North Carolina destinations, parks and attractions
Are you going on a road trip to North Carolina, looking for tips about the destinations so you and your party can enjoy it, be comfortable and not spend a fortune?
Here are some of the top destinations in North Carolina and tips about visiting them
National parks and monuments in North Carolina
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail,
Maine to Georgia, CT,GA,MA,MD,ME,NC,NH,NJ,NY,PA,TN,VA,VT,WV.
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.
- Blue Ridge National Parkway,
Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, NC,VA.
A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and providing opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore,
Nags Head, Buxton, Ocracoke, NC.
The sound of ocean waves, the starry night sky, or the calm of the salt marshes, you can experience it all. Shaped by the forces of water, wind, and storms these islands are ever changing. The plants, wildlife, and people who live here adapt continually. Whether you are enjoying the beach, kayaking the sound, or climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse there is something for everyone to explore!
- Cape Lookout National Seashore,
Harkers Island, NC.
A boat ride three miles off-shore brings you to the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Horse watching, shelling, fishing, birding, camping, lighthouse climbing, and touring historic villages--there’s something for everyone at Cape Lookout. Be sure to bring all the food, water, and supplies you need (and carry your trash out of the park) when visiting these remote beaches.
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site,
Flat Rock, NC.
Carl Sandburg provided a popular voice for the American people of the twentieth century and still speaks to us through his words, activism, music and the beauty and serenity of Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Explore Sandburg's legacy and Experience Your America!
- Fort Raleigh National Historic Site,
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects and preserves known portions of England's first New World settlements from 1584 to 1590. This site also preserves the cultural heritage of the Native Americans, European Americans and African Americans who have lived on Roanoke Island.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
the states of NC,TN.
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America's most visited national park.
- Guilford Courthouse National Military Park,
"I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons." - Lt. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis On March 15, 1781, six years into the American Revolution, General Greene and Lord Cornwallis' troops faced off at a small courthouse community. This 2.5 hour battle would change the course of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution.
- Moores Creek National Battlefield,
In the early morning hours of February 27, 1776, Loyalist forces charged across a partially dismantled Moores Creek Bridge. Beyond the bridge, nearly 1,000 North Carolina Patriots waited quietly with cannons and muskets poised to fire. This battle marked the last broadsword charge by Scottish Highlanders and the first significant victory for the Patriots in the American Revolution.
- Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail,
Stretching 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina) the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. Follow the campaign by utilizing a Commemorative Motor Route which uses existing state highways marked with the distinctive trail logo, or 87 miles of walkable pathways.
- Trail Of Tears National Historic Trail,
Remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They traveled by foot, horse, wagon, or steamboat in 1838-1839.
- Wright Brothers National Memorial,
Kill Devil Hills, NC.
Wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903. With courage and perseverance, these self-taught engineers relied on teamwork and application of the scientific process. What they achieved changed our world forever.
North Carolina State parks and historic sites
- Carolina Beach State Park - Located in New Hanover County 10 miles south of Wilmington, Carolina Beach State Park is home to the Venus flytrap, a unique carnivorous plant. The park is known for habitats like Sugarloaf Dune, a 50-foot dune that once served as a navigational marker for river pilots, as well as three limesink ponds that each feature a unique plant community. The park's marina provides access to the Cape Fear River and the Intracoastal Waterway, making the area popular for boaters and anglers.
- Carvers Creek State Park - Located in Cumberland County 15 miles northwest of Fayetteville, Carvers Creek State Park features Long Valley Farm, which was once the winter retreat of James Stillman Rockefeller, and the new Sandhills access that offers multiuse trails through beautiful longleaf pine ecosystems. The park provides plenty of opportunities for recreation and experiencing natural and cultural history. Both accesses include diverse habitats that are home to unique species like the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and the Pine Barrens tree frog.
- Chimney Rock State Park - Located in Rutherford County 25 miles southeast of Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park offers some of North Carolina's most dramatic mountain scenery, overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. At the fee-based Chimney Rock attraction, hike to Hickory Nut Falls and take an elevator or climb to the top of the park's namesake, a 315-foot freestanding rock spire. It also has the most facilities, including riverside areas, interpretive exhibits, and gift shops. The free Rumbling Bald and Eagle Rock accesses provide a more rugged backcountry experience.
