Where to view wildlife in North Carolina during the 2016 TWS Conference


The coastal region of North Carolina is teeming with wildlife, from alligators to avocets, and home to some special ecosystems and plants including the Venus flytrap. A great general reference is: http://www.coastalguide.com/nc-wildlife.html . Below are a few specific ideas.

NC State Parks: Coastal NC has a number of beautiful state parks offering hiking, birding, biking, and other recreational opportunities. Check out several species of carnivorous plants at Carolina Beach State Park. See the unique geography of Cliffs of Neuse State Park. Visit a restored Civil War-era fort at Fort Macon State Park. See one of NC’s ecological mysteries at Lake Waccamaw State Park. The opportunities are endless!

Croatan National Forest: 160,000 acres of coastal forest await you at Croatan National Forest. Recreation including camping, fishing, canoeing, hiking, and wildlife watching are all options in this diverse national treasure.

The Green Swamp Preserve: Visit one of the most biologically diverse spots in eastern North Carolina – The Nature Conservancy’s Green Swamp Preserve. Covering over 17,000 acres, this preserve is open to the public and has trails for hiking and viewing the diverse plant and animal species found in this fire-maintained longleaf pine & pocosin ecosystem.

Pelagic Opportunities: Take your birding offshore! There are a number of outfitters running offshore birding trips out of ports like Morehead City and Hatteras.


Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve: Hemlock Bluffs is one of a few state nature preserves in North Carolina. It is an important location due to its unique flora and fauna. Although it lies in the heart of North Carolina’s Piedmont region, the Preserve is home to flora more typically found in the mountains, including Galax (Galax urceolata) and the Eastern Hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis) for which it is named. In addition, Hemlock Bluffs is a valuable refuge for many species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, insects and arachnids. Because of its location in the middle of the increasingly urbanized Town of Cary, Hemlock Bluffs also functions as an important corridor for a great diversity of migrant birds that complement many residents specifies of avifauna. Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve features many amenities for visitors, including trails, boardwalks, an educational center and gift shop. We invite you to come and enjoy the natural beauty of Hemlock Bluffs.

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area: Just a short drive outside of Raleigh, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area offers opportunities to view bald eagles roosting in trees near the water edge and fishing over the lake. Also keep an eye out for osprey during your visit.

Uwharrie National Forest: Uwharrie National Forest is an excellent location to view common North Carolina wildlife including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and eastern cottontails. Birders will enjoy the opportunity to observe wood thrushes, hooded and prothonotary warblers, and American redstarts in the central part of the state.

William B. Umstead State Park: Hikers, trail runners, bicyclists and equestrians cherish the extensive network of hiking and multi-use trails at William B. Umstead State Park. Trailheads on both sides of the park—accessible from Interstate 40 and US 70—surround three manmade lakes. The largest is Big Lake, offering canoe and rowboat rentals. Fishing is welcome at all the lakes and connecting tributaries. At both access areas, picnic grounds surround shelters with fireplaces that can be reserved. For organizations and nonprofit groups, primitive group campsites are available as well as two group camps with cabins, mess halls, and washhouses. Historic Maple Hill Lodge can be reserved for overnight group gatherings. A tent campground is open during summer months.


Blue Ridge Parkway: over two hundred miles of the Parkway are located in Western NC from the VA/NC line to the Parkway’s terminus in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; includes numerous scenic overlooks and vistas, hiking trail access points, and traverses through a wide variety of Appalachian Mountain habitats and elevations providing countless wildlife viewing opportunities for game species like black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse and non-game species like raptors, songbirds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: the most visited National Park in the US; on the NC half of the Park, examples of wildlife viewing areas include Cattaloochee Valley, Smokemont and Oconoluftee Visitor’s Center, Clingman’s Dome, Heintooga, Purchase Knob, and Mt. Sterling, along with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and creek access points; fall is a great time to visit and watch (and listen) for the ever-popular resident elk herd in the Park; other species that may be viewed are black bear, wild turkey, brook trout, and numerous reptiles and amphibians.

National Forests: the Appalachian Mountain region of NC includes over a million acres within Pisgah National Forest and Nantahala National Forest; game and nongame wildlife viewing opportunities and many top-of-the mountain vistas abound at sites like Roan Mountain Highlands, Max Patch, Shining Rock Wilderness, Middle Prong Wilderness, Linville Gorge Wilderness and Table Rock, and Harmon Den in the Pisgah and the Snowbird Mountains and Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Standing Indian Mountain, Panthertown Valley, and Whiteside Mountain in the Nantahala; all Southern Appalachian habitat and vegetation communities are represented in these areas, for example, from high-elevation spruce-fir and Northern hardwoods to cove forests, from waterfalls, riverine systems, and wetlands to rock outcrops, and from granitic domes to grassy balds.

NC State Parks: Western NC is blessed with numerous unique State Parks including Stone Mountain, Chimney Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, Lake James, Gorges, South Mountain, Mt. Mitchell, Elk Knob, and New River; these beautiful parks offer something for everyone, providing ample recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities, particularly for songbirds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians, and large game species in some areas; 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the NC State Park system.

