Goose Creek State Park, North Carolina’s Swampy Hidden Gem

Fallen dead trees amid the dense forest

photography by: Omri Westmark

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While these days, the US southeastern coast is largely dominated by vast crop fields and small towns, it wasn't always the case. In fact, across the agricultural landscape are still extant enclaves of murky marshlands and bottomland hardwood forests, encapsulating the native natural scenery prior to human development. Nestled along the Pamlico River, Goose Creek State Park is one of North Carolina's most remote corners, and as such, provides a rare glimpse of the region's spectacular wilderness.

Basic Info

Spanning across 1,672 acres (2.61 square miles), Goose Creek State Park sits along the Pamlico Estuary, where the Pamlico River meets the Pamlico Sound, the US east coast’s largest lagoon. Due to its remoteness, the easiest way to get here is by car as the park is situated a couple of kilometers south of the U.S. Route 264. Offering insightful info and exhibits about Goose Creek’s natural scenery, the visitor center is off the park’s main road, a short distance after the main entrance.


The park is traversed by nine hiking trails stretching over 8 miles in total, including half a mile of boardwalk across a murky swamp. If you wish to embrace the wilderness one step further, a primitive campground at the premises offers several designated areas for tents. The exceedingly wide Pamlico rivers borders the park’s south part, making it also an ideal location for swimming and boating. A boat ramp at Goose creek’s western side is where most sailboats and motorboats embark on their journey. Take note that the park’s swampy conditions are sometimes translated to swarms of irritating mosquitos throughout the area, and so, carrying an insect repellant is warmly advised.


Long before the first European set foot in North America, the area of today’s Goose Creek Park was inhabited by indigenous groups, the vast majority of whom belonged to the Tuscarora tribe. Following the arrival of Europeans to the continent, the region’s native population was wiped out either by imported diseases or bloody conflicts with the new settlers.


These tumultuous times were then followed by a relatively peaceful era, where the sparsely populated land was utilized for large-scale lumbering, fishing and for a smaller extent, also farming. Dozens of remnants of the park’s agricultural past are still strewn across the area, most notably several defunct boat piers on the shores of the Pamlico River. Decades of endeavor by locals to preserve some of the region’s unique ecosystem were culminated in 1974, when Goose Creek State Park was officially inaugurated.

Flora and Fauna

Though hardly noticeable at first glance, the landscape around the park varies dramatically between brackish marshlands, murky swamps, dense thickets and formidable forest. With so many distinct environments within its modest-sized territory, it is no wonder that the park is home to a massive number of animal and plant species.


While the brackish marshes along the Pamlico River serve as a habitat for black needlerush, sawgrass and other types of sedges, bald cypress dominates the swampy terrain across the inner parts. The true rulers of the park however are the evergreen coniferous trees, particularly loblolly pines and red cedars, which form a sizeable forest that covers most of Goose Creek Park.


As one can imagine, the rich flora provides food and shelter for an incredibly large amount of animal species. Amongst the many birds that call Goose Creek home are herons, egrets and marsh wrens which prefer the brackish waters near the river, whereas bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks and barred owls resides in the tall canopies throughout the forest.


Alongside the park’s all year-round winged critters are also a plethora of migratory birds who frequent the area for a couple of months at a time. During the winter, the Pamlico cooler waters attract ruddy and scaup ducks, Canada geese and even tundra swans. In the meantime, mallards and black ducks opt for the swampy areas around the creeks.


If it wasn’t enough, this natural enclave also supports a significant population of squirrels, muskrats, minks, snakes and frogs, just to name a few. If you get lucky enough, you might even spot far larger and elusive animals such as river otters, bobcats, red wolves and perhaps most notably, black bears.

Hiking Trails

As previously mentioned, the park is bisected by 9 trails, ranging from a measly 0.3-mile path to a 2.5-mile-long track. Besides the Palmetto Boardwalk, all other trails are practically a narrow dirt path which is occasionally supplemented by wooden bridges whenever it crosses a creek or a small water stream. Whilst most trails are well-marked by pinned symbols on trees, each of which with its own distinct shape and color, in some cases the badge is missing and may cause confusion, requiring a constant peek at your navigation app.


As its name might imply, the Live Oak Trail boasts a woodland of live oaks, many of which are covered with Spanish moss. Further along the short trail, you’ll come across the Pamlico River’s shoreline and a small mysterious cemetery, whose remote location can be explained by a possible outbreak of infectious disease that forced the burial of its deceased dwellers as far away as possible from any settlement.


The Mallard Creek Loop on the other hand crosses a pine forest and roughly at its midpoint, leads to a spectacular lookout of the Pamlico River, from where different types of waterfowls can be spotted. Intermittently merges with Mallard Creek Trail is the Tar-Kiln Trail, a deep-forest pathway where many remnants of the park’s once ample lumber industry are scattered along the way. Despite being left unelaborated at this article, all other trails are remarkably worthy as well, easily making Goose Creek State Park a 2 or 3 day-attraction.