20 North Carolina State Parks

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The Old North State of North Carolina has over 40 state parks and recreation areas to enjoy. Located in the southern United States and the northern state to its sister South Carolina, North Carolina is the ninth most populous state in America. Escape the main cities of Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro and immerse yourself in nature at these fantastic state parks in North Carolina.

State Parks In North Carolina

20 NC State Parks

1- Grandfather Mountain State Park

road through the fall mountains
Linn Cove Viaduct in Grandfather Mountain State Park is the perfect place to go on a driving trip in North Carolina.

Grandfather Mountain State Park stretches across three counties: Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga.

This rocky mountain park provides visitors with tremendous scenic views all year round.

While you can certainly visit if you have little hiking experience, this state park is known for its epic hikes on challenging terrain.

Think scrambling, climbing ladders and gripping onto cables to reach your destination.

There are 13 miles (21 km) of hiking trails, of which a free permit must be obtained at the trailhead.

Nature lovers will enjoy the fact that Grandfather Mountain State Park is recognised as a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve because of its unparalleled ecological diversity.

Grandfather Mountain State Park is at 9872 Highway 105 South, Banner Elk, NC 28604.

2- Gorges State Park

Turtleback Falls
Turtleback Falls in Gorges State Park, North Carolina.

Close to the border with South Carolina in western North Carolina, Gorges State Park is in Transylvania County.

This state park is all about the backcountry experience: picture hiking and horseback riding.

The park covers more than 8,000 acres (3237 ha) in the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

This park is known for its temperate rainforest climate and is home to extraordinary biodiversity.

Inside the park are 26 waterfalls, part of Lake Jocassee and part of the Foothills Trail.

This is a beautiful state park to go camping in, with camper cabins, tent sites and spots for RVs.

There are 56 miles (90 km) of hiking trails, 17 miles (27 km) of biking trails and 12 miles of horseback riding trails.

Fishing and picnicking are also popular activities in the park.

Gorges State Park is at 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774.

3- Mayo River State Park

Just a 40-minute drive outside of Greensboro is Mayo River State Park, a great park if you want access to the Mayo River.

Visitors can enjoy two miles of hiking at Mayo Mountain and other hiking trails in the park.

If you want to visit for a more relaxing trip, bring a picnic and sit by the river.

Many visitors choose to launch kayaks or canoes along the Mayo River and there’s also excellent conditions for river fishing too.

Mayo River State Park is at 500 Old Mayo Park Rd, Mayodan, NC 27027.

4- Carolina Beach State Park

A sandy trail through a longleaf pine forest
A longleaf pine forest in Carolina Beach State Park NC.

Situated in New Hanover County and around 15 minutes drive outside of Wilmington, Carolina Beach State Park is a great place to visit for the day.

This North Carolina state park has some intriguing and unique features.

Did you know Carolina Beach State Park is home to the Venus flytrap?

The best time to see the Venus flytrap is in May and June along the aptly named Flytrap Trail.

The fun Sugarloaf Dune also produces in an otherwise flat landscape.

From this state park, you can access the Cape Fear River and the Intracoastal Waterway along the park’s marina.

There are also nine miles of hiking trails.

This is an excellent park for boaters, anglers and nature lovers. You can even take a ranger-led tour to learn more about the Venus flytrap.

Carolina Beach State Park is at 1010 State Park Rd, Carolina Beach, NC 28428.

5- Merchants Millpond State Park

Head to the far northeast corner of North Carolina and you will find Merchants Millpond State Park.

The landscape at Merchants Millpond is diverse, with a mixture of coastal ponds and Southern swamp forests, making it one of North Carolina’s most fascinating ecosystems.

One of the best park activities is heading out onto the water.

You can rent canoes or bring your own and explore the park from the water.

If you want to stay overnight, you can canoe to your campsite, making for quite a unique experience.

Merchants Millpond State Park is at 176 Mill Pond Rd, Gatesville, NC 27938.

6- Lake Norman State Park

aerial view of the strange shapes of lake norman state park
Lake Norman State Park (NC) from the air.

Calling all mountain bike enthusiasts!

Around 40 miles (64 km) north of Charlotte is Lake Norman State Park, home to the region’s best biking trail system, the Itusi Trail.

This trail offers around 31 miles (50 km) of single-track trail to whizz down.

Naturally, the park’s main feature is Lake Norman, the largest manmade lake in North Carolina.

17 miles (27 km) of its northern shoreline provide a lovely and tranquil walk.

There are actually two lakes at the park.

Park Lake is separated from Lake Norman by a dam, creating a great place to fish and paddle.

