Located at the southern tip of Pleasure Island is the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, which offers visitors unspoiled ocean beaches accessible only by walking from the park offices, bathhouse, nature exhibits and concession area, or by four-wheel drive vehicles on a beach access trail.

Here you’ll find the perfect opportunity for swimming, surf fishing, shelling, bird and loggerhead sea turtle watching, hiking and exploring miles of nearly deserted beach and marshes. Lifeguards are on duty during tourist season in the swimming area near the park offices and there is ample parking.

Historic Civil War site

Across US Highway 421 from the recreation area is the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, which attracts more than 600,000 visitors annually.

A small portion of the original earthen fortifications at Fort Fisher remains – about 180 yards along the Cape Fear River, and about 70 yards along the ocean. In the Visitor Center, an audiovisual program tells the story of Fort Fisher and guided tours of the outdoor exhibits are conducted along a quarter-mile trail.

During the Civil War, Fort Fisher stood guard over the mouth of the Cape Fear River, keeping the blockading Union ships at a distance, spread out beyond the dangerous shoals, and allowing the famous blockade runners to make their nighttime dashes through the blockades and up river to Wilmington with supplies for the Confederate Army.

The fort withstood several attacks and bombardments from the Union that had amassed more than 40 ships to blockade the river and attack the fort. Finally, in 1865, Union land and sea forces combined to overwhelm the fort and subsequently take the city of Wilmington, cutting off the only supply line to General Lee’s Confederate Army. Shortly thereafter, the Confederacy fell.

Just south of the fort at the southern tip of the island, you’ll find the dock for the Southport/Fort Fisher Ferry operated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The trip across the mouth of the Cape Fear River to historic Southport takes nearly half an hour and costs $15 per car. Pedestrians ride for just $1 and bike riders are charged $3. Kids taking the ferry for the first time should stop at the gift shop for a free sticker.

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