A Walk in the Woods: Exploring the Croatan National Forest

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a bit of an outdoors enthusiast. Whether on the beach, paddling a river or stream, or out for a stroll in the local woodlands I thoroughly love being out in nature. It is always a head clearing, soul inspiring experience for me.

The Croatan National Forest

Living in Eastern-North Carolina I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful natural environments. When you think of the Crystal Coast you likely think of the beaches, world class deep sea fishing or internationally known wreck diving. But there is another wonderful resource here, the Croatan National Forest. Occupying land in Carteret, Crave and Jones counties, this natural treasure includes a variety of ecosystems, plant and wildlife. The well known hiking trails include Patsy Pond, Island Creek Forest Walk, Tideland, Neusiok and Wee Tok trails. What many people may not realize, however, is that the various access roads serve as gateways into the forest for hikers and trail bicyclists. Many miles of forest road can be explored by car or truck, but others are closed to motorized traffic while hiking and cycling is permitted on them.

A Walk in the Woods

One lovely, warm March morning I decided to head out into the forest for a bit of exploration. A few miles up the road from my home is one of the entry points to the Neusiok Trail. Running adjacent to the trail, for a little ways, is a forest access road. A few hundred yards into the forest the come close together and there is a short path where one can cross from one to the other. On this early Spring hike I decided to explore a bit of both the road and the trail. Below are a few of my photographs from the adventure. Take a look and see what you think. Perhaps you comment and tell if you’ve every hiked the Croatan and, if you have, what is your favorite hike?

The Photography

Here’s a view down a forest access road in the Croatan National Forest. It is early March and only hints of Spring can be found. The late afternoon light, coming in from the side, adds depth and deminsion to the image. Dominated by Long Leaf Pines, the smaller deciduous growth struggles for real estate in this this woodland. This Federally owned land insures the preservation of natural areas along coastal North Carolina.
A native southern plant, Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is found throughout the Carolinas and is the state flower of South Carolina. The vine with its brilliant yellow flowers can be found growing in the wild and in use as a decorative landscape plant. In this photograph the plant is growing wild in the Croatan National Forest in eastern NC.
An access road ends in the Croatan National Forest in Eastern North Carolina. Rustic roads such as this are used to enter the forest in case of fire. While most of the routes are off-limits to motorized traffic they can be wonderful for hiking into the more remote area of the woodlands. Located a few miles outside of Havelock and the Cherry Branch NC Ferry terminal, this road begins next to the Neusiok trail, then wanders off into the woods in a different direction. Located across the river from the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, jets sometimes interupts the quite serenity of the wilderness with the sound of freedom.
I was raised in the Midwest and always loved seeing the beautiful color of Eastern Redbud trees in the spring. I was so amored with these lovely trees that I planted one in fromt of my home. I don’t recall seeing any of my beloved little trees since relocateing to North Carolina twenty-five years ago. Imagine my surprise to come across one while exploring a forest access road recently. The poor little tree was bent over from a larger pine having fallen across it. Yet it was blooming in all its pink glory! I simply could not resist getting out my macro lens and taking a few shots of its lovely little blooms. The Croatan National Forest cosists of several different environments but the dominate ecosystem involves Long Leaf Pine trees. In these areas the forest floor is often covered in thick, dense undergrowth. Here and there you’ll find a few deciduous trees interspersed between the dominate conifers. The Croatan’s 160,000 acres includes land in three eastern North Carolina counties, Carteret, Craven and Jones. In addition to pine forest, it also contains wetlands, raised bogs called pocosins, and maritime forests. Wildlife includes black bear, whitetail deer and other, smaller mammals. Reptilian residents include American Alligator and venomous snakes such as the Easter Diamond Back and Pigmy Timber Rattler. There are even exotic plants to be found such as Venus Fly Traps and wild Orchids. I am blessed to have such a wonderful resource like the Croatan so close to my home. Plus, it’s only a short drive to reach the beach.. I certainly look forward to sharing more of my adventures around eastern NC.
This tree grows from a valley below the Neusiok Hiking Trail in the Croatan National Forest. I found the strong limbs of the tree rising above the edge of the gully visually interesting. Combined with twigs, smaller branches and the trunks of tree rising up behind, it creates a natural abstract image. We often overlook such scenes. You could say we often can’t see the tree for the forest. This section of the Neusiok Trail is found just off of NC 306 near Cherry Branch, North Carolina. Here the forest is a mix of deciduous trees and pines. The trail, the longest in eastern North Carolina, is about 26 miles in length. It is a part of the Mountains to Sea trail that stretches across the state.

This entry was posted in Bicycling, General Photography, Hiking Trail, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Uncategorized, Wildflowers.


  1. Steve Heap March 28, 2022 at 7:56 am #

    Great article. Love the close up images of flowers. I think forest images are difficult as it can be hard to determine the focus point that you are trying to bring to the attention of the audience.

  2. admin March 28, 2022 at 1:41 pm #

    It can be difficult, Steve. Most of the local forests are Long Leaf Pine. Much of that has heavy, thick undergrowth I find that very difficult to find images in. Other sections are more open Pine Savanna environments. These are easier to work with but still, for the most part all the trees look alike. Deciduous forest, on the other hand, is easier to find compositions in. The trees tend to be more individualistic and what I’m looking for are unique, interesting trees to build an image around. The amount of underbrush and spacing of the trees can play a role. If interested, do a search on YouTube for “Woodlands Photography.” There are several very talented photographers with channels that specialize in that type of landscape photography. Most of them, interestingly, are located in the United Kingdom.

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