NC State Forests: DuPont State Recreational Forest and Holmes Educational State Forest provide recreational, educational, and wildlife viewing opportunities in Henderson and Transylvania Counties, NC; a variety of habitats are represented including rock outcrops, waterfalls, rocky balds, creeks, and fire-adapted forests.

State Game Lands: The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission owns and manages over two million acres of Game Lands in the state with many in Western NC; these lands are managed for game and nongame wildlife species alike, from black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, rainbow trout, and small game to songbirds, raptors, and reptiles and amphibians; NC Game Lands provide hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor recreational opportunities for the public. Examples of western region Game Lands include: Green River, Sandy Mush, Pond Mountain, Three Top Mountain, South Mountains, Mitchell River, John’s River, Needmore, Cold Mountain, Mitchell River, Thurmond-Chatham, Buffalo Cove, and Elk Knob; Game Land visitors must follow all NCWRC regulations and safety protocol (wear blaze orange).


Carver’s Creek State Park: Although in the early stages of development, amenities at Carvers Creek State Park now center on Long Valley Farm, the historic retreat of a Rockefeller family member. A mile and 3/4th of trails reveals a 100-acre millpond, fed in turn by one of the state’s westernmost cypress streams and wetlands. Easy trails wind along native grass meadows, through longleaf pine forests, and along the lovely millpond with a dramatic view from a floating observation deck. Fishing in the millpond is a popular activity, though private boats are not permitted. Along with regular interpretive programs, rangers lead occasional tours through the vacation home of the late James Stillman Rockefeller who bequeathed the property for conservation. More recreation opportunities are being planned for the park that encompasses more than 4,000 acres.

Lumber River State Park: On a national wild and scenic river, Lumber River State Park is all about eastern North Carolina paddling, fishing and exquisite scenery. The Princess Ann and Chalk Banks access areas anchor two ends of the riverine park, with tent-friendly campgrounds, group campsites, picnic grounds and short hiking trails at both. Possibilities for kayaking and canoeing are extraordinary, but require careful planning due to fluctuating water levels and hazards. There have been 24 possible float trips identified along this blackwater river, ranging from one hour to about half a day. Pier and riverbank fishing is available for black crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and panfish. The park’s interpretive programs regularly include paddling and fishing excursions.

Sandhills GameLands: Largest natural reserve in the Sandhills region. Habitats include old-growth longleaf pine flatwoods and savannas, Atlantic white cedar stands, by heads with pond pine and evergreen shrubs, hardwood swamps, blackwater streams, and bluffs covered by mountain laurel. These diverse communities and extreme wet and dry conditions provide habitat for many animals, also numerous rare plants. Many amphibians and reptiles here, including scarlet king snake, northern pine snake, and pygmy rattler. Spectacular springtime choruses of frogs, including pine barrens treefrog. Rare Bachman’s sparrow nests in grasses; colonies of endangered red-cockaded woodpecker found in mature pine stands. Watch for fox squirrels, white-tail deer, red and grey foxes, as well as many butterflies native to this ecosystem.

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve: Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve is a unique window onto the longleaf pine forests that once covered millions of acres in the southeastern U.S. The lanky pines – some of them hundreds of years old – tower over expanses of wiregrass and rare and intriguing species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, pine barrens tree frog, bog spicebush, fox squirrel and myriad wildflowers. A network of short, easy trails provides an outdoor classroom for ranger-led hikes that teach about this ecology or for quiet contemplation. With limited understory, the forest is a natural theater for birding and viewing wildlife. The visitor center’s museum-quality exhibits explore the longleaf forest, its flora and fauna and its unique history.


National Forests: National Forests in North Carolina, where gentle mountain slopes stretch for miles, with gardens of magenta rhododendron, salt marshes that connect to the sea, and lakes surrounded by pine forests. Every year 7 million people visit these forests to camp, hike, mountain bike, hunt, fish, take scenic drives or enjoy the forest’s solitude. Click below to find out more about the four National Forests in North Carolina (Nantahala, Pisgah, Uwharrie, Croatan).

State Game Lands: The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission owns and manages over two million acres of Game Lands in the state for game and nongame wildlife species alike, from black bear, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, small game to songbirds, raptors, and reptiles and amphibians; NC Game Lands provide hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and other outdoor recreational opportunities for the public.

NC Birding Trail: As a vital part of the Atlantic Flyway, North Carolina offers excellent birding opportunities across the seasons. The NC Birding Trail identifies hundreds of bird and birder-friendly sites from mountains to coast in a wide variety of habitats from state and national forests to state and national parks, and from game lands to community parks and green spaces; see website for location details and information on bird species that may be seen on the NC Birding Trail.


Wildlife Viewing & Hiking Information

The 2016 TWS Conference will coincide with peak leaf season, so we encourage you to extend your trip to North Carolina and visit our wonderful outdoors.