For nature lovers, be sure to keep a lookout for herons as there are two heron rookeries on the lakes’ islands and around 25 heron nests.

Lake Norman State Park is at 759 State Park Rd, Troutman, NC 28166.

7- Chimney Rock State Park

people standing at the top of Chimney Rock looking down at the view.
If you only have time to visit one state park in North Carolina, make it Chimney Rock State Park.

You just cannot beat the views from the top of Chimney Rock, which is Chimney Rock is a 315-foot (96 m) freestanding rock spire.

To see such an expansive, lush landscape head to Rutherford County around 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Asheville.

The views from Chimney Rock State Park look out over Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.

There’s a small fee to head up Chimney Rock but first, there’s a hike to its base then you can choose to take the elevator or climb to the top.

The area is well set up for visitors, with restaurants and concession stands.

You can head along the hiking trails to take in the park or the Rumbling Bald and Eagle Rock for more outdoorsy adventures.

Chimney Rock State Park is at 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720.

8- Raven Rock State Park

Head to Harnett County, around 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Raleigh to find ravens rock state park.

Ravens Rock is the park’s crowning jewel, a 150-foot (46 m) crystalline structure that looks out across the Cape Fear River.

26 miles (4o km) of hiking trails, nearly 14 miles of biking trails and 8 miles of horseback trails await you upon visiting the park.

When you arrive at the park head to the visitor centre to learn more about the local area and its beautiful landscape.

Raven Rock State Park is at 3009 Raven Rock Rd, Lillington, NC 27546.

9- Mount Mitchell State Park

stone landing at mount mitchell
Another of the NC state parks to tick off your to-visit list is Mount Mitchell State Park.

Mount Mitchell State Park is Northeast of Asheville and the first of North Carolina’s State Parks.

Mount Mitchell is 6,684 feet (2037 m) and is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.

An observation deck at the top of the mountain provides incredible views, especially on a clear day.

The park has around 40 miles (64 km) of hiking trails, concession stands, restaurants, and even a classroom to host school events.

Some easy trails at the top of the mountain allow you to explore the dense Fraser fir forest.

Mount Mitchell State Park is at 2388 NC-128, Burnsville, NC 28714.

10- Dismal Swamp State Park

Dismal Swamp State Park isn’t as bad as it sounds. Located along the northeast border with Virginia, this park is all about the swamp.

This place is not only abundant in wonderful nature, but it’s also been touched by history.

This part of North Carolina played a part in prohibition and the Underground Railroad.

You can learn more about dismal swamps history at the visitor centre.

Explore the swamp by boat (you can rent boats in the park or bring your own) and hike 20 miles of hiking trails.

Dismal Swamp State Park is at 2294 Hwy 17, South Mills, NC 27976.

11- Eno River State Park

The Eno River State Park is northwest of Durham and has five points of access to the Eno River.

The river is shallow but quite strong, so isn’t ideal for paddling, however, several cascades have formed along the river and are beautiful to see.

Anglers, photographers, and birdwatchers could spend hours exploring the lake.

This state park is part of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail, which is North Carolina’s state hiking trail that starts in the Great Smoky Mountains along 1175 miles to the Outer Banks.

Eno River State Park is at 6101 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705.

12- Pilot Mountain State Park

big outcrop of trees growing on rock
If you only have time to see one or two state parks in North Carolina, add Pilot Mountain State Park to your shortlist.

Pilot Mountain is an iconic natural landmark standing at 2,400 ft (731 m). This mountain is unique as it’s a geological knob that is highly distinguishable.

Most people visit this northern state park to hit the hiking trails.

There are 14 miles (22.5 km) of trails and excellent rock climbing spots.

Head to the Yadkin River and enjoy the trails that hug the water.

Fishing and paddling are popular along the river and there is also an opportunity to head to a paddle-in tented campsite to spend a beautiful night in nature.

Pilot Mountain State Park is at 1721 Pilot Knob Park Rd, Pinnacle, NC 27043.

13- Stone Mountain State Park

nc state parks stone mountain
Stone Mountain State Park is another of the NC state parks to tick off your bucket list.

60 miles north of Winston-Salem, Stone Mountain State Park is spread across Alleghany and Wilkes counties.

The park’s crowning feature is the 600-foot granite dome, also a National Natural Landmark.

At the base of Stone Mountain, you can also visit the restored 19th-century Hutchinson Homestead, a historic farm.

The park is blessed with a diverse range of outstanding natural features.

There are waterfalls, creeks and a well-stocked trout stream. Part of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail also runs through the park.

