Kill Devil Hills, N.C. — A few blocks away from surfing, sand castle-building and suntanning on Nags Head Beach, visitors can find shade, solitude and silence in a maritime forest.
The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve covers more than 1,400 acres where 50 species of birds nest and 300 species of plants grow tall, shielded by dunes from harsh salt-laden winds.
"You're not really expecting trees of this height and this type of vegetation and the biodiversity," said Aaron McCall, with The Nature Conservancy that runs Nags Head Woods.
The preserve is off mile marker 9.5 on U.S. Highway 158, between Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.
"Can you believe we're by the beach?" tourist Karen Wise said.
Wise said she brought her children to the woods to be closer to nature. She encouraged them to look for interesting animals and plants.
Hikers can follow trails through the woods, up steep dunes and into wetland areas. The trails are open from dawn until dusk.
"You can go from being on a dune ridge 60 feet above sea level with American beech trees on it. Then just a half-mile away is the ocean or the sound," McCall said.
Hiker Leslye Miller said she enjoyed the quick change from the beach to a park resembling a forest in the mountains.
"That's what I like about it," Miller said. "I'm not a beach person. I'm a forest person."