If you drive to the coast on US 70, these signs are frequent and alert drivers to recreation opportunities like camping, hiking, fishing at the national forest. Photo courtesy Forestland.com
SECOND OF THREE PARTS
Last episode, if you remember, I wrote about one of the larger National Forests in NC, the Nantahala. (CSN, April 2016). Today I am writing about the two smallest, Croatan National Forest and Uwharrie National Forest. Both are good for summer camping and adventure, because one, Croatan is at the beach, and the other, Uwharrie, is in the “mountains,” Both are open year round. Let’s talk about Croatan first:
The Croatan National Forest, 160,000 acres large, has many different types of terrain: pine forests, saltwater estuaries, bogs, and raised swamps called pocosins. It is bordered on three sides by water, so it is kind of wet, with a variety of wildlife like bears, deer, many seabirds and wild turkeys. It was made a national forest in 1936 and comprises about half the mainland near Morehead City. This National Forest is close to the traditional beach and coastal attractions in the area.
Croatan has several places to camp, but the one closest to the beach at Swansboro and Bear Island, is Cedar Point Campground, which is off Highway 24, just outside the village of Cape Carteret. There are 40 tent sites, all with electrical hook-ups with a surcharge. It is on the White Oak River, open year round, and is the trailhead for the Tidelands National Recreational Trail. Reservations are necessary. There is a picnic area, showers, water, restrooms, dump station, boat ramp. It is a full-service campground.
There are other campgrounds well away from the beach in the Croatan, if the beach is not where your thrill is. The campground at Flanner’s Beach/Neuse River is on the other side of the Forest (just off US 70), near Cherry Point Marine Air Station, and is in a good fishing area. This area is also open year-round, has 40 campsites, water, restrooms, showers, but no boat ramp. Both these campgrounds have trailer spaces.
The other camping area is Oyster Point, but it has only 15 sites. There is picnicking, water, no showers, and this is the trailhead of the Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail. There is a shallow water canoe launch, and some group camping. Check with the Forest office for information about non-campground camping, which is allowed in some areas. For instance, there are designated camping areas on the White Oak River.
There is hiking in the Croatan National Forest, which is the only coastal national forest in NC, and one of the few in the eastern US. The Tidelands National Recreation Trail (2 loops), and the Croatan end of the Mountains-to-the Sea Trail are the two main hiking areas in the forest. Be prepared for bugs with sunscreen and repellent.
Maps are downloadable, and reservations are available at (http://recreation.gov) and you can call 1-877-444-6777.
The other (mountain) National Forest is the Uwharrie (say “you warry”) National Forest near Asheboro. It is very small, 50,645 acres and recent, 1961, but still packed with features. For Triangle folks, this is a lot closer than the “real” WNC mountains, or even the beach. Depending on whom you believe, the Uwharrie Mountains are either the remains of the oldest mountain range in N. America, islands jammed into the N. American coast by a prehistoric tectonic plate collision, or an upheaval created by that same collision. Take your pick, they all sound good to me and the mountains are still the same!
This was the area of the first gold discovery in the new USA. You can still pan gold in the El Dorado area of the Uwharries, & occasionally, you may find a flake! You should also check out the Reid’s Gold Mine attraction near the forest.
In the same area as the National Forest are attractions such as the North Carolina Zoological Park, the Seagrove potteries, the Town Creek Indian Mound, and over toward Charlotte, the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
The Forest office is in Troy (Rt 3, Box 470, 27371, Ph. 910-576-6391).
This N.F. features the 20m Uwharrie Trail, which is great for a two-day backpacking hike or popular site for trail races. You can drive down Friday night, get two nights on the trail, and be out late Sunday. The trail runs between NC Highway 24/27 and SR1306. You can hike either way and the car shuttle is easy and short. Starting at the same spot on NCH 24/27 is the Dutchman’s Creek loop trail, which is a little less than 10 miles long. Information on both trails is provided at the Uwharrie forest office.
The largest, 50 sites, campground in Uwharrie, is Arrowhead Campground. It is open all year, has a dump station, restrooms, showers, and drinking water. There is no picnicking area, or boat ramp, though you can wade and fish. Reservations are required.
For regular camping and winter eagle spotting, you can camp at Baden Lake Campground (just N. of Albemarle). There is clean water, chemical toilets, tables, 35 tent and trailer sites, as well as two trails along the lake. (Reservations required, phone 877-444-6777 or reservations.gov). This has great fishing, and there is a floating fishing/casting pier.
There is more primitive camping King’s Point, on the lake just North of Baden lake camp. It is tents only, with walk-in, no cars. There is a picnic shelter than can be reserved. There is also a three-site, 50 per max, group camp at Baden Lake.
If hunting is your thing or if you want to walk to the Trail, try camping at Uwharrie Hunt Camp. It has 8 walk-in tent camping sites, with toilets. There is a short trail that connects to the main Uwharrie Trail. It is open year-round, with no reservations necessary. There is also a no-reservation campground at West Morris Mountain. There are 18 sites—tent or RV, and this is at the trailhead for the Uwharrie National Recreational Trail.
The Uwharrie N.F. is also horse country with 32 miles of trails at the Canebrake Horse Camp, and there are special trails that are designated for ORV & bikes. Canebrake Horse Camp, 29 sites, is really for horse folks, and is open year round. There is a dump station, tethering posts, restrooms, showers, drinking water and electrical hookups with a charge.
This area is great for mountain biking. Do not forget the hiking-only trails in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness area in the very north of the forest, near Asheboro. A Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area map is available from the Uwharrie National Forest office (910-576-6391).
I hope this helps you understand what a joy even our small North Carolina National Forests are. Please make plans to visit them this year!