- Cliffs of the Neuse State Park - Located in Wayne County 15 miles southeast of Goldsboro, Cliffs of the Neuse State Park sits on 90-foot bluffs overlooking the Neuse River. Layers of sand, clay, seashells, shale, and gravel create a spectrum of colors on the face of the cliff. Completing the landscape are longleaf pine restoration areas and creeks that were once used to make moonshine and cornmeal and now offer quiet fishing spots. An 11-acre lake complements the river in providing opportunities for water recreation.
- Crowders Mountain State Park - Located in Gaston County 25 miles west of Charlotte, Crowders Mountain State Park boasts two mountain peaks that offer magnificent views of the surrounding Piedmont. Trails offer challenging hikes and towering cliffs - and even the opportunity to traverse two states through the Ridgeline Trail, which connects to Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina. A wide variety of resident birds, from songbirds to birds of prey, make the park a great spot for birdwatching.
- Dismal Swamp State Park - Located in Camden County abutting the state's northeast border with Virginia, Dismal Swamp State Park provides access to the Great Dismal Swamp, the largest remaining swamp in the eastern United States. This area features unique and abundant plant life and wildlife, as well as a rich cultural history that intertwines with George Washington, the Underground Railroad, and Prohibition. The 22-mile Dismal Swamp Canal is a popular paddling destination and hosts the annual Paddle for the Border event.
- Elk Knob State Park - Located in Watauga County 11 miles north of Boone, Elk Knob State Park was established in 2003 to protect the mountain and the headwaters of the North Fork of the New River. An overlook summit rewards visitors with a panoramic view of North Carolina's high country. Backcountry campsites, located 1 to 2 miles into a cove forest with beautiful streams, offer the ultimate primitive overnight experience. In the winter, about 1 mile of ungroomed trail is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
- Eno River State Park - Located in Durham and Orange counties 10 miles northwest of downtown Durham, Eno River State Park spans across five access areas along its namesake river. The swift, but often shallow stream of the river can make for difficult paddling but provides beautiful landmarks like the Cascades. This riparian environment is popular with anglers, birdwatchers and photographers alike. The park offers plenty of recreational opportunities just minutes from city amenities, and it is one of the state parks along the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.
- Falls Lake State Recreation Area - Located in Durham and Wake counties 15 miles east of downtown Durham, Falls Lake State Recreation Area provides seven access areas to the reservoir. More than 300 campsites offer a variety of overnight experiences. Trails include a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, as well as one of the premier mountain bike trail systems in the Triangle area, located at Beaverdam access. During the spring and fall, migrating monarch butterflies add to the picturesque beauty of the lake.
- Fort Fisher State Recreation Area - Located in New Hanover County 20 miles south of Wilmington, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is the only park in the system that allows four-wheel-drive beach access, making it popular for surf fishing. Warm weather months bring loggerhead sea turtles to nest along the park's sandy shores. A trail traverses the salt marsh and ends at an observation deck with views of Zeke's Island and the Cape Fear River. The marsh, brimming with wildlife, provides plenty of watching opportunities for birders and photographers year-round.
- Fort Macon State Park - Located in Carteret County 40 miles southeast of New Bern, Fort Macon State Park is centered on an impeccably restored pre-Civil War fort that offers daily guided tours and cannon and musket demonstrations. Extensive exhibits educate visitors on fort history and the natural surroundings. The beach is perfect for swimming, beachcombing, or even spotting a dolphin or two. Trails traverse the salt marsh and dune fields and provide the opportunity to see one of the 312 species of birds found in the park.
- Goose Creek State Park - Located in Beaufort County 30 miles southeast of Greenville, Goose Creek State Park offers a broad range of coastal experiences, from wetlands along the Pamlico Sound to a cypress swamp viewed from a long boardwalk. Remnants of boat piers, a trackless railroad bed, and burnt remains of tar kilns provide a glimpse of the heyday of a lumber industry that was once the center of life in the area. The park's estuarine habitats can be explored on foot or by paddling the Pamlico River.
- Gorges State Park - Located in Transylvania County near the tripoint where North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia meet, Gorges State Park sports plunging waterfalls, rugged river gorges and sheer rock precipices. Backcountry-style recreation is a hallmark of the park, from backpacking to horseback riding. This park located in the Blue Ridge Escarpment spans over 8,000 acres of temperate rainforest and hosts extraordinary biodiversity. The park features 26 waterfalls, the northern boundary of Lake Jocassee and a portion of the 70-mile Foothills Trail.
- Grandfather Mountain State Park - Located in Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga counties 20 miles southwest of Boone, Grandfather Mountain State Park showcases a stunning mountain known for severe weather and challenging terrain that has hikers scrambling along cliffs, gripping cables and climbing up ladders. It also boasts an unmatched ecological diversity that has been recognized as a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve. The state parkland sits between privately owned Grandfather Mountain attraction (admission fee charged) and Blue Ridge Parkway trails managed by the National Park Service.
