The Best Things To Do On Your Next Carolina Beach Vacation

A perfect sunrise as Kure Beach. The sun is peaking over the horizon, setting the sky on fire. Soft waves crash in the foreground.

With its miles of pristine beaches, vibrant boardwalk, and charming small-town feel, it’s no wonder why visitors return to Carolina Beach year after year. From surfing and fishing to exploring historic landmarks and indulging in fresh seafood, there’s something for everyone in Carolina Beach.

This comprehensive travel guide will provide you with all the information you need to plan the perfect nature-filled trip to this picturesque coastal town. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Carolina Beach vacationer, get ready to experience the beauty of this unforgettable destination!

Best Things To Do in Carolina Beach

Research suggests that the blue waters of the ocean have amazing psychological benefits including reducing stress and improving mood and well-being. Get your fill of the ocean and experience the healing benefits of nature by exploring all of the amazing outdoor and nature-centric activities Carolina Beach has to offer!

Visit Carolina Beach State Park

Male hiker crouching with his labradoodle on sugarloaf trail at Carolina Beach State Park.

Nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Carolina Beach State Park offers the best of both worlds where dense forests meet sandy beaches. Go from hiking trails through the trees to dipping your toes in the sand and water in a matter of minutes in this nature lover’s dream with an endless supply of outdoor activities.

Carolina Beach State Park Trails

  • Flytrap Trail: 0.5-mile easy trail with short boardwalks that offer you the opportunity to get a unique up-close experience with the rare carnivorous venus fly trap plants the park protects.
  • Sugarloaf Trail: Easy 3-mile loop that winds you through forest, swamp, and beach and brings you to the historic 50-foot dune
  • Campground Trail: Easy 1-mile trail among Longleaf Pines and Live Oaks on a sandy path
  • Sand Live Oak Trail: Easy 1.5-mile loop accessed via the Sugarloaf Trail
  • Snow’s Cut Trail: 0.75-mile easy one-way trail that runs parallel to Snow’s Cut, the body of water where the Cape Fear River meets the Intracoastal Waterway.
  • Oak Toe Trail: 0.25-mile easy one-way trail accessed via the Sugarloaf Trail. A short offshoot to a sunny stretch of beach and long grass with stunning views of the Cape Fear River
  • Fitness Trail: 1-mile easy loop with activity stations

Carolina Beach State Park Trail Map

Carolina Beach State Park map. The map includes the trail systems within the park as well as the marina and compground.

Water Recreation Activities

Carolina Beach State Park’s Marina is the perfect launching point for a day on the water. Boat, fish, kayak, paddleboard, or jet ski!

  • Paddle NC: offers a variety of rentals including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Located at the Carolina Beach State Park Marina
  • Wilmington Jet Ski Rentals: offers partial day jet ski rentals, also located at the Marina

Cost: FREE

Carolina Beach State Park is also a great place for RV and Tent camping or renting a cabin for a unique stay in nature. Check out our complete guide to camping at Carolina Beach State Park for more details about how to make the most of your stay and why we think this makes the perfect option for a home base during your trip!

Visit Kure Beach

Sunrise at Kure Beach in North Carolina. The image includes beautiful cotton candy skies, a pier that extends far out into the ocean, and calm waves rolling on the sand.

Kure Beach is another charming coastal town located on the southern end of Pleasure Island in North Carolina (with Carolina Beach located just north). It is known for its beaches and historic pier and is a great place to watch a stunning sunrise.

With its natural beauty, relaxed vibe, and abundance of outdoor activities, Kure Beach is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of coastal North Carolina. Here are some great things to do while at Kure Beach:

  • Enjoy the salty breeze and warm sun at Ocean Front Park or head onto the beach and into the water for some surfing
  • Fish on or walk along the oldest fishing pier on the East Coast
  • Learn about the area’s sea turtles through the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project
  • Check out Kure Beach’s Website for more information on rentals and unique experiences

Visit Carolina Beach

A view of the Carolina Beach Pier from Freeman Park, which is the north end of Carolina Beach. The image is taken low to the ground with waves coming towards the viewer.

Carolina Beach offers a renowned vintage boardwalk and shops, restaurants, and nightlife right at the shoreline. Clearly marked by a colorful Ferris wheel, walking around here feels like vacation.

The beach is very bike-friendly and we loved riding our bikes into town and to the beach from our campsite at Carolina Beach State Park. While exploring Carolina Beach, be sure to pay close attention to the bright cheerful colors that will help elicit a smile even on the toughest of days. Appreciate the beautiful landscape while checking out:

Visit Freeman Park

Side view of Australian Labradoodle waiting patiently for a treat on Freeman Park Beach in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

At the north end of Carolina Beach, Freeman Park allows 4WD vehicles to drive on the beach and is also dog friendly! Here you can find dogs playing off-leash (on leash required April 1-September 30) and people fishing, enjoying a picnic, or camping. You’re also likely to find surfers riding the waves.

Cost of Passes to drive on the beach:

  • April 1 – September 30, Mon-Sun, $50 per day
  • October 1 – March 31, Mon-Sun, $30 per day

Camping Permits:

  • Available Memorial Day through Labor Day; $50/night
  • Reserve Here

Fort Fisher State Historic Site

A view of the Fort Fisher State historic site. You can see the large mounds built to fortify the earth. The Cape Fear river can be seen in the background.
A side view of a cannon at the Fort Fisher State historic site in Fort Fisher, North Carolina.

