The Wilderness Areas of the Croatan National Forest

by Nancy Card

 “Wilderness for wilderness’ sake, for preservation, for wildlife and for man, that’s what the Croatan National Forest is” begins A Walk on the Wild Side, Croatan National Forest.*  The 160,000-acre Croatan National Forest lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Neuse River and contains a variety of ecosystems which are further protected within four separate wilderness areas set aside in 1984.

Catfish Lake South Wilderness has a total of 8,530 acres bordered by roads on all sides except the northeast border on Catfish Lake.  Five types of insectivorous plants thrive in the coastal bogs here: the pitcher plant, sundew, butterwort, bladderwort and Venus flytrap.  The area is also home to deer, bear, mink, otter, numerous birds and the American alligator.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia rubra)  – photo by Ralph Tramontano

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia rubra)  – photo by Ralph Tramontano

There are no trails within this wilderness area, but fishing is popular at Catfish Lake, named after the native bullhead catfish.  Several factors including the high acidity level in the lake create difficult conditions for other species to thrive. 

Catfish Lake South Wilderness is located in Jones County east of Maysville and is best accessed from Catfish Lake Road (NC-1005).

Read NC Chair, Robert Scull’s account of his visit to Catfish Lake here.

Pocosin Wilderness, located in Craven and Carteret Counties, west of Newport contains 11,709 acres.  It received its name from the area’s raised bogs, or pocosins, a word derived from an Eastern Algonquin term meaning “swamp on a hill”.  No waterbodies border this wilderness, but otherwise the terrain is similar to the Catfish Lake area.  The area can be accessed from a network of National Forest roads as shown on this map by Wilderness.net.

Pond Pine Wilderness, located in Jones and Craven Counties, is the smallest of North Carolina’s wilderness areas containing only 1,685 acres.  Great Lake, another of the Carolina Bay lakes in the Croatan National Forest forms the north border of the wilderness.  The area offers much of the same flora and fauna as the other Croatan wilderness areas, and also contains no trails or designated camping sites.  The entire western border of Pond Pine Wilderness can be seen along Great Lake Road.  Take NC-1105, then Great Lake Road, north of Stella. 

Read Robert Scull’s report on his visit to Great Lake here

Foothills Outings Leader, Henry Fansler, crossing Pond Pine Wilderness

Foothills Outings Leader, Henry Fansler, crossing Pond Pine Wilderness

Sheep Ridge Wilderness, has a total of 9,297 acres, all of which are located in Craven County. The area can be accessed by taking Catfish Lake Road west from US 70 at Croatan.  Although the area has much the same plant and animal life as the other wilderness areas of the Croatan Forest, it may contain the largest variety of ecosystems: high and low pocosins, pine stands, bay forests and cypress bogs. 

Pine forest in Sheep Ridge Wilderness

Pine forest in Sheep Ridge Wilderness

None of these four areas contain the amenities that hikers and campers will find in the Croatan National Forest, but they are, after all, wilderness.  The cooler months of late fall and winter, when biting insects are not active, are the perfect time to visit these unusual areas.

NC Chapter Chair and Croatan Group Outings Leader, Robert Scull, has a paddle outing in Great Lake scheduled for Saturday, November 20.  Weather permitting, participants will paddle from Pond Pine Wilderness northward across the lake to Sheep Ridge Wilderness.  Watch for this outing to be posted on the Outings Calendar.

* A Walk on the Wild Side, Croatan National Forest is a collaborative work by seniors in the Coastal Biology class of Linwood Swain, New Bern Senior High School, published in 1987.