Guide to Croatan National Forest: Hiking Trails, Campgrounds, Map

north carolina sky - croatan national forest

Hiking and camping at Croatan National Forest was a lot of fun. This part of eastern North Carolina, not far from the ocean, has sections of thick forest that allow for a peaceful getaway from the world.

I’ve explored this area in the past, visiting a campground and walking some of the hiking trails in Croatan National Forest.

Curious about which trails and campgrounds you should check out while visiting here? Here’s the lowdown on this often-overlooked national forest.

This article contains the following helpful information:
-A rundown of the best Croatan National Forest hiking trails
-Details about the five campgrounds in the park
-A map of the national forest and info about its ecosystems
-A bonus recap of my visit to nearby Atlantic Beach

Map and Fun Facts about Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest was established in 1936. It covers 160,000 acres and features more than 30 miles of hiking trails.

The park has a variety of ecosystems, such as pine forests, saltwater estuaries, bogs, and raised swamps. It’s the only true coastal national forest in the eastern U.S.

Here’s a map of Croatan National Forest, courtesy of the National Park Service:

You can see that it covers a wide range of environments, from the beach all the way to inland wilderness areas.

The forest is home to a few different types of carnivorous plants, including the Venus flytrap, pitcher plant, and sundew. That’s cool! You don’t see these kinds of plants in the wild often.

The forest contains Catfish Lake, an 800-acre lake managed to attract waterfowl and provide hunting opportunities.

The wildlife in Croatan National Forest does include a few black bears, rattlesnakes, and alligators. But you’re more likely to see deer, turkeys, ospreys, and wading birds.

PRO TIP: If you visit during the summer, be prepared to combat ticks and mosquitoes, and keep an eye out for poison ivy.

Croatan National Forest Hiking Trails

This particular forest has more than a dozen trails. Most are short, but a few are longer. Here are the best hiking options in Croatan National Forest.

Neusiok Trail: The full trail covers 21 miles, going all the way from a beach on the Neuse River to a marshy area on the Newport River near Oyster Point. It passes through swamps and hardwood ridges on the way.

The NPS says this route has been used for centuries, by Native Americans and European settlers.

It’s part of the 900-mile Mountains to the Sea Trail that runs all the way from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the ocean.

Assuming you don’t want to hike all 21 miles, I suggest going to the Oyster Point Campground to begin. Walk a few miles, and then turn around and go back out. Alternately, you can start in the Pine Cliff area instead.

Tideland National Recreational Trail: This one is short and crosses a salt marsh at the White Oak River, in the southwest of the park. It consists of two separate loops, with interpretive signs and benches.

There’s a 0.6-mile path and a 1.3-mile path which connect together near the river. Watch for fiddler crabs walking slowly from the woods to the water.

Find the Tideland National Recreational Trail at the Cedar Point Campground.

Island Creek Forest Walk Trail: This is officially a half-mile trail, but it connects with some other trails to form a 2.8-mile trek. This trail is located in the northern end of the forest.

A lot of people use this trail for walking or running with their dogs. This section of forest is good for birdwatching.

Weetock Trail: Here’s another lengthy trail that is perfect for folks who want an all-day hike. The Weetock Trail is a loop that covers 7.8 miles.

It’s on the western edge of the forest on Highway 58 near Long Point Campground.

This trail has a lot of interesting spots: a cemetery dating to the 1800s, Native American settlement sites, and more. Informational markers will let you know what you’re seeing.

Keep an eye out for beaver ponds, swamps, pine flatwoods, creeks, and managed wildlife clearings. Gators do live in these marshes.

See AllTrails for a full list of all of the Croatan National Forest hiking trails.

Camping at Croatan National Forest

camping tent croatan national forest
Settling in to my campsite at Croatan National Forest.

There are five campgrounds in Croatan National Forest — two large ones, and three smaller ones. For the first three campgrounds listed below, reservations are required at recreation.gov.

Cedar Point Campground: has 40 campsites, and the 1.3-mile Tideland National Recreational Trail. All sites here have electric hookups, and the current fee is $27 per night for one person.

Flanners Beach Campground: has 41 sites, a 3-mile hiking trail, and the opportunity to swim on Flanners Beach. The current fee is $20 per night for a single non-electric site and $25 for a single electric site.

Oyster Point Campground: has 15 sites, all of which are non-electric. The cost is only $10 per site per person. The trailhead for Neusiok Trail starts here.

Long Point Boat Launch Campground: This site has 4 rustic campsites on the White Oak River.

Fishers Landing Picnic Area Campground: This site has 6 rustic campsites with picnic tables and fire rings.

campfire croatan north carolina

My camping experience at Flanners Beach Campground was pretty typical. We drove in, set up the tent, did a bit of hiking in the woods, enjoyed the scenery, started a fire, roasted marshmallows.

But I loved it, because any chance to get out of the suffocating city environment for some peace and quiet and nature relaxation is very welcome.

Bonus Visit to the Ocean in Atlantic Beach, NC

beach people north carolina

Originally, I was hoping to visit the Outer Banks, the famous barrier islands that are a hugely popular vacation destination and which inspired those ubiquitous OBX bumper stickers.

I was already looking up OBX activities and researching Outer Banks AirBnBs to spend a few days in.

But we didn’t have time to go that far. So after camping at Croatan, we left the national forest for the town of Atlantic Beach for an ocean visit.

The cool thing about this part of North Carolina is that the ocean is less than an hour’s drive from the national forest. Camping and beaches in one day!

So much for that “no dogs allowed” sign.

dog on beach

I cannot overstate how much I love the beach. As someone who grew up inland and only saw the ocean once before age 25, every beach visit is a big deal and something I never take lightly.

Even the simplicity of shells and rocks in the sand can be fascinating. This photo is so artsy. It looks like it should be an album cover or something.

seashell sand

It’s a shame no one was playing volleyball here. I would have joined in and dominated the competition.

beach volleyball courts

Vehicles on the beach. Apparently this is a normal thing in the south. It always seems really odd to me.

jeep on beach

Near the beach I encountered my first-ever duck-crossing sign.

duck crossing sign

Wouldn’t it be great to own a beach house?

beach houses

I always love all the little surf shops near the ocean. But this one’s a little lost. The Pacific Superstore.

Someone should tell them they’re next to the Atlantic Ocean. What an embarrassing gaffe!

pacific superstore

Before leaving the beach, I had to leave evidence of my visit. It didn’t remain intact for long, but that’s ok. I’ll be back.

quirky travel guy beach

For more North Carolina content, see my guide to activities in Greensboro, the Andy Griffith statue in Raleigh, eating North Carolina BBQ, the Ava Gardner Museum, the bear statues of New Bern, and the Birthplace of Pepsi Museum.

Which of the hiking trails or campgrounds in Croatan National Forest would you most want to explore?