path through marsh at sunset

While most people think of the mountains when they think about hiking in NC, there are plenty of options for hiking near Wilmington. Just because you’re at the beach doesn’t mean you can’t find beautiful views and good exercise!

Plus Wilmington is one of the best places to visit in North Carolina so there’s no shortage of things to do.

This list has plenty of city trails mixed in with state parks near Wilmington plus a National Historic Site. I’ve been on a few of these trails myself and some are still on my bucket list.

You’ll find some helpful tips at the end to help plan your hikes near Wilmington.

Leisurely Walks

Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens is one of the only spots on the list where you have to pay to gain entrance, but it is incredibly reasonable and well worth the price. As of July 2021, general admission is just $9.

A walk through this beautiful area takes you through multiple different garden exhibits, by Bradley Creek along the Intracoastal Waterway, and you’ll see the famous Airlie Oak.

This is the perfect spot to go if you want a peaceful walk with many places to sit and reflect. Come right as they open though as it gets very crowded later in the morning – even on a weekday.

Gary Shell Cross City Trail

This 15-mile trail connects three different city parks and has multiple points of interest along the way that you can stop at. If you choose to walk this path you may see as many cyclists as you do hikers.

The main goal of this trail is to provide a better option for alternative transportation in Wilmington. A few notable places to stop along the trail are UNCW, Wade Park, Halyburton Park, and Wrightsville Beach.

Greenfield Lake Park Trail

If you have a furry friend you like to bring along then this may be the perfect spot for you. The trail itself is 5-miles long and takes you through beautiful gardens located inside Greenfield Lake Park.

In addition to the trail, there is a shaded dog park and restroom facilities here so you won’t be roughing it.

There are many opportunities to see wildlife like turtles along the lake and especially birds. Birding is an incredibly popular activity here so be on the lookout during your walk.

Wilmington Riverwalk

The Riverwalk is popular for dining and shopping, but why not take a walk here? You could even stop in at different shops along your walk. What could be better than exercise and shopping?

Along the entire walk you’ll have beautiful views of the Cape Fear River. You’ll also pass the USS North Carolina that’s moored on the other side of the river and at one end of the Riverwalk there is a gorgeous view of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.

Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve

A movement to start this preserve began in the 1970s and it protects 10-acres of land on the outskirts of the campus of UNC Wilmington.

It is used as an outdoor classroom for different classes to learn about the environment and wildlife here. Anyone is allowed to access the walking trails though, not just the students.

Come here for beautiful azaleas in spring and a variety of wildflowers in summer. Like Airlie Gardens, it’s a very peaceful spot to come and reflect.

Wrightsville Beach

Not sure if this counts as a leisurely walk or not, but I’ll let you decide. Walking on the beach always seems tough to me.

Wrightsville Beach offers the perfect place to walk and people watch, admire the houses along the beach, and check out Johnnie Mercer’s Pier.

Make sure to wear your bathing suit and you can sunbathe before or after your walk. You will have to pay for parking here so be prepared with change or a credit card.

Other Wilmington City Parks

There are multiple other city parks in Wilmington where you can take walks – a couple to note are Long Leaf Park (previously Hugh MacRae Park) and Ogden Park.

Long Leaf is best for those with children as they have a playground and splash pad. At Ogden you’ll find a short, paved walking trail plus a skate park, playground, and dog park.

More Hiking Trails Near Wilmington

Carolina Beach State Park

This state park was really a pleasant surprise. There are tons of hiking trails here – one of the main ones being the Sugarloaf Trail (3 miles). With many other trails though, you’ll have plenty to give you a workout.

There is a large Visitor’s Center and plenty of signage so you shouldn’t get lost. The trails are well maintained and well-marked too.

If you visit in the late spring/summer/early fall then be prepared for the small bugs. I am not even sure that bug spray will do much for you. But the scenery of the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal Waterway, and surrounding marsh area is well worth it.

