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Must-See North Carolina Parks

The state of North Carolina offers a plethora of lush, beautiful state parks for visitors to explore and enjoy. Visitation is increasing rapidly with the passage of time, as more and more people are attracted to North Carolina’s beautiful landscapes and abundance of outdoor activity. The parks of North Carolina have an array of topographies and activities to enjoy. The west holds the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with the Blue Ridge Parkway. These two are the most visited areas in the U.S. National Park System. Within the interior of the state, find dozens of beautiful sites for camping, fishing, hiking and other outdoor activities. The scenic North Carolina coast features the Cape Hatteras Light within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Read more in the sections below to learn more about the must-see parks within North Carolina.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina

Lying on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is hailed as the United States’ most visited national park. With year-round blooming flowers, historic sites and a wide variety of wildlife among the mountain scenery, visitors can find days’ worth of enriching, incredible activities within the park.

One of the most highly-rated attractions within the park is Cades Cove, a deep valley nestled between the mountains in which tourists can see an array of wildlife. Touring the Cove in its entirety can take anywhere from two to four hours by car, depending on how many detours a party takes. The trail requires no tour guide, but those travelling by foot should be advised to be cautious around the park’s wildlife. Black bears travel freely throughout the park, but incidents are rare as long as people follow the park’s regulations concerning behavior around black bears.

Captain Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina

One of the main attractions of the Captain Hatteras National Seashore is the lighthouses, open from the end of April to Columbus Day for tourists to explore. Offering cheap ticket prices and full moon tours, the lighthouses draw thousands to its scenic views.

Another popular draw to the seashore is the abundance of sea turtles that can be found on a yearly basis. While tourists are not allowed to interact with the turtles, they can view from afar a mother turtle lay her eggs or watch eggs hatch and see newborn turtles make their trek from the shore to the ocean.

Many campgrounds are offered around the coast, so those wishing to lodge in a more natural setting can contact the appropriate authorities to reserve a spot along the shoreline.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park in North Carolina

Jockey’s Ridge is the perfect spot for those who love beach sports, as it hosts the tallest living Atlantic sand dune and an enormous dune field. Common activities include sandboarding, hang gliding, paddling and other common beach activities.

The park offers multiple nature trails of various difficulties for novice and expert hikers to enjoy. Trails are offered on sand and boardwalk, so those wishing to have a unique trail experience can explore the shoreline through self-guided tours.

Finally, Jockey’s Ridge offers a beautiful picnic area complete with grills atop the ridge. These spaces can be reserved, but are otherwise open to the public.

Morrow Mountain State Park in North Carolina

Morrow Mountain is the park for true outdoors enthusiasts, offering a variety of opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and even horseback riding. The park has trails stretching from the highest point of Morrow Mountain to Lake Tillery, where visitors can either rent or provide their own water transportation.

Lake swimming is not allowed due to strong currents and other natural hazards. However, Morrow Mountain State Park offers a swimming pool from June to Labor Day.

Unlike many other parks, Morrow Mountain offers extended-stay campgrounds, so a party could make an entire trip or vacation just out of the amenities and activities of the park.

Lake James State Park in North Carolina

Lake James is a perfect destination for young families, as the vast hiking trails offer a special, educational trek for children, called the Holly Discovery Trail. The trail includes a number of child-friendly activities to entertain young ones while also helping them to admire the beauty of the natural resources around them.

The park provides many tour events, from boat tours to butterfly exposés, and even a special nighttime spider hike for the brave and adventurous.

Among these activities are spots for boating, swimming, fishing and camping. For the avid boater, there is a boat-in campground resting in the Long Arm Peninsula for not only privacy, but a sure boating challenge.

Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina

Serving as a long-term Civilian Conservation Corps project, this state park is one of the less developed, offering a more natural camping experience. Hanging Rock offers 73 different campsites, a lake for swimming or canoeing and over 20 miles of trails that pass through amazing views of both natural land and water features. The park also offers a museum in which visitors can explore and learn about the history, both natural and manmade, of the local mountain ranges.

For those wishing to stay a bit longer, vacation cabins are available for rental. For those in cabins or on campgrounds, it is important to return to the campgrounds before closing hours, as the state park is gated and entry outside of operation hours is not permitted.

North Carolina Beach State Park

North Carolina Beach offers a marina which holds some of the best places to fish in the state, alongside campgrounds and long hiking trails. With a deep natural and cultural history, the park is a great place for vacations, especially due to its unique attraction: the naturally-growing Venus flytraps.

Boating is a popular activity along the beach, as fresh, estuary and salt waters are available to visitors. Tourists can bring their own boats or rent one to explore the waters.

Finally, visitors can have a beautiful picnic in designated areas under enormous oak trees, beside which tables and grills are open for use. These sites are wheelchair accessible and are close to water sources, restrooms and parking lots.