With over 750,000 visitors every year, Carolina Beach State Park is among the most visited parks in the state system.



Why This Coastal State Park Will "Trap" You In

To Begin, Carolina Beach State Park Offers A Beautifully Secluded Campground, Recently Added Full Service RV Sites & Unique Carnivorous Plant Habitat

The commonly known carnivorous plant, Venus Flytrap, is abundant at Carolina Beach State Park [Photo Credit: Peter Doran]

Mother Nature finds a way for life to thrive no matter what the environmental circumstances. One of the best spots on the Eastern seaboard to see nature’s creativity in action is Carolina Beach State Park, where Venus flytraps and several other carnivorous plants have evolved in response to a unique habitat found only along the coast in southeast North Carolina and nearby parts of South Carolina.

Carolina Beach State Park, part of the North Carolina system, lies on an island between Wilmington, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC, in the heart of the Venus flytrap region. Park superintendent J. Chris Helms explains that the carnivorous plant occurs naturally only within 60 miles of Wilmington.

“We are in an ecological transition zone here, where the soil changes from sandy to swampy,” he tells The Buzz. “That creates perfect conditions for these exotic plants to thrive.”

Helms says the Venus flytraps are the best known of the carnivorous plants, but that several other varieties are found along the park’s trails. Pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts and butterworts all thrive in this environment, and several evolved here along with the flytraps.  Helms says the plants use a variety of means to catch the organisms on which they feed. The Venus flytraps are what is called a snap trap, while sundews and butterworts are so-called flypaper plants with sticky leaves.

The bladderworts employ still another feeding mechanism, Helms explains. “They have tiny traps on their root systems and feed on microscopic organisms in the bog,” he says. “We have a cool video of this microscopic process in our visitor center.”

In addition to displays on the carnivorous plants found in the park, the exhibits also explain the huge diversity of habitat, including a piece of limestone riddled with holes that demonstrates why the park has so many limestone sink ponds. 

Hikers take to the path and spot some of the diverse wildlife in the park [Photo Credit: NC Division of Tourism/Bill Russ]
 A 54-slip marina with two public boat ramps is located at the junction of Snow's Cut and the Cape Fear River [Photo Credit: North Carolina State Parks]

“The limestone under the park breaks down in the sandier areas, and creates this Swiss-cheese landscape,” Helms says. “The depressions become freshwater ponds a foot or so in depth that make perfect habitats for the carnivorous plants which need acidic conditions to thrive. Also, our sandy soil is low in nutrients, which is something the flytraps have evolved to counteract.”

In fact, Chris says, the park contains a huge amount of biodiversity, with 13 different habitats represented within the 761 acre preserve.  “We have longleaf pine forests and stands of wiregrass, plus many unique grasses that thrive in the low pH from the limestone,” he says. “We also have tons of amphibians, frogs, toads, even some small gators.”

The North Carolina state park has three major limesink ponds, each offering a different habitat for flora and fauna. The unusual Cypress Pond is occupied by a stand of dwarf cypress. Grass Pond, the shallowest of the three, is home to numerous hedges and carnivorous plants that thrive in a boggy environment.

“Lily Pond is our biggest and deepest pond,” Helms says. “It’s full of American waterlilies and really beautiful when they bloom. Maiden grass grows there and it’s full of bullfrogs. On a summer evening the croaking can be almost deafening.”

Another natural feature of the park is the 55-foot high Sugar Loaf Dune, a relic sand dune. “It appears on maps dating to the late 1600s,” Chris says. “We have a trail to the top through a beautiful grove of live oaks covered in Spanish moss. You get a great view of the river up there. During the Civil War, Sugar Loaf was part of a line of fortifications, so we have some history to share.” 

Another close up shot of a few Venus Flytrap plants [Photo Credit: Wilmington CVB]
River flows inside the state park at sundown [Photo Credit: North Carolina StateParks]
Couple cycles through the trails inside Carolina Beach State Park [Photo Credit: North Carolina StateParks]

Carolina Beach State Park is about 2 miles from the ocean beaches, but has water on two sides. The west side borders the Cape Fear River, bringing fresh water from deep within North Carolina, while Snow’s Cut, a manmade channel that connects the river with the ocean, runs along the north side. A marina in the park offers docking for boats, as well as kayak and standup paddleboard rentals. Fishing in the area is great, according to Helms, with flounder, red drum, croaker and spot among the species most often caught.

The park also has a campground, which recently added a few full service RV sites to the dry camping previously available. “They’ve been hugely popular,” Helms says. “We hope to add more soon. We do have a reservation system, and I encourage everyone hoping to camp to use it.”

With over 750,000 visitors every year, this is among the most visited parks in the state system. Helms credits its popularity to its huge biodiversity, with many habitats found close together. “The state recognized that this land was unique early on,” he says. So unique, in fact, that, in 1969, North Carolina spent state funds to acquire it, the first park actually bought with taxpayer dollars since the purchase of  Mt. Mitchell in 1916. All the other NC parks up to that point were donated.

Chris Helms stresses that there’s lots to do in the region, including a fun boardwalk at Carolina Beach, the famous Kure fishing pier, a state aquarium and an important Civil War historic site at Fort Fisher. But Helms, who lives onsite at the park, says his favorite thing to do is to go down to the water’s edge with his four daughters.

“We hang a hammock among the live oaks, maybe cast a fishing line, and watch the boats go by on the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s always a cool breeze off the water, and it’s so peaceful.” 

Renee Wright 

A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.

Carolina Beach State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Carolina Beach State Park, which is located in an area steeped in both history and natural diversity. The park includes a visitor's center with exhibits depicting the wonders of its environment, plus a secluded camping area beneath towering trees and miles of hiking trails.

Download PDF File