- Hammocks Beach State Park - Located in Onslow County 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville, Hammocks Beach State Park comprises a mainland area and three barrier islands, including the 4-mile-long Bear Island. A passenger ferry transports visitors to the pristine beach that provides an opportunity to camp oceanside - an experience unique amongst North Carolina's state parks. Alternatively, visitors can rent or bring their own kayak or canoe for a closer exploration of the marshlands and maritime swamp forests that surround the park's island areas.
- Hanging Rock State Park - Located in Stokes County 30 miles north of Winston-Salem, Hanging Rock State Park started as a Civilian Conservation Corps project and has become a park that offers every part of a traditional outdoor experience. Trails lead to picturesque mountain views, rock outcrops, waterfalls, and even a mountain cave. Some are open to horseback riding and mountain biking, and a portion is part of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail. Campgrounds, a swim lake and access to paddling on the Dan River complete the gamut of recreational opportunities.
- Haw River State Park - Located in Guilford and Rockingham counties 15 miles north of Greensboro, Haw River State Park is a unique park that centers on The Summit, a residential environmental education and conference center, accommodating retreats and conferences for groups big or small. The park is also perfect for day-use visitors looking to explore the headwaters of the Haw River. Trails and a boardwalk offer a journey into wetlands and a floodplain swamp, where visitors may see great blue herons and a bounty of other animals.
- Jockey's Ridge State Park - Located in Dare County in the Outer Banks, Jockey's Ridge State Park is home to the tallest living sand dune system on the Atlantic coast and provides an ideal location for flying kites and watching sunsets. Hang gliding is a hallmark activity at the park, and a private concessionaire offers lessons. A second access area takes visitors through wetland habitats and allows for swimming, paddling, kiteboarding, and windsurfing on the Roanoke Sound. The park also marks the eastern terminus of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.
- Jones Lake State Park - Located in Bladen County 40 miles southeast of Fayetteville, Jones Lake State Park opened as the first state park to welcome African Americans and has since been a community destination for picnicking, swimming, hiking, and paddling. Tea-colored waters hide the shallow depth of the lake, which reaches to just 8 feet. Jones Lake and the adjacent Salters Lake are two of the mysterious geological formations known as Carolina bays, a series of elliptical depressions along the Atlantic coast, the origins of which are unknown.
- Jordan Lake State Recreation Area - Located in Chatham County 30 miles west of downtown Raleigh, Jordan Lake State Recreation Area includes seven access areas that provide plenty of camping, boating, and swimming opportunities. Campers have more than 1,000 campsites at five accesses to choose from, whether they use a tent, trailer, or RV, and whether they camp with family, friends, or a group. The beautiful lake is one of the largest summertime homes of the bald eagle, and an observation platform makes for easy spotting of our national bird.
- Kerr Lake State Recreation Area - Located in Vance and Warren counties at North Carolina's north-central border with Virginia, Kerr Lake State Recreation Area is a collective of eight access areas around the shoreline of this 50,000-acre reservoir. Campers can choose from seven campgrounds and hundreds of campsites to enjoy a serene night by the lake. All access areas provide at least one boat ramp, offering access to one of the best fishing lakes in the eastern United States. Amenities like the community buildings provide popular venues for local gatherings.
- Lake James State Park - Located in Burke and McDowell counties 50 miles northeast of Asheville, Lake James State Park includes two areas to access this picturesque lake that is perfect for boating, swimming, and fishing. Campsites at both Catawba River and Paddy's Creek accesses provide an opportunity to spend the night by the lake, with some sites accessible only by paddling. Trails include bike trails at Paddy's Creek, the kid-friendly Holly Discovery Trail, the historic Overmountain Victory Trail, and the Fonta Flora State Trail.
- Lake Norman State Park - Located in Iredell County 40 miles north of Charlotte, Lake Norman State Park boasts the region's popular mountain biking trail system, the Itusi Trail, offering nearly 31 miles of single-track trail. The namesake lake is the largest manmade lake within the state, and the park covers about 17 miles of its northern shoreline. Park Lake, set off from the larger Lake Norman by a dam, offers quiet fishing spots and paddling. Heron rookeries on two islands shelter over 25 great blue heron nests.
