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Park Profile: The Pristine Coast of Hammocks Beach, North Carolina

With its setting of salt marshes, estuarine creeks, and white sandy beaches, Hammocks Beach State Park attracts both kayakers looking to explore a coastal wilderness environment and sunbathers in search of an escape from the area's crowded beaches.

The park is located on North Carolina's coast, near Swansboro and close to popular beach destinations Emerald Isle to the east and Topsail Island to the south. Except for 33 acres located on the mainland, the park comprises two islands- Bear Island, an 892-acre undeveloped barrier island, and a smaller 225-acre Huggins Island.

The park's main attraction, Bear Island, is only reachable by ferry or via kayak or canoe and offers a lifeguard-protected beach and overnight primitive campsites.

Hammocks Beach State Park

Kayak Tours

Kayaking at Huggins Island, Hammocks Beach State Park, North Carolina sign on the coastal waters

Robert Alford via Getty Images

Hammocks Beach State Park includes five paddle trails covering more than eight miles. Explore the maritime swamp forest of Huggins Island to the east or the salt marshes, wild dunes, and unspoiled beaches of Bear Island to the south. You can bring your own canoe or kayak and put it in at the park's boat ramp or rent one from park outfitter Hidden Coast Adventure, located inside the park near. Launch from Hammocks Beach kayak launch and follow one of the routes on the park's paddling map or create your own route. Visit paddlenc.com or call 910-612-3297 for more information about kayak rentals.

Ferry to Bear Island

Not much of a paddler? Then take the 15-minute ferry ride to Bear Island and walk its four miles of pristine shoreline. As you circle the island, check out the ospreys, herons, egrets, and other shorebirds that hunt along the island's beaches and creeks. If you're lucky, you may even come across one of the area's loggerhead sea turtles, which come on the island to lay eggs between mid-May and late August. The ferry runs on the hour from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and every 30 minutes from Thursday to Sunday. Rides cost $6 for adults and $4 for children and seniors. Children under 2 are free. The ferry runs at different times depending on the season, so check out the park's ferry schedule.

Camping at Hammocks Beach

The park offers year-round camping for those more adventurous souls on 14 family campsites and three group campsites, all of which are located on Bear Island's coastline near the ferry dock. Amenities include showers and pit toilets, and drinking water is available on the island from mid-March through mid-November. Pack light as you'll need to hump in all supplies and provisions to the campsite, located between half a mile and 1 mile from the ferry dock. Camping is only allowed on designated campsites and requires a permit from the park office. Reserve one of the sites by going to the park's Web site.

Hit the Hammocks Beach

ncwetlands.org, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Bear Island's white sandy beaches offer a retreat from the bustle of nearby Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach. To reach this secluded oasis, pack light as you'll need to take the ferry ride to the island before hiking about half a mile to the beach. Covered shelters offer a picnic out of the sun, and snacks and drinks are available at the beach's concession stand.

Go Fishing

The marshes, inlets, and creeks in and around Hammocks Beach State Park are rife with flounder, trout, bluefish, and drum, making the park a popular fishing spot. Fish from a kayak or cast out from the shore. Go in the fall when the fishing is excellent. Don't forget to get a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, which is required for fishing in North Carolina.

Swim at Hammocks Beach

The gentle lapping waves and clear water of Bear Island's beaches make it a popular place for swimming. Take the ferry, then walk the half-mile to the island's designated swimming area, patrolled by lifeguards from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Amenities at the swimming area include a bathhouse with restrooms.

Take a Hike

The park's mainland area includes about two miles of trails that wind through wetlands over boardwalks and into forests made up of coastal evergreens, live oaks, and hickory trees. You'll find gray foxes and white-tailed deer. Grab a trail map from the park's visitors center before heading out.

Important Information to Visit

Hammocks Beach State Park's hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. September to May and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. June to August. The parks open every day except for Christmas. There are no entrance fees.

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