A North Carolina Camping & Beach Experience at Croatan National Forest

north carolina sky - croatan national forest

This could have been a story about an awesome trip to the Outer Banks, the famous barrier islands that are a hugely popular vacation destination and which inspired those ubiquitous OBX bumper stickers.

I was planning my list of OBX activities and researching Outer Banks AirBnBs to spend a few days in.

But it takes a long time to drive all the way out there, and during my North Carolina visit, I didn’t have the time to go that far.

So after passing through the city of New Bern, a friend and I settled for the next best thing – some camping in Croatan National Forest and a stop in some beach towns on barrier islands near Bogue Sound in the southeast part of the state.

Here’s the lowdown if you’re thinking about camping at Croatan and exploring the surrounding area.

Camping at Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest was established in 1936. It covers 160,000 acres and features more than 20 miles of hiking trails.

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

My camping experience wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We drove up, set up the tent, did a bit of hiking in the woods, enjoyed the scenery, started a fire, roasted marshmallows. The usual.

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

campfire croatan north carolina

There are two campgrounds in Croatan National Forest. Cedar Point Campground has 40 sites, and a 1.3-mile Cedar Point Tideland Trail, an interpretive hiking trail.

Flanners Beach Campground has 41 sites, a 3-mile hiking trail, and the opportunity to swim on Flanners Beach.

Both are open all year and currently charge $20 per night. Both have flush toilets and hot showers, so the camping isn’t as rough as it might be in some other campgrounds.

For more specific info on the campgrounds of Croatan National Forest, check out the official page.

Heading to Atlantic Beach, NC

The next morning, we left Croatan 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.

beach people north carolina

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.

surf shops north carolina

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, and the Birthplace of Pepsi Museum.

Would you prefer to stay at a campground in Croatan National Forest or swim at Atlantic Beach?

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