How to Kayak in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Paddling, Travel

October 23, 2020

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is such a gem in the Outer Banks! This refuge protects some really cool wetland and forest area, making for great paddling. Here is what you need to know to go kayaking in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge!

Where is the refuge? 

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is located in Eastern North Carolina on the coast near Nags Head. It’s an easy day trip if you’re visiting Kitty Hawk or the Outer Banks.

Why go paddling? 

The kayaking here is awesome! The refuge is made up of wetland habitat, and one of the best ways to experience the refuge is to take to the water.

Where to paddle

The refuge has several designated, color-coded paddling trails. You can find maps here. I did part of the yellow trail on the Milltail Creek.

Where to park to paddle

There is a designated parking area and boat ramp access at the end of Buffalo City Road in the refuge. You can put “Sandy Ridge Trail” or just “Buffalo City Road” into your GPS, and you should be able to find it!

Paddling conditions

I brought my own kayak. There are no kayaks onsite, so if you don’t have your own kayak, you will need to go with a tour or coordinate a rental. The water was very still with little to no current when I was there. I paddled part of the Milltail Creek trail completely on my own and felt very safe.

Are there alligators? 

Yes! I was a little nervous about kayaking with alligator by myself, but there was only one and it was fine. I stayed at least 25ft away from it and observed from a distance.

Should you do a kayak tour? 

There are several outfitters and companies that offer kayak tours in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. If you don’t have your own kayak or aren’t super comfortable on the water, a tour is a great way to go! Try to do a sunset one if you can!


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Hi there! I'm Abby. 
I'm a traveling photographer, writer, and artist and I'm most passionate about using visual communication connecting people with the outdoors.


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