- Lake Waccamaw State Park - Located in Columbus County 25 miles west of Wilmington, Lake Waccamaw State Park sits on the shores of the largest Carolina bay. There are 500,000 of these mysterious craters, and the lake is one of the few that contains open water instead of vegetation. A limestone bluff reduces the lake's acidity, making it an ideal home for several aquatic species that are found nowhere else in the world. A new pedestrian bridge over Waccamaw Dam allows visitors to travel the lake's entire 14-mile shoreline.
- Lumber River State Park - Located in Columbus, Robeson, Scotland, and Hoke counties 60 miles south of Fayetteville, Lumber River State Park has two access areas located about 1 hour from each other: Princess Ann and Chalk Banks. Possibilities for paddling on this 115-mile river are extraordinary. An abundance of wildlife and plant life, including the belted kingfisher and the rare Carolina bogmint, helped Lumber River earn federal designation as a National Wild and Scenic River, the only blackwater river in the state to have that honor.
- Mayo River State Park - Located in Rockingham County 30 miles northwest of Greensboro, Mayo River State Park offers various recreational opportunities at the main Mayo Mountain access and at multiple accesses along the Mayo River. At the main access, visitors can enjoy hiking trails, fishing ponds, a picnic area and shelter, and a group campsite. Four accesses - Deshazo Mill, Anglin Mill, Hickory Creek, and Mayodan - allow entry to the river, home to rich wildlife and Class II rapids. Deshazo Mill also features a picturesque waterfall on Fall Creek.
- Medoc Mountain State Park - Located in Halifax County 30 miles northwest of Rocky Mount, Medoc Mountain State Park stands on the 325-foot remnant of a once-mighty mountain range from 350 million years ago. Instead of a typical "mountain" adventure, visitors can enjoy picnicking in the park's open meadow, fishing on Little Fishing Creek, and traversing the trails on foot, bike, or horse. Uncommon species such as Lewis' heartleaf and the Neuse River waterdog call the park home.
- Merchants Millpond State Park - Located in Gates County 10 miles south of North Carolina's northeastern border with Virginia, Merchants Millpond State Park centers on a 760-acre millpond more than 190 years old. Hiking the surrounding trails or paddling the placid, shallow waters of the pond offer a great way to explore this wetland environment. Old-growth cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss create an "enchant forest," particularly at Lassiter Swamp. Visitors have even spotted the American alligator here, at the northernmost point of its range.
- Morrow Mountain State Park - Located in Stanly County 50 miles northeast of Charlotte, Morrow Mountain State Park provides a myriad of adventures from the summit of the namesake mountain, along the banks of the Yadkin River State Trail, and to the shores of Lake Tillery. The mountain is a study in geologic wonder - with Native American artifacts made of rhyodacite to argillite mined by the Civilian Conservation Corps to create many of the park's structures. One of these CCC-built structures is the state parks system's only day-use swimming pool.
- Mount Jefferson State Natural Area - Located in Ashe County 25 miles northeast of Boone, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area surrounds a natural landmark that offers vistas as far as Tennessee from its overlooks and Luther Rock. The mountain, first spotted from the Blue Ridge Parkway, rises abruptly from the surrounding landscape. Over 700 plants call the park home, including the Dutchman's pipevine, which is visited by the beautiful swallowtail butterfly and its distinct black and orange-spiked caterpillar. The park's winding road to the summit hosts an annual downhill skateboarding event.
- Mount Mitchell State Park - Located in Yancy County 30 miles northeast of Asheville, Mount Mitchell State Park was the genesis of North Carolina's state parks system. At 6,684 feet, the mountain is the highest point east of the Mississippi River, and an observation deck provides breathtaking mountain views on a clear day. Easy trails at the summit explore the Fraser fir forest, while a vast network of challenging trails - including the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail - extend into adjacent wilderness areas and lead to backpacking opportunities within Pisgah National Forest.
- New River State Park - Located in Ashe and Alleghany counties 35 miles northeast of Boone, New River State Park covers seven accesses along this National Wild and Scenic River that flows north through three states. Elk Shoals has a swim beach, and all accesses allow for launching kayaks and inner tubes to paddle or float along the shallow, gentle river. Paddle-in only campgrounds provide a remote experience. The hellbender - the largest salamander in the U.S. - and 14 species of rare and threatened plant species inhabit the New River valley.
- Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area - Located in Orange County 15 miles northwest of downtown Durham, Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area offers a quick escape into nature with trails winding through forests of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Two quiet fishing ponds complement the nearby Eno, while the summit overlook affords a great sunset view. The rare brown elfin butterfly has called the mountain home since the Ice Age. The park is managed by the Eno River State Park office located 10 miles away.
