When we were in Nags Head last month we spent the last full day exploring Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on a barrier island of the Outer Banks in NC. The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger national wildlife refuge system with more than 500 units that was founded by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 to conserve the nation’s natural living treasures. The Pea Island Refuge was established in 1938 to provide a resting and winter habitat for migratory waterfowl. It features a visitor center, the North Pond Wildlife trail (which is part of the larger Charles Kuralt Trail), and 13 miles of beaches. We did a little bit of everything just before the big storms rolled in, making the trip a perfect last day adventure!
Before exploring the hiking/walking trail in the refuge, we stopped at the Pea Island Visitor Center. It is located a few miles south of Oregon Inlet along NC 12 (not to be confused with the National Wildlife Refuge Center main complex located on Roanoke Island). Volunteers run the visitor center and it’s free to explore. It features a few exhibits detailing the refuge’s history and animals in the area, a gift shop, scavenger hunts for kids, and telescopes for viewing into the marshes. Pea Island received its name because the migratory snow geese that frequented this area ate plants with peas in them.
After exploring the visitor center we headed to the North Pond Wildlife trail, which is a 1 mile total walk to the observation deck and back to the visitor center. We first walked along the boardwalk and scoped out the turtles in the “turtle pond.” Continuing on, we walked along a partially paved/boardwalk path between North Pond and New Field Pond where we glanced through fixed binoculars towards North Pond. The trail then became narrow and sandy, but continued to offer beautiful unobstructed views of the ponds. At the end of the trail, we walked up the double decker observation deck, where we could see for miles and identified egrets and turkey vultures. Butterflies were plentiful this day, too. The observation deck features some informational plaques about animals in the refuge and fixed binoculars for viewing.
The North Pond Wildlife Trail is part of a larger grouping of trails that make up the Charles Kuralt Trail. It was established to encourage people to enjoy the wild lands and recognize this great NC native broadcast journalist who loved exploring remote places. The Charles Kuralt Trail consists of 13 refuges or hatcheries along eastern NC and southeastern VA, offering interesting places to explore.
It was a really hot day, so we quickly walked the 1/2 mile back to the visitor center parking lot (although more adventurous hikers can complete the 4 mile loop around North Pond). After a short bathroom break, we grabbed our picnic lunch and beach bag and walked across highway NC-12 for more beach time. The Atlantic Ocean was beautiful this time of year and the water was relatively calm despite the large thunderstorm that popped up an hour later. Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the remains of the Oriental, a Federal transport during the Civil War, which shipwrecked in 1862.
- Book: Fire on the Beach – tells the story of an all-black life saving crew who worked on Pea Island ensuring the safety of people and cargo
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge & Map
- Documented Wildlife at Pea Island
- Charles Kuralt Trail
Thumbs up: beautiful pond views, light foot traffic,
Thumbs down: Bathrooms near trail head