The maritime forest and sandy beach along the western side of Jockey's Ridge State Park.

The maritime forest and sandy beach along the western side of Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Is it time to take a walk on the wild side? Not completely wild, perhaps, but certainly a side of the Outer Banks that not everyone sees.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head has been the most visited state park in the North Carolina system. Towering 80-90’ above the surrounding area, it is the sand dune on the East Coast.

Hang gliding is taught from the top and sides of the dune and with nothing to stop the wind, Jockey’s Ridge is world renown for kite flying.

But the wild side to Jockey’s Ridge is not that massive, glistening sand dune. The wild side is found following a trail that takes hikers to the sound.

The Wild Side of Jockey’s Ridge

The park is actually part of a remarkably complex ecosystem and the trail, which begins just a little to the right of the viewing platform, begins in a fascinating part of that system.

The beginning of the trail is almost always damp and sometimes water covers it. Looking to the south (left) reeds and water grasses are abundant. There is usually a shallow pond extending to the base of Jockey’s Ridge.

The pond is not actually rain water, although rain is what creates it. What is happening is after a hard rain or days of rain, groundwater is forced to the surface and becomes the pond.

The trail leads across an exposed area of sand. In the summer, it’s going to be hot. Take water, wear sandals (the sand gets hot enough to cause second degree burns) and sunscreen is advisable.

When the trail gets to the sound, check out the osprey nest. It’s been active since April.

Head south along the shoreline. For anyone hoping to find a somewhat deserted beach, it doesn’t get much better than this. There are some areas with just enough sand for two or three families, but almost no one goes there. The water is warm and the bottom sandy.

What is apparent in looking south is that the shoreline is bordered by a maritime forest. It’s a small one, but the characteristics are unmistakable.

That is typical for the Outer Banks. Dunes protect the western side from the harsh winds of the Atlantic and a forest takes root.

It’s not as diverse, and certainly not nearly as large as the other protected maritime forests of the Outer Banks, but it is part of the environmental story.

There is so much to explore on the Outer Banks that one week is never enough. Plan your second vacation with Brindley Beach Vacations for the best selection on the Outer Banks.