As a longtime resident who now lives out of state, I like to return to Wilmington as often as possible. Wilmington, and its surrounding beaches, is a place I equate with well-being, relaxation, and outdoor adventure. All of North Carolina is incredible but the beauty of the coast is especially hard to resist and Wilmingtonians know why. They’re proud of what they have and even more so, proud to share it with visitors. In keeping with that spirit, here are six of my favorite ways to get the most out of the outdoors in Wilmington and its island beaches.

Take a Stroll

If you’re traveling with little ones, Halyburton Park Nature Preserve is a great option with its easy 1.3-mile trail, playground, and nature preserve. Its learning center also hosts snake feedings and educational classes. To see the southeast’s unique Venus flytrap plant, head to the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden or visit Carolina Beach State Park on Saturdays for a Carnivorous Plant Hike. Nearby at Kure Beach, meander through the wildlife-rich marsh along the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area Basin Trail. Over at Wrightsville Beach’s “The Loop,” take in a stroll like a local on the 2.5-mile path around the park. Thanks to the fun “Loop Through History” tour created by Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, you can learn about the area as you go.


Get on the Water

Cape Fear River Tours and Wilmington Water Tours are two operators who lead cruises along the Cape Fear River and its tributaries. Whether you’re into history, photography, nature or just sight-seeing, there’s a custom tour available to show you a different side of Wilmington from the water. Beach-lovers can take in a sunset cruise, charter a private island luau, or discover the waterfront restaurant scene with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours & Water Taxi.

Go For a Paddle

Local outfitters like Wrightsville Beach Kayak Company, Hook Line & Paddle, Paddle NC and Wrightsville SUP, among others, have everything you need for a day on the water. The Blockade Runner Beach Resort also offers a variety of adventure programs and sailing lessons for kids and families. At Greenfield Lake, take advantage of an audio eco-tour or a guided paddle courtesy of Cape Fear River Watch.


Break Out the Binoculars

This region of the state is well-known for its abundance of bird species. In fact, New Hanover County has nine sites along the NC Birding Trail. Discover the beauty of Airlie Gardens on one of its monthly birding hikes or sign up with Wilmington Water Tours to eat Breakfast with the Birds. For an up-close and personal look at the wildlife of a barrier island, you won’t want to miss a Masonboro birding tour with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours, and the Cape Fear Audubon Society offers guided field trips year-round.


Get an Education

Between the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the adjacent Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, the Kure Beach area is an excellent destination for interpretive programs and summer camps. Nearby Carolina Beach State Park also has its own comprehensive event calendar with ranger-led hikes, turtle talks and more.

Hop on a Bike

Mountain bike enthusiasts of all ages will love Blue Clay Park in Castle Hayne where you’ll enjoy more than eight miles of single-track trails through pine forest and wildflowers. The Gary Shell Cross City Trail is a multi-use greenway that takes you through residential neighborhoods, shopping areas, and several historical points.  This 15-mile trail runs from Wade Park to the Intracoastal Waterway at the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge and allows for plenty of sight-seeing opportunities and snack breaks. Carolina Beach’s 1.2-mile Island Greenway affords wooded and waterside views.

To learn more about nature and eco-adventure trip ideas from the river to the sea, click here.