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Hammocks Beach State Park

Sunset Behind Sea Oats
Hammocks Beach State Park consists of Bear Island and other smaller barrier islands and salt marshes near Swansboro, NC.  Only 33 acres of the park are on the mainland - the park office is here as well as the ferry to Bear Island.  The majority of the park consists of Bear Island and Huggins Island.  Bear Island can be reached by ferry from the mainland or by canoe or kayak.  Huggins Island can only be accessed by canoe or kayak.  The ferry runs consistently to Bear Island from Memorial Day to Labor day, Wednesday through Sunday in May and September, and on weekends in April and October.  The rest of the year, the island is only accessible by private boat.

                                                                                                    Sea Oats at Sunset

Bear Island is a 892-acre undeveloped barrier island.  The island is bordered on the south by the Atlantic Ocean and by salt marshes and the Intracoastal Waterway to the north.  Bogue Inlet lies to the east and Bear Inlet lies to the east.  Covered by sand dunes and sea oats, the island is a nesting place for loggerhead sea turtles.  Huggins Island is a 225-acre barrier island only accessible by canoe or kayak.  Huggins Island has dense vegetation, in contrast to the sandy dunes of Bear Island.

Contact Information:
1572 Hammocks Beach Road
Swansboro, NC 28584

Phone: (910) 326-4881

Email: hammocks.beach@ncdenr.gov

GPS Coordinates: 34.6710, -77.1429


The entrance to Hammocks Beach State Park is just of NC 24 in Swansboro.  From Jacksonville and points west, take NC 24 East into Swansboro and turn right on Hammocks Beach Road then turn right into the park.  From Morehead City and points east, take NC 24 West into Swansboro and turn left on Hammocks Beach Road then turn right into the park.  The visitor center, ferry dock, and kayak launch dock are here.


The beach on Bear Island stretches about 3.5 miles along the southern end of the island.  It's a great beach and since it requires a ferry to reach the island, it tends to be less crowded than other beaches.  Life guards are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Swimming is only permitted on the south-facing shore of the island in the Atlantic Ocean and only the area near the bath house and pavilion is guarded.  Swimming is prohibited along the sound side, near Bear Inlet, and near Bogue Inlet.

                                Beautiful Unspoiled Beach on Bear Island

The video below is from swimming in the ocean at Bear Island filmed with a chest-mounted GoPro camera.  This was on a very calm day so the waves were not very strong.  I went below the surface a few times to see what the camera would see, but visibility is very poor.


There are both group campsites and primitive campsites on Bear Island.  There is no camping on the mainland or on Higgins Island.  The group campsites are available only to affiliated groups, such as Boy Scouts.  The primitive campsites accommodate up to two tents or six campers.  Since cars are not permitted on the island, all camping gear must be carried from the ferry dock.  It is about a half mile from the ferry dock to the beach and up to about another mile to furthest campsite (#11).  Keep this in mind as it can be quite a long walk with heavy camping gear, particularly if staying at the farther campsites.  There are also three canoe campsites that are only accessible by canoe or kayak.  Potable water is available at the bath house along with restrooms and outdoor and indoor showers.  The indoor showers are only available for campers and are closed during the day while the ferry is running.  When the ferry stops running during the winter months, access is limited to those who canoe or kayak to the island.  However, during these times, the facilities are winterized and no potable water or restrooms are available to campers.

Trail over the Dunes to Campsite 1
                                        Trail over the Dunes to Campsite 1

Park History:

The area was initially used by Native Americans who traveled the waters in dugout canoes.  Following the Tuscarora wars with colonists during the early 18th century, the Native Americans migrated northward.  Later, the area became popular with pirates, including the notorious Blackbeard, who used the shallow waters to attack merchant ships and hide to repair their own ships.  To defend against pirates and Spanish privateers, the colonists built forts in the area, including one near Bear Inlet constructed in 1749, but has since disappeared without a trace.  Bear Island, due to its location, also played a role in the US Civil War and World War II, when it was used by the Coast Guard to monitor German U-Boats.  Bear Island was purchased by Dr. William Sharpe, who hunted on the island.  He later donated the island to the North Carolina Teachers Association, which intended to develop the island, but lacked the funds.  The association donated to the state for use as a park for minorities, but opened up to all visitors following the Civil Rights Act.


As one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands along the North Carolina coast, Bear Island is home to a number of species of wildlife.  One of the most exciting are the loggerhead sea turtles.  Adult turtles lay their eggs near the dunes along the beach.  When the eggs hatch, the baby sea turtles make their way to the sea, only to return when they have reached maturity.  Below is a photo and video of a baby sea turtle hatchling at Bear Island.

Loggerhead Hatchling
                                Loggerhead Hatchling Making His Way to Sea

External Links:

NC State Parks website: http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/habe/main.php