Note: I wish I would've taken more pictures, but instead, I took a lot of video.
Winter is dreary here in Virginia. By the time we get to mid-January, the charm of bundling up in the winter and sitting by the fire has worn off and we're left with an intense desire to get to spring as quickly as possible. In late December, we upgraded to a Travel Trailer from our Pop-Up Camper (which we loved), and planned our inaugural trip with it to North Carolina. Specifically, we went to Carolina Beach State Park. This post outlines the benefits of Carolina Beach State Park, and what you can expect while visiting. Also, look for some tips for things to do in the area.
I (Joseph) was born in Wilmington. All my family is from that area, so while we were visiting the campground, we also visited with family, but we realized while there for 6 nights that we could've stayed for a month. The first part of this post will cover the park, then the campground, then the surrounding area.
About the Park
Carolina Beach State Park is pretty small as far as state parks go, but there's quite a bit packed into this little park. In the park, there is a marina, a long and windy nature trail, a visitor's center with some neat exhibits, and a campground with clean and level camp sites.
The Nature Trail(s)
In Carolina Beach State Park (CBSP), there are some really neat naturally occurring plants. Specifically they have Venus Fly Traps (which is awesome) and some carnivorous plants (which kinda blew my mind). These are available for viewing on the trail, and after talking to Park Ranger Chris, we found out that they're trying to bring more of the plants closer to the trails so as to discourage visitors from trampling through the woods and potentially stepping on new growth of these indigenous treasures. We didn't have a chance to spend much time on the trails, but you can check out their trail maps if you plan on spending time in the park itself.
There is also a picnic area, so if you're not camping, visiting CBSP might make a really nice day trip. We didn't explore the picnic area, but I think it's waterfront, and it looked nice when we rode our bikes by it.
The marina is really pretty, just because of the natural water features. You can also walk around the sound, which is especially pretty at sunset and sunrise. I should've taken more pictures of this area specifically, but one really cool thing is that the marina has is that you can walk around the inlet where the boats dock.
If you enjoy taking walks, you'll enjoy going to the Marina.
Note: It's about a mile from the campground to the Marina by the state park road. It's walkable and has a bike lane. The road passes the natural swamp on the left side headed toward the marina. This is pretty cool as well.
The campground is also rather small, but it's quite charming. The campers were all extremely quiet and polite. Most of the spots don't have water or electric, but I believe there are 10 with full hookups (one of which we occupied), and each of those spots is really nice. I didn't have to level my camper side-to-side at all.
I think it would be most helpful if I just did a pros / cons of the campground for you:
- The sites were very spacious, level, and well kept.
- The campground loop was well paved and maintained.
- It's great for kids with bikes, roller blades or scooters.
- There are several trails right off the campground for hiking and exploring.
- There is a trail behind the cabins that takes you to the visitor center.
- The visitor center has several interesting and educational features that the kids enjoyed.
- The park is extremely close to the Carolina Beach boardwalk (Less than 2 miles).
- There is a grocery store within 1 mile of the state park.
- Wilmington is easily accessible (basically on the same road), there's tons of stuff to do.
- In February, they closed the gate at 7PM. So we had to be in by then, which made it very difficult to go out and have dinner etc.
- This may just be a pet peeve, but we JUST made it in time (6:45pm) to check in, and by the time we arrived, everywhere was closed. Apparently the marina closes at 6:30. Why not just stay open until you close the gate? It was not extremely clear what the protocol was for us when we arrived.
Things to do in the surrounding area:
New Hanover County offers a ton of different things you can do. It's a pretty large city, so there's enough culture that you can visit all kinds of neat places. I'd check out groupon for more opportunities than I can list here, but here are a few things we would have done if we would have stayed longer.
Go to the beach!
Obviously! Carolina Beach is 2 miles away from the park (just turn right, and you'll end up at the beach). BUT, if you turn left and drive for a little further, you can go to Wrightsville Beach. The beaches in this area are pretty small, and Carolina Beach especially has a very Local feel to it. Speaking of which -- Local Tip: While you're at Carolina Beach, check out Britt's donuts!
Fort Fisher Historic Site
We didn't have a chance to visit this site, but wished we had the time to do so. From their website:
Site of the Civil War’s largest amphibious battle, the remaining portion of the gigantic Fort Fisher earthworks, along with a restored palisade fence and impressive seacoast gun, sits near the Visitors Center. The fully accessible Visitors Center and Gift Shop includes a video, exhibits, and artifacts recovered from sunken ships. The scenic trail, shaded by gnarled live oaks, leads past the earthworks, around to the rear of the fort remains. Guided tours and wayside exhibits provide historical orientation. Other exhibits include items recovered from sunken blockade runners.
This stuff is super interesting, and the geographic features and trails make it interesting for the kids.
Visit the Aquarium
The North Carolina Aquarium is small, but very interactive. It's a little pricey, but it's very hands-on and educational. I have fond memories of this place from when I was a kid, and while it's a little small as an adult, it's huge for kids.
Ride the Ferry and Visit Southport.
I think the Ferry is the cheapest pretty boat ride you can get. While you're across the river, check out Southport. It's a pretty little coastal town. I mention this because it's a creative way to do something that makes memories with kids. Pack a lunch and eat your sandwich on the ferry. Beware of seagulls.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid are of going to Hugh MacRae Park and Greenfield Lake. These parks are incredible, and they're free. If you have bikes, riding around Greenfield lake is a wonderful time. There are several playgrounds that kids love around greenfield lake. As far as distance from CBSP goes, Hugh MacRae Park is close to the state park, probably 10 minutes or so, and it has some great playgrounds and a paved track around the park, and apparently a Splashpad. There are more parks, but these are the two that would be on my list. IF you're headed to Greenfield Lake, you might as well take a trip downtown and make a day of it.
Go Downtown Wilmington
It depends on the flavor you're looking for, but downtown Wilmington is really fun to walk around and explore. If you want to take a riverboat tour, you can do so at Cape Fear Riverboats. If you prefer to take a guided tour, you can do a walking tour (or even a haunted one).
If you have kids, you might check out the USS North Carolina. This battleship is so cool to explore. It's huge, so get there early so you'll have plenty of time to explore. We still haven't taken the kids here, but I went a few times as a kid, and it still stands out clearly in my memory as one of the coolest museums.
While you're there, check out Nikki's. The food is excellent.
Go to Jungle Rapids
If you're still looking for something to do with your time, and you want to spend some money. Jungle Rapids is lots of fun. But as these things to, they aren't cheap. It's tough to justify this when you have several beaches so close. But, I thought I'd give it an honorable mention.
- Carolina Beach State Park Website
- Fort Fisher Aquarium Website
- County Parks
- Downtown Wilmington References
- North Carolina Ferry
- Things to do in Wilmington, NC
- Jungle Rapids Website