A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Three Coastal Trails Huggins Island Trail • Tracks in the Sand Trail • Basin Trail [caption id="attachment_168768" align="alignnone" width="1140"] The water trail around Huggins Island is peaceful but somewhat challenging.

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Three Coastal Trails Huggins Island Trail • Tracks in the Sand Trail • Basin Trail [caption id="attachment_168768" align="alignnone" width="1140"] The water trail around Huggins Island is peaceful but somewhat challenging.

Year of the Trail: 3 Coastal Trails

Three Coastal Trails

Huggins Island TrailTracks in the Sand TrailBasin Trail



The water trail around Huggins Island is peaceful but somewhat challenging. Plan to paddle in the morning, when the water is calmest, and during high tide to avoid having to portage your kayak across small sandbars. photograph by Robert Alford/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Huggins Island Trail
Swansboro

On the Bogue Inlet side of Huggins Island, a Confederate earthwork fort can be seen among a thick brush of live oaks and wax myrtles. Kayakers on the Huggins Island Trail, a six-mile loop for experienced paddlers in Hammocks Beach State Park, can pull ashore and explore the small island — watching for painted buntings nesting in the scrub — or simply circumnavigate it before heading back to the mainland. The trail begins at the park’s visitor center and crosses the Intracoastal Waterway into a marsh before reaching the island, with yellow Carsonite markers indicating the way. Paddlers might spot great and snowy egrets wading among the bright green marsh grass, dolphins splashing in the waves, or green sea turtles poking their noses above the salty water — all while silently floating along. — Rebecca Woltz

Hammocks Beach State Park
1572 Hammocks Beach Road Swansboro, NC 28584
ncparks.gov/hammocks-beach-state-park



Experience the otherworldly beauty of Jockey’s Ridge State Park on foot — or, thanks to year-round winds, often blowing 10 to 15 miles per hour, via hang glider. photograph by Kyle Little/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Tracks in the Sand Trail
Nags Head

Hope you don’t mind a little sand in your boots. This 1.2-mile trail runs from the Jockey’s Ridge State Park visitor’s center over to Roanoke Sound, cutting straight through the heart of the iconic ridge itself — the largest living sand dune in Eastern America, which is 80 to 100 feet high, depending on weather conditions. An out-and-back trail with a small loop alongside Roanoke Sound, it traverses maritime forest, sand dunes, and beach grass. Don’t forget sunscreen, follow the wooden stakes marking the trail — they’ll prevent you from getting lost in the vast, shifting sands — and time your visit with the sunset: As you head back toward the parking lot on your return trip, leave the trail behind to summit the park’s highest dune. You’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound as the sun dips under the horizon and lights up the sky. — Katie Schanze

Jockey’s Ridge State Park
300 West Carolista Drive, Nags Head, NC 27959
ncparks.gov/jockeys-ridge-state-park


At Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, miles of walkable coastline reveal Kure Beach’s wildlife marshes, a WWII bunker, and, if you’re lucky, loggerhead sea turtles. photograph by matejphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Basin Trail
Kure Beach

This easy, 2.2-mile out-and-back trail begins at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area office and traverses through the marsh, providing beautiful sound and maritime forest views along sandy beach, wooden boardwalk, and natural surfaces (don’t forget the bug spray!). The trail also passes a World War II artillery bunker, where Robert Harrill, the “Fort Fisher Hermit,” lived for 17 years, scavenging from the beach, fishing, and clamming, and falling in love with the tides, birds, and animals of North Carolina’s coastal wilds — which is why this route is also known as the Hermit Trail. At the end of the trail, you’ll find a wooden observation deck with views of the Cape Fear River and Zeke’s Island. It’s the perfect place to watch for birds and boats and to enjoy a little peaceful solitude, not unlike what Harrill found here when he arrived in 1955. — Katie Schanze

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
1000 Loggerhead Road, Kure Beach, NC 28449
ncparks.gov/fort-fisher-state-recreation-area

This story was published on May 16, 2023

Rebecca Woltz

Rebecca is the staff writer at Our State.

Katie Schanze

Katie Schanze is an associate editor and digital content editor at Our State.