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12 Wonderful National Parks Sites in North Carolina

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on July 6, 2024.

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From the mountains to the Outer Banks, we’re blessed with beautiful green spaces and protected public lands. This includes our amazing state parks and the 12 beautiful national parks in North Carolina that we will feature in this guide.

We’ve explored and driven all around the state and thoroughly enjoyed what we learned at these National Parks Service units. Some are inspirational, and others more tragic, with each offering insight into the very fabric of North Carolina.

Some you can see from the comfort of your car, but more than a few of these places offer a physical challenge. A couple of them require hopping on a boat to enjoy fully.

Either way, we think these national parks in NC are worth a spot on your NC bucket list.

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in North Carolina and are wondering, “What are the best national parks near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!

NC National Parks Map

map of NC national parks, scenic trails, and historic sites
National Parks in NC Map Created with Google Maps.

You can visually plan your trip to National Parks in NC with our North Carolina Travel Map and North Carolina National Parks map, explicitly created for this guide and you!

List of National Parks in North Carolina

Many of these are among the best National Parks units in the entire US, and we’re excited to share them with you! For this guide, we’ve listed these national parks in North Carolina alphabetically.

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore
  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
  • Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
  • Moores Creek National Battlefield
  • Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
  • Trail of Tears
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The appalacian trail section near Wayah Bald and other National Parks in North Carolina

This guide’s national parks in North Carolina start with the Appalachian Trail (AT).

The famed hiking trail runs 2,181 miles through 14 states, including North Carolina. The AT stretches from Mount Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia.

95.7 miles of it passes through Western NC‘s mountains and is especially beautiful compared to the rest. Some of the best hiking trails in North Carolina are found along the Appalachian Trail.

Here are a few major AT spots in North Carolina:

The Appalachian Trail is among a few great National Parks units near Asheville. But, of course, the next one runs through Western NC’s largest city.

Read More: Historic Tapoco Lodge (A Mountain Thrillseekers Retreat + 7 Things We Love!)

Blue Ridge Parkway

Linn Cove Viaduct along the nationally acclaimed blue ridge parkway in NC

North Carolina’s popular scenic road is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s also the most visited unit in our National Parks system.

The Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side. On the latter, we’ll mention the most visited of our national parks in NC shortly.

Covering 469 miles, 252 miles–over half!–of this well-known winding drive is in North Carolina.

With plenty of beautiful overlooks, amazing hiking trails, and gorgeous waterfalls, there’s no reason to avoid a trip on this road.

Some of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway stops include the beautiful Crabtree Falls, the epic Linn Cove Viaduct, the easy-to-reach Craggy Gardens, and the Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the southern end.

A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway ranks highly among our favorite day trips from Asheville and Boone. In addition, NC’s northern sections are easy to reach from Greensboro.

Read More: 30+ Great Things to Do in Boone (Hikes, Eats, and More in App Town)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Bodie Island Lighthouse is a black and white lighthouse in front of a small farmhouse near Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Protecting 70 miles of pristine Outer Banks shoreline, Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the first protected seashore in the United States!

In addition to protecting the Outer Banks, this national parks unit also includes the barrier islands of Bodie, Hatteras, and parts of Ocracoke.

Visit the islands’ historic lighthouses or hop on these Outer Banks hiking trails for some of the best birding and wildlife viewing in North Carolina!

Some awesome spots along this road include the following:

Read More: Beautiful Outer Banks Vacation Rentals

Cape Lookout National Seashore

a lighthouse near the beach in Ocracoke. It's black and white and towers over the nearby trees.

Starting south of Ocracoke on Portsmouth Island, the remote Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile stretch of beaches and barrier islands. Of our national parks in North Carolina, this is the only one that requires a boat ride to reach.

The iconic Cape Lookout Lighthouse draws many people here, as do all the fishing and camping opportunities that await. This national parks unit also includes Shackleford Banks, where you’ll find some of North Carolina’s wild ponies.

This is within a boat ride from Harkers Island, and we highly recommend a visit.

Read More: 100+ Awesome Places to Visit in Eastern North Carolina

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

a white house with stairs leading up to the porch

Once home to Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site now protects the area known as Connemara, remembering the life of Carl Sandburg.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, hike the trails, and say hello to the dairy goats once owned by Mrs. Sandburg. 

