A crown jewel of the North Carolina coast and Hammocks Beach State Park is Bear Island—a 4-mile-long, undeveloped barrier island accessible by the park’s passenger ferry or private ferry, or by paddling a canoe or kayak. Originally named Bare Island due to its lack of vegetation, the historic island took its namesake of Bear Island to match the mainland community of Bear Creek. The wide beach offers beautiful waterway views, interrupted only by primitive campsites and a modest concession complex. This unique and primitive island is a great vacation spot for all ages.
You can easily access Bear Island aboard Hammocks Beach State Park's passenger ferry that runs from April to October for $6 per person. Tickets are only available for purchase at the Hammocks Beach State Park Visitor Center. You can also purchase an annual individual pass or family pass for the ferry. See the full ferry schedule here. During your 15-minute ferry ride to Bear Island, be on the lookout for local wildlife such as dolphins, birds, and more. Plus, take in the breathtaking views of the marsh lands that lead up to Bear Island.
Tip: Pack light! You may only bring items you can carry with you the ferry – no pets. Carts/wagons are allowed as long as they are collapsible.
Once you arrive at the Bear Island ferry dock, follow a half-mile pebbled path that turns to sand once you reach the beach. At the beach, you’ll have 4 miles of beach front to explore, plus access to a bathhouse, restrooms, covered picnic area, and outdoor showers. A concession stand provides cold drinks and snacks from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Tip: Be sure to bring bug spray and sunscreen for the half-mile walking trail to the Bear Island beach. See map here.
On the beach, try your hand at catching your dinner or enjoy some catch and release fishing. You can fish on Bear Island with a valid Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License. The beach is known for its selection of unique seashells and you might want to keep a few! Feel free to take any shells home, but the park asks visitors to leave driftwood or any vegetation (living or dead) on the island. You can also enjoy the water and swim in designated swimming areas. Lifeguards are on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Tip: You can book a specialty cruise to Bear Island with one of our cruise operators, Lady Swan Boat Tours, Marsh Cruises, and Pogie’s Fishing Center for a shelling excursion, sunset cruise or just simply a water taxi service to the island. Plus see other activities here.
For an unforgettable paddling adventure, you can kayak/canoe over to Bear Island along two different paths. Take the 2.6 mile Bear Island Trail from the visitor center to the Bear Island campsites. This trail is marked by white over orange trail markers. Or you can paddle the Trout Channel Trail (orange over blue markers) when you get near the island to come aboard Bear Island at the ferry dock. For the best shelling experience, Bear Inlet is a must-see. You can follow the 5.6 mile (one way) Bear Inlet trail that starts at the visitor center and goes to the Bear Inlet side of the island. The trail is marked by orange over white markers. For the experienced kayaker, these trails boast scenic views and adventure through the waterway. Both trails are moderate to difficult paddles.
You can enjoy nights under the stars at primitive campsites near the beach and the inlet. With eleven campsites in total, there’s room for the whole family to come along. All your camping supplies must be carried to the campsite from the moment you step off the ferry, so traveling light is recommended. Water and showers are available during most of the year, except during the winter season from November to March. Before heading out with your camp gear, you’ll need to obtain a camping permit from the park office. You’ll also need to register your vehicle at the park office if you’re planning to leave your vehicle overnight. For more information about Bear Island campsites, visit the park's website. For reservations, visit Reserve America website.
Tip: Remember to bring a jet boil if you plan to cook. Campfires are not permitted. The campsites are leave no trace -- any trash must be taken with you when you leave, along with your tent and supplies. See campgrounds here.
There are three group campsites, available to affiliated groups only; one accommodates up to 26 people, while the other two accommodate up to 16 people each. Group campsites may be reserved locally at Hammocks Beach State Park.
Hammocks Beach State Park
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