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Carolina Beach State Park (and 7 Great Things to Do There!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on June 23, 2024.

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Carolina Beach State Park is one of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina state for multiple reasons. The presence of the Venus Flytrap and the beautiful views of the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway are two major ones.

Nature lovers like us enjoy coming here throughout the year, especially on sunny winter days. If you’ve never been, you’ll see why this wonderful spot in New Hanover County is worth the trip.

Our guide will introduce you to our favorite things to do and how this awesome park came to be. Here’s what you’ll find below:

  • Carolina Beach State Park Facts
  • The History of Carolina Beach State Park
  • Things to Do (Trails, Boating, Camping, and More!)
  • Places Nearby

You can skip ahead to trail info and how to make camping reservations or continue reading for some interesting facts about Carolina Beach State Park!

Read More: 20+ Great Things to Do in Carolina Beach (and Nearby!)

Carolina Beach State Park Facts

Carolina Beach State Park

This popular coastal attraction is known for a few interesting tidbits and facts.

  • Carolina Beach State Park is about 20 minutes away from Wilmington, 30 minutes from Wrightsville Beach, and less than 10 minutes from Kure Beach.
  • It borders the Cape Fear River and Snow’s Cut/the Intracoastal Waterway.
  • A variety of distinct habitats thrive here, including the following:
    • Forests full of longleaf pine, turkey oak, and live oak trees.
    • Limesink ponds including Cypress Pond, Lily Pond, and Grass Pond.
    • Pocosins.
    • Brackish marshes.
  • Interesting plant life thrives within those ecosystems, too. They include the following cariverous plants:
    • Bladderworts.
    • Butterworts.
    • Pitcher plants.
    • Sundews.
    • Venus Flytrap.
  • Animals found within the park include:
    • Alligators (along the river near the Carolina Beach State Park Marina)
    • Birds (Brown Pelicans, Finches, Ospreys, Warblers, Woodpeckers, and more)
    • Frogs
    • Snakes (Venomous Eastern Coral)

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

The History of Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park Sugarloaf Dune
Walking to the edge of Sugarloaf Dune.
  • Long before its establishment as a park and before European settlement, the Cape Fear Indians lived here. They occupied the land that includes today’s Carolina Beach State Park, and its surroundings.
  • The 50-foot Sugarloaf Dune is one of the park’s major landmarks. As early as the 1730s, it appeared on boat navigational charts.
  • Colonists first permanently settled along the Lower Cape Fear River in 1726.
  • The area soon after thrived as a commercial port for agricultural products, timber, and naval stores.
  • During the Civil War, 5,000 Confederate troops used Sugarloaf to aid the defense of Wilmington and Fort Fisher.
  • The land known as Pleasure Island became an island in 1930 after the dredging of Snow’s Cut connected Myrtle Grove Sound to the Cape Fear River.
  • To preserve the unique flora and fauna here, Carolina Beach State Park was established in 1969.
  • It’s one of a few state park sites on the NC coast. Others include Hammocks Beach State Park (home to Bear Island) and Fort Macon State Park.

Read More: 125+ Interesting Facts About North Carolina

Is Swimming Allowed?

The short answer to “Can you swim at Carolina Beach State Park?” is “no.”

That’s because of the dangerously rough currents and sharp drop-offs on both the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway/Snow’s Cut side of the park. Please follow park rules and do not swim at Carolina Beach State Park.

Read More: 50+ Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington (and Nearby!)

Things to Do in Carolina Beach State Park

The Visitor Center

We’ll occasionally stop by the Carolina Beach State Park Visitor Center on State Park Road. Restrooms are adjacent to the center.

Inside, some concessions and souvenirs are available for purchase. You can also ask questions about trail conditions, camping check-in, and anything else related to the park.

Keep in mind that the office may close due to staffing shortages or any other unforeseeable reasons. When the Visitor Center is closed during park hours, you can visit the marina store for all of the above.

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Carolina Beach State Park Campground has a designated picnic area between the Campground and the Marina. It’s wheelchair-accessible and has grills to accommodate the perfect picnic experience.

This is where you’ll also start the TRACK Trail that we’ll detail more shortly.

The Marina has some picnic tables, too, if you’d like to eat and watch the boats that are docked at the slip.

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Trails (for Hiking and Biking)

Carolina Beach State Park Flytrap Trail
Flytrap Trail.

There are 9 officially designated Carolina Beach State Park trails. One trail (TRACK trail) is part of another (Snow’s Cut Trail) and 3 of the park’s trail spur off the Sugarloaf Trail.

Here’s a map and a breakdown of each one:

  • Campground Trail (1 Mile Loop): This trail connects Sugarloaf Trail with the Visitor Center and Family Camping area. It’s a nice diversion through sandhill forest, with longleaf pines and live oaks dominating the scene.
  • Fitness Trail (1 Mile Loop, Wheelchair-Accessible): The Fitness Trail is the only one located outside the park gates. It’s also paved and features exercise and activity stations along the way.
  • Flytrap Trail (0.5 Mile Loop, Wheelchair-Accessible): Flytrap Trail is largely popular because of its short distance. The scenic wooden boardwalk and Venus Flytraps that can sometimes be spotted are another reason to walk this trail. Arrive early if you want to get a parking spot because they can fill up on busy days. Flytrap Trail also connects to Sugarloaf Trail and Swamp Trail via a short spur.
  • Snow’s Cut Trail (0.75 Miles One Way): You can reach Snow’s Cut Trail from a parking lot outside the park gate, a trailhead inside the park, or via the TRACK Trail inside the park. Snow’s Cut Trail runs along Snow’s Cut (Intracoastal Waterway), with more that a few spots to grab scenic views of the water. Be careful, as there are some steep sandy dropoffs.
    • TRACK Trail (0.25 Miles): The Carolina Beach State Park TRACK Trail starts behind the picnic area, with brochures available for kids at the beginning. You’ll follow this for a short distance before meeting the Snow’s Cut Trail.
  • Sugarloaf Trail (3 Mile Loop): One of our favorite winter hikes in North Carolina State is Sugarloaf Trail. You can meet it via the Campground Trail, the Flytrap Trail or start from the parking lot near the park marina. Highlights include three Limesink Ponds (Cypress Pond, Lily Pond, and Grass Pond) and the Sugarloaf Dune, which offers a nice view of the Cape Fear River below. This trail will take you through a variety of diverse terrain, with many opportunities to extend through the below spur trails.
    • Oak Toe Trail (0.25 Miles One Way): The Oak Toe Trail will take you down to the Marsh Overlook, where views of the Cape Feawr River and brackish marsh await.
    • Sand Live Oak Trail (1.5 Mile Loop): Other than the Sugarloaf Trail, this is the longest trail at Carolina Beach State Park. Sand Live Oak Trail also leaves park property and onto US Federal land for a short stint before returning. The hike runs through ancient sand dune forests before reconnecting with the Sugarloaf Trail. It is considered a loop, but the Sand Live Oak Trail starts and ends at nearby points along the Sugarloaf Trail.
    • Swamp Trail (0.75 Miles One Way): If you started from the Marina, the Swamp Trail is the first spur you’ll encounter. It meets the Sugarloaf Trail before branching off toward the Flytrap Trail and its eventual reconnection with the Sugarloaf Trail.

Do you have a favorite hike at Carolina Beach State Park? If so, let us know in the comments below or by email!

Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Guided Hikes

You can hike whenever the park is open, but do keep an eye out for guided hikes led by park staff and rangers. Here are a few examples of park-led hikes:

  • Biological Wonderland Hike
  • Carnivorous Plant Hike
  • Fourth Wednesday Bird Walk

Carolina Beach State Park does keep an events and programs page for us all to follow.

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Carolina Beach State Park Marina Boat Slip

If you’ve got a boat, then Carolina Beach State Park is a wonderful place to take it! Where Snow’s Cut meets the Cape Fear River, there’s a 54-slip marina, a fuel dock, and two public boat ramps.

If you rent a boat slip, you’ll have access to showers at the marina.

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Carolina Beach State Park Boat Intracoastal Waterway
View of the Intracoastal Waterway from Snope’s Cut Trail.

Carolina Beach State Park is easily one of North Carolina’s best fishing spots. Speckled trout, sheepshead, and flounder are a few of the fish waiting to be hooked!

You can either fish from your boat after launching it from the marina, from the riverbank, or from the marina’s wheelchair-accessible fishing deck.

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You can always extend your stay at Carolina Beach State Park by camping here. There are a few camping options, too, which include the following:

  • Tent, Trailer, and RV Camping Area: The Tent, Trailer, and RV Camping Area is located in the Family Campground Area near Snow’s Cut. It hosts 83 family campsites that include 1 wheelchair-accessible site, 9 full hookup sites, 70 non-electric sites, and 4 electric and water hookup sites. Each site has a picnic table and a charcoal grill or fire ring.
  • Carolina Beach State Park Cabins: There are 4 camper cabins at Carolina Beach State Park. These are located in the same area as the Tent, Trailer, and RV campsites. Each camper cabin sleeps 6 people and is equipped with electrical outlets, heating, and air-conditioning. A picnic table, charcoal grill, and a fire ring are situated outside each camper cabin.
  • Group Camping Areas: There are two Group Camping Areas, each located along the Swamp Trail. The Flytrap Trail parking lot is about 400 yards from these sites. Site #1 can accommodate up to 26 people and Site #2 can fit up to 40 people. Both are equipped with two picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and pit toilets.

A dump station is located near the bathhouse and Family Campground Area.

For Carolina Beach State Park camping reservations, call 1-877-722-6762.

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Ready to Enjoy these Things to Do in Carolina Beach State Park?

Carolina Beach State Park TRACK Trail

Carolina Beach State Park is another reason to spend time in this amazing area we all know as Pleasure Island. Whether you’re searching for Venus Flytraps, want to do some fishing, take your boat out, or just enjoy some nature time, we think this is the perfect place.

If you know about this awesome state park and have fun experiences to share, you can do so in the comments section below or by email. Either way, we hope to hear from you.

For first-time visitors, please feel free to join the conversation and don’t forget to share your photos in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

Before you do so, here are a few more things to do nearby.

Nearby Attractions

Kure Beach Pier
Kure Beach Pier.

Downtown Wilmington is about 20 minutes away from Carolina Beach State Park, packed with fun things to do, great restaurants, and more. Here are places that are even closer:

  • Carolina Beach: The Town of Carolina Beach is just a few minutes away from the park. It’s one of the most popular beaches near Wilmington. Beautiful and family-friendly, its boardwalk well-known for great food and shopping.
  • Kure Beach: Kure Beach (pronounced cure-ee) is less than 10 minutes away from Carolina Beach State Park. It’s a relatively quiet, family-friendly town with a relatively less crowded beach—one of our personal favorites. Kure Beach is complemented by lovely pastel-colored homes and the oldest fishing pier on the Atlantic Coast. Kure Beach is also a great place to base your adventures to the following popular attractions:

Here are some more things to do in the area around Carolina Beach State Park.

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