Whether you head there for the day or utilize the park’s tent camping or RV hookups, this is an excellent North Carolina state park.

Stone Mountain State Park is at 3042 Frank Pkwy, Roaring Gap, NC 28668.

14- Fort Macon State Park

Fort Macon state park is focused on a pre-Civil War fort.

You can enjoy guided tours alongside regular cannon and musket demonstrations at this state park.

This is a North Carolina state park not to be missed by history buffs.

At the park, there are a ton of exhibits where you can learn more about the fort and the history of the area.

Located on the southeast coast of North Carolina, this state park also has its own beach where swimming, beach combing and sunbathing are popular activities.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled as you may be lucky enough to spot some dolphins.

Fort Macon State Park is at 2303 E Fort Macon Rd, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512.

15- Jockey’s Ridge State Park

sand dunes at dusk
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is one of the coastal state parks in North Carolina.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is on North Carolina’s OBX.

The Outer Banks are barrier islands that separate North Carolina from the Atlantic Ocean.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is famous for being the location of the tallest living sand dune system on the Atlantic coast.

This incredible state park is perfect for playing on the dunes, flying kites and hang gliding, one of the park’s most popular activities.

The park also has a wetland habitat ideal for swimming, paddling, kiteboarding and windsurfing.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is at 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959.

16- Crowders Mountain State Park

fall colours reflected in the lake in
One of the state parks in North Carolina for fall colours is Crowders Mountain State Park.

Close to the border with South Carolina, Crowders Mountain State Park offers up miles of hiking trails among beautiful ridges and an immense round of trees.

Peaks in the park are around 800 feet (243 m) above their surroundings.

The park is large, with 5,054 acres (2045 ha).

From the top of Crowders Mountain, you can see for more than 25 miles on a good day.

You can hike across the valleys for something flatter and up the peaks for something a little more strenuous.

There’s rock climbing for the adventurous, canoeing, and fishing in the park’s lake for something more relaxing.

Crowders Mountain State Park is at 522 Park Office Ln, Kings Mountain, NC 28086.

17- Hammock Beach State Park

Another of the best state parks in North Carolina is Hammock Beach State Park, which is only accessible by ferry, boat or kayak.

Depending on the time of year, the park has hourly ferries.

This is a ‘leave no trace park’ so it’s important to clean up after yourself and leave the park as pristine as you found it.

The park is filled with marshlands and maritime swamp forests that are just fascinating to discover.

There are two miles (3.2km) of trails on the mainland and four miles of beach to stroll along.

Paddling, fishing, swimming and picnicking are other fun activities in the park.

Hammock Beach State Park is at 1572 State Rd 1511, Swansboro, NC 28584.

18- Medoc Mountain State Park

Medoc Mountain State Park is 60 miles (96.5 km) northeast of Raleigh in Halifax County.

Around 350 million years ago, the park’s land was home to a sizable mountain range.

Today the park stands on the 325-foot remnants of these former mountains.

There are tented and RV sites for a fantastic overnight camping spot.

Other fun things to do in the park include hiking (with 29 miles of trails), biking (9 miles) and horseback riding (10 miles). You can also go fishing on the aptly named Little Fishing Creek.

Medoc Mountain State Park is at 1540 Medoc State Park Rd, Hollister, NC 27844.

19- Morrow Mountain State Park

You will find Morrow Mountain State Park around 50 miles (80km) northeast of Charlotte.

The park’s main feature is Morrow Mountain. The park is also home to the Yadkin River State Trail and Lake Tillery.

This state park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

It was one of the first parks in the state to have a pool and cabins.

The day-use swimming pool is the state park system’s only pool.

The park’s lake has a boat ramp, canoe and rowboat rentals, making for a great state park for a family day out.

Morrow Mountain State Park is at 49104 Morrow Mountain Rd, Albemarle, NC 28001.

20- Hanging Rock State Park

view of the green mountains from Hanging Rock.
Hanging Rock State Park is one of the stunning state parks in North Carolina.

The mighty Hanging Rock State Park is in the north of the state, around 45 miles northwest of Greensboro.

An assortment of 48 miles of trails leads to stunning mountain views, waterfalls, mountain caves and even rocky outcrops.

Horseback riders and bikers are also welcome along some of these trails.

Hanging Rock State Park is also home to some sections of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail.

There’s also a campground, a lake for swimming and you can paddle aimlessly on the Dam River.

Hanging Rock State Park is at 1790 Hanging Rock Park Rd, Danbury, NC 27016.

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harriet comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!