Lake Waccamaw

Another state park, this one is located along the shoreline of Lake Waccamaw. There are over 7 miles of hiking trails here and the largest one – Lakeshore Trail – follows the lake shore. Pretty intuitive right?

There are other short trails that offshoot from this one and let you see the other diverse ecosystems here. They also have boardwalks in the shallow portions of the lake where you can fish (with a license) and admire the lake’s beauty.

Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson

Are you a history nerd like me? Then check out the trails at Brunswick Town and Fort Anderson. It’s actually a state historic site!

The town of Brunswick was built before the Revolutionary War but then destroyed by British troops during the Revolution. It was never rebuilt. Then in the Civil War Fort Anderson was constructed but abandoned after a three day battle.

Take some time to walk among the ruins of the town, check out the foundations of the fort, and read the different exhibits available.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

path through marsh at sunset

Please, do me a favor and go here at sunset. I was in Wilmington solo one afternoon and decided to check out what it was like. I accidentally missed the left turn onto Loggerhead Road so I kept going to the boat ramp.

The sunset was unlike anything I had ever seen. There were trails in this area, but in the actual state park boundaries you’ll find a short trail called the Basin Trail. Another option is to walk out on the beach.

Be vigilant though since many people drive on the beach to fish.

Moores Creek National Battlefield

Did you know that there are hiking trails at many of the National Battlefield sites? I didn’t know this until I started visiting them in the last year.

It’s actually pretty neat to walk in the same area where some of America’s battles have been fought. Most sites also have plenty of signage to explain what happened in different locations of the battlefield.

The battle at Moores Creek was the first significant victory by the Americans in the Revolution. The History Trail here is one mile long.

Masonboro Island Reserve

Want to get away from it all? Take a boat or ferry out to Masonboro Island for the day. The island stretches 8.4 miles long (north to south) and when you land on the western side there are trails that will take you across the island to the eastern side.

You can walk along these pristine beaches and enjoy the plants and wildlife here. Though this may not be considered a hiking destination, it’s a gorgeous spot to take a walk and spend a day by the water.

Tips for Hiking Near Wilmington

Prepare For The Season

Just like any place, the weather can be unpredictable and not always match the season.

In spring be prepared for rain at any time and warm temperatures. Bring bug spray in summer and a raincoat again for afternoon showers. In the summer month plan on hiking in the mornings or early evenings as the sun gets incredibly hot.

Things don’t start cooling down until late in the fall and in late summer/early fall be mindful of the hurricanes. Even though you’re at the beach, winter gets pretty chilly and can be very windy. I love hiking in the winter though because fewer bugs and I like those temperatures much better.

houses on beach

Go Early

This is great advice no matter what you’re doing in the area. I always like going places early because less people will be there.

It also gets you out of the hot afternoon sun. If you go super early for sunrise then you’ll also be there at one of the prettiest times of day.

Wear The Right Clothing & Shoes

This ties in with preparing for the season but you want to check the weather the day of your hike so you can wear appropriate clothing.

If it’s going to be hot then make sure you wear lightweight clothing and sandals. I prefer my Chaco sandals when hiking, especially in sand. Wear whatever shoes make you comfortable and consider the terrain you’ll be on.

Bring a raincoat even if it isn’t forecasted to rain and if you want to be extra prepared then put a change of clothes in your car. Don’t forget sunglasses!

Water! Water! Water!

Bring twice the amount of water that you think you’ll need especially if you’ll be out in the middle of the day. I usually carry a backpack with me that can hold my water no matter how short the hike is.

You would be surprised how much water you need on a hot day. Even on a cold day though, your body still needs to be hydrated.

Check If Dog-Friendly

Different parks and trails have different rules about dogs. This is especially true of the beaches too. Different beaches change their rules about dogs depending on the season.

You don’t want to be fined for not following the rules so make sure you look them up before heading out.

Have any other great hiking spots near Wilmington, NC?

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