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My feet are screaming inside my boots. I had expected this flat 22-miler near the Outer Banks to be an easy beach walk—but I’ve been walking through standing water for three straight hours. Now, I’m staring at what seems like the tenth water hazard of the day in this cypress-lined swamp where alligators lurk. Yet, I’m still smiling. It’s wild out here. Quiet out here. And I’m about to rest my feet at a campsite hidden amid the longleaf pines, beside a dark pool shrouded in mist—and the best kind of loneliness.
Distance: 22 miles
Time: 3 days
From Pine Cliff Picnic Area
(1) Follow the Neusiok Trail (part of the 672-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail) 1.7 miles along Neusiok Creek.
(2) Cutting inland on the trail, hike south to an unnamed pool at mile 13.2.
(3) Continue .4 mile southeast to FS 147/169; follow it 2 miles south.
(4) At mile 15.6, veer southeast (hiker’s left) onto the Neusiok Trail and follow it 4.4 miles to the Blackjack Lodge shelter .
(5) Go .8 mile on the main path to Mill Creek Road; cross it and parallel NC 181 to mile 22 where your shuttle car awaits.
Unnamed pool (mile 13.2)
Inside a stand of toothpick-thin pines, find this secluded site just west of the trail. It’s marked by a user-made fire pit and can fit three tents (first-come, first-serve). The tannin-colored lake (drinkable if filtered) attracts white-tailed deer and otters.
Blackjack Lodge (mile 20)
You’ll pass a trio of these three-sided, lean-to shelters on this section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, but we recommend staying at Blackjack, which nestles in a pine forest, home to bald eagles and red-cockaded woodpeckers. The first-come, first-serve shelter sleeps four and has a water pump. If taken, camp on the flat ground nearby.
Scan for American alligators lounging under boardwalks; they’re most active in spring and fall. (For more viewing tips, visit backpacker.com/alligator.) This area is also home to equally carnivorous (but slightly less alarming) Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, and sundew, which thrive in sandy soil by the swamps.
Shuttle car 34.760653, -76.761582; 7 miles east of Newport off FS 181. (Commercial option: Contact the Carteret County Wildlife Club via carteretcountywildlifeclub.org.) Trailhead 34.938877, -76.822006; 16 miles north of the shuttle car on Pine Cliff Rd. Season October to May; late spring for the best chances of seeing wildlife and carnivorous plants Permits None Custom-centered mapbit.do/BPmapNeusiokTrl ($15) Contactbit.do/CroatanNFTrip data backpacker.com/NeusiokTrl
- State: NC
- City: Wilmington, NC
- Distance: 22.0
- Contact: bit.do/CroatanNF
- Land Type: National Forest