TAKE REFUGE: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Red wolves have returned to North Carolina’s wilds.

Eastern North Carolina is home to a rich diversity of wildlife that rivals any other region in the United States, and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to experience it.

The 150,000-acre refuge was established in 1984 to protect the area’s unique swampy pocosin (sandy or peaty) wetlands and surrounding habitat. It is part of the North Carolina Coastal Plain Refuge Complex, which includes the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Alligator National Wildlife Refuge manager also oversees Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

The small streams and tributaries from the Alligator River and dense vegetation provide ideal habitat for deer, black bears, frogs, alligators, shorebirds and other critters. There is plenty of wildlife to go searching for, and the refuge hosts a number of programs specifically designed to educate visitors and provide the opportunity to experience wildlife up close.

What To Do

One of the premier events held on the refuge (and the surrounding areas) is Wings Over Water. This annual six-day event—held from Nov. 8-13, is highlighted by alligator searches, teaching sessions by wildlife photography experts, and canoe rides including a stop at the famous pirate Blackbeard’s hangout on Ocracoke Island.  Thousands of visitors come out to enjoy the festival.

The Sandy Ridge Trail ambles through cypress swamp and runs alongside the paddling trail. Hikers can often watch kayakers and canoers glide by.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding areas are also the only places in the world where the endangered red wolf lives in the wild. An epic success story, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980. But in 1987, four captive bred wolves were released into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Since their return, more than 100 wolves now roam the area, and recent studies confirm that the wolves’ return has helped strengthen the ecosystem.

The refuge hosts Red Wolf Howling Safaris (guided tours where visitors have the chance to hear wolf packs howling in the wild) from April through December–attracting millions of visitors from all over the world.  You can register until Aug. 31 for one of the weekly scheduled summer tours or wait for special events like the Wings Over Water festival, which also includes a “wolf howl”.

Eastern North Carolina also has one of the biggest concentrations of black bears in the country. A special tour provides information about black bears and their habitat followed by an excursion to spot a bear or two on the refuge. But don’t worry, the tour guides will get you back in time for a wolf howling session.

Two hiking trails meander through the wetlands and forest. A kiosk provides info about the refuge and its wildlife at the start of the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail, which has access ramps for wheelchairs and walkers. The trail ends at a massive boardwalk overlooking freshwater marshlands, where waterfowl and shorebirds gather.

The dedicated staff has made this a paradise for nature enthusiast and the refuges natural beauty makes it one of the top destinations for wildlife observers in the country.

The Sandy Ridge Trail ambles through cypress swamp and runs alongside the paddling trail. Hikers can often watch kayakers and canoers glide by. Lucky observers might even spot an alligator swimming in the streams.

American Alligator

American Alligator, Courtesy Ginger Corbin/USFWS

The refuge stands out for its long list of special events, interactive activities, and opportunities for natural observation. Other attractions include a car tour route, overlooks for photography and 15 miles of paddling trails.

The dedicated staff has made this a paradise for nature enthusiast and the refuge’s natural beauty makes it one of the top destinations for wildlife observers in the country.

Go experience all that this amazing place has to offer and TAKE REFUGE at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties in North Carolina.

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