With free admission, Fort Fisher Historic Site allows you to walk back in time to the location where one of the final battles of the Civil War took place. Explore the fort grounds and take some time to reflect on the historical significance of where you are standing.

During your exploration, you will see how the Confederate Army used the Earth itself to fortify their position and gun emplacements that help the reality sink in of what took place on these hallowed grounds. The site also features a museum that houses a range of artifacts and exhibits related to the history of the fort and the Civil War. With its rich history and stunning coastal location, Fort Fisher Historic Site is a fascinating destination that offers a unique glimpse into the past.

Cost: FREE

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Woman standing on cement pillars used for breaking waves at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. She looks out toward the horizon.

Just across the street from the Fort Fisher Historic Site, walk on the beach and marvel at the waves crashing into the sharp rock wall protecting the shoreline. During warmer months, this is also where loggerhead sea turtles come to nest!

This 5-mile stretch of beach is a popular location for surf fishing, as it does allow 4WD beach access. In addition, it offers hiking, boating, birdwatching, picnic areas, and swimming!

  • Basin Trail: 2.2 miles out and back; features a WWII bunker, marsh, and maritime forest. You’ll end at a wooden observation deck with views of the Cape Fear River and Zeke’s Island

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

A popular attraction that showcases a variety of marine life and offers educational programs and interactive exhibits, including a two-story open ocean exhibit. A perfect opportunity to deepen your appreciation and understanding of the natural world around you, which can foster a sense of fulfillment and support well-being… on top of being fascinating and fun!

  • Hours: 9 am-5 pm, year-round
  • Cost: $12.95/adult; $10.95/child
  • Check out the NC Aquarium website to learn more about the aquarium to help you plan your visit

Take The Ferry to Explore Charming Southport, NC

Looking back at the Fort Fisher, NC ferry point on our way to Southport, NC. This ferry carries vehicles as well as people!
Fort Fisher ferry to Southport, NC

Hop on the Fort Fisher Ferry to enjoy a soothing ride across the Cape Fear River for easy access to explore the charming town of Southport, North Carolina!

  • At the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal, you can choose to walk on the ferry as a pedestrian ($1/person) or drive your vehicle on for ($7). If you plan to explore Southport, we recommend driving or biking on as the town itself is about two miles from the ferry terminal. Walking is a great option if you plan to catch a ferry over to Bald Head Island!
  • The ferry will be about a 25-minute ride to Southport
  • You can view the Fort Fisher Ferry schedule here

Take A Perfect Day Trip To Bald Head Island

Aerial image of the Bald Head Island Lighthouse, "Old Baldy", sit in the foreground, with the Bald Head Island marina and the Cape Fear River in the background.
Bald Head Island

While exploring Paradise Island’s Carolina and Kure Beaches, you are not far from another great North Carolina gem! After taking the Fort Fisher Ferry over to Southport, we recommend hopping on the ferry for a perfect day trip over to Bald Head Island! A small island without cars, Bald Head Island is the perfect place to appreciate a slower pace for a while in a spot where people live in harmony with nature. Unplug, unwind, and reconnect with nature and yourself in this peaceful oasis.

Bald Head Island Ferry Cost:

  • $23 round trip for adults
  • $12 for children ages 3-12

For more information on the ferry and what to do at Bald Head Island, check out our guide to the perfect day trip to Bald Head Island!

Fulfilling Travel Tips

Carolina Beach might only be a few miles from Wilmington, but when planned intentionally can make for a fulfilling travel experience that leaves you feeling rejuvenated, more connected with the natural world around you, and able to return back to your day-to-day life with more energy and resilience. While planning your trip, use these guidelines to focus on an experience that ends up feeling transformative, rather than draining:

  • Schedule downtime: Don’t try to do too much! It is often better to experience a few things more deeply than trying to cram in too many activities
  • Learn something new: Try to learn more about the places you visit to further connect with nature
  • Be Mindful: Slow down, enjoy a few mindful moments, and engage your senses to fully appreciate your experiences
Looking through the support beams of the Kure Beach Fishing Pier near Carolina Beach, NC at sunrise.


A trip to Carolina Beach is a great opportunity to experience the amazing benefits that spending time in nature can have on your health, well-being, and happiness.

To get closer to nature, we travel everywhere in our RV! If you are looking for the perfect one-stop shop for comparing RV parks, campgrounds, and glamping options and prices with instant booking, we highly recommend Campspot.

Our other favorite resources for finding great campgrounds and campsites include Campendium, RV Life, and iOverlander. Being a coastal town, camping options are fairly limited. We loved our stay at Carolina Beach State Park and would recommend it if you are looking for a peaceful getaway and don’t mind a no-frills experience.

Campgrounds in Carolina Beach, North Carolina:

You can also check out HipCamp and TheDyrt for more unique camping experiences and accommodations.

If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through Outdoorsy, or RV Share. We used both of these services when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!

Other Area Accommodations:

If camping isn’t in your plans, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are also great for exploring rentals that get you closer to nature by bringing you only steps from the beach.

You can explore all Carolina Beach area accommodations and compare prices on, which is a great resource for unique stays at the best rates!

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