A young woman sits on a pier overlooking a pond, surrounded by trees with fall foliage.
Nags Head Hike November 2015. Bekah Herndon sits on a fishing pier at a freshwater pond along the Discovery Trail in the Nags Head Woods Preserve. North Carolina. © Ben Herndon for The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

Nags Head Woods Preserve

North Carolina

A gem of forested ridges, ponds, marshes and wetlands nestled on the Outer Banks.

The hiking trails on the preserve are open, but for staff safety related to COVID-19, our office and visitor services remain closed. Visitors are required to abide by 6-foot social distancing. In case of emergency, dial 911.   


 

Conservation Highlights

Nags Head Woods Preserve on North Carolina’s Outer Banks protects one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the East Coast. Defined as a woodland habitat affected by the ocean, maritime forests such as Nags Head Woods have become increasingly rare due to the pressures of human development throughout coastal environments.      

Shielded from the ocean winds by the great sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the Preserve features an amazing diversity of plant and animal life. Towering oaks, hickories, and beech trees, some hundreds of years old, rise from the high ridges and create a canopy of trees more typical of the mountains of the eastern United States.  There are seven plant community types in the Preserve and one of those, the maritime deciduous forest, is globally rare. In all, over 550 species of plants have been documented at Nags Head Woods ranging from tall trees to tiny orchids.  

The Preserve hosts more than 150 species of birds, at least 50 of which nest there.  Brightly colored prothonotary warblers, summer tanagers and blue grosbeaks make Nags Head Woods home in the summer months to raise their young then return to Central and South America for the winter.  Not just for the birds, over 50 species of amphibians and reptiles have been documented as well. The freshwater ponds are inhabited by seven species of fish in addition to a great diversity of floating aquatic plant life, including the rare water violet.  More than 20 mammal species have been documented in Nags Head Woods. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of river otter.  The most recent addition to the mammal list at Nags Head Woods is the bobcat, uncommon along the Outer Banks.     

History of the Preserve

Nags Head Woods was a thriving village community with homesites, churches, a school, a gristmill, and a shingle factory through the 1930s. A full history of the village can be accessed through an audio tour on the Roanoke Trail.

Nags Head Woods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, and protecting its unique habitats was one of TNC's first priorities in North Carolina. With the support of the community, area landowners, local municipalities and other partners, TNC has succeeded in the preservation of this very special ecosystem and shares it with visitors throughout the year.

Plan Your Visit

The Preserve is a self-guided facility open from dawn to dusk every day free of charge. Restrooms and visitor lobby are open based on staff availability, so plan ahead. 

Parking is located at 701 West Ocean Acres Drive in Kill Devil Hills NC. Our parking is limited so please carpool. Bus parking is not available. 

Center, Sweetgum, Blueberry, Discovery, ADA and Discovery Trails are all accessed by a short walk from the parking area. 

Regulations

  • Always stay on designated trails.
  • Pet-friendly trails: municipal laws require that pets be leashed and cleaned up after.
  • Bicycles, horses, and motorized vehicles are allowed on the gravel roadway only.
  • Busparking is not available.
  • Research that takes place in Nags Head Woods must be permitted.
  • Do not damage or remove any plants, animals, or artifacts.

Gear and Safety

For your safety and to protect this fragile ecosystem, always stay on designated trails and have access to a trail map. We recommend closed toe shoes, long pants and sleeves, hats and insect repellent to protect from tick and insect bites. Bring plenty of drinking water with you. Bring binoculars to get better views of wildlife.

Trails

Center, Sweetgum Swamp and Blueberry Ridge Trails
  • One big trail system in three parts through mature maritime forest. Access off the deck at the parking area. Sweetgum and Blueberry Trails are rigorous in skill level, so plan accordingly.
Discovery Trail
  • Easy trail accessed by walking out the parking area and left down the gravel road. The entrance is on the right. Permitted freshwater fishing allowed at the large pond.
ADA Trail
  • Fully ADA compliant, accessed by:
  1. Walking out the parking area, left down the gravel road and straight at the intersection(.2 miles )
  2. There are two ADA parking spots at the head of the trail. All other vehicles will be towed.This trailhosts permitted freshwater fishing , a butterfly garden and views of the RoanokeSound. Stroller friendly, too.
Roanoke Trail
  • Moderate hike accessed by walking out the parking area, left down the gravel road and right at the intersection (.2 miles). The entrance is on the left. Once the driveway of a homestead, this trail has cultural history and a small beach at the Roanoke Sound. Bring your cell phones to access the audio tour.
Nags Head Town Trail
  • Moderate hike accessed at Nags Head Town Park415 Health Center Drive Nags Head, NC.

Informational Materials

Additional brochures are available at our outdoor information counter.

GPS Coordinates

Longitude: -75.66513792120
Latitude: 35.99000214880

Contact

You can reach our program staff during office hours at 252-441-2525.