When it comes to stunning scenery, New Bern is certainly hard to beat. Straddling the Neuse and Trent Rivers, this coastal community is renowned for its brilliant waterfront views in every direction, as well as its historic downtown scene where the waterfront is almost overshadowed by the variety of historical structures and sights.
To make the most out of a scene-stealing vacation, make sure that you check out these top destinations for a waterfront sunset, a little birdwatching, or just a breath of fresh air with a stellar backdrop.
Downtown New Bern’s Top Scenic Spots
Visitors don’t have to venture very far to find stunning scenery, thanks to these destinations that are located in the heart of the historical downtown area.
Union Point Park is arguably downtown New Bern’s most popular destination for sightseers, thanks to a central locate that hugs the borders of both the Neuse and Trent Rivers. The site features a spacious gazebo, boat launch, grassy picnic areas, and a line of benches that overlook the water. A wooden boardwalk is also located on site, as well as a well-tended walkway that hugs the waterfront and is easy to access.
Located on the southern borders of the downtown area, Lawson Creek Park is a pretty and spacious park on the edge of the Trent River that features multiple boat launches, fishing piers, and vantage points of the outlying bridges and local wildlife. Birdwatching and fishing are both popular pastimes in the park, and the walking trail encompasses a number of local plant species and native foliage, as well as incredible water views.
Step past the impressive main entrance of this sprawling complex, and head to the back of the property for stunning views of the intersection of the Trent and Neuse Riverfronts. A small boardwalk / walkway is perched on the edge of the water, providing a fine vantage point for sightseers and photographers.
The impressive façade of this replica of the 1700s governor’s mansion is impressive enough, but visitors will enjoy the best vantage points of this iconic attraction from entering the complex, and exploring the on-site gardens. Spanning for 16 acres, the gardens at Tryon Palace include period formal gardens from throughout the centuries, which produces plenty of seasonal blooms for plant lovers.
Head to the heart of town and look up to catch a glimpse of the iconic clock tower that can be seen from miles away, and which marks the top of the New Bern City Hall. Established in 1897, the clock tower is still one of the most recognizable sites in the downtown region.
New Bern Historic District
The New Bern Historic District comprises of nearly 500 different structures, and can be admired and enjoyed via any downtown stroll. Look for stand-out residences like the Attmore-Oliver House and John C. Stanly house, unique public museums and buildings like the New Bern Academy, and / or markers and plaques that indicate a site’s significance. Downtown explorers will also want to pause and admire the “New Bern Bears” which are individually painted and decorated, and which are scattered throughout the city.
Scenic Spots Outside the Downtown Area
The Glenburnie Park is a sprawling public park just outside the downtown area which is known as one of the largest public parks in the region. Outfitted with a number of sports complexes and facilities, sightseers will want to venture past the playing fields to the Neuse River waterfront, where a boat ramp and fishing pier / dock can be found. This vantage point overlooking the water is a convenient destination for birdwatching, as well as open river views in a moderately populated setting.
This component of the Croatan National Forest is found just a few miles south of New Bern, and is a popular destination for picnicking, camping, fishing, kayaking, and just enjoying the water. Featuring a sandy and rocky beach, visitors can enjoy miles of open water views as well as an opportunity to enjoy the relics of a Cypress Forest, with stumps that are barely poking out of the water.
The Neuse River Recreation Area is another waterfront component of the Croatan National Forest, and is located just south of New Bern along the Neuse River. This extensive site features multiple walking and biking trails, a sandy beach, fishing and boating areas, and even an on-site campground – the Flanners Beach campground – which makes it a tempting destination for day-trippers and long-term campers alike. Views within the Recreation Area include open water vistas, marshes and cypress forests, thick woods, and veritably everything in between.
Bypass the sports fields and batting cages, and head to the western edge of Creekside Park for scenic and wild vistas overlooking a nicely quiet section of Brices Creek. This portion of the park features a short but pretty nature trail, a launch for kayaks and canoes, and a fishing area / overlook adjacent to the water that’s a great spot for bird and wildlife watching in an unpopulated corner of southern New Bern.
