Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, comprises more than 150,000 acres. For those who enjoy nature, it offers many opportunities.
From Charlotte, it’s about 320 miles – about a 51/2-hour drive.
To see and do
This coastal wildlife refuge, 12 miles west of Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks, is surrounded by water on three sides, making it a “natural” for hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. This area is known for its “pocosin” habitat, which is marked by swampy terrain.
You may recognize the refuge’s name because of the successful re-introduction of the red wolf into Eastern North Carolina. Once extinct in the wild, the population is now in the 120-to-130 range. The refuge offers a wide variety of programming throughout the year; its wolf howlings are a favorite (the next one is Dec. 7).
With such a large tract of land you can visit a great representation of the diverse habits. One way to do this is along its “wildlife drive” – roughly 10 miles of gravel roads for exploration. Many motorists see a lot of wildlife; the refuge has one of the largest populations of black bear on the East Coast.
There are two nice walking trails that are easy to access. One of these is universally accessible (the Creef Cut Trail), and both offer great viewing and year-round fishing: The water is brackish/fresh so you’ll find crappie, bluegill and other freshwater species. As with hunting, which is seasonal, an N.C. license is required.
Also easy to find are two public ramps where you can launch a canoe, kayak or small motor boat. Following clearly marked paddle trails is a great way to see some of the more pristine sections of the refuge. Along Milltail Creek and Sawyer Lake, you just may glimpse an American alligator. This is the northern most location it can survive.
This area was once home to Buffalo City with some 3,000 people; the land has reclaimed evidence that a town once stood here less than 100 year ago.
The refuge is along the “Atlantic Flyway” for bird migrations; some 250 species are routinely identified here depending on the season.
Programming for visitors: During warmer months, tram rides ($7) and guided canoe trips ($25-$35) are offered. Other programs, such as the wolf howling, bird watching and bear programs, are offered seasonally.