Featured Trail Town – Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Welcome to another installment of our “Trail Town” series of articles. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running town that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature Carolina Beach in southeastern North Carolina, population 6,000.


The Town of Carolina Beach is a growing coastal town located on Pleasure Island in southeastern North Carolina on a peninsula between the Cape Fear River on its west and the Atlantic Ocean on its east. The Town of Carolina Beach, with a population of 6,000, is situated approximately 25 minutes south of Wilmington, North Carolina, which was voted as America’s Best Riverfront and is home to more than 200 restaurants, shops and attractions in the downtown area alone. It offers the best North Carolina beach experience from its historic roots with a family-friendly spin for today. Experience a nationally recognized seaside boardwalk, Carolina Beach State Park, one-of-a-kind events, world-class fishing, miles of beautiful beach, and people united by their love of good times. The area is also known for having great weather and fairly mild temperatures year-round.


Carolina Beach State Park is a popular 761-acre park that includes a Visitor’s Center and marina/fuel dock accessing some of North Carolina’s best fishing spots. Carolina Beach State Park features eight trails, which comprise seven miles, and is also part of the N.C. Birding Trail. Visitors love to jog on the trails or spend weekends camping and fishing on-site. This park is also home to the rare Venus flytrap, which blooms in Carolina Beach State Park in May, and are native only to a 60-mile radius of Carolina Beach. Specific trails include:

  • Campground Trail (1 mile, easy)
  • Carolina Beach Track Trail (.5 miles, easy)
  • Fitness Trail (1 mile, easy)
  • Flytrap Trail (.35 miles, easy)
  • Oak Toe Trail (.35 miles, easy)
  • Snow’s Cut Trail (.75 miles, easy)
  • Sugarloaf Trail (3 miles, easy)
  • Swamp Trail (.65 miles, easy)

Located in nearby Kure Beach, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area consists of six miles of protected shoreline with trails meandering through marshes past a real WWII Bunker. Alternating amongst pristine beach and trails, Fort Fisher is brimming with wildlife between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. The area also permits surf fishing year-round and four-wheel drive vehicles from September through March. The area’s Basin Trail starts at the Visitor Center and meanders through the marsh that is 1.1 miles long and is great for bird watching. Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, the nearby North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and Fort Fisher State Historic Site are also all part of the NC Birding Trail.


Driving is the best way to get around and Carolina Beach State Park offers free parking. At Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, there is a vast parking lot with free parking, restrooms and outdoor rinse stations available.  There are no public transportation options in Carolina Beach.


The Town of Carolina Beach and NC State Parks are committed to a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community and to providing walking and running trails for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. There are also a number of local non-profit running groups that work with the Town and Parks to organize runs in Carolina Beach, as well as in nearby Wilmington, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. These include the Wilmington Roadrunners, a member organization of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) that supports numerous charitable and competitive races, and the Cape Fear Flyers, an organization that offers Junior Olympic Cross Country and track and field at an affordable cost so children from all socioeconomic groups have the opportunity to run.


Carolina Beach has a laid-back, classic beach-town vibe that keeps visitors coming back year after year. With family-owned restaurants, a vintage boardwalk and of course, a beach, the town stays buzzing all year with different types of visitors, all equally welcome. Immediately upon arrival, visitors will feel the fun-loving and free-spirited beach vibe that is Carolina Beach.


Crush & Grind at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk serves hand crafted cold brew coffee from a “top secret” recipe. The lounge area boasts comfortable music and a rustic atmosphere. The coffee shop also features a full-service bar and doubles as a wine and bottle shop with locally crafted beer and wine.

Island Roast Coffee is a locally owned and operated coffee roaster specializing in high quality Arabica coffee from around the world. Most of its coffees are either Fair Trade, Rain Forest Alliance, Certified Organic or have more than one of these certifications and most are roasted within 24 hours of sell to ensure peak flavor.

Island Java is a one-of-a-kind coffee shop in Carolina Beach. The shop serves a selection of premium roasts and delicious baked goods. If you’ve always wanted to try a frappuccino with turquoise whipped cream (“the Island Chino”) or a cappuccino with rainbow froth, this is the place to go.

