Compass in Forest Bekah Herndon references a compass while hiking the Sweetgum Swamp Trail in the Nags Head Woods Preserve. © Ben Herndon/

Stories in North Carolina

5 Family-Friendly Hikes

By Kelly Hoeltzel

North Carolina is wonderfully rich in natural beauty. We've put together a list of some of our favorite hikes that the whole family can enjoy. These trails will take you through great scenery and diverse habitats, and they are mild enough for even the youngest member of your family.

1. Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail, Hillsborough

The Mountain Loop Trail at Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is perfect for beginners. The path winds 2.2 miles through mature oak forest, alongside the Eno River, and up to a scenic overview of Orange County. The Occoneechee lookout is the highest point in Orange County and a great spot for viewing the Eno and surrounding park wilderness. In the spring, you can see mountain laurel blooms and deep thickets of native rhododendron. The trail passes fishing spots along the Eno River.  Educational programs, offered by park rangers, highlight native plants and animals and are engaging for naturalists of all ages.

2. Cape Fear River Trail, Fayetteville

This paved trail runs 5.3 miles along the Cape Fear River and is a fun adventure for all ages and abilities.  Over 1,000 feet of boardwalk provide access to wetland and marsh areas. The trail has educational signs, security stations, and restrooms intermittently along the path.  There are gorgeous river outlooks, picturesque wooden bridges, and picnic tables and benches if you want to pack a lunch.  

This is an out-and-back trail. We recommend parking at the Jordan Soccer Complex and walking south toward the bridges with river views. 

3. Bass Lake Trail, Holly Springs

This trail circles 1.25 miles around Bass Lake, making it a great spot for fishing and enjoying the sunset.  Bass Lake is a popular spot in the summer, with plenty of rhododendrons, wildflowers, and wildlife. Although unpaved, the trail is smooth enough for wheelchairs and strollers and large enough for hikers, joggers, and bikers. There is a paved parking lot for easy access.

4. Discovery Trail, Nags Head Woods

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve has seven hiking trails, each a unique exploration of diverse coastal habitats.  We recommend the Discovery Trail, which travels by dune ridges, ponds, forests, and a butterfly garden. The trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible and the Nags Head Woods Preserve visitor and education centers are nearby. 

5. Flytrap Trail, Carolina Beach

The Flytrap Trail is a 0.35-mile loop running through longleaf pine forest, wiregrass savannas, and pocosin. Keep an eye out for gorgeous orchids and carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap, which is native to a small region straddling southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina. Say that three times fast! The loop begins and ends at the Nature Trail Lane parking area.