The refuge’s visitor center, located on the northern end of Hatteras Island about 4 miles south of Oregon Inlet, is a good place to start a Pea Island visit. It gives an introduction to the ecosystems and wildlife of the refuge and the activities that are permissible there. You may also pick up informational brochures and trail maps. Restrooms and parking are available. You may start your walk on North Pond Wildlife Trail here.
The visitor center for this popular Outer Banks attraction is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, though it has been closed since March of 2020 due to COVID. It is expected to reopen sometime in 2021. Beyond the visitor center, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 13-mile stretch of pristine barrier island. The beaches are wonderfully devoid of people most of the time, and there are several access points for getting to the beach. Pea Island is also great for bird watching, surf fishing, shell hunting, paddling, photography and other eco-friendly outdoor activities. Driving on the beach is not allowed here. Leashed pets are allowed on the beach but not on the walking trails or overlooks.
North Pond Wildlife Trail is a good, flat, easy trail that starts at the Pea Island Visitor Center, about 4 miles south of Oregon Inlet. Park in the parking lot and look for the North Pond Wildlife Trailhead behind the restrooms. A sturdy, handicapped-accessible boardwalk leads through a maritime forest then into the marshy areas around North Pond where you’ll see a variety of birds and wildlife. The trail turns into a hard-packed natural surface that extends for a half-mile and ends in a two-level observation tower where you can see from sea to sound. After North Pond Wildlife Trail ends, you may keep going on an unpaved service road that takes you all the way around the pond. This service road connects with the Salt Flats Wildlife Trail, and at the end (N.C. Highway 12) you can either turn back and go the way you came or cross over the dunes and walk along the beach to get back to the visitor center. The entire loop, if you take the beach route, is about 4 miles. The northern leg of the North Pond circuit is prone to excessive mosquitoes at all times of the year. Don’t let that keep you away; just bring insect repellent.
You may also park at the Salt Flats Wildlife Trailhead, a little more than a mile north of the visitor center. This trail ends at a disabled-accessible overlook, which provides views of the Salt Flats area as well as North Pond. You’ll see a lot of birds on these trails no matter what time of year you’re here, but this hike is most phenomenal in the fall and winter when thousands of migratory birds are resting over on the pond. You’ll see snow geese, Canada geese, tundra swan and numerous species of ducks. You may pick up trail maps at the Visitor Center or from the racks on the front porch after hours.
Guided bird walks and interpretive programs have been canceled due to COVID-19 but will return in the future. Call for more information.