Goose Creek State Park
Coastal state park offers miles of hiking through pine savannah, hardwoods, wetlands, and swamp
It's a bit of a drive out to the land of pine and sandhills and brackish water where the Pamlico River meets the ocean, but it was a beautiful day for a hike under the loblollies while buzzards flew above the treetops, the sun rimming their broad wings with tips of gold.
We'd driven to Washington, NC - just a couple miles outside historic Bath, NC - to explore Goose Creek State Park, a swampy park with boardwalks, Spanish moss, and scrub pines. We meandered in and out of cypress swamp and pine savannah, exploring along the river's edge and making good time over the floodplains.
It's always a good day when your hiking shoes are full of sand at the end of the day, and I'm convinced that food never tastes as good as it does when you've hiked six miles out to the water's edge. Sure, it might just be salami and cheese and a bit of dried fruit, but in that moment I was in gastronomic bliss.
Ryder, however, struggled a bit on the boardwalk. I was captivated by the pattern of duckweed on a cypress knee and was working on a photo while McCrae and Ryder did some exploring when I suddenly heard "SPLASH!" and McCrae exclaim, "Ryder!!" The goober had jumped off the boardwalk and into the swamp. Whether he was confused and thought all that greenery was grass or if he just had an itching to swim with some cottonmouths we'll never know, but for the rest of the day silly goober's new nickname was "Swampthing" (and deservedly so!)
It was a great time to visit the park - the mosquitoes weren't out in droves yet but it wasn't so cold to be uncomfortable. We checked out the camping area - a few primitive tents (dirt cheap lodging if you wanted a base for exploring Bath and the surrounding area, even if the tent areas included uncomfortable gravel pads) - and enjoyed most of the 8 miles of trail in the park. In many ways it was like an easier, more accessible Neusiok Trail, but situated in such a way that you can hike in an easy loop that didn't require any hitchhiking.
Get there: Goose Creek State Park is near Washington and Bath, NC and is accessible off US-264 on Camp Leach Road.
Distance: If you loop all the trails together you can hike about 8 miles. We were running out of daylight so we didn't hike Mallard Creek Trail to the Mallard Creek overlook, but even so I logged 7.8 miles on my GPS watch.
Note: You can opt to just do a couple of the shorter trails. I would prioritize the Palmetto Boardwalk and Flatty Creek Trail (at least to the overlook), as well as Goose Creek Trail, though keep in mind that is a slightly longer (2.5 miles) point-to-point trail. The sandy beach (where you can swim) is at the terminus of Goose Creek Trail near Live Oak Trail and has parking nearby. Tar-Kiln Trail is less exciting in terms of water sights, but will snake through pine savannah with some historical information placards.
Dog friendly? Yes, assuming your dog isn't one to jump off boardwalks and into a snake's mouth. #swampthing
Kid friendly? Yes
Tips: Probably best in winter or early spring. Swampy areas like this can attract mosquitos and you'll have venomous water snakes lurking around in sunny spots. Just don't jump into the swamp, and if you go wading in the river make sure you bring good wading shoes.
What else can you do in the area? Check out historic Bath, swim, boat, paddle, camp (tent only on gravel pads), and fish.
This was Hike #4 of my 52 Hike Challenge!
Have you been to Goose Creek State Park? Or is this park on your list of places to visit? Let me know in the comments! (Psst - Want to visit Goose Creek State Park? Pin it for later!)