A gorgeous pristine reserve, with wild ponies, white sand beaches, 200 species of bird, and relaxing paddling. The Rachel Carson Reserve, North Carolina, is an excellent and fairly mellow scenic paddle.
As you eat your picnic on the empty beach, the ponies watch you back, bottlenose dolphins surface for air, and fiddler crabs live their lives. You’re in a different world, with your only concerns to eat, drink enough water, and reapply sunscreen.
Though the reserve is directly across from Beaufort, NC and easy to reach, with plenty of boats cruising the channels, the reserve is empty and secluded. The boaters head elsewhere.
You won’t tire of visiting here; explore the hiking trails, shell along the beach, and spend time in a place where nature is untouched.
The reserve is worth as much time as you can spend visiting it.
The Main Paddle Trail 7.78 mile roundtrip loop | 4-5 hours
Who Should Paddle This Trail
This trail is for you if you want
- to hang out on a beach without paddling to the ocean. The reserve’s south shore has numerous sandbars at high or low tide.
- a casual paddle with friends or family.
- a great day paddling warm waters with plenty of shorebirds and some wild ponies
The reserve is worth visiting year around, from the heat of summer to the cool winters.
During the summer months, the 31 spots at North Carolina Wildlife Commission public boat ramp at Curtis Perry Park on Lennoxville Road fills with motorboat traffic. If you cannot arrive early there are several other good public access points that don’t add additional milage if you use them.. See Local Knowledge section and map for details . Google Street View of this access point.
While not entirely required, enjoy the paddle more and work less by going with the tide. The current isn’t strong on the sound-side but it is noticeable in Taylor Creek (the creek between the estuary and the Town of Beaufort). Use the Beaufort, Taylor Creek tide reading on SaltwaterTides.com for tide times.
If the wind is forecasted above 17+ mph, you won’t find much escape from its power.
For navigation, this is an easy paddle, the route takes you clockwise around the island. Several landmarks are described to help you determine where you are.
Cellphone reception is good.
From Lennoxville Road public boat ramp, head left (east) out of the ramp for a clockwise route around the reserve. Keep the land on your right.
At .8 miles from the boat ramp, you reach the confluence of Taylor Creek and the open waters of the sound.
At the confluence, paddle right (south-ish), around the tip. From here Cape Lookout Lighthouse is in the far eastward distance.
At mile 2, reach the shortcut channel through the middle of the reserve; it is only available at high tide.
At mile 5, is the reserve’s west side, across from Radio Island with higher boat traffic. All traffic funnels through this channel.
Between mile 5.5 and 6, paddle through moored boats, with fun names and exotic locations.
For the next 1.7 miles, the wild of the reserve is on your right and beautiful waterfront houses on your left.
The large, industrial (and visually out of place) boat house is your landmark. The commercial boat storage is right next to your starting point.
What You’ll See
As you near the reserve’s west end, low and squat across the inlet is the Civil War era Fort Macon. Now a North Carolina State Park, it is well maintained, free, and very much worth a visit.
Taylor creek divides you between modern society and undeveloped beaches. Large million dollar houses and the town of Beaufort line the creek’s north bank while the south bank is rugged with sand dunes, maritime shrubs (like black needlerush and glasswort), and mud and salt flats.
From the reserve’s south side, Shackleford Island is tantalizingly close but a mile and half away.
The reserve is home to a small wild herd of ponies, 200 species of birds. The reserve is along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway with the species of birds changing frequently.
It common to also see Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, diamondback terrapins, and, if you paddle with a close eye through the clear water, loggerhead sea turtles.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
The paddle trail is not protected from strong west or east winds. Winds, and resulting waves, from the south push you onto the southern shores of the reserve but generally aren’t felt while paddling in Taylor creek.
The reserve is actually four islands: Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, and Horse Island. While this guide has you paddling the outside, it is worth exploring the nooks of the reserve if the tide allows.
The west side has a short nature trail. The official trail guide [upload document and link to it from website] has good information about what you see. Wear shoes with decent soles; there are a number of burrs and broken shells that go through flip-flops.
Time your departure to go out with the low tide and back with the high tide. The current in Taylor creek moves fast enough during rage tide to make paddling against it challenging.
If the Lennoxville road ramp is full or too busy, use Radio Island’s public access. The parking lot on Radio Island requires carrying your boat 342 feet sand beach and then cross the often busy, but narrow, channel.
Beaufort’s downtown is very cute and small with several quality restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. Stay exactly at the speed limit; police are aggressive in ticketing.
Recommend Launch: Taylors Creek North Carolina Wildlife Public Boat Ramp
2370 Lennoxville Road
Beaufort, NC 28516
31 trailer spaces and restrooms
Other option: Topsail Marine Park
Intersection of Orange and Front Street
A small passive park with benches, a water fountain, a bike rack, and a floating dock for fishing and small boats. Parking on Front Street.
Google Street View
GPS: 34.71764, -76.66733
Other option: Fishermen’s Park
Front Street, at the end of Gordon Street. Access includes a dock, a boat launch and a storage kayak rack that holding more than 20 boats. The storage rack is leased on an annual permitting system. There is a street-side bench, picnic table, and a small sandy beach. Park on Gordon Street.
Google Street View
GPS: 34.71307, -76.65825
Free parking at all launch sites.
The reserve is free to visit.
Where to Stay
Croatan National Forest offers two public campgrounds a short drive away. Oyster Point (website) and Cedar Point (website) . Oyster Point is tent camping only with minimal basic amenities (vault toilets, tent pads, fire rings, and picnic tables). Cedar Point is beautifully developed and the recommended campsite with hot showers, drinking water, and clean vault toilets. Both campgrounds offer good sleeping conditions. Reservations highly suggested for Cedar Point but are not available at Oyster Point.
Beaufort offers numerous inns, B&Bs, and major hotels.