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

small hills near Roanoke at the For Raleigh National Historic Site

The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site preserves the English colony of Roanoke, also known as the first preserved English settlement in the US. Founded in July 1587 by John White and sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, Roanoke is famous for its mysterious disappearance in 1590.

The park today sits in the historic town of Manteo. It commemorates the colony’s history and other fun facts, including Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World.

Visit the site’s hiking trails, learn from fabulous exhibits, and take in outdoor performances of The Lost Colony

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

small waterfalls cascading into one another at Big Creek Trail

Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits on the Tennessee and North Carolina border. This one is the most visited of all the national parks in North Carolina.

While the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited NPS unit, GSMNP is the most visited National Park in the United States.

With over 900 miles of hiking trails, historic sites, and its label as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the biodiversity in this park is protected to the point that even dogs are not allowed inside. 

Here are a few of our favorite hikes on the NC side of the Smokies:

Read More: The Road to Nowhere near Bryson City

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

a large statue of a man on a horse sitting in a field

Commemorating the Revolutionary War Battle of Guilford Courthouse, today’s Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro is one of our favorite national park sites in North Carolina to visit.

Often considered the beginning of the end of the Revolution, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse took place on March 15, 1781, when British General Cornwallis defeated Colonial Army leader Major General Nathanael Greene.

Today, you (and your kids) can walk, run, drive, or bike around the site’s monument- and tree-lined paths and learn more about the battle as you do. We think this is an excellent living museum, one of the best in Greensboro.

Read More: Delicious Greensboro Restaurants to Fill Up On

Moores Creek National Battlefield

a long boardwalk leading through Moores Creek National Battlefeild

Moores Creek is another of our national parks in North Carolina from a Revolutionary War battle.

On February 27, 1776, North Carolina Patriots defeated a group of Loyalists at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, the first significant victory for Patriots in the American Revolution.

Visitors to the Moores Creek National Battlefield can explore the history of this battle and walk a short one-mile trail.

Read More: 50+ Easy Day Trips from Fayetteville (Great Getaways!)

Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

a man on a bike path during fall in Catawba River Greenway in Morganton.

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail is the final reminder of the Revolutionary War among national parks in North Carolina. It runs north to south (or south to north) for about 330 miles through four states, including North Carolina.

The trail follows the paths of the patriot militiamen who eventually fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. This pivotal battle was a decisive victory for the Patriots and turned things around after many losses in the Carolinas.

In North Carolina, you’ll see trail markers in a few places. They include:

Have you also traveled along the Overmountain Victory Trail? Where have you spotted signs of it?

Read More: 15+ Great Things to Do in North Wilkesboro (Speedway and More!)

Trail of Tears

The Cherokee County Historical Museum, which is in a large brick building and has a blue bear our front.

The most tragic of our national parks in North Carolina is the Trail of Tears. It stretches way beyond our borders to western states such as Oklahoma, but there are ways to remember and commemorate the forced removal and survival of the Cherokee people here.

Here are seven prominent places to learn about the Trail of Tears in North Carolina:

There are commemorative placards scattered around Western NC, too. One example is on the bridge that crosses the river at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City.

Read More: 20 Excellent Things to Do in Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary (and Nearby!)

Wright Brothers National Memorial

a concrete memorial commemorating the Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, NC

There’s a fascinating fact behind the “First in Flight” that you see on many of our license plates! The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorated the namesake two’s famous flight on December 17, 1903.

It’s arguably one of the best national parks in North Carolina, not just because of its location on the Outer Banks.

Detailing the failures and successes of the Wright Brothers, this Memorial features many of the original tools and models of the first plane.

Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks

Ready to Visit These National Parks in North Carolina?

The 12 national parks in North Carolina are so engaging and informative, each a truly unique treasure!

The beautiful and historic lighthouses of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the rich biodiversity of the Great Smoky National Park, and the commemoration of Revolutionary War history are just some of our beautiful protected spaces.

If you haven’t visited them all, we hope you can soon! Out of all these national parks in North Carolina, we’re curious about which you’ll visit first.

If you’ve made your way out to these amazing places, we’d also love to hear about your favorites! So let us know in the comments and share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group.

More Things to Do (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve featured these NC National Parks in many of our North Carolina Travel Guides. Here are a few of them.

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