- Pettigrew State Park - Located in Washington and Tyrell counties 75 miles northeast of Greenville, Pettigrew State Park showcases the rich habitat of Lake Phelps and the Scuppernong River, home to wintering tundra swans and cypress trees with cavernous archways. It showcases a rich history, from dugout canoes thousands of years old that have been dredged up from the lake, as well as the nearby Somerset Place, a State Historic Site that preserves a vast plantation worked by hundreds of enslaved persons.
- Pilot Mountain State Park - Located in Surry and Yadkin counties 20 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, Pilot Mountain State Park centers around the iconic geologic knob that serves as a beacon inviting outdoor enthusiasts to a vast array of activities. The park offers a gamut of outdoor recreational activities, from hiking and horseback riding to rock climbing and camping, with accesses on both the rugged terrain of the monadnock and the Yadkin River. The Mountains-to-Sea State Trail also traverses both park sections.
- Raven Rock State Park - Located in Harnett County 40 miles southwest of Raleigh, Raven Rock State Park celebrates the namesake 150-foot crystalline structure that overlooks the Cape Fear River. The trails along the bluffs that lead to the rock are dotted with beautiful wildflowers including mountain laurel. Alternate hikes towards the river reward visitors with landmarks like Lanier Falls Rapids, Fish Traps Rapids, and the remains of the Northington Lock and Dam. North of the river, near Avents Creek, a separate access features the park's popular bridle trails.
- Singletary Lake State Park - Located in Bladen County 50 miles northwest of Wilmington, Singletary Lake State Park was developed as a group camp but has recently expanded public access for hiking, fishing, and paddling. The trademark camps provide a unique experience for organized groups to unite in work and play in the midst of the unique Carolina bay environment, complete with dormitory-style cabins, a mess hall, and a 500-foot pier for swimming. The park office also manages limited access to nearby White Lake and Bay Tree Lake.
- South Mountains State Park - Located in Burke County 55 miles east of Asheville, South Mountains State Park is situated at the crossroads of the Appalachian Mountains and the Foothills to provide the ultimate backcountry experience. The park boasts elevations up to 3,000 feet, an 80-foot waterfall, and nearly 50 miles of trail for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. Water recreation is offered via the Jacob Fork River, which hosts designated trout waters, or to the far west at the separate Clear Creek access that features the namesake lake.
- Stone Mountain State Park - Located in Alleghany and Wilkes counties 60 miles northwest of Winston-Salem, Stone Mountain State Park is home to the 600-foot granite dome that is a designated National Natural Landmark and the historic Hutchinson Homestead, a restored mid-19th-century farm situated at the mountain base. The park offers nearly all types of outdoor activity to experience a high country landscape adorned with beautiful waterfalls, winding creeks, and bountiful trout streams. A portion of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail runs through the park near the backcountry campsites.
- Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve - Located in Moore County 35 miles northwest of Fayetteville, Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve allows visitors to experience the longleaf pine forests that once covered millions of acres in the southeastern United States. The lanky pines - some of them hundreds of years old - tower over a network of trails that traverse expanses of wiregrass. Rare and intriguing species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, the fox squirrel, the Sandhills pyxie-moss, the pine snake, and the insectivorous purple pitcher plant, characterize the park's extraordinary plant and wildlife.
- William B. Umstead State Park - Located in Wake County 10 miles northwest of downtown Raleigh, William B. Umstead State Park is a cherished retreat from bustling urban life. The park features an extensive network of hiking and multiuse trails, as well as three manmade lakes and their tributaries that are perfect for fishing. Both park entrances offer picnic shelters, and Crabtree Creek offers camping areas. Group camps, primitive cabins, and the historic Maple Hill Lodge let visitors experience a rustic overnight experience without typical modern camping amenities.
North Carolina Seasons, bugs, topography and climate
North Carolina ranges from mountains in the west to the Atlantic coast 300 miles to the east. NC has a humid, sub-tropical climate, with short, mild winters and sultry summers. Heavy rainfall is experienced in the mountains and snows in the winter.
North Carolina Camping tips
There are 41 places that are currently part of the North Carolina State Parks system: 34 parks, four recreation areas, and three staffed state natural areas. Our state parks are Naturally Wonderful - and wonderfully diverse.
Reservations can be made online, by calling the toll-free number, or in person at most state park offices during regular hours.
Phone reservations: toll-free 1-877-7-CAMP-NC (877-722-6762)