Walking trails. Credit: USFWS
There are many opportunities to experience the Carolina Sandhills Refuge. While it is certainly possible to view wildlife from your car window along the 9-mile long Visitors Drive, your chances of spotting wildlife are much enhanced by making use of the trails, observation towers, and viewing platforms located throughout the Refuge.
For a map showing locations of the trails, observation platforms, and other facilities described below, either view this file on-screen, or click on the map for a larger version.
- Hiking and walking trails...
- Bicycling on the refuge...
- Observation towers and other viewing opportunities...
All areas of Carolina Sandhills are open to foot traffic. However, the following three trails are maintained for use by the public.
Woodland Pond Nature Trail
This trail is located approximately one mile from the Refuge office at Pool A. The Woodland Pond Trail is one mile in length, and passes through wetlands, upland pine, and a small open area. It loops around Pool A, so you'll return to where you've parked. This is a good trail for viewing songbirds. (Caution: horseflies can be very bad during the late spring and summer along this trail.)
Longleaf Pine Trail
From the Refuge headquarteres, drive approximately 1 mile to the parking area opposite Pool A. This nature trail is one-quarter mile in length.
This trail is 3.5 miles in length. It provides a number of bird and wildlife viewing opportunities. You can access this trail at Martin's Lake (the trail head is at the observation tower), along Visitors Drive at Pool D, or in the Lake Bee Recreation Area.
Other Suggested Walks
Triple Lakes Walk -- This makes a good walk after a picnic at the Lake Bee Recreation area. Cross the road from the main entrance to the Lake Bee area, and you'll find a dirt road leading to Triple Lakes. Along this 1/4-mile walk you might see red-cockaded woodpeckers and brown headed nuthatches. Triple Lakes is also a good place to see wood ducks.
Martins Lake Hiking Trail -- The Martins Lake trail is another short walk suitable for families. Begin at the Martins Lake parking area. Walk around the gate and follow the woods road until it intersects with the hiking trail. Turn right (east) and follow the trail to the observation tower. You may see waterfowl on the lake, wild turkey in the open areas, or white-tailed deer.
There are more than 100 miles of dirt and gravelled roads at Carolina Sandhills, all of which are open to bicyclists. Many of the roads have sections with steep hills, so don't worry about a lack of challenging riding. Please note that all trails, such as the nature trails and walking/hiking trails, are closed to bicycles. You won't find this at all limiting...many of the smaller roads receive only occasional use by Refuge personnel, and are edging toward the single-track classification. The Refuge offers some pristine riding in areas that are seldom visited by the general public.
Also note that many of the roads have stretches of deep sand which can make riding difficult. This is a skill you'll quickly master. Keep your speed up, and shift to a lower gear so you can power through the sand stretches. The so-called "mountain bike" with wider tires is the preferred bicycle for the road conditions and terrain you'll find at Carolina Sandhills.
Don't forget to stop pedalling every now and then to watch and listen for wildlife. The bicycle makes a great vehicle for quietly approaching wildlife, especially on the forest roads covered with carpets of pine needles.
The refuge has recently completed a new observation tower at the Oxpen Farm area. This tower offers a panoramic view of the area including lakes, fields and thousands of acres of forestland. To reach the Oxpen tower, follow the Wildlife Drive from the refuge headquarters past the Lake Bee recreation area. You will enter the Oxpen Farm area at approximately mile point 8, and you will see a sign for the tower on the right side of the road. Follow the gravel road until you reach the tower on your left.
The Refuge also maintains a photography blind located at Martin’s Lake. Follow the Wildlife Drive to the three-way stop sign, turning right on RT 9. Approximately ½ mile on the right will be a paved road with a sign indicating Tripod Trail and Photography Blind. This is a hike in area unless you are mobility impaired. From the parking area, the photography blind is ¼ mile south to Martin’s Lake. If you have mobility impairment, you may access the photography blind via a dirt road that continue to the lake from the parking area.
Wildlife viewing is also possible from the fishing platforms located on nearly all of the ponds and lakes on the Refuge.
Birdwatchers at Oxpen Observation Tower (Credit: USFWS)