Eastern North Carolina is surrounded by water. Large rivers, the Intercoastal Waterway, various inlets, sounds, and of course the Atlantic Ocean…just to name a few. If you get to the right spot at the right time, you can actually end the day by watching the sun melt into the horizon.
If you point yourself in the right direction, that is.
So off I went, mobile compass apps be damned. I headed to Pine Cliff near the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in search of sunset.
I am notorious for reading maps upside down, it should have been no surprise that I set out to capture the sunset in a location that faces north-east-ish.
To be fair, we just moved here from California and in that beautiful state, the sun sets over the water…always. The mountains were east; the beach was west, and PCH ran north and south. To find the sunset, I go to the beach. Simple.
But here in North Carolina is a different story. Living on the southern part of the Outer Banks we are surrounded by water and there’s not a mountain range within eyesight.
I’m not complaining. The area is pretty darned cool. But I still haven’t figured out my directions…probably never will…so I’ll just have to enjoy the journey no matter which way I’m facing! Simple enough.
Winter here isn’t too bad but when you get a break in the weather and the temperature heats up to a “balmy” 68 degrees you just gotta take advantage of it. The skies were pretty clear with a few clouds so I anticipated a colorful sunset. That’s what drove me to check out Pine Cliff Recreational Area.
The Croatan National Forest is the only true coastal forest in North Carolina. Pine Cliff is one of the three trail heads of the Neusiok Trail which is part of the 900-mile Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail. That larger trail starts in the Smoky Mountains and ends at the ocean near Jockey Ridge State Park.
To get to Pine Cliff, follow Hwy 70 toward the ocean. Cut across State Route 101 then to State Route 306 toward the Ferry that goes to Minnesott Beach. The turn from Hwy 70 onto 101 is easy to find. It’s an intersection, with lights, and has a Ford dealership at the corner.
I passed the Rec area turn off the first time (it will be on your left) and ended at the dead end of the road which is the line for the Ferry. So, if you miss it too don’t worry because you won’t be too far off track. Just turn around and go back less than ½ mile to the brown sign for Pine Cliff. The road to the recreation area is hard-packed dirt and my little car did just fine.
The Recreational area at Pine Cliff is set up nicely for day use. There are some covered areas for picnics, outdoor barbecues and restrooms. You will also see the trailhead for the Neusiok Trail.
The Neusiok Trail
This trail is on my list to tackle another day – perhaps early Spring when it’s a little warmer but before the bugs come alive. The USDA Forest Service advises the best time to hike the trail is from October thru May. If you go, you may not be alone so use some caution.
October to December is hunting season so be sure you wear a bright orange hat or vest and if you have your dog with you, put a vest on them so too they are not mistaken for dinner.
It looks like the trail can get pretty thick and you will spot wildlife if you’re lucky (or not so lucky) depending on how you define “lucky.”
They say you can encounter deer, turkey, otters, squirrels and bear. I’ve seen bear on trails before and pretty much if you’re not carrying a peanut butter sandwich and they hear you coming, they will most likely steer clear of you unless you seem to pose a threat. Be bear aware.
The Forest Service advises you may even encounter alligator on the trail. I imagine this would be closer to the marshy areas – but what do I know…I’m just a California girl with a Carolina soul that doesn’t know east from west.
And, I haven’t seen an alligator outside of the zoo. Not sure how I feel about that yet so I’ll let you know when it happens. *gulp
You can also camp along the trail. To get the latest information about this trail and any other NC spots go directly to their website or call and ask for more information. I find it’s better to find out conditions before you go rather than be surprised when you get there.
Croatan Ranger District
141 E. Fisher Avenue
New Bern, NC 28650
The Beach at Pine Cliff
The beach area of Pine Cliff is pretty nice. You could easily launch your canoe or paddleboard into the Neuse River. When you’re ready to take a little hike, you can go along the beach or take up the trail.
I was there late afternoon so only hiked up the trail about a mile or so. It was an easy trek and at some points you may be sharing the trail with horses since they have access too.
It’s close to the Marine Air Station, so you will see planes overhead. If you’re looking for total peace and quiet, that could kill the mood. While I was there only about 3 planes flew overhead so it wasn’t too bad.
And the sunset? Well, that ended up being behind me.
While I still got to see some pink in the sky and get some decent shots, I didn’t have the full frontal assault of a beautiful sunset. In addition, there was a rain storm coming in and the clouds moved in fast as the temperature dropped about 15 degrees.
By the time I was on the road going home, a light sprinkle had begun. Nothing a warm cup of coffee won’t cure.
Let me know if you go!