Janeen’s Majik Beanz, located right by the beach, is a locally owned coffee shop that specializes in espresso drinks and freshly-made Maola ice cream. The casual and colorful setting offers a welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere.


The Fat Pelican, voted the No. 1 dive bar in N.C. and Top 25 in the nation, is a Carolina Beach favorite. This unique bar offers a large walk-in cooler stocked with more than 350 beers. Free popcorn, foosball, arcade games and great company make this an enjoyable bar for all visitors.

Good Hops Brewing, a family-owned and operated small-batch brewery that’s dog-friendly, offers samples, flights, pours and beers to go. The outside Beer Garden is complete with a cozy gas fireplace.

Hoplite Irish Pub and Restaurant is Carolina Beach’s go-to spot for Irish beer on tap and great service. Serving the island with homemade Irish and American pub fare, this is a perfect place to wind down at the end of an active day. Even better, the bar hosts live music every Friday and Saturday.


Start the day off right with a hot stack of pancakes from Kate’s Pancake House. This local favorite serves southern breakfast favorites like pancakes, waffles, French toast and more in a family-friendly setting. For dinner, Surf House Oyster Bar & Surf Camp is a full-service restaurant that relies on small, local farm involvement and sustainable regional seafood to be the standard-bearer for dining in the region. Through a true farm-to-table approach, Surf House focuses on craft cooking, small batch spirits and beer. For something more casual at lunch, Nollie’s Taco Joint offers fresh tacos and burritos in a welcoming atmosphere. With incredible prices and service, this is a casual stop at Carolina Beach that should not be missed. To check out the traditional food of the area, check out the Cape Fear Boil Company for a traditional “Coastal Low Country Boil.” They can either bring a full spread of jumbo shrimp and spicy andouille sausage to you or provide you with a “Best Pot to Go” to eat on the beach.


Carolina Beach State Park’s map can be found on the North Carolina State Parks website. There is also a visitor’s center where maps are available. The maps outline all running trails available in the park.


Carolina Beach State Park Half-Marathon & 5k is a running event every December at the Carolina Beach State Park. This event features a 5k trail run and a half-marathon. The scenic views of Carolina Beach State Park make this race a pleasure for participants and spectators alike.

The Badwater Cape Fear takes place on nearby Bald Head Island.  The race is held along the Atlantic Seaboard with spectacular views of the Frying Pan Shoals to the east and wild and undeveloped marshlands to the west. Running this remote coast is a dramatic, invigorating, and inspiring manner in which to experience the Cape Fear region in all its grandeur!

For athletes looking for other popular local non-trail running events check out the following:

The Monster Dash 2k & 7k Trail Run is held at Carolina Beach State Park every October. Runners can choose between a 2k or 7k run, both timed and run separately. Proceeds from the race benefit the Cape Fear Flyers Youth Running Club, a non-profit organization that offers Junior Olympic Cross Country and Track & Field at an affordable rate to ensure children from all socioeconomic groups have the opportunity to experience the sport.

The Steve Haydu St. Patrick’s Day Lo-Tide Run is held in March of each year at Carolina Beach. This race is run by teams of five or more runners and is scored by the top five racers in each team. The race starts at the famous Carolina Beach Boardwalk.

Would you run for a beer? The Good Hops 5k Beer Run is held on Father’s Day weekend at Good Hops Brewing in Carolina beach. The 5k run goes through the trails in Carolina Beach State Park and is followed by a party honoring Dad.

The PPD IRONMAN 70.3 NORTH CAROLINA is held in nearby Wilmington each October. The swim portion of the race starts at Wrightsville Beach; the bike section will continue from there to Highway 421; and the run course will run through downtown Wilmington out to Greenfield Lake.

Carolina Beach Double Sprint Triathlon is held in June at Carolina Beach. Known for being the first “Formula 1” or super-sprint style triathlon in the U.S., this race is a USAT Sanctioned event with a 2.5 hour cut-off time to complete a 375 meter swim, 1.5 mile run, 20k bike ride, another 1.5 mile run and 375 meter swim.

Written by the Wilmington and Beaches CVB

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