Monday, March 30, 2020

Croatan National Forest: Tideland National Recreation Trail (Blog Hike #792)

Trail: Tideland National Recreation Trail
Hike Location: Croatan National Forest, Cedar Point Recreation Area
Geographic Location: Cape Carteret, NC (34.69184, -77.08637)
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: March 2020
Overview: A lollipop loop beside the White Oak River tidal marsh.
Summary Video: (coming April 10)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 24 and SR 58 in Cape Carteret, take SR 58 north 0.7 miles to VFW Road and turn left on VFW Rd.  Drive VFW Rd. west 0.5 miles to the entrance for Croatan National Forest’s Cedar Point Recreation Area on the left.  Turn left on the paved national forest road and drive it 0.8 miles to the picnic area parking lot at the road’s end.  Park here.

The hike: For my introduction to Croatan National Forest, see the previous hike.  Whereas the previous hike explored the backcountry pinewoods wetlands traversed by the Neusiok Trail, this hike describes a short frontcountry nature trail that explores the area around the White Oak River tidal marsh.  The trail’s length, scenery, and location near popular beach destinations mean it sees plenty of traffic, so do not expect to be alone on this hike.
Tideland Trail trailhead
            From the signed trailhead near the picnic area’s restroom building, the gravel trail heads northwest into a forest of cedar trees and live oaks.  Numerous signs describe the flora and fauna of the tidal marsh area, but some of the signs were faded and hard to read on my visit.  After only a few hundred feet, the trail splits to form its loop.  To save the best views of the tidal marsh for last, I chose to turn right and use the route continuing straight as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
Hiking along the tidal marsh
            The gravel trail skirts the fringe of the tidal marsh as it curves more left than right.  Numerous benches offer opportunities to sit and rest if you are so inclined.  At 0.4 miles, the short loop exits left and heads onto a boardwalk.  Angle right to stay on the longer loop and get the full tour.
            Next the trail passes around a shallow inlet that offers your first tidal marsh view.  At 0.7 miles, you reach an unsigned trail intersection.  The trail going right leads to the recreation area entrance road, so you need to turn left to continue the loop.
Boardwalk over tidal marsh
View from elevated boardwalk
Just past the trail intersection, you head out over the tidal marsh on a fantastic highly elevated wooden boardwalk with metal grate deck.  Expansive views appear in all directions from this sunny boardwalk.  When I looked down into the marsh, I saw dozens of tiny crabs crawling around in the mud.
Standing on edge of White Oak River
            The trail surface goes back and forth between boardwalk and gravel, and two side trails exiting right take you to the White Oak River’s edge.  Excellent views appear up and down the watery expanse.  At 1.3 miles, the short loop enters from the left, and at 1.4 miles you close the long loop.  Retrace your steps 500 feet back to the parking area to complete the hike.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Croatan National Forest: Neusiok Trail, SR 306 to SR 101 (Blog Hike #791)

Trail: Neusiok Trail
Hike Location: Croatan National Forest
Geographic Location: east of Havelock, NC (34.90101, -76.81793)
Length: 5.2 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: March 2020
Overview: An out-and-back through wet piney woods featuring numerous long boardwalks.
Summary Video: (coming April 3)
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 70 and SR 101 in Havelock, take SR 101 east 5.1 miles to SR 306 and turn left on SR 306.  Drive SR 306 north 2.1 miles to the Neusiok Trail parking area on the right.  The parking area is unsigned, but you reach it just after passing Apple Drive.  Park in the small gravel parking area.

The hike: Consisting of 160,000 acres of coastal pine forest and wetlands, Croatan National Forest is the eastern-most national forest in North Carolina and the only coastal national forest in the eastern United States.  The national forest is surrounded on three sides by tidal rivers: Bogue Sound to the south, the White Oak River to the southwest, and the Neuse River to the northeast.  These tidal rivers combine with the nearby wet pine forests of slightly higher elevation to give visitors two distinct habitats to see.
            By far the best way to see the national forest is by hiking one of its many trails.  The forest’s signature trail is the 21 mile Neusiok Trail (pronounced like new-see-ock), which runs from north to south across the peninsula between the Neuse River and Bogue Sound.  While the entire Neusiok Trail is too long for a comfortable dayhike, this hike describes one of the trail’s most interesting sections, a section that features numerous long boardwalks.  Combining this hike with the short interpretive trail described in the next hike gives a good sample of the hiking Croatan National Forest has to offer.
Neusiok Trail's SR 306 trailhead
            From the SR 306 parking area, head south on the Neusiok Trail; a wooden information kiosk and mandatory self-registration book stand at the start of the trail.  Marked by aluminum rectangular markers nailed to trees, the trail heads southeast through a scruffy mixture of loblolly pines and oaks.  As you approach the Apple Drive housing development, you pass through an area that has sustained recent heavy storm damage.  Watch for the trail markers and navigate around the fallen trees and mudholes the best you can.
Hiking through dense forest
            After skirting the perimeter of the housing development, the trail heads into deeper woods with private property on the left.  Some jets from nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station will likely zoom overhead, but otherwise the ambiance is quite wild and rustic.  In fact, I did not see another person on this entire hike.  At 0.4 miles, you cross the first boardwalk, which is a baby relative to the boardwalks to come.
            This part of Croatan National Forest is laced with old logging roads that look like trails, and near 0.6 miles a deceptive old dirt road exits right.  A single aluminum marker points left toward the real trail here, and if you choose to turn right like I did you will end up in a maze of old logging roads all of which eventually peter out.  In general, if you walk more than a couple hundred feet without seeing a trail marker, you need to turn around and re-find the trail.
Crossing a boardwalk
            Soon you cross the second constructed boardwalk and then pass through some wet areas on more primitive wooden structures.  At 1.2 miles, you cross Forest Road 143, another old logging road that now deadends at a private tract of land to your right.  At 1.6 miles, you reach the first long boardwalk, a boardwalk that bears the name Cottonmouth Spa.  This boardwalk’s name turned out to be prophetic: a cottonmouth snake slithered through the pine needles and vibrated its tail at me while I was crossing a later boardwalk.
            After dropping off the south end of Cottonmouth Spa, you pass the wooden post that is the Neusiok Trail’s mile marker 13.  At 1.9 miles, you cross sunny Forest Road 136 and reenter the forest on the other side.  Next you cross the boardwalk named Toad Wallow; this boardwalk is nearly 0.5 miles long!  Imagine the time and effort that went into building these boardwalks, and imagine how horrible this hike would be if you had to slog through the ankle-deep water they carry you across.
Crossing Toad Wallow
            Just after crossing Toad Wallow, the Neusiok Trail comes out on the north shoulder of SR 101 near 2.6 miles into the hike.  An overnight shelter stands less than 1 mile further south on the trail, and a parking lot on the south side of SR 101 allows you to park a second car here for a shuttle.  There are no more long boardwalks between here and the shelter, so I chose to turn around here and retrace my steps 2.6 miles to complete my journey on the Neusiok Trail.