Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a sprawling mixture of swamp, marsh, open fields and dense forest. At 152,000 acres—237 square miles—it’s one of the largest wildlife refuges on the East Coast. Located just across the Virginia Dare Bridge from Manteo, it’s a beautiful and fascinating place to visit.
At one time, much of the area was logged. The sign for Buffalo City off US 64 in East Lake is part of that story. At one time Buffalo City was a thriving lumber town, tucked away back in the swamp and forest.
Evidence of the town is still there. The environment has reclaimed any evidence of the buildings of the town, but railroad bed for the tracks that moved the logs from harvest to the docks can’t be missed.
In fact, the Buffalo City trail is that old railroad bed.
The trailhead is at the end of Buffalo City road, a packed earth dirt road that is well marked. The trailhead serves as the beginning of the hiking path as well as the put in for kayakers heading out to Mill Creek, so there’s usually a good number of cars parked there.
The trail is a very easy walk through a dense pine forest. The old railroad bed is level making it ideal for just about anyone.
What to Look for in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
There’s a creek—it may have been created when the railroad bed stopped the flow of water through the marsh. That creek is teeming with life. Turtles are everywhere—eastern mud tulles, sliders, occasional snapping turtle. There is even a possibility of seeing an alligator. The refuge is the northernmost range of the American alligator.
In the trees red-bellied woodpeckers and too many songbirds to count are everywhere.
There are a surprising number of river otters in the creek. But it takes a quick set of eyes to see them and an even quicker camera to get a good picture. They are fast and shy.
The trail out and back takes may be an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes. It depends on the hiker not the trail. Take a camera and in late spring to through September, bug spray is really important.
There is so much to see on the Outer Banks that one week is never enough. Plan your return to the Outer Banks and a Brindley Beach Vacations home today.