Maritime forest shades Nags Head

Posted July 9, 2010

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— 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.

 Forest draws in Nags Head tourists

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."


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  • harinootsak Jul 9, 2010

    It's a great respite from the stark dunes and commercial strip. Do keep an eye out for cottonmouth and other snakes. They love to sit in the half shade half sun right on the trail.
    FYI, unlike the Jockey's Ridge state park, no dogs allows at the nature preserve.

  • todmax Jul 9, 2010

    I first went there in the early 90's and clearly remember to this day walking along a shady woodland trail, and then all of a sudden as we rounded a bend there was a giant sand dune looming overhead. It is really amazing the stark transition from forest to dune.


    What a nice peaceful story!