“The Onslow Bight and Jacksonville: Holly Shelter Game Land to Stella on the White Oak River”
— Jim Grode
This route covers Segment 15B of North Carolina’s 1150-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail. It takes MST travelers through the Onslow Bight, formed where the coast makes a shallow bend or “bight” between Cape Lookout and Cape Fear. With its barrier islands, marshes, riverine wetlands, pocosin, and longleaf pine savannas, the Onslow Bight is considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the United States. These natural communities provide habitat for rare plants and animals, including several species that are found nowhere else in the world. The pocosins and longleaf pine forests are critical habitat for nesting and foraging red-cockaded woodpeckers, while the delicate barrier islands are essential habitat for sea turtle and water bird nesting.
The area is one of the primary conservation priorities for groups like The Nature Conservancy, NC Coastal Land Trust, NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and many other government and nonprofit agencies.
- Nineteen miles of forest road through the 63,500-acre Holly Shelter Game Land, where visitors will see vast expanses of pocosin recovering from a major peat fire in 2011, as well as savannas of lush grasses and native plants flourishing under towering longleaf pines.
- The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, 1/4 mile off the MST in Surf City
- The “Discover Onslow” exhibit at the new Onslow County Environmental Education Center on NC 210 just south of Old Folkstone Rd., which is a great way to learn about the ecology, flora, and fauna of the Onslow Bight
- Stones Creek Game Land, nestled in Camp Lejeune, which provides a scenic trail past lakes and pine woods
- Jacksonville’s six-mile Rails-to-Trails Greenway, which takes visitors through the heart of downtown and over Northeast Creek to Camp Lejeune’s Holcomb Gate
- Crossing the White Oak River to enter the little community of Stella on the outskirts of the Croatan National Fores
Features: Birding — River/Creek — Swimming — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
Hunting is permitted in the Stones Creek and Holly Shelter game lands, including hunting for deer and bear with dogs from mid-October through January 1. Always wear blaze orange when walking on these properties. Learn about hunting seasons and regulations before your trip at ncwildlife.org/Hunting/Laws...
The longest stretch of trail without access to water is in the Holly Shelter Game Land. Visitors are encouraged to bring adequate water with them into this section. Surface water in Holly Shelter can be scarce and much of it is highly tannic and may be unpalatable.
Segments 11-16 of the MST offer three options while construction of the MST is underway along the Neuse River between Smithfield and the Neusiok Trail in the Croatan National Forest: The “A” route, a paddling route on the Neuse River; the “B” pedestrian route, known as the Coastal Crescent; and the “C” route, the historic foot traffic/biking route. This guide follows the Coastal Crescent route; for more information about the other routes, visit Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail’s trail guide page
Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base and the city of Jacksonville lie in the center of this segment. Much of the MST route from Sneads Ferry through Jacksonville follows roads that skirt the massive base. Visitors will see plenty of signs of the military presence—from people in uniform, to military vehicles, to signs along the highway.
There is no signing or blazing on this segment. Portions of this trail are marked from Holly Shelter through Surf City.
For more information about the segment, including camping, lodging, parking, shuttles, resupply information, and trail angels, as well as detailed, turn-by-turn directions, download a trail guide
from the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Flora & Fauna
Deer, bear, turkey, fox, rabbit, raccoon and squirrel are prominent as are quail, dove and waterfowl. pine savannah, venus fly trap, maritime forest, fiddler crap, sandpiper, osprey, sea turtle, dolphin, pelican
History & Background
The story of the top-secret military operation that took place in the 1940’s on Topsail Island that changed the history of aviation and warfare and continues to draw visitors each year to Topsail Island.
Driving along Topsail Island’s coastal roads, you might spot a tall, white concrete tower overlooking the ocean. If you look closely, you’ll find not one, but eight towers overlooking the glimmering Atlantic, relics of a secret operation that helped launch the US into space and into history. Operation Bumblebee, which took place in the mid 40’s, was a top-secret missile testing operation that gave the US its first strategic surface-to-air missiles and introduced new technology that helped produce the SR-71 Blackbird and the space shuttle.