Coastal Nature Scavenger Hunt

Grab your smartphones and embark on a coastal nature scavenger hunt throughout Wilmington and our Island Beaches. How many coastal hidden gems can you find? Tag your images on Instagram with the hashtag #CoastalNatureScavengerHunt to participate in the fun.

For a chance to win one (1) randomly selected prize pack with tickets to visit the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher:

  1. Post a photo showcasing one or more of the items from our Coastal Nature Scavenger Hunt
  2. Tag @wilmingtoncoast
  3. Use the hashtag #CoastalNatureScavengerHunt

No purchase necessary. One (1) winner total. Sweepstakes ends October 31, 2020. US only, 18+. Contact for full terms and conditions.


#1 Live Oaks at Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Shaped by years of coastal wind, salt air and sandy soil, the Live Oaks along the trails and pathways give way to stunning vistas of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean where the river meets the sea at Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

#2 Coquina Rocks in Kure Beach

You'll need to plan ahead to spot this one, the Coquina Rocks are only visible at low tide. Head out to the shoreline near the Ocean Dunes Condos right before you reach Fort Fisher to find a rare, mossy hard-rock outcrop naturally cemented together by seashells and coral. The rocks are a perfect atmosphere for marine life such as sea stars, hermit crabs and conchs.

#3 Sugarloaf Dune at Carolina Beach State Park

The Sugarloaf Trail begins at the marina parking area and journeys through a coastal evergreen forest, coastal fringe sandhill forest, tidal cypress-gum swamp and longleaf pine savanna on your way to the Sugarloaf Dune. The 50-foot sand dune near the bank of the Cape Fear River at Carolina Beach State Park has been an important navigational marker for river pilots since the 1600s. The earthworks of the dune were also a strategic part of the Confederacy's defense of the Port of Wilmington during the Civil War. About 5,000 Confederate troops camped on or near Sugarloaf during the siege of Fort Fisher.

#4 Squirrels at Airlie Gardens

See if you can spot all of the Squirrels hidden within the 67 acres of formal gardens at Airlie Gardens. Other intriguing sites on the grounds include the ancient Airlie Oak that sprouted in 1545, the Bottle Chapel created by Minnie Evans and birding trails where coastal birds can be spotted year-round.

#5 Oakdale Cemetery

Pick up a self-guided walking tour map at the main gate to explore North Carolina’s oldest rural cemetery, Oakdale Cemetery. Wander along winding paths amongst large shade trees to see the eloquent epitaphs and symbolic funerary art dispersed throughout the 100-acre campus. See if you can find The Tree Stone, symbolizing a life cut short.

#6 Shorebirds at NC National Estuarine Research Reserve

Venture to the South End of Wrightsville Beach to spot shorebirds in their natural habitat on the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve. Relax on the shore to watch sailboats, fishing vessels and day-trippers entering the Intracoastal Waterway through Mason Inlet.

#7 Cypress Trees at Greenfield Lake Park

Truly a hidden gem and located near Wilmington’s South Front District, Greenfield Lake Park & Gardens is a 250-acre oasis for visitors. A variety of trees can be seen within the park from Magnolia to Long Leaf Pines, but the Cypress Trees are perhaps the most striking. Rent a kayak or canoe from Cape Fear River Watch at the on-site boathouse and paddle among the monumental trees for a day well spent.

#8 Japanese Garden at New Hanover County Arboretum

The free gardens at New Hanover County Arboretum are an unexpected treat for visitors and a perfect photo opp. Explore the Japanese Garden, complete with an authentic tea house, Koi pond and Japanese maples. Other garden areas include a children’s garden, contemplation garden and therapeutic garden to provide comfort to those with disabilities.

#9 Cape Fear River and Wilmington Riverwalk

The “Port City” of Wilmington was built upon the Cape Fear River and there’s no better way to experience the river than from the Wilmington Riverwalk. Stroll along the nearly-two-mile walkway. Read the informational signs along the way, relax in pocket parks, like Claud Howell Park and see the sailboats and yachts at Port City Marina.

#10 Venus Flytrap Sculpture

The Venus flytrap is a carnivorous plant native only within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington. While the plants bloom only in spring, you’ll find an ode to the famous plants at the base of Market and Water Streets in downtown Wilmington. Sculpted from iron and glass, the art piece named “Southern Hospitality” welcomes visitors to town.

#11 Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden

Stroll the walking trail and enjoy garden sights from wooden observation decks perched throughout Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden. This small garden is packed with carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants and Venus flytraps. Read the interpretive signage on-site that provides information about the garden.

#12 NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Known for their conservation efforts, the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is a wonderful place to spot under-the-sea wildlife in their natural habitat. Travel through the exhibits, from freshwater streams and swamps, to coastline habitats, reefs and the open ocean. Outdoors at the Aquarium, enjoy the birding deck and gardens.

#13 Zeke's Island Reserve

Zeke’s Island Reserve is an uninhabited island located at the basin of the Cape Fear River, where the river meets the sea. Hiking, shelling, fishing and birdwatching are popular activities on the island. Only accessible by kayak or boat, the island is a great way to enjoy unspoiled coastal scenery. Rent a kayak or head out on a guided tour to the island with Kayak Carolina or Pleasure Island Rentals.

#14 Trails at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Drive out on the 4-WD accessible beach with a Jeep rental from SunFun Rentals to explore five miles of unspoiled coastline or look for an abundance of wildlife within the marsh and sound areas hiking on the Basin Trail at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. The trails are an easy hike for children, dogs and adults alike.

#15 Shells at Masonboro Island Reserve

Get away from it all on the 8.4-mile long ecosystem of Masonboro Island Reserve. The island is the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in southern North Carolina and a perfect spot to hunt for seashells. Rent a boat, kayak or canoe to get to the island, or take a water taxi offered through several island cruise companies.

#16 & 17 Historic Home Gardens

Download the self-guided garden tour map from the Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens website to explore the four-level colonial-style terraced gardens, open to the public and free of charge year-round during the museum hours. The Burgwin-Wright House features Georgian architecture circa 1770.

The formal gardens of the Bellamy Mansion House and Museum have been recreated to resemble Eliza Harriss Bellamy's original 1860s gardens. The current design is a result of an archaeological excavation, coordinated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), revealing the configuration of the beds and the materials of the paths—oyster, clam, and scallop shells.

#18 Bee Hotel at Halyburton Park

See if you can find the Bee Hotels at Halyburton Park, created by two local Boy Scouts. The Bee Hotels enhance the solitary bee habitat and contribute to the City's certification as a Bee City USA. Explore the 58-acre nature preserve and accessible 1.3-mile walking and biking trail.

#19 Abbey Nature Trail at Popular Grove Plantation

The dog and kid-friendly Abbey Nature Preserve features 67 undeveloped acres of trails, trees, plants, flowers, a pond and diverse wildlife. The entrance and parking for the Abbey Nature Trail is on the north side of the Manor House at Poplar Grove Plantation.

#20 Harbor Way Gardens

Enjoy native plants and flowers in the shaded greenery of Harbor Way Gardens. Access the gardens on the east end of the Wrightsville Beach Loop and discover a children's fountain, a decorated arbor, Witherspoon Roses and seasonal blooms.

#21 Scenes from a Nature Cruise

From the river to the sea, explore the natural estuaries and waterways aboard a nature cruise. From sunrise tours and fishing journeys to eco-tours or a sailing voyage, discover a new adventure with every charter.

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