Top State Parks in North Carolina
North Carolina is blessed with plenty of protected areas perfect for a natural getaway. There are no fewer than 41 state parks, state recreational areas and state natural areas across this state. So which ones should you prioritize during your visit? Here are 6 favorite state parks that come highly recommended. We strongly suggest that you include at least some of them on your itinerary when renting an RV in North Carolina:
Hammock Beach State Park is located around 20 miles south east of Jacksonville. Along with a mainland area, this protected area includes barrier islands – including Bear Island – the largest island of the group, and Huggins, Jones and Dudley Islands.
On Bear Island, passengers who have made the short ferry trip to the island can enjoy an idyllic beach, and find the only place in North Carolina’s state parks where you can camp beside the strand.
But the best thing to do here is to enjoy a slow travel adventure. Leave the crowds behind, and head out by kayak or canoe to explore the pristine marshes and swamp forests round about.
As you paddle, remember the dugout canoes of Native Americans that once plied these waters. Also, imagine the pirate ships that replaced them when this place became a haven for pirates – including the notorious Blackbeard – in the 18th Century.
Another great place to hear the song of the paddle is New River State Park. Here, around 35 miles northeast of Boone, you can explore the tranquil waters of the National Wild and Scenic New River by kayak, canoe, inner tube, or wild swimming at Elk Shoals.
Get away from it all at one of the paddle-in campgrounds, or pick a perfect RV campsite, and experience a range of amazing wildlife of the area as you paddle or float along the tranquil waters. This is a must-visit for nature lovers. Fourteen threatened and endangered plant species grow in the valley along the New River. And many birds and other wildlife are frequently seen.
Remember, as you enjoy these waters, that this is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Some geologists believe only the Nile River is older. This river, some say, may have flowed for as many as 10 – 360 million years.
Plenty of outdoors adventures also can be had at Hanging Rock State Park. Here, 30 miles north of Winston-Salem where you can rent an RV, you can hike, bike or horseback ride on numerous scenic trails that lead to stunning mountain views, craggy outcrops, waterfalls and a mountain cave. You can enjoy rock climbing too, or head to the Dan River for swimming or paddling fun.
There are numerous facilities, including camping and RV sites (though no hookups). So this is another great place to enjoy nature and get away from it all.
The park has over 18 miles of trails that will allow you to explore this portion of the Sauratown Mountain Range. Watch out for wildlife. The park is home to the rare Wehrle’s salamander. And peregrine falcons nest in the park’s high peaks.
When you reach the heady heights of Mount Mitchell, towering 6,684 feet high, you will be at the highest point east of the Mississippi River. An observation deck at the top of this mountain allows visitors to fully appreciate the stunning views. This was the first state park to be established in North Carolina. It was established in 1915.
Though Mount Mitchell itself is the main attraction, visitors who come here will also find other attractions to enjoy. Easy trails abound around the summit, leading you through the Fraser fir forest. And longer trails and hikes lead through wilderness areas and allow you to explore the picturesque Pisgah National Forest.
There are tent sites here, and overnight parking for backpackers is also available just outside the state park.
The iconic geologic peak of Pilot mountain acts like a beacon to draw in visitors from far and wide. The Saura tribe, native to the Piedmont region, knew the mountain as Jomeokee (the Great Guide). It stands out most spectacularly in spring when, due to the blooming Catawba rhododendron, the peak looks like it is wearing a pink crown.
This peak, 20 miles North West of Winston-Salem, and its surroundings, are a great place for a range of outdoors activities, from hiking to horseback riding, climbing to camping.
From here, you can also access the rugged terrain of the monadnock (isolated peaks), and the Yadkin River. There are plenty of places to stay here, with tent sites, and RV sites (though without hookup). So you can stay and relax a while in breathtaking natural surroundings.
Rounding out our list of the favorite state parks in North Carolina are the rounded dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This impressive collection of sandy peaks constitutes the largest living dunes on the Atlantic coast. The tall dune area is known as a medano, a shifting hill of sand without vegetation. It constantly shifts due to the winds, and the dunes move around 6 feet to the south west each year. With such as fascinating natural attraction, no wonder this is the most visited of all the parks in the state. Wildness, wet and windy are the order of the day here, where popular activities include kite flying, kiteboarding, windsurfing, wetland walks, wonderful waves and wildlife watching opportunities. This is a wonderful place to discover the wet and wild wonders of the Roanoke Sound, and to watch glorious sunsets.
Note: there is no camping within the state park. But you’ll find plenty of places to stay in your camper rental near the surrounding region. Be sure to visit the museum to learn more about the dunes, and the ecology and history of this area.
North Carolina has so much to discover that you’ll never see it all in one trip. But the six state parks listed above are certainly a great place to begin as you set about exploring all that this state has to offer.