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Best Hiking Trails on the Crystal Coast

Traveling to the coast and spending time at the beach is the purest form of escape for many travelers here at the Crystal Coast. However, we’re more than just beautiful beaches. Why not consider taking a hike? 2023 is the Year of the Trail here in North Carolina, the Great Trails State. We’re sharing some of the best hiking trails on the Crystal Coast. 

What is the 2023 NC Year of the Trail? 

2023 NC Year of the Trail celebrates North Carolina’s vast network of trails, greenways, and blueways which showcase our diverse landscapes – coastal forests, grand mountain vistas, quiet rivers, vibrant urban greenways, and the rolling hills of the piedmont.

NC Year of the Trail is the largest statewide celebration of trails and outdoor recreation in North Carolina history.

Emerald Isle Woods Park

Emerald Isle Woods Park is the best hiking trail for families. It’s a sound side 41-Acre park located off Coast Guard Road. The park offers natural birding trails and boardwalk access to Bogue Sound with a floating dock and kayak launch. The park is working on adding additional trails; however, a half-mile trail is open for the public to explore. Kids and dogs would love this park as the inclines and declines of the trails are rated easy to moderate. There’s also a disc golf course for the entire family to enjoy!

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Hiking Trails on the Crystal Coast: Spotlight on Fort Macon State Park

Fort Macon State Park is North Carolina’s most visited park, and it has the best hiking trails with ocean views. The park includes a 19th-century Civil War fort, a recreation area with lifeguard-protected swimming, a bathhouse, and a picnic area. For those who love to dive deep into the history of the places you visit, the park offers a guided tour in its bookstore. Fort Macon State Park also provides Civil War reenactments during the summer months.

Fort Macon State Park can be found on the eastern end of Atlantic Beach. The Elliot Coues Trail is considered a moderate trail that is 3.2 miles long. On the Elliot Coues Trail, experience a loop trail on dunes through the maritime forest and marsh. Enjoy the many elevation changes while being provided with great views of the dunes, the beach, and the ocean!

Fort Macon State Park, Elliot Coues Trail

Trails are important because they are one of the most direct connections that we have to our environment. A well-crafted trail invites you on a journey that can teach you about the physical landscape and allows you to discover the inner topography of yourself.” – KRISTIAN JACKSON


Cedar Point Tideland Trail

Bring your dogs and kids to this 1.4-mile loop trail near Swansboro, North Carolina. Cedar Point Tideland Trail is famous for birding, hiking, and running. This is also one of the best hiking trails on the Crystal Coast to visit if you’re looking for some time away from the noise and want to embrace quiet solitude with nature. The trail has a wide variety of wildlife to watch and photograph. Take the time to listen to the calming sounds of the slow-moving water, watch the fiddler crabs skitter back and forth along the water’s edge, and if you’re lucky, you can catch the deer prancing around in the woods!

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Cape Lookout National Seashore

Explore the wild side of the Crystal Coast and have all the adventures you want at Cape Lookout! Cape Lookout National Seashore provides the views, wildlife, and beach vibes you want during your vacation. For our hikers, there are two trails at Cape Lookout, located on Harkers Island near the visitor center.

The Southside Loop Trail is 0.8 miles long and provides a path through the maritime forest. The Willow Pond Trail is about 0.3 miles long and circles around the pond behind the Core Sound Waterfowl and the Heritage museum. Hike the short and sweet trails and experience the quiet, peaceful serenity.

Once you’re finished with your hike, join the shell hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers, and lighthouse fans and learn more about the beauty of our coast from locals and repeat visitors.

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Croatan National Forest Trails

Prepare yourself for an exhilarating outdoor adventure in the Newport area, where a multitude of activities await, from hiking and biking to trail running and more. Immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Croatan National Forest, which boasts a range of picturesque trails., including the Patsy Pond Nature Trail. 

For avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Newport is surrounded by nature areas that offer an exhilarating adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, you’ll find trails suitable for your skill level. These scenic routes wind through the stunning landscapes that envelop Newport, allowing you to revel in the beauty of nature while engaging in your favorite outdoor activities.

Whatever your preference, Newport presents a gateway to a world of outdoor exploration. From leisurely walks to challenging treks, the town and its surroundings cater to every adventurer’s desires. Lace up your hiking boots, grab your bike, or simply set out on foot—the trails of Newport eagerly await your arrival.

Learn More About NC’s Year of the Trail

Every year, North Carolina State Parks celebrate an annual theme. Programs, festivals, and events throughout the state support the yearly theme.

The Interpretive and Education Council, a diverse group of park staff members from across the state, selects the theme each year based on suggestions and nominations.

A unique collectible bandana for the annual theme is available at the park webstore or at each park office and visitor center.

Click the link for resources that tie into the 2023 annual theme –  2023 is the Year of the Trail

“I am convinced of the benefits trails and greenways bring to our North Carolina communities through increased tourism and the associated economic growth, plus enhanced recreational opportunities for improved citizen health. An added bonus is that these trail systems simply make everyone aware, through first hand observation, of our state’s wonderful natural resources.” – REPRESENTATIVE HUGH BLACKWELL


Tag Us in Your Crystal Coast Hiking Photos

Don’t forget to tag us @bluewaterncvacation and @greattrailsnc in your social media posts and use hashtags (#greattrailsstate #greattrailsnc #yearofthetrail #bluewaternc) to help your content be discovered and shared throughout North Carolina. By connecting with statewide social media networks, you can help our community’s trails shine and attract more visitors!

Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach Vacation Rentals on the Crystal Coast

Those who travel often know that traveling to the coast during the winter is the best time to do so because of lower prices and fewer people. And for those who aren’t the biggest fans of bugs… you don’t have to worry about them while you hike or enjoy time on the Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach beach during the winter season.

Go against the grain, plan a trip to Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach, and stay at one of our luxury vacation rentals.

Browse our specials and discounts to help you save on your trip. Become a Bluewater Insider and subscribe to our newsletter. You’ll be the first to know about our hot deals and new rental properties!

Have you tried hiking in Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach? What surprised you most during a hike? Share your stories with us in the comments!