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It’s the paradox of the holidays: You need to get out and deal with stress more than ever. Yet, because much of your stress is over time, you don’t feel you have the time to get away.

Perhaps you can’t spare a whole a day to escape into the wild. But what about an hour or two? Sometimes all you need is a quick time-out. Odds are you can find that time-out close to where you live. A park, a nature preserve, a wild area where you can slip in, spend some quality serenity time, then rejoin the world in progress, refreshed.

Throughout the holidays, we’re going to introduce you to places near where you live that can do wonders for restoring your stressed soul.

First up: five retreats along the coast where relief is assured.

Coming up:

  • 11/26: Triangle
  • 12/1: Triad
  • 12/15: Charlotte
  • 12/29: Asheville

Fort Fisher: Hermit Trail, Kure Beach

This may be the longest 1.1-mile trail you’ve ever hiked. Just over a mile? It seems to take you so much farther. From the Fort Fisher Recreation Area the trail quickly transports you from the beach into a marshland of gently swaying cordgrass so vast you’ll think you’re in the Great Plains. Midway, you visit yet another world, the claustrophobic concrete bunker of Robert E. Harrill, the “Fort Fisher Hermit” who retreated here in 1956 to escape society and contemplate life. Harrill’s specter adds to the lonesome, contemplative feel of this open expanse so different from the rest of the state.

Find out more about Fort Fisher.


Cedar Point Recreation Area, Swansboro

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Boardwalk at Cedar Point. Image: Joe Miller

Across the NC 58 bridge, the strand from Emerald Isle north to Atlantic Beach is awash in beach vacation madness. But at Cedar Point, where Boathouse Creek and Dubling Creek emerge from the woods to weave through a tidal marsh before disappearing into the sprawling White Oak River, serenity rules. A leisurely 1.3-mile trail, much of it on elevated boardwalk, takes you through a brackish marsh where the peaceful quiet above is in contrast to the vibrant community of shrimp, fish, crabs and oysters beneath the surface. And this time of year, the mosquitoes and other flying pests that can deter visitors have, like those beach vacationers across the way, packed up and disappeared.

Learn more about Cedar Point Recreation Area.


Goose Creek State Park, Washington

A state park might seem an odd choice for an intimate escape, but when that park is located at the gateway to one of the most sparsely populated regions of the state, its isolationist attributes make sense. From the Visitor Center, a boardwalk leads you to eight miles of trail. Escape through passages of head-high grasses and sedges, between tight passages of assorted coastal evergreens and beneath towering loblolly and longleaf pines, as well as massive oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Take a moment, or several, to look out over the Pamlico River, which at this point is more than a mile wide and resembling the sound it will shortly become. As the Pamlico dissolves into the sound, then ocean, so too will your anxiety.

For more information, visit here.

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Looking across the Pamlico River from Goose Creek State Park. Image: Joe Miller

Nags Head Woods Nature Preserve, Kill Devil Hills

Hard as it may be to believe amid the sprawl of the Outer Banks, you can find more than 800 acres of escape not far from your holiday beach rental. Nags Head Woods I one of the largest remaining maritime forests along the East Coast. In contrast to the harsh exposure of the beach, a thick canopy formed by ancient oaks, hickories and beech trees offers protection, insulation and isolation. The forest and wetlands are a haven as well for the more than 100 species of birds, 15 species of amphibians and 28 species of reptiles that have been documented in these woods. Sure, you may have lots of company here, but they appreciate the quiet as well.

Learn more. 

Boiling Springs Nature Preserve, Boiling Springs Lake (Wilmington)

One of the keys to achieving serenity is to regain an appreciation of where you fit in the larger scheme of things. At Boiling Springs, you are but a spec. The nearly 7,000-acre preserve is one of the most vigorous spots on the planet. In a typical natural space, you may find eight to 10 species of plants growing with a one square meter. Here, according to The Nature Conservancy, you’ll find several times that. Your worries give way to your curiosity as you contemplate the more than 400 vascular plants, assorted carnivorous plants, various orchids and other species supported by the preserves numerous eco zones, ranging from xeric sandhill to pond pine woodland to pocosin. Fortunately, there’s only a mile and a half of trail. Fortunate, because you haven’t got all day.

More information.

[Top Image, Fort Fisher, NC: Shutterstock]

Joe Miller

About Joe Miller

Joe Miller is the author of four books on outdoor adventure, and writes about health, fitness and the outdoors. Read his blog at GetGoingNC.com.