Two osprey circle overhead, while a third hovers flapping its wings furiously, claws extended before diving 30 mph into the warm brackish water. With a fish in its talons the osprey flies low over the water, lunch squirming as it flies towards Hidden Lake.
The standup paddleboard glides further from shore over the deep blue of glassy water. Heading west, you paddle among stands of ghost cypress trees, landmarks to where land once existed now gone from storm surge erosion. The leafless and sunbleached trees stand in 4 feet of water 30 yards from the shore.
Palmetto Peartree Preserve and Hidden Lake, a 10,000 acres owned by NC DOT as of July 2016, offers 14 miles of winding shoreline to explore with numerous small wild pocket beaches, and plenty of privacy. There are also several boardwalks to check out.
Easily accessible from the OBX or Columbia, the preserve offers short casual outings, longer day paddles, and overnight platform camping.
There is an excellent chance of seeing migratory birds (over 90 different bird species ), and black bears. Hyde and Tyrrell Counties have one of the highest concentrations of black bears in North America.
The Main Trail ~1.5 miles one way | longer options available
Who Should Paddle This Trail
This trail is for you if you
- want a short paddle on the way to the OBX.
- seek remote open water paddling, with no human development and a 6 mile beautiful bike shuttle.
- desire an easy 1 night camping trip with a stunning dark sky, sunrise, and sunset.
From your car, access to the water requires a 138 yard carry. Follow the marked boardwalk trail to a narrow beach. This is a wild beach, with plenty of driftwood to carry your boat over but generally driftwood is not an issue.
Parking is limited (6 spaces) but rarely full.
This is a deceptively easy paddle. In light winds, the water is calm, glassy, and shallow with a short paddle to reach Hidden Lake. But, let the winds kick up over the sound and you’ll have whitewater conditions, combined with trying to find the hidden narrow creek to Hidden Lake. Good luck!
From the beach, head left (west) to the point of land (Palmetto Point). Paddle as far or close to shore as you want.
Reach Palmetto Point in .5 miles.
Paddle west another .75 miles to reach Hidden Lake’s entrance.
The creek is hidden, with no obvious landmarks (there are no signs, despite the brochure indicating as such) and requires single file paddling.
To find the entrance, check out every nook and cranny past Palmetto Point. Keep an eye on the water color. Where the lake empties into the sound look for subtle but noticeable color difference in the water.
If you reach Ship Point and see houses, you’ve gone .5 mile too far.
Once in the creek, paddle 1000 feet and arrive into 10 acre Hidden Lake. Remember to breath when you see it.
To find the platform, follow the left shoreline 400 feet. It is easy to find.
To get back, retrace your steps (recommended) or try the canal.
If you paddle the canal, bring a small hand saw or snips. The canal is often overgrown but protected from the winds. The canal entrance is 340 feet east of the platform and looks like a creek.
The canal leads to the road you parked on; your car is a 5 minute walk away.
What You’ll See
If you know your woodpeckers, look for one of the 28 groups of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which nests on the preserve.
Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, red wolves, black bears, bobcats and more than 100 migratory bird species also make home here.
One spring paddle I counted six active osprey nests visible from the platform.
The Albemarle sound is remote and expansive, blue water extends miles, with no human development visible as you paddle.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
The 10 acre lake is large; go explore. Two canals lead off the lake. One, near the platform, leads back to your car. The second leads to an eventual dead end at a curious building.
The lake offers good fishing.
Though close to the OBX, you’re just far enough away to have this spot to yourself. There is little chance of running into boaters (paddlers or motor boats).
The shoreline is easy to follow, regardless of which access point you use. Only Hidden Lake is hard to find.
Preserve road conditions are rough but passable by small 2 wheel drive sedans.
The hiking trails are relatively short but worth a walkabout. The “overlook” though doesn’t overlook anything.
Don’t trust your GPS or Map app to navigate eastern NC back roads.
Use these direction:
- Five miles East of Columbia on US Hwy 64 or about 5 miles West of the Alligator River Bridge on US Hwy 64, turn North onto Old US Hwy 64 (SR-1229).
- After approximately 2 miles, turn North onto Newfoundland Road (SR-1221).
- Turn left onto Sound Side/Fort Landing Road (SR-1209).
- Continue on Sound Side Road for less than 1 mile, then turn right onto Pot Licker/Loop Road (SR-1220).
- The entrance to the preserve is the first right 1 mile from Sound Side/Fort Landing Road.
- Follow signs to the boardwalk and canoe launch.
Free to visit and paddle.
The platform is available at a nominal nightly cost. Visit Roanoke River Partner’s website to reserve. Roanokeriverpartners.org
Where to Stay
Pettigrew State Park is a nice, small campground 37 minutes (28 miles) from the preserve.
The Brickhouse Inn B&B in cute and quaint Columbia, NC ranks highly on Trip Advisor.
Manteo and Roanoke Island, 30 miles east, offers a variety of lodging.