Five Winter Hikes in the Cape Fear

By Hayley Swinson

Many folks love to hike in the spring, summer, and fall, but winter can present an equally rewarding hiking experience around Cape Fear. In our muggy and buggy environment, hiking in the winter offers a respite from the mosquitoes, heat, and humidity we experience in every other season. Not to mention crowds are much smaller. While much of the wildlife has migrated farther south for the winter, you can still expect outstanding vistas as well as views of towering oaks, massive cypress trees, and of course those spindly evergreen long leaf and loblolly pines. We’ve rounded up 5 hikes in the Cape Fear region to get you outside and breathing that fresh air.

1. Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve

Acquired by UNCW in 1991, the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve is comprised of 174 acres and more than a dozen trails through varied landscapes, including fields, lowlands, and uplands. The uplands mostly feature oaks and hickories, as well as some loblolly pines, while the lowlands are rife with bald cypress, black gum, tulip tree, red maple, swamp chestnut oak, and other floodplain species. The preserve is home to a 1000-year-old bald cypress tree named Gus, whose trunk has grown as big as a small car. There are two self-guided learning tours in the preserve, that take two hours to walk.

2. Bald Head Woods State Reserve

With its 178 acres and 2.2-mile trail loop, Bald Head Woods is home to the giant live oak “Baldy,” and boasts live oaks and laurel oaks overhanging the trails. These trees shelter smaller plant species like wild olive, American holly, yaupon, and catbrier. Many visitors elect to take private birding or nature tours with the Bald Head Island Conservancy to help them spot the island’s natural residents like Carolina wrens, cardinals, and blue jays. The Conservancy can also provide visitors with complete information on all of the park’s trails.

3. Environmental Overlook Trail on Oak Island

For those visiting Oak Island, the Environmental Overlook Trail is a lovely way to experience the island’s natural habitats and wildlife hiking in the winter. The short trail traverses the Davis Canal, and winds through marshland on wooden boardwalks and well-tended paths, leading directly to the beach. It begins behind the Recreation Center off of 31st Street and can be difficult to spot. But it is well worth the effort! Visitors can expect to see plentiful wildlife like fiddler crabs, salamanders, small reptiles, and coastal bird species in their natural marsh environment.

4. Lake Waccamaw State Park

The Lake Waccamaw State Park nature trails offer outstanding views of the lake and its wildlife. Several boardwalks with sun shelters will take hikers closer to the lake and even give access to fishing holes. Inland trails feature large long leaf pines, bay trees, and turkey oaks, and more observant visitors may even spot Venus flytraps. The park offers picnic areas for those who’d like to pack a lunch. On the Lakeshore Trail, you will witness one of the oldest stands of cypress trees in the area, and if you look into the grass beds lining the lake, you can spot many of the area’s species of fish.

5. Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park boasts nine miles of trails through a variety of terrain and habitats. Hikers can pick up a trail map from the park’s marina or visitor’s center to avoid getting lost on the many available trails. These trails are easy-going, and several offer views of the Cape Fear River or the Intracoastal Waterway. Two trails are wheelchair-friendly, and one is designated as a self-guided trail for kids. For those looking to make a weekend of winter hiking, the local campground offers 79 campsites and four camper cabins as well as a bathhouse. As an added bonus, the campground hooks directly into the system of trails.