Type of Adventure: Hike
Total Distance: 2.2 miles (1.4 round trip to bunker)
Location: Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Kure Beach
Parking/Trailhead: 33.964534, -77.922585
My family vacationed for many years in nearby Carolina Beach, and I was always curious of the stories about Robert Harrill, better known as the Fort Fisher Hermit.
But it wasn’t until 2008, when I was 22 years old, that I first decided to explore the make shift home of the hermit.
The story goes that Mr. Harrill dropped everything one day after many disappointments. Unsuccessful jobs, a divorce, and being committed to a mental hospital, he decided to hitch-hike from the mountains of Morganton, NC to Fort Fisher, nearly 260 miles away, to live a new life. Rather than becoming a true hermit, Mr. Harrill instead became a local celebrity, attracting 100,000 visitors from all 50 states and 20 countries. In fact, according to some sources, the Fort Fisher Hermit was once thought to be North Carolina’s second largest attraction at the time.
He spent 17 years in an old World War II bunker, which you will pass by along this hike. Here he lived a life of simplicity, until one early morning he was found dead (supposedly murdered) on a Sunday in June of 1972.
A short YouTube video previews his story:
You can watch the full hour long story of the Fort Fisher Hermit if you are curious.
The Fort Fisher Hermit had an interesting, arguably persuasive, take on why he had become so popular.
Everybody ought to be a hermit for a few minutes to an hour or so every 24 hours, to study, meditate, and commune with their creator…millions of people want to do just what I’m doing, but since it is much easier thought of than done, they subconsciously elect me to represent them, that’s why I’m successful…
– Robert Harrill
I won’t tell the whole story here, as there are plenty of other sources where you can find out much more, but I will tell you how you can explore it for yourself.
The best access is to park in the parking lot on Loggerhead Road. If you are visiting this place in the summer, I will highly advise you to take plenty of water, and plenty of insect repellent.
Head into the large bushes near the stop arm that lets vehicles on to the beach. The first part of the trail will wind through the bushes.
You will then walk a fair distance through loose sand, but keep and eye out on your right as the trail will fork out and off of the “beach”.
This section of the trail is my favorite as it very scenic, especially if you go in the late evening.
After crossing two wooden walkways similar to the picture above, the World War II bunker will be semi-hidden on your right.
Take a few minutes here to imagine dropping everything and moving in this bunker to live for 17 years. The heat, the humidity, the sand, the bugs and huge mosquitoes, but also the simplicity, the beauty and serenity. What do you think it could have been like to live like Mr. Harrill, and what was it that intrigued so many people about this lifestyle?
If you have time, continue on down the Basin/Fort Fisher Hermit trail about 0.4 of mile to the observation deck. The deck overlooks the mouth of the Cape Fear River just before it enters the Atlantic Ocean at Southport. A sunset view will be well worth it.
Take your time taking in the view, but watch out for high tide. Some of the higher tides can creep up into the narrow trail. Otherwise, you may be walking back with water-filled shoes.