A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

North Carolina’s southeastern coastal plain beckons outdoors lovers to its bucolic farmland and more than 30 miles of beaches, rivers, and oceanfront. If you’re hungry to explore but are the

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

North Carolina’s southeastern coastal plain beckons outdoors lovers to its bucolic farmland and more than 30 miles of beaches, rivers, and oceanfront. If you’re hungry to explore but are the

Onslow County: From the Country to the Coast

North Carolina’s southeastern coastal plain beckons outdoors lovers to its bucolic farmland and more than 30 miles of beaches, rivers, and oceanfront. If you’re hungry to explore but are the kind of adventure-seeker who appreciates guidance from a local expert, add these six experiences to your vacation to-do list.


1. Go on a barrier island shelling expedition

With zero houses, majestic sand dunes, and 4.5 miles of pristine beaches, Bear Island is a shell seeker’s sanctuary. Thanks to Bear and Bogue Inlets, which bookend the island, strong currents keep the shore well-stocked with washed up ocean treasures. Our secret for finding the best shells with minimum competition? Book a shelling expedition with Marsh Cruises.

“I take folks to both inlets, but Bear Inlet is the highlight of the cruise because of its shallow waters,” Captain Darryl Marsh says. “It takes a lot of skill, so not a lot of boats go up in there and you don’t get as many people.”

In the peak months of May through October, you can take a 15-minute ferry ride over to Bear Island. “But in the off-season, wintertime storms come through, whip up the ocean, and deposit the good stuff,” says Marsh, who loves his year-round role as tour guide.   

Keep your eyes peeled for sand dollars, a good selection of whelks, and scotch bonnets — if you’re lucky. “That’s our state shell, and it’s usually on people’s shell bucket list,” Marsh says. “They’re rare, but we’ve found them out there.”

Marsh Cruises
(910) 330-8750


2. Go horseback riding through Equine Country

Tucked between Richlands and Jacksonville, the peaceful trails winding through Equine Country’s natural woodlands feel lightyears away from the real world. You don’t have to be a pro — or have any experience at all — to hop on a horse and go for a ride.

“Children 7 or older can get their start on trail rides. If they feel nervous, we’ll have someone walking on the ground with them,” says manager Janet Baker. And kids under the age of 7 can go on a pony ride in Equine Country’s closed-in training area.

After your hour-long ride, feel free to stick around the property and take advantage of catch-and-release fishing and nature trails. There are even secluded cabins for rent. “Our cabins don’t have TVs because it forces you to read, play games, and have quality time together,” Baker says.

Equine Country
(910) 347-4511


3. Savor the season

Seasonal treats are yours for the picking at Mike’s Farm in Beulaville. Mid-April through late May, fill your baskets with ripe, juicy strawberries fresh from the field. In October, take a hayride through the farm and hop off at the Pumpkin Patch, where you can select your perfect pumpkin.

And you can savor an all-you-can-eat spread at the farm’s restaurant all year long. Order a glass of sweet tea and watch as plates of country ham biscuits, fried chicken, pork tenderloin and gravy, homemade macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn, and dessert are placed before you. Dig in and pass the plate. “It’s all you can eat,” says Theresa Lowe, part-owner (and Mike’s wife). The restaurant’s hours depend on the season; check their online calendar for open dates and times.

If you’re visiting Onslow County in the fall, pick a pumpkin at Mike’s Farm.


And don’t skip the famous 10-layer chocolate cake. “Everybody wants the yellow inside and that homemade gooey chocolate icing,” Lowe says. “I remember my mama made that frosting, and we would sop it up with homemade biscuits. That was a treat for us back then, and it’s that same frosting on our cakes.”

Mike’s Farm
(910) 324-3422

No trip to Mike’s Farm is complete without a slice of the legendary layer cake.


4. Go shrimping and crabbing — and keep what you catch!

Tommie Jarman, owner of Reel Livin’ Fishing Charters in Sneads Ferry, is one of the only captains around who offers a shrimping marine excursion. “It’s great for families who have small kids and don’t want to go out in the ocean,” Jarmin says. “We have hydraulics that lift the nets, and they hang right over a big table on our boat’s deck. We dump it all out on the table and stand around sorting through it.”

Passengers can leave with up to 50 pounds of shrimp and all the crabs they can catch. “Most families only want about four to five dozen crabs, and if they get 20-30 pounds of shrimp, they’re super happy,” Jarman says. 

Jarman’s advice for vacationers: Plan an excursion for the beginning of your stay so you have plenty of time to enjoy the bounty in your well-stocked fridge.

Reel Livin’ Fishing Charters
(910) 330-7785


5. Kayak the White Oak River

Meandering along downtown Swansboro, it’s easy to see where the town got its nickname: “Friendly City by the Sea.” Located along the White Oak River, there are enough boutiques and restaurants to fill an entire day of shopping and snacking. But if the river’s sparkling water is calling you to explore, head over to Pogies Fishing Center on the corner of Front and Moore streets, and rent a couple of kayaks.

“From the dock outside our shop, you can paddle the lower section of the White Oak River where it empties into the coastal waterway,” store manager Dallas Thomas says. “We’ve seen otters, turtles, sharks, and of course all the birds.” Look up for osprey, hawks, and bald eagles.

Depending on your interests, Thomas will send you off with a personalized map highlighting specific destinations. “There are certain banks for collecting shark teeth, great banks for sunbathing, and perfect picnic spots,” he says. “And there are great fishing opportunities, as well. Down here, we’ve got red fish, flounder, speckled trout, croaker, and black drum — a whole smorgasbord.”

People are always surprised by how easy it is to take off down the river. “They think kayaking on bigger water is a daunting task,” Thomas says. “But if you have good kayaks and great gear, it minimizes the extra effort and turns it into a fun day on the water.”

Pogies Fishing Center
(910) 325-7876

Experience a different view of Onslow County from the water.


6. Plan a dinner river cruise

Framed by a picture-perfect sunset, many a hopeful spouse has gotten down on one knee aboard the Bayonet Enterprises Cruise. Captain Lance Ledoux and his first mate, Marilyn, are thrilled to be along for the ride. “In Onslow County, there’s no single spot where more people have proposed than on the bow of our boat,” Lance says. “Out with them on the water, we get a chance to interact, and we’ve met some fantastic people.”

Aboard their romantic three-hour sunset dinner cruise, guests are treated to beverages and hors d’oeuvres while the 53-foot Sea Ray cruises up the New River. “Every spring we look forward to seeing the ospreys that return to their same nest, and then a little while later you hear the little babies. And then you’ll see them on the edge of their nest, ready to fly off,” Lance says. “Now and then we see dolphins that come all the way up the river as far as our dock, and in early spring you see big schools of stingrays.”

In addition to the sunset dinner cruise, the Ledouxs also offer a lunch cruise, sunset wine and cheese, family picnics — complete with a two-person kayak and water toys — and an overnight getaway. With two guest staterooms and two full bathrooms (in addition to the captain’s quarters), the boat can accommodate two couples during overnight expeditions.

Lance, a retired marine, offers a 10 percent discount for military guests. “During my 33 years in the Marines, I had three tours in Jacksonville,” he says. “We’ve been here now for 18 years, and love sharing it all — especially our incredible sunsets — with our guests.”

Bayonet Enterprises Cruises
(910) 554-8672

This story was published on Mar 01, 2020

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.