A beautiful place for hiking, trail running and birding, The Nature Conservancy’s Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is one of the best remaining examples of a mid-Atlantic maritime forest. Often referred to as a “best kept secret on the Outer Banks,” the 8 miles of hiking trails in the 1,200-acre preserve are open and free to the public every day from dawn until dusk. There are lushly wooded dunes, peaceful ponds, brackish marsh and an upland maritime forest complete with live oaks up to 100 years old. The woods are home to more than 550 species of plants and 50 species of birds, including herons, pileated woodpeckers and red-shouldered hawks. Other creatures can be found, too, such as salamanders, turtles and white-tailed deer. You will find all of this amidst 19th-century cemeteries, evidence that human settlements once called these woods home. A new addition to the preserve is the handicap-accessible trail, which is a half-mile loop that boasts a wooden boardwalk, a small fishing dock and brackish marsh overlook. Before you begin your hike or ride, find maps and other information at the outdoor information counter located up the boardwalk at the parking area. While the entrance to the preserve is in Kill Devil Hills, its boundaries stretch well into Nags Head. Motorized vehicles and bikes are not allowed on the trails, but they are welcome on the gravel roadway. Leashed dogs are allowed on specific trails only; see the outdoor information kiosk for information on which trails can accommodate dogs. This is a very fragile environment, so staying on the trails is necessary to preserve this exquisite forest.
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