Need a break from the busy summer traffic and crowds? Enjoy the tranquil beauty of Nags Head Woods Preserve, which is located at milepost 9.5 in Kill Devil Hills. The preserve boasts more than eight miles of hiking trails, which wind through 1,400 acres of ponds, wetlands and sanddunes within this maritime forest.

Nags Head Woods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974. The Nature Conservancy worked with the Town of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and private donors to grow the preserve into the thriving, diverse, protected ecosystem it is today. The Nature Conservancy manages the preserve, and its representatives are available to answer questions at the Visitor’s Center.

I decided to check it out. Heading out on the Roanoke Trail, which leads to Roanoke Sound, I was awestruck by the layers of shades of green: a bright algal blooms atop a freshwater pond framed by new growth on beech, sweet gum, and hickory trees — all under the canopy of live oaks, and towering pines. The taller trees can survive the salt spray that comes over the major dunes bordering the preserve, Jockey’s Ridge to the south, and Run Hill to the north. That tall canopy also shields the more fragile deciduous forest beneath.

As I made my way, I saw wood ducks floating on one of the ponds, just as a young angler brought in a nice largemouth bass. Catch and release fishing is allowed on marked fishing piers.

Back onto the trail, this time the Sweetgum Swamp Trail, I lose track of how many birds I have seen. Note to self: Bring binoculars next visit. Another surprise is the elevation here — the highest point is 100 feet above sea level. The moderate and strenuous trails have plenty of grade for a good work out. There are easy walk trails for families and also an accessible ADA trail.

In the 1800s and early-1900s, there was a thriving community in the preserve. Prior to that era, Native Americans lived under the shelter of the forest hunting and fishing between the sound and the ocean. Local legends abound of sightings and hauntings, yet none have proven factual. The history of the people who lived in Nags Head Woods can be found in the book by Amy Glass and Dr. Lu Ann Jones, “Everyone Helped His Neighbor, Memories of Nags Head Woods.”

Nags Head Woods Preserve is one of the best examples of a coastal wooded habitat on the East Coast, and it is right in the center of the Outer Banks. As I turn back to the trailhead and rejoin the noise of my busy life, I feel refreshed from the time spent here. I hope you get a chance to enjoy the beauty and peace of Nags Head Woods Preserve.


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