The new-in-2011 Latham Whitehurst Nature Park features 133 acres of terrain as well as several walking trails that range from .16 to .8 miles, which can be combined to produce a scenic and vigorous hike. Sightseers will also want to pause at the 2,000 ft. dock which overlooks Broad Creek, and which features a fishing area, a canoe and kayak launch, and a waterfront observation area. Signage is available near the waterfront region indicating wildlife and plant species of interest, and two restrooms facilities are located within the park as well.
Head west for a little less than 30 miles, and you’ll come across one of the most scenic small towns in coastal North Carolina – Oriental, NC. This small community which is known as a hotbed for sailors and mariners has a modest sized but distinctive downtown area with waterfront restaurants, diverse shops, and miles of views. Head to South Ave. or Midyette Street on the edge of the waterfront to take in the scene and enjoy lovely vistas of the abundant creeks that ease into the Neuse River.
The small town of Washington, NC is found roughly a 45 minute drive north from New Bern, and is a picturesque community with a downtown scene that revolves around the water. For the best views, head to the Pamlico Riverfront and / or the North Carolina Estuarium, where a nice boardwalk hugs the water’s edge, and even hovers over the slow-paced river waters. For more expansive views, sign up for one of the Estuarium’s 45-minute boat tours, which are regularly offered throughout the warm weather months.
Head 35 miles south through the Croatan National Forest to discover another cool downtown of the coastal variety in Morehead City. This hopping port town has an expansive waterfront that’s teeming with vessels and maritime based-businesses of all varieties, as well as a selection of waterfront restaurants and pubs. For the best views, head to the central Jaycee Park, which overlooks the harbor and outlying Sugarloaf Island, and which features plenty of benches and waterfront seating.
The historic town of Beaufort, NC is another unique coastal small town destination that will charm visitors with its central locale along Taylor’s Creek and the outlying Rachel Carson Reserve and Back Sound. Visitors will want to start their scenic exploration with a waterfront stroll along Front Street, where a long boardwalk that’s bordered by countless shops and restaurants can be found. For a more thorough exploration, embark on a water taxi or cruise to discover the Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore, and enjoy an opportunity to spot the famed wild Banker Ponies in their natural setting, as well as the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
The coastal town of Atlantic Beach is roughly an hour drive away, and this sunny destination has ample places for day trippers to park and explore at their leisure. Spend a day at the centrally located Circle, which is a spacious public beach and parking area found just off the Atlantic Beach Causeway, and which features seasonal lifeguards, an on-site playground, and miles of open ocean views. For a little more privacy, head east along Fort Macon Road, and enjoy the undeveloped natural surroundings of Fort Macon State Park. Parking areas are located en route to the historic fort site, as well as at the site itself where beautiful vistas of the Beaufort Inlet are best enjoyed.
Tips and Tricks for finding and enjoying New Bern Scenic Spots
- For the best views of the downtown area, take to the water. Boat launches in Union Point Park and Lawson Creek Park make it easy for paddlers and mariners to get out and explore the surrounding terrain.
- Don’t have a boat handy? Try a tour. Many local charter and tour businesses offer cruises of the region on board a sailboat, pontoon boat, or even a tugboat, making it easy to enjoy incredible vistas of the city from a waterfront perspective.
- Want a wilder setting? Go kayaking. There are more than 250 miles of paddling trails in and around Craven County, which makes it a kayaker’s paradise. Explore some of the less populated and wilder destinations like Upper Broad Creek and Brices Creek for a thoroughly natural adventure.
- Walking tours and trolley tours are also available throughout the downtown area, which can add layers of stories and fascinating facts to the already picturesque scene. As a result, visitors can see more of the city while learning about the engaging roots of this more than 300-year-old town.
- Love waterfront accommodations? Stay in New Bern. Many of the local hotels, camping resorts, and even vacation rental accommodations have waterfront settings and / or views that allow visitors the opportunity to enjoy endless vistas of the local rivers, all vacation long.
From the gracious (and free!) public parks to the historical sites that are dotted throughout the downtown region, New Bern is an enthralling destination for sightseers. Pack along the camera and binoculars, and enjoy impeccable vistas in virtually every direction with a visit to this essential Inner Banks town.