Generally speaking when people think about the Outer Banks they think of beautiful beaches and a warm and inviting ocean—which is great because that’s why almost everyone comes for a visit.
But there is much more to the Outer Banks; in fact, at one time almost the entire sound side was heavily forested. There are still some amazing examples of those forested shores left and for anyone looking for a hidden story of the Outer Banks, they are worth exploring.
There are four protected wooded areas. We’ll list them going from north to south.
Currituck Banks Reserve
Probably the least known of the Outer Banks woods, to find Currituck Banks Reserve head north from the Whalehead Club until a 90 degree bend to the right in the road. There is a small parking lot there that is the trail head.
Two ways to expore this. There is a short boardwalk through the maritime forest that leads to the sound. It’s a very easy walk–actually handicap accessible—and it ends at a small platform built over a narrow channel coming in from Currituck Sound. It is at the perfect balance point at the end of a towering forest of pines and the waving grasses of a fresh water estuary.
There is a trail leading off the boardwalk. Look for the steps leading to the forest floor. This is more challenging than the boardwalk, but completely suitable for ages 10 and older. Follow the blue blazons to the sound.
Kitty Hawk Woods
Kitty Hawk Woods, is the largest reserve on the Outer Banks. Bisected by the Woods Road, a paved a multi-use trail parallels the road for it’s entire length. The multi-use path is a great introduction to the beauty of a maritime forest and the path is perfect for a family bike ride or a morning stroll.
There is also an amazing trail system that takes hikers through upland forests into swampy wetlands. Bikes are allowed on the Kitty Hawk Woods trails. Suitable for any moderately experienced mountain biker, it’s a unique experience on the Outer Banks.
The offices are located at 4352 The Woods Rd in Kitty Hawk. Trail maps are available online or at the office. Call first to make sure someone is there. (252) 548-6102
Administered by the Nature Conservancy, Nags Head Woods is 1100 acres of steep hills, wetlands and dense forest. The hills are actually sand dunes that have become covered in a more dense soil–a soil that is fertile enough to allow hardwood trees to grow, and a hike along the trails has a distinctly upland or mountain feel to it. The elevation gain is abrupt, the trails run along ridges that drop into deep ravines and hardwood trees are the dominant forestation along the ridge lines.
There is a parking lot with a small visitor’s center. To get to the visitor’s center, turn on to Ocean Acres at the light at Pigman’s Barbecue. Follow the road to the visitor’s center on the left at the bottom of a hill.
Thriving at the confluence of subtropical and temperate weather zones, Buxton Woods is one of the most distinctive maritime forests in the world. Palmetto plants thrive at the base of towering pine trees; the swamps, marsh and trails are teeming with life.
Sprawling at the base of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the 1000 acre site is on the Atlantic Ocean side of NC12. Three access points— Old Doctor’s Road, Flowers Ridge Road, or Water Association Road. All are dirt roads. There are also trails linking the site to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.