Dayhikers know that Croatan National Forest is lively during the day. It's home to the state's fabled pocosins: impenetrable "swamps on a hill" where black bears roam and America's greatest concentration of Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants thrive. But the real action is revealed to those who stay overnight, when the forest becomes a riotous symphony of chattering insects, jabbering frogs, and owls on the hunt.
To get an earful of the action--and a healthy dose of adventure and relaxation--traverse the wilderness on the 21-mile Neusiok Trail. Be on the lookout for wild turkey, colorful lizards and skinks, and more shorebirds than you can count. The trail traces sandy beaches lined with gnarled cypress trees, shady forests of saw palmetto and rare longleaf pine, and the warm Neuse River, great for rinsing off the sweat and sand.
route Start at the Pine Cliff Recreation Area and follow the Neusiok Trail along the sandy banks of the Neuse River. Midroute, two shelters above the muddy ground offer the best places to spend the night. After 21 miles, the trail ends at the salt marshes that line the Newport River. Keep an eye out for alligators.
drive time Raleigh: 3 hours; Charlotte: 6 hours
the way From Charlotte, take I-85 north to I-40 east, toward Raleigh. At Raleigh, follow US 70 east to Havelock, NC. Turn left on NC 101 and left again on NC 306. Another left on Forest Service Road 132 leads to the trailhead.
dayhike To sample Croatan's diverse ecology, try the 1.3-mile Cedar Point Tideland Trail.
season Visit March to May-after hunting season and before the heat.
guidesNorth Carolina Hiking Trails, by Allen de Hart ($19). A detailed map is at Croatan National Forest's Web site (see Contact; $6).
contact Croatan National Forest, (252) 638-5628; www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/recreation/croatan.pdf