In this article you'll learn how to get to Bear Island (spoiler alert: there is a ferry), so you can enjoy the beach, camping, adjacent Huggins Island, and area fishing and hiking activities.
The sunrise turns the sky from peach to yellow as you stretch your paddle overhead. You feel refreshed after a night of listening to the waves crash gently on the beach. Seabirds fly overhead. You take a deep, relaxing breath. This trip was so worth it.
But if you aren’t a paddler, what is there to do at Hammocks Beach and Bear Island? Fortunately, the answer is: plenty!
Get to know Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island, NC
The park’s mainland outpost consists of a full-service visitor center. From there, you can access the beach by hopping on the Bear Island ferry or by launching your own kayak, canoe or paddle board.
Bear Island’s only permanent fixture is a small picnic area and concessions stand (with bathrooms — see Know before you go, below). And you’ll notice where people have camped in the past.
Learn about Bear Island history and ecology as a family
Bring your kids to the visitor center to engage in interpretive programs and see a wealth of exhibits about the land, waters and history.
Your family will gain a better appreciation for the fragile yet robust ecology of the North Carolina coastline. From endangered sea turtles to nesting shorebirds, there’s always something to explore.
Kayaking Hammocks Beach State Park: Kayaking to Bear Island NC
Among the most popular weekend adventures near Swansboro, NC, is kayaking from Hammocks Beach State Park to Bear Island or Huggins Island for a picnic or a night of primitive camping.
Bring breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once you get there, you might not want to leave.
Day hikes and camping
This diverse state park offers a few easy to moderate miles of trails through sandy beaches and maritime forests. Follow the Hickory Bluff, Evergreen, Queen’s Creek and Coastal Fringe Trails over boardwalks and sandy marshlands as you make your way through the forested park.
Or, take the ferry service to Bear Island and walk 3-4 miles of shoreline. Both the island and mainland areas have plenty of opportunities for primitive and group camping. Make your camping reservations here.
Fishing, bird watching and Lady Swan Boat Tours
If you’re into surf fishing, you’ll marvel at the hungry redfish that flood the waterways off Bear Island every fall. Also be on the lookout for flounder, striped bass, speckled trout, skipjack and sheepshead.
Bird lovers will enjoy watching pelicans dive for fish in these crystal waters. Seasoned spotters will be impressed by less common coastal birds, such as the black-bellied whistling-duck, cinnamon teal, common goldeneye, black rail, white-winged dove, avocet, godwit and much more.
Those of you interested in a leisurely boat ride can get tickets for the Lady Swan Boat Tour. This 40’ covered boat is handicap accessible, has a full shade top, padded seats and a bathroom on board. Your tour guide will explain how the unspoiled beauty of Hammocks Beach State Park, Bear Island, Huggins Island, Jones Island and Swansboro came to be.
Know before you go
The ferry to Bear Island runs daily through Sept. 6, 2021 (the daily schedule changes after Sept. 6 and service for the season ends on Oct. 31). Catch hourly rides Monday – Wednesday, and rides every 30 minutes Thursday-Sunday, beginning at 9:30 am with the last ferry off Bear Island at 6 pm. Always double check the North Carolina State Park Service’s website for up-to-date information about hours and COVID-19 restrictions.
The Bear Island concession stand is open for the 2021 season (woohoo!). It's cash only. The stand operates between 10 am and 5 pm, and closes Sept. 6. Lifeguards are on duty Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as staff is available. The restrooms on Bear Island are open and drinking water is available at the bathhouse.
Bear Island ferry prices
The Bear Island ferry is scheduled to operate until Oct. 31, 2021 (the concession stand closes Sept. 6), with round-trip ticket prices of $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and children 3-12, children 2 and under are free. Before you go, review the Bear Island ferry schedule (the schedule may be published as a link to a PDF).
Hammocks Beach State Park weather
Check the weather at Hammocks Beach State Park.