Scenes from Pine Cliff Recreation are which borders the Neuse River and Croatan National Forest
There are 17 designated river basins in North Carolina. Five flow to the Gulf of Mexico, 12 flow to the Atlantic Ocean. Only four of the ones that flow to the Atlantic Ocean are contained entirely within North Carolina. These are Cape Fear, White Oak, Tar-Pamlico, and as seen here, the Neuse River.

Pine Cliff Recreational Area near the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, North Carolina, will make you feel as if you’ve been stranded on Gilligan’s Island!

But before you start stringing up coconut lanterns, notice that you can enjoy a picnic under the wheel-chair-friendly pavilion, hitch a ride on the free ferry from Cherry Point to Minnesott Beach, or explore all or part of the Neusiok Trail Northern Half hiking trails.

Scenes from Pine Cliff Recreation are which borders the Neuse River and Croatan National Forest
Did you know that North Carolina is the second largest state-run ferry system in the US? The Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach ferry connects workers at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station to homes in Pamlico County and gives students easy access to summer camps on the north side of the river. Want to learn more? Go to NC.DOT

 I hoped to catch a winter sunset. Instead, I found the wild landscape along the Neuse River where cypress tree roots jut up from the water as if trying to tip-toe across the shoreline.


Cypress trees at Pine Cliff Recreation are which borders the Neuse River and Croatan National Forest

North Carolina is like a world of water. There are large rivers, small creeks, the Intracoastal Waterway, various inlets, sounds, and of course, the Atlantic Ocean. And while there are areas where you can watch the sunset over the water, this wasn’t it.

Outdoor Activity Near Cherry Point, NC

The paths are dog-friendly, people-friendly, and horse-friendly. Scenes from Pine Cliff Recreation are which borders the Neuse River and Croatan National Forest

The 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest (pronounced CROW-uh-tan) is the only true coastal forest in North Carolina. Its boundaries are defined by water. Animals love it here. So do canoers, hikers, horseback riders, and anglers who can cast a line from the shore.

Pine Cliff is one of the three trailheads of the Neusiok Trail, which is part of the Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail.

The 900-mile Mountains-to-the-Sea National Recreation Trail starts in the Smoky Mountains and ends at the ocean near Jockey Ridge State Park. Bring your sunscreen and your mosquito repellant! There are spots to camp along the way.

This trailhead is a dog-friendly, people-friendly, 22.6 miles out and back and benefits from rustic wooden boardwalks. The trail takes you from the Neuse River at Pine Cliff to the Newport River near Mill Creek. It can be mildly challenging in some spots. Plan for 9+ hours to make the entire loop, or take it in bite-sized chunks for a smaller day hike.

The trailhead for the Neusiok Trail, part of the Mountains to Sea Trail
Update: In December, 2021, volunteers from the Carteret County Wildlife Club, Friends of the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail, The New Bern Outdoor Adventure Club and the Boy Scouts of America, restored a walkway that had been rearranged by Hurricane Florence. Thank you!

Hiking the Neusiok Trail

The USDA Forest Service says the best time to hike the trail is from October thru May. Please note that October to December is hunting season so use caution. Wear a bright orange hat or vest and put an orange vest on your dog too so they are not mistaken for wild game!

The trail can get pretty thick in spots, and you will spot wildlife if you’re lucky (or not so lucky), depending on how you define “lucky.”

You may encounter deer, turkey, otters, squirrels, bears, and alligators (oh my!). Be bear aware. I’ve seen bears on trails before, and pretty much, if you’re not carrying a peanut butter sandwich and they hear you coming, they will most likely steer clear of you unless you seem to pose a threat.

But alligators? I haven’t seen one outside of the zoo…yet. Not sure how I feel about that, so I’ll let you know when it happens. *gulp

To get the latest information about this trail and any other NC spots, go directly to their website or call and ask for more information. I find it’s better to find out the conditions before you go rather than be surprised when you get there.

The Beach at Pine Cliff

Scenes from Pine Cliff Recreation are which borders the Neuse River and Croatan National Forest

The beach area of Pine Cliff is captivating. You can easily launch your canoe or paddleboard into the Neuse River (be aware of the current). When you’re ready to take a little hike, you can go along the beach and crawl over the trees, see if the washed-up sailboat is still on the beach, or hike the trail.

The area is set up nicely for day use. There are covered areas for picnics, outdoor barbecues, and restrooms. You will also see the trailhead for the Neusiok Trail.

I was there late afternoon and hiked up the trail only about a mile. It was an easy trek. You may share the path with horses at some spots which would be a real treat!

Because the beach is close to the Marine Air Station, planes fly overhead, making complete solitude impossible. However, air traffic can be light, and there is still so much to enjoy! 

As for that sunset? It happened behind me! While I missed watching the sun sink into the water, I did get a pink sky and time to reflect at the water’s edge before driving home ahead of a gathering storm and sinking thermometer…

Getting There

The Croatan National Forest is about 10 miles south of New Bern, 155 miles from Raleigh (about a 2 ½ hour drive), and 105 miles from Wilmington, NC (about 2 hours). To get to Pine Cliff, follow Hwy 70 toward the ocean. Cut across State Route 101 and then to State Route 306 toward the Minnesott Beach ferry. The turn from Hwy 70 onto 101 is easy to find. It’s an intersection with lights and has a car dealership (Ford) at the corner.

I passed the Rec area turnoff the first time (it will be on your left) and ended at the dead-end of the road, which is the line for the ferry. So, if you miss it too, don’t worry because you won’t be too far off track. Just turn around and go back less than ½ mile to the brown sign for Pine Cliff. The road to the recreation area is hard-packed dirt, and my little car did just fine.

Click here to learn more about travel in North Carolina!

Additional Resources

Croatan Ranger District

141 E. Fisher Avenue

New Bern, NC 28650


Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

3509 Haworth Drive #210

Raleigh, NC 27609

North Carolina Ferry Schedule

2300 Ferry Road

Havelock, NC 28532