Last Updated on September 7, 2021
Last Updated on September 7, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
Lake Waccamaw State Park in Columbus County is a small slice of beauty, running along part of the Carolina bay for which it is named. The bay’s 9,000 acres are joined by tons of lakeshore properties and two boat ramps.
Inside the state park, you’ll find beautiful overlooks, fairly easy walking trails, and rare plant life (including the native Venus flytrap!). These are just a few of the things we love about Lake Waccamaw State Park.
Continue reading to find even more to convince you to visit this beautiful slice of North Carolina as soon as possible.
This post is part of our series on awesome places to visit in Eastern North Carolina.
Lake Waccamaw State Park (Things We Love!)
Preparation Note: Before you go, be sure to load up on bug spray and sunscreen. I know it may feel too hot to do so, but long sleeves and long pants are preferred when on these trails, due to ticks and other critters you may unknowingly encounter.
At 9,000 acres, Lake Waccamaw is the largest of North Carolina’s hundreds of bays. The name “bay” refers to the many varieties of sweet, red, and loblolly bay trees that grow on the shores and in adjacent canals.
Typical Carolina bays are too acidic to host a variety of wildlife, but Lake Waccamaw’s north shore is blessed with limestone bluffs that level out the water, resulting in beautiful wildlife.
Wildlife and Plant life
A variety of endemic species reside in and around Lake Waccamaw State Park, including mussels and clams. Black bears and bobcats are also some of the residents known to spend their lives here.
Of course, anyone familiar with this area will tell you about the American alligators that roam the canals and dark-water areas along the lake. Something we love about Lake Waccamaw State Park is that residents try their best to live with them!
The Visitor Center
Lake Waccamaw State Park was established in 1976 and has grown from its original tract of 273 acres to nearly 2,400 acres. Its visitor center is packed with information and activity books for kids.
Once you explore the visitor center, step outside and start walking on a few of the park’s trails.
Lake Waccamaw State Park Trails
There are seven officially recognized trails at Lake Waccamaw State Park. Most of them, except for the Lakeshore Trail (4 miles one-way) are fairly short walks through the woods, with a fun diversity of scenery to keep things interesting.
Note: Four of the trails have blazes while the boardwalks do not.
Boardwalk Trails 1 and 2
The Boardwalk Trail 1 measures 0.10 miles one way. This trail starts at the picnic area and leads to the swimming pier. In our opinion, Boardwalk Trail 1 also leads to some of the best views of Lake Waccamaw!
Boardwalk Trail 2 is shorter than Boardwalk Trail 1 and starts behind the Visitor Center. You’ll start on a paved path before meeting the accessible boardwalk. Along the path are lovely views of the bay forest, ending with two sun shelters and a gorgeous overlook of the lake.
Both boardwalks connect to the Lakeshore Trail (mentioned below), which you can explore via a few different options.
Boardwalk Connector (aka New Boardwalk)
One option for a loop starts with the Boardwalk Connector, also known as the “New Boardwalk.” This elevated boardwalk twists and turns through the forest away from the lake for more than 1,065 feet.
This trail earns its name by connecting the Lakeshore Trail with the Pine Woods Trail. You can cross the main road and head toward Loblolly Trail and the visitor center.
Another option is to walk along the right side of the road toward the picnic area and meet the Yellow Blaze, a trail we’ll cover in more depth shortly.
4 Miles One Way (Blue Blaze)
The Lakeshore Trail is the park’s longest and takes you through diverse terrain. This trail passes the overlook, the swimming pier, and eventually, the dam.
You’ll have plenty of views through the trees, with the lake, various trees including cypress and pines, and sandy beaches being featured on this trail.
Throughout much of the year, you could also be dealing with quite a bit of mud and water on the trail, especially after significant rainfall. Just keep that in mind if you plan to complete it and call ahead if unsure.
0.65 Mile Loop (Red Blaze)
The Loblolly Trail starts just down and across the street from the visitor center. This path veers away from the lake and into a forest with pines, bays, and oaks. Continue on Loblolly Trail and loop back to the visitor center or connect to Pine Woods Trail.
Loblolly Trail is one of the few spots inside Lake Waccamaw State Park where you can find Venus flytraps. They are elusive and rare, so please refrain from touching or disturbing them if you see them.
Pine Woods Trail
1.8 Miles One Way (Yellow Blaze)
Pine Woods Trail is a nice extension from Loblolly Trail and connects to the rest of Lake Waccamaw’s trails. It begins in an area known for an abundance of Venus flytraps.
After crossing the road and continuing past the Boardwalk Connector, you’ll follow a few twists and turns through the pine forest before meeting the picnic area.
Sand Ridge Trail
0.75 Miles (Orange Blaze)
Sand Ridge Trail loops from the picnic area and leads you to most of the park’s primitive campgrounds, including the yurt at Campsite 5. Along the trail, you’ll notice Spanish moss lining the pines, oaks, and hickory trees.
Beautiful Views of the Water
You can either park at the visitor center, the picnic area at the end of the road, or the dam outside the park’s entrance. We personally like to start our visit to Lake Waccamaw State Park by strolling along either of the boardwalk trails.
The lake water is among the bluest you’ll find in North Carolina, and the bay trees jutting out is some truly amazing scenery!
Just before Boardwalk Trail 2’s overlook, there is an exhibit titled “Land of Contrasts.” I don’t want to sum up the entire park in just three words, but they really do capture the essence of Lake Waccamaw State Park.
The park’s trails are a contrasting mix of dray and wet. The mix of sand, mud, and green is one of the most lovable and unique things about Lake Waccamaw.
If you’re lucky enough to visit Lake Waccamaw State Park during a less busy time (winter, for example) you may have the whole place to yourself! For the most part, you’ll also be able to enjoy some quiet at this park.
Anyone traveling from one of North Carolina’s busier cities will appreciate that, as we certainly do!
Plenty of Picnic Spots
Whether you’ve parked at the picnic area, stopped at Boardwalk Trail 2’s sun shelters, or happened upon one of the benches along the trails, there’s an abundance of picnic spots at Lake Waccamaw State Park.
Pack a sandwich and some snacks and enjoy a picnic! Regardless of where you’re picnicking, we think you’ll all of the park’s beautiful spots.
Camping By the Lake
Lake Waccamaw State Park offers a smaller number of campsites than other parks, but their few campsites offer early access to the water. In total, there are 4 primitive group campsites and 1 yurt campsite (#005) available.
You can book via Reserve America’s website.
Boating Access Nearby
As we mentioned earlier, you can access the water via one of two boat ramps outside the park. One is managed by Lake Waccamaw State Park and the other by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
The Drive to the Dam
You can hike to the dam via the Lakeshore Trail, but the drive there is full of scenic twists and turns. Driving could potentially be an easier option, considering all the mud and water I’ve seen even many days after rainfall.
Spanish moss lines the road along the canals and bay trees opposite the lake. You’ll find an elevated boardwalk at the dam, with views of the lake and the water that feeds the Waccamaw River.
There are also various bay trees to your right, nearby homes to the left, and an expansive view of the shoreline in the distance. Even if you didn’t hike the entire Lakeshore Trail, a few hours at the dam is a nice way to round out a day at Lake Waccamaw State Park.
Ready to Explore Lake Waccamaw State Park?
As the largest of the Carolina bays, you’ll find plenty to love about Lake Waccamaw and the state park that manages it. We love Lake Waccamaw and look forward to our next trip!
Have you ever visited Lake Waccamaw State Park? What did you think of this unique and gorgeous place? If so, we’d love to know if you saw any Venus flytraps or alligators–hopefully friendly ones!