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The sun hangs low over North Carolina’s Cape Fear River as we make our way in kayaks toward the uninhabited Shark’s Tooth Island. Along the shore, the salt marsh glows golden in the warm light and hundreds of tiny fiddler crabs wave us a hearty farewell from the muck with their oversized claws. We pass a decommissioned radio tower and spy a pair of osprey watching us warily from their gigantic nest at the tower’s platformed top.
“An osprey nest can weigh more than 1,000 pounds,” Don, our guide, tells us. “This particular nest was so strong it survived the last hurricane that made landfall here.”
A few minutes later, we make landfall and gather in a huddle on the island shore. It is low tide and there’s plenty to see among the newly exposed rocks, including prehistoric shark teeth and other ancient marine fossils. Don spends only a few seconds scouring the sand before finding a tooth and holding it out for us to examine. “Great white,” he tells us. Soon, we’re finding shark teeth on our own as well as beautiful spiraling snail shell fossils, cephalopods and even what appears to be a fossilized fragment of prehistoric animal bone. We paddle back at sunset, pockets full of treasure, soaking up the beauty of our surroundings. It’s an afternoon none of us will ever forget.
We are a family that craves the outdoors; we make time for it on every vacation. Fortunately, Carolina Beach has plenty of options for us to choose from. In addition to kayak rentals and guided tours along the area’s rivers, creeks and salt marsh, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, diving, surfing, fishing and more. Here are a few of our favorite Carolina Beach adventures.
Carolina Beach is a surfing sweet spot, and that’s exactly why Olympian and professional surfer Tony Silvagni opened a surf school here. He offers surf camp for kids and adults, as well as private and group surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons.
If you think surfing provides a rush, try kiteboarding.This extreme sport is gaining in popularity and adventure seekers can learn the ropes (or lines, if you want to get technical) from Carolina Beach’s finest at Odysea Surf and Kiteboard School.
Believe it or not, Venus flytraps are native only to Wilmington, North Carolina and the area within a sixty-mile radius of the city. The best place to see them in the wild is Carolina Beach State Park. We opted for a ranger-led tour to see these famous carnivorous plants, and we were glad we did. The tiny plants are well hidden in the underbrush and I don’t think we could have found them on our own! It was another once-in-a-lifetime experience we’ll never forget.
Drive on the beach at Freeman Park. Not many places allow you to drive on the beach these days, but if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can do just that at Freeman Park Recreation Area at the north end of Carolina Beach. Get a permit at the visitor’s center and you take a ride on the sands. Do note that if you get stuck, you’re on your own!
Catch your dinner on a chartered fishing expedition. The combination of the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean make the North Carolina coast a great place to go fishing. Many varieties of fish populate the waters and you can hire a crew to take you just offshore or deep into the ocean, whichever you prefer.
Rent bikes and take a self-guided history tour of Carolina Beach. Wheel Fun Rentals has developed a 3-4 hour self-guided bicycle tour that includes a leisurely stop for lunch. Along the way, you’ll see remnants of a beached blockade runner, the Fort Fisher Civil War site, the bunker that once belonged to the infamous Fort Fisher Hermit, the aquarium, and much more.
Skateboarding fans will definitely want to check out Carolina Beach’s own 8,000 square foot skate park at Mike Chappell Park, which has plenty of ramps, rails and bowls.
At the end of your day of adventure, kick back and enjoy a beer or cocktail with the locals. Carolina Beach’s Fat Pelican has been named one of the top 25 dive bars in the nation and it’s always filled with revelers, whereas the Ocean Grill & Tiki Bar is one of the most unique bars in Carolina beach — its situated on the remains of the famed Center Pier! The Shuckin’ Shack is another after-dark hotspot with cold beer, fresh oysters, and possibly the best chicken wings in the state.