A Hidden Gem of Natural and Historic Wonders
Feel the warm sunshine on your face and the quiet that comes from being unplugged. With so much nature and history all around and miles of sandy beachfront to enjoy, Hammocks Beach State Park is one of the few places that remains untouched by development and is ready to be explored.
Your journey begins in the Visitor Center where the exhibits tell the story of the park’s 1,500-acres, which includes three smaller islands — Dudley, Huggins, and Jones, situated near the mouth of the White Oak River.
The park’s crown jewel, Bear Island, is one of Travel + Leisure’s Top Ten NC Beaches, and just a passenger ferry ride or private boat ride away. Other than taking a few selfies to share, you’ll relish the “back to nature” vibe of this island that is free of cars and houses. Once you leave the shore, you’ll be introduced to the salty air and will see the salt marshes and estuarine creeks that are part of the park’s habitat, and perhaps you’ll see an occasional dolphin or fish break the surface of the water!
HOW TO GET TO BEAR ISLAND
The Hammocks Beach State Park ferry service runs every year from April through October. See the schedule on their website. Other adventurous options are to depart from Historic Downtown Swansboro with one of our specialty cruise operators, Lady Swan Boat Tours, and Marsh Cruises for shelling excursion or sunset cruise. Pogie’s Fishing Center also runs a water taxi service.
Explore the natural wonders of the unspoiled maritime forest on a kayak or paddleboard. Bring your own, or rent equipment from the park’s onsite outfitter, Paddle NC. Dolphins, beautiful shorebirds, and the occasional loggerhead sea turtle popping its head up to say “Hi!” are some of the amazing experiences to enjoy on your own or on a guided tour.
Use the Visitor Center’s launch site to put in canoes and kayaks before checking out the park’s three well-marked paddle trails ranging from 200 yards to more than six miles. The Bear Island Trail is a one-way trek that begins at the kayak launch and ends at the Bear Island campsites.
The Huggins Island Trail begins and ends at the kayak launch and circles Huggins Island, a smaller island visible from downtown Swansboro.
DID YOU KNOW? Huggins Island was used by Native Americans as fishing and hunting grounds, and today white-tailed deer, raccoons and gray fox, as well as herons and egrets, live in the island’s thick maritime forest. The island’s rich history also includes being home to a Confederate six-cannon battery from 1861 to 1862.
After landing at the dock on Bear Island, you’re free to sunbathe or explore. A short, sandy trail leads to the beachside of the barrier island, where more than three miles of oceanfront remain untouched and uninhabited. The sound of waves ebbing and flowing and crashing on the beach is as soothing as a yoga class, and you have the feeling of what it must be like to go off the grid – for a few hours, anyway. You’ll also find a modest concession and picnic complex.
Once you’ve sunbathed and watched the birds dip in the sky, you can return to the dock, ready to be scooped up by the ferry for a return to the park’s Visitor Center, or if you’ve arrived with one of our specialty cruise operators, they’ll bring you back to your point of origin, in Swansboro.
CAMPING ON BEAR ISLAND
DID YOU KNOW? Hammocks Beach State Park was recently named “One of the Best Uncrowded Beach Campsites in America,” by Outside Magazine? Primitive campsites are open year-round and there are opportunities for backpack and group camping. Reservations can be made on the Hammocks Beach State Park website, here. The island offers plenty of open space and scenic views for those wanting to really experience nature. Learn more about camping at the island in this informative video – Camping at Bear Island.
WHILE AT THE PARK
Wildlife aficionados will appreciate the park’s interpretive educational programs about ecology, endangered sea turtles and nesting shorebirds. Learn about the diverse history of the land from Native Americans and African Americans to pirates, farmers and the military. We’ve also got a 3-mile coastal wooded hiking trail on the mainland to explore.
For more information about Hammocks Beach State Park, call (910) 326-4881, or visit ncparks.gov/hammocks-beach-state-park.
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