5 Summer Day Trip Ideas Near Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Summer vacation is the quintessential season for making unforgettable memories. You remember the laughter by the beach, the family board game sessions in the vacation rental, the delicious seafood at local restaurants, and of course, the adventure-filled day trips. Emerald Isle, North Carolina, has tons of nearby excursions that you have to add to your itinerary. 

Imagine stepping back in time at the castle gardens of Tryon Palace, soaking up the sun at Cape Lookout National Seashore where wild horses roam, or embarking on a unique adventure with Crystal Coast Eco Tours. Under the canopy of summer breezes and with the smell of the coast in the air, visiting these destinations is full of wonder, exploration, and cherished moments. Here are five must-visit spots to make the most of your summer while visiting the Crystal Coast!

1. Crystal Coast Eco Tours

Photo Credit: Crystal Coast Ecotours

We always recommend that our guests take an eco-tour and explore the beautiful surrounding areas up close. Crystal Coast Ecotours offers half-day or two-hour excursions, perfect for fitting into any schedule. Take a scenic boat ride through secluded barrier islands, seagrass meadows, and backwater sounds, spotting playful dolphins and diverse bird species along the way.

Tailor your adventure with activities that include shelling, fishing, searching for sand dollars, snorkeling, crabbing and more.

Each tour is led by an experienced marine biologist, allowing you to ask unlimited questions and gain a deep understanding of the unique ecosystems of the Crystal Coast.

Your group will leave this day feeling a stronger connection to and understanding of the local environment, refreshed by the immersion in nature and ready to lounge at the beach or back at your rental.

2. Cape Lookout National Seashore

If you’re looking for more ways to connect with nature, another great day trip you and your group can take is to Cape Lookout Lighthouse and National Seashore!

The seashore extends 56 miles from Ocracoke Inlet to Beaufort Inlet, featuring lush green marshes and pristine white sand. Majestic wild horses roam up and down the seashore making for a fascinating wildlife encounter. The area is also perfect for a day of hiking along the seashore, a picnic, fishing or shelling.

Another sight to see when you’re visiting this area is the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. First constructed in 1812, the lighthouse is one of the very few that operate throughout the day and is the only structure in the United States to bear the checkered daymark pattern. While the climb to the top is currently closed for restoration, the lighthouse itself is a bucket list item for any Emerald Isle vacationer! The scenic views and rich history make it a must-visit destination.

3. Tryon Palace

Photo Credit: Tryon Palace/Visit NC

For the history buffs in your group, a visit to Tryon Palace will pique their interest! Located in New Bern, Tyron Palace is a short drive from the Crystal Coast and is well worth the trip. The palace was built in 1770 and was the official residence and administrative headquarters of the British governors of North Carolina until 1775. The residence was then captured by rebel troops in 1775 during the American Revolution War where it served as the state’s capital until 1792 when the capital was moved to Raleigh.

This captivating history is intertwined with the storyline of the popular Starz TV show Outlander, with several scenes filmed there, making it an intriguing destination for fans. The Palace even offers a special Outlander Tour that delves into the facts versus fiction of Diana Gabaldon’s award-winning series.

Since 1959, Tryon Palace has been open for tours with costumed interpreters guiding you through their roles, showcasing North Carolina’s history, and how Tryon and his family may have lived there. One of the highlights of the tour is the beautifully restored Palace Gardens. Encompassing more than 16 acres, the gardens were designed in the 1950s in the “colonial revival” style and are identical to those from the palace’s early years.

4. Hammocks Beach State Park

Photo Credit: Hammocks Beach State Park Facebook

Hammocks Beach State Park is a hidden gem on the Crystal Coast, offering a serene escape for nature lovers. This 3-mile-long barrier island is underdeveloped, meaning it has had very little interruption by humans, retaining much of its lush natural vegetation and wildlife.

Accessible only by passenger ferry or by canoe or kayak, the park provides an exclusive experience. Please note that the ferry service and Bear Island facilities are temporarily closed due to construction, but the paddle trails and hiking trails are open for exploration.

The park boasts three paddling trails, ranging from 0.10 miles to 6 miles long! These trails wind through the park’s pristine waters, offering breathtaking views of the natural landscape and abundant wildlife. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced paddler, the trails provide a safe and enjoyable way to experience the beauty of the park up close. As you paddle, be sure to take in the amazing sunrises and sunsets that paint the sky in stunning colors.

Photo Credit: Hammocks Beach State Park Facebook

While you’re here, you will also want to try your hand at fishing from the beach! Puppy drum, flounder, trout and blue fish are frequent catches at Hammocks Beach State Park.

5. Croatan National Forest

Photo Credit: USDA National Forest Service

A shining gem on the Crystal Coast is the famous Croatan National Forest. This coastal forest covers nearly 160,000 acres of land and is close to New Bern and Morehead City. This expansive forest is a hiker’s paradise, offering trails that range up to 21 miles long and traverse diverse landscapes, from swamplands and pine forests to saltwater estuaries and bogs. There are even trails that are fit for off-roading vehicles and bikes.

The forest is teeming with wildlife, providing opportunities to spot deer, turkeys, various birds and other coastal critters.

Bird watchers will be thrilled by the variety of species, including the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. The forest is also home to the unique Venus flytrap, a plant only found in the eastern coastal plain.

Managed by the United States Forest Service, the Croatan National Forest is part of a network of three other National Forests in North Carolina. If you plan on spending the day here, pack plenty of water, comfortable walking shoes and a trash bag to help keep our parks clean and pristine.

Start Planning Your Summer Adventures!

We invite you to explore the Crystal Coast this summer and experience these incredible day trips that offer a firsthand exploration of the area’s rich history and stunning natural beauty. These excursions promise to create treasured memories for years to come.

Be sure to check out our available vacation rentals for a relaxing space to return to after a day filled with coastal adventures.

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