neuse River, and the White Oak River – and is close to several major communities along the Crystal Coast region, including Morehead City, New Bern, and Havelock.
Considering how vast this area is, it should come as no surprise that the habitats and ecosystems within the Croatan National Forest are decidedly unique and nicely varied. The forest is home to pine forests, saltwater estuaries, bogs, and raised swamps which are locally known as pocosins, and the tidal rivers and sound borders allows this landscape to change regularly, especially near the coastline.
The resulting landscape makes the Croatan National Forest a haven for a diverse array of wildlife including deer, black bears, turkeys, migrating and wading birds, ospreys, and even alligators. A wide array of unique plant life is found in the area as well, such as live oaks, wildflowers, and even a scattering of carnivorous plants including Venus fly-traps, sunders and pitcher plants.
Simply put, the Croatan National Forest as a paradise for animals, plant life, and even humans, which is why the region welcomes thousands of visitors every year who want to enjoy a full vacation of camping, kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, and just enjoying the beautifully wild scene.
Recreation Sites Within the Croatan National Forest
Visitors who want to explore the Croatan National Forest in detail will find a number of recreation sites with picnic areas, hiking trails, kayak launching points, campsites, or all of the above. Check out these recreation destinations where a myriad of activities and outdoor fun are waiting.
Brice Creek Boat Launch – Located close to New Bern, this site that’s situated on the edge of Brice Creek features picnic areas, restrooms, and a courtesy dock and boat ramp for mariners or kayakers. The area is a popular spot for paddling, boating, and fishing along the water’s edge, and offers incredible views of the Trent River and Brice Creek just a few miles away from New Bern.
Cahooque Creek Boat Launch – Close to Havelock and the Cherry Point Marine Air Corps base, this boat launch connects with both the smaller and calm Cahooque Creek, as well as the much wider waters of the Neuse River. The site features parking, restrooms, a courtesy dock, and a boat ramp that can accommodate vessels of varying sizes.
Cedar Point Recreation Area – This expansive site that’s located on the western edge of the inland Crystal Coast, and which is close to the towns of Cedar Point and Swansboro, has a lot to offer visitors. The site has a total of 40 designated campsites, a picnic area, restrooms as well as seasonal showers, drinking water, and a dump station for visitors who want to stay for a weekend or more. Electrical hook-ups are also available at all campsites, and the Recreation Area can accommodate both tent campers and RV visitors. In addition, the Cedar Point Recreation Area has a nice locale on the edge of the White Oak River, and offers ample fishing and boating opportunities via a boat ramp and a separate hand launch area for kayaks and canoes. Finally, the site has multiple hiking trials, and serves as the official trailhead for the Tidelands National Recreation Trail.
Dixon Field Boat Launch – This small launching site near the tiny town of Maysville along US Highway 17 features a kayak launching area that connects with a skinny segment of the White Oak River. The site also has restrooms available, as well as parking for visitors.
Fishers Landing Picnic Area – This site that’s just south of New Bern is a popular day-trip destination for visitors who want to explore the Neuse River. The “Picnic Area” features drinking water, picnic tables, and restrooms, as well as easy access to a local riverfront beach which is a popular destination for fishing, swimming, and general splashing around.
Haywood Landing Boat Launch – Close to the small town of Maysville and US Highway 17, this boat launch that borders the White Oak River features a courtesy dock for visitors, as well as a scenic picnic area, public restrooms, and ample parking for mariners.
Long Point Boat Launch – This launch that serves as another option for inland visitors who want to explore the White Oak River is also close to the town of Maysville, and offers a hand launching area that’s ideal for kayaks and canoes. Camping is also allowed at designated campsites, and the site also features restrooms and parking.
Neuse River / Flanners Beach Recreation Area – This spot that’s about 12 miles south of New Bern is one of the most popular destinations for visitors of the Croatan National Forest. The site features 40 camping sites for tent campers and / or RVs, (which includes 24 sites with electricity hook-ups), as well as restrooms, drinking water, seasonal showers, and ample picnic areas. The area is best known for its sunny beach, which is a popular spot for fishing and swimming, as well as its hiking and biking trails that cut through a scenic section of the National Forest.
Oyster Point Campground – This small campground that’s close to Newport and Morehead City features just 15 campsites, but also offers a wealth of recreational facilities. The site fishes a canoe launching area as well as fishing access, showers, restrooms and drinking water, and hiking trails thanks to its on-site trailhead for the Neusiok and the Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail.
Pine Cliff Picnic Area – This recreation spot that’s close to Havelock features ample picnic areas which includes covered showers, public restrooms, and ample fishing, swimming, and hiking opportunities. The site is close to a local riverfront beach along the wide Neuse River, and it also serves as a trailhead for Neusiok / Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail. This destination even has horse trails, which are available at the adjacent Pine Cliff Road.
With ample options for camping, outdoor recreation, and gorgeous scenery, the recreation sites within the Croatan National Forest are as diverse as the forest itself. Take a detour to any of these spots that are relatively close to major NC destinations to discover how enticing the Croatan National Forest and the wild “Inner Banks” region can be.
Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Croatan National Forest
- Unless areas have “No Camping” signs, camping is allowed in the majority of undeveloped areas of the Croatan National Forest. Several designated campgrounds, however, may require reservations and / or a small fee. Visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid-48466 for details.
- Guided paddling trips of the region may be offered by local watersports companies in New Bern, Swansboro, and even Morehead City. Check out local listings for details.
- The birdwatching within the Croatan National Forest is exceptional, and there are several sites within the 159,000 acres that are designated points along the NC Birding Trail. Embark on a nature hike or head to the waterfront for the best views.
- Bug spray is a must for summer visitors to the Croatan National Forest, as is sturdy shoes for walkers and hikers. Watch for snakes, ticks, and the rare but occasionally spotted alligators while exploring.
- There are a number of hiking trails that cut through large sections of the Croatan National Forest, such as the 21-mile long Neusiok Trail. For more information on hiking destinations, and other points of interest, check out the official Forest Service map at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5403940.pdf.
The Croatan National Forest is a sprawling destination that virtually all Inner Banks or Crystal Coast visitors will encounter at some point during their travels through the coastal North Carolina region. Diverse and naturally entertaining, a visit to the Croatan National Forest is a great way to enjoy the coastline’s wild nature at its very best.