Southeast Excursions

Enjoy this OBX nature preserve

CorrespondentMarch 23, 2013 

Several pleasant walking trails wind through the 1,400 acres that comprise the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. (Gary McCullough)

COURTESY OF GARY MCCULLOUGH

  • Details

    Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is open daily, dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Details: 252-441-2525; http://bit.ly/Lt3UaK.

The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to protect land and water, preserving natural habitats upon which plants and animals depend. Since 1977, the organization has worked in partnership with the towns of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills to protect a 1,400-acre maritime forest bordering Roanoke Sound.

Distance

Nags Head is approximately 200 miles from Raleigh, about a 3 1/2-hour drive.

To see and do

The terrain at Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is somewhat surprising. Anyone familiar with the Outer Banks knows that most of the land is only a few feet above sea level. Well-known – and well-visited – exceptions are the sand dunes at Jockeys Ridge State Park and the hill upon which the monument stands at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The preserve encompasses similar dunes, but covered over with vegetation. These wooded hills give visitors a sense of hiking along some pleasant trail in the foothills, rather than being only a mile or so from the Atlantic surf.

The change in elevation within the preserve leads to some noticeably different natural communities. Nags Head Woods contains a swamp forest with such trees as sweet gum, red bay and black willow; a shrub forest dominated by wild grasses and bushes; and a deciduous forest thick with oak, beech, hickory and loblolly pine trees.

There’s an abundance of animal life as well – 50 species of birds; a variety of reptiles, amphibians and fish; and many small mammals. White-tailed deer are about the largest animals one is likely to see. Most of the smaller animals are harder to spot, tending to do their roaming at night.

No less than seven nature trails await. Center Trail, an easy quarter-mile loop with two wooden bridges, is a nice introduction to the preserve. Sweetgum Swamp Trail is the preserve’s most heavily trafficked and is a moderate, 2 1/4-mile trek over several steep sand dunes. Blueberry Ridge Trail branches off from Sweetgum, adds another 1 1/2 miles, and elevates the walk to strenuous; this walk loops around a pond and offers scenic views. Roanoke Trail leads through a salt marsh and dense forest to end at a small beach on the Roanoke Sound; it’s a moderate, 1 1/2 mile round trip. The ADA Trail, designed for those with disabilities, is a half-mile paved loop that opens the Nags Head Woods experience to everyone.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service