Cheerful with the day’s adventure ahead of them, a group of early morning kayakers don their vests and slip their brightly colored boats into the smooth, serene waters of Mill
Cheerful with the day’s adventure ahead of them, a group of early morning kayakers don their vests and slip their brightly colored boats into the smooth, serene waters of Mill Creek. Here at Cypress Cove Park in Leland, 27 acres of wetlands lead the kayakers through Sturgeon Creek and eventually to the confluence of the Brunswick River and the lower Cape Fear River. Eagles Island is their destination — getting there is their adventure.
“Eagles Island is the largest island in the Cape Fear River,” says Don Harty, owner and guide at Mahanaim Adventures. “It was formerly cultivated as a rice and indigo plantation, so you’re paddling through rice channels that were hand-dug in the 1700s. And the wildlife is spectacular — bald eagles, osprey, alligators, otters, egrets, herons, pelicans — too many to name.”
Surrounded by rivers, 10 minutes west of Wilmington, and a half-hour drive from some of Brunswick County’s most beautiful beaches, Leland is the one of the fastest growing towns in the country. Here’s how to plan your next day trip to this Eastern North Carolina locale.
Beyond exploring the creeks around Cypress Cove Park, Harty recommends taking a guided kayaking trip out to Shark’s Tooth Island. Accessible only by boat, Shark’s Tooth Island is popular with families who have fun paddling out at low tide and then combing the island for treasures.
“We’ve found everything from prehistoric horse and shark’s teeth to colonial artifacts like smoking pipes to all kinds of aquatic fossils,” says Harty, who has been professionally guiding kayak trips in the area for more than 12 years. “All of our half-day trips are geared to beginner kayakers. They’re still challenging and fun, but our guides know how to set the trips up so that our customers have a great experience.”
The self-proclaimed “pickleball capital,” Leland’s House of Pickleball is a great way to get out of the sun and get some exercise. Known locally as The HOP, the facility offers six indoor courts that may be reserved ahead of time, plus classes, trainings, and league play. If you want to know why pickleball is taking off, just ask owner Richard Holloman.
“One word: fun,” Holloman says. “It’s a great social, family sport that’s easy to learn and easy to play. We have grandfathers in here playing with their sons, daughters, and grandchildren — and everyone leaves saying they had fun.”
Get your sweat on or watch the action from their viewing area while enjoying the small snacks, beer, wine, and cider for sale.
Reserve a public tee time at the award-winning Cape Fear National Golf Course at Brunswick Forest. Plan to spend a few hours with a scenic backdrop that includes three waterfalls, wetlands, beach bunkers, and native wildflowers. End your game with a refreshing meal at The Forest in the Cape Fear Clubhouse.
Or start with breakfast on the patio at Blossoms Restaurant before exploring play at Magnolia Greens Golf Plantation. Golfers of all levels looking to improve their game may book a lesson with one of the golf pros or warm up on the driving range. While checking in at the onsite Golf Store, browse for new gear from top brands.
If disc golf is more your style, head to the 12-hole disc golf course at Founders Park. You’ll find enthusiasts and families throwing discs through the shady, wooded course where most holes range from 150 to 300 yards and are rated Par-3, along with one Par-4 hole.
If you’re less athletically inclined, but still want to be one with nature, head to Shelton Herb Farm, where native flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees await. The farm has been in owner Margaret Goodman-Shelton’s family since 1867.
“Though we’re just a short skip from Wilmington with all its arts and entertainment, we have trees and country all around us,” says Shelton, who formerly worked at the marine lab at UNC Wilmington. “I began growing herbs and vegetables for our family to eat when my children were young, and now we have a huge diversity of things we’re growing in our greenhouses and the two acres we’ve planted.”
Year-round, Monday through Saturday, visitors are invited to stroll the grounds and enjoy the native plants and flowers before purchasing cooking herbs like rosemary, basil, and dill by the bunch and snagging a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers.
Outdoor dining is the norm in Leland, where many local restaurants feature patios adorned with vibrant umbrellas or pergolas to keep customers cool while they recharge.
“There are lots of great places to eat, but Pizzettas is our favorite,” says Annie Hayes, who lives in nearby Wilmington and often stops at Leland on her way to Holden Beach.
Pizzettas offers an array of tasty pizzas, also in gluten-free options, and a robust Italian menu including specialty pastas, traditional entrées, strombolis, and calzones.
For Southern breakfast all day, head to Farmhouse Kitchen. Go for the breakfast bowl which piles eggs, cheese, and your choice of meat over creamy grits. On the lighter side, they offer avocado toast and a build-your-own breakfast plate. At lunchtime, the menu boasts an array of sandwiches and burgers.
Seafood lovers love the Shuckin’ Shack, a casual hang-out for locals and tourists who enjoy fresh, local oysters and shrimp. For traditional pub food, head to The Joyce Irish Pub and Grill. Or for Latin fare and a unique, fun vibe, head to Papi’s Chicken.
“What’s great about Leland is that it’s a comfortable home spot, but it’s super close to the beaches — Oak Island, Sunset, Ocean Isle — or we can take the ferry to Bald Head Island,” says Leland resident Clara Robinson. “We’re just over the bridge from Wilmington, but we love Leland’s small town feel with less traffic, the opportunity to get out in nature, the parks. It’s a great family spot.”