A beautiful place for hiking, trail running and birding, Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is one of the best remaining examples of a mid-Atlantic maritime forest. 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 more than 100 years old. The woods are home to more than 550 species of plants and 150 species of birds, including herons, pileated woodpeckers and red-shouldered hawks, which nest on the preserve. Many impressive neotropical migrating bird species nest on the preserve as well, including bright yellow prothonotary warblers, vibrant red summer tanagers and beautiful blue grosbeak, to name a few. 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.
Managed by The Nature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization, Nags Head Woods does have some rules that visitors need to know about: Stay on designated trails to protect the fragile environment; pets must be leashed and pet cleanup is required; bikes are allowed on the gravel roadway only; do not damage or remove any plants, animals or artifacts; no commercial use is permitted in the woods, including photography. Restrooms and visitor services are generally available during business hours.
A new addition to the preserve is “The Land Speaks: Stories of Nags Head Woods,” an audio tour along with the Roanoke Trail that details life in the community of 40 families who called Nags Head Woods home in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The tour is accessed via QR code or dial in. A half-mile, handicapped-accessible loop trail 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 from the parking area. While the entrance to the preserve is in Kill Devil Hills, its boundaries stretch well into Nags Head.