Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a nicely laid out park with a variety of activities free of charge. It combines coastlines on the ocean and on the Cape Fear River, beaches, trails, a Civil War site, and an aquarium (fee required). There is lots of variety in hiking, fishing, and beaches, and educational attractions are all easily accessible. The recreation area preserves one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline in southern North Carolina.
Fort Fisher was one of the most pivotal battlegrounds of the Civil War. It was established to protect the rebel city of Wilmington, and it remained held by the Confederates longer than any other sea port. By the end of 1864, Wilmington was the last port not conquered or blockaded by Union forces. That would change the following year, however, when the Union threw all it had at Fort Fisher, and after a 6-hour-long barrage by navy and infantry, the stronghold finally fell. This proved crucial to the final defeat of the Confederacy, and the war ended three months later.
The fort remained in intermittent use by the military through World War II, but it became slowly antiquated with developing technology and theaters of warfare. Parts were restored as a National Historic Site, and more work was done after acquisition by the North Carolina state park system in 1986. Today it is a free public park with a restored fort, indoor/outdoor museum, educational programs, beach, hiking trails, and picnic areas.
Aside from strolling along the beach, the Basin Trail is the place for hiking in the recreation area. It begins near the visitor center and tours marsh as well as maritime forest in a 2-mile out-and-back trip. The varied ecology presents good opportunities for birdwatching. A World War II bunker is located along the trail, and it ends at an observation tower over the marsh and the Cape Fear River. There is also a short paved path that loops around the restored fort, complete with informative signage along the way. A boardwalk section even gives a taste of the natural setting in surrounding marsh. This loop is the favorite choice for families with small children and those interested primarily in the history of Fort Fisher.
The recreation area encompasses 5 miles of continuous sandy beach, which is divided into a pedestrian area and an OHV area (fee required for OHV permit). From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a designated swim area at the pedestrian beach is staffed by lifeguards. Anywhere along the shore is great for fishing, beachcombing, and picknicking. There are also public picnic tables and grills near the visitor center and beach. Overnight use is allowed in the OHV-access stretch of beach with a proper permit.