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41 North Carolina State Parks Sites and How to Enjoy them All!

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on June 24, 2024.

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We love getting outside and exploring our incredible North Carolina State Parks Sites.

How many state parks in NC? There are currently 41 North Carolina State Parks. They include 34 established state parks, but also 4 recreation areas and 3 natural areas.

We think each space offers something unique and interesting regardless of official names and designations. For starters, we’ve found some of North Carolina’s best hiking trails in our parks, as well as great places to get on the water and observatories that you can reach by car.

Of course, some standouts (such as Chimney Rock and Mount Mitchell) exist, but we hope to spotlight our lesser-known parks equally. No matter what, this guide will show that there’s always one near your corner of this wonderful state.

Because there are a few dozen to cover, we’ve organized this guide so you could easily find a park nearby. So here’s what you’ll find below:

  • 11 Western North Carolina State Parks Sites
  • 13 Central North Carolina State Parks Sites
  • 17 Eastern North Carolina State Parks Sites

You can skip ahead to the section you’re looking for or keep reading about the amazing state parks in Western NC. So lace up your boots and get ready to explore these wonderful North Carolina State Parks sites with us!

Read More: 12 Wonderful National Parks Sites in North Carolina

Before You Go (Leave No Trace Reminder)

Before we spill all of our magical secrets on the best North Carolina State Parks, we’ve got to make sure you hear this. Leave no trace. Our state is stunning in its natural beauty, so pack out everything you bring with you.

Food waste, plastic bottles, trash, shoes- everything. In fact, bring a baggie to pick up after someone who was less considerate than you.

Let’s keep North Carolina beautiful and clean!

Western North Carolina State Parks Sites

You’ll find the fewest North Carolina State Parks sites in the mountains, with 11. However, it’s where the biggest names await, as you’ll see in this section.

You’ll also find plenty of NC State parks camping opportunities and NC State Parks with Cabins in the mountains!

Note that we’ve alphabetically organized sites in each section. We will also include the location by county (or counties) before sharing our favorite things to do at each one.

  • Chimney Rock State Park
  • Crowders Mountain State Park
  • Elk Knob State Park
  • Gorges State Park
  • Grandfather Mountain State Park
  • Lake James State Park
  • Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
  • Mount Mitchell State Park
  • New River State Park
  • South Mountains State Park
  • Stone Mountain State Park

Chimney Rock State Park

Rutherford County

North Carolina State Parks.

Just a short day trip from Asheville, the acclaimed Chimney Rock State Park is 8,014 acres and is most known for the iconic 315-foot tall Chimney Rock and the 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls.

Reaching the top of Chimney Rock involves a windy drive and either 500 steps or an elevator ride! 

At 404 feet, Hickory Nut Falls is one of North Carolina’s tallest waterfalls and can be reached after an easy 0.7-mile hike. Chimney Rock is one of two NC state parks with an admission fee. 

At the park’s base is The Village of Chimney Rock which includes many cute shops, restaurants, and even one of our favorite North Carolina wineries, Burntshirt Vineyards.

Read More: 80+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (The Asheville Bucket List)

Crowders Mountain State Park

Gaston County

NC State Parks Crowders Mountain State Park

Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County, which we’ve classified as part of Central North Carolina.

Of course, it’s near the Cleveland County line and is an easy day trip from Charlotte, so forgive us for placing it in Western NC for this guide.

The trails here are more strenuous but absolutely worthy of your bucket list of NC State Parks hikes. For example, the Pinnacle Trail is 4 miles round trip and tops 1,705 feet.

On a clear day, you can see the Charlotte skyline from the top, aka the Pinnacle!

Read More: Christmas Town USA (How to See the Wonderful McAdenville Christmas Lights)

Elk Knob State Park

Watauga County

NC State Parks Elk Knob

Elk Knob State Park is one of the newer state parks in North Carolina, opening in 2002. While much of this state park near Boone is still developing, it’s one of our favorite things to do in the area.

The Summit Trail (1.8 miles) is one of our favorites, leading to beautiful views throughout the year. As long as the conditions aren’t too icy, Elk Knob is one of the few hikes near Boone accessible in the winter.

If snow is on the ground, Elk Knob is the only North Carolina state park where you can go cross-country skiing.

Read More: Winter in Boone (20 Great Activities, Snow Tubing, and More!)

Gorges State Park

Transylvania County

North Caroina State Parks Rainbow Falls Pisgah National Forest Gorges State Park

Gorges State Park sits next to Pisgah National Forest and is part of a temperate rainforest, receiving more than 80 inches of rain annually. Elevation changes so quickly inside the park that it cools the air that moves, raising the humidity and creating clouds and rain.

This westernmost state park in North Carolina is most notably the access point to the beautiful Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls.

While this waterfall sits inside PNF, hikers will start their hike from Gorges State Park.

Gorges State Park sits off US-64 and isn’t too far from the Panthertown Valley Trail (to Schoolhouse Falls), the epic Upper Whitewater Falls, the beautiful Silver Run Falls, and more!

Read More: The Wonderful NC Waterfall Byway (+ 15 Awesome Stops!)

Grandfather Mountain State Park

Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties

NC State Parks Grandfather Mountain NC

Grandfather Mountain State Park protects the High Country‘s best-known peak. A privately owned section of Grandfather Mountain (admission required) encloses animals in their natural habitats and its famous mile-high swinging bridge.

You can reach the North Carolina State Parks side of Grandfather Mountain from the bridge, where some difficult hiking trails and rewarding views await.

The advanced Grandfather Trail (2.4 miles) is reachable via the Underwood Trail (0.5 miles). The Grandfather Trail will take you to Calloway Peak, the highest of Grandfather Mountain’s four summits.

The Grandfather Trail also connects with the Profile Trail (3.6 miles), another tough hike in this state park. The Profile Trail will take you to both the Profile View and Foscoe View.

Read More: July in North Carolina

Lake James State Park

Burke and McDowell Counties

Lake James State Park near Marion NC

Sitting at the base of the most rugged terrain in North Carolina, Lake James State Park (near Marion) offers sparkling blue waters perfect for boating.

There are also several awesome hiking, biking, and fishing opportunities here!

The accessible fishing pier is a great spot in the Catawba River Area of the park.

Trails are scattered around the park’s two main accesses. We love either one, especially the 1-mile Lake Channel Overlook in the Catawba River Area.

Holly Discovery Trail (0.75 miles) is great for kids in the Paddy’s Creek Area. This trail is also close to the Overmountain Victory Trail, which runs for 2 of its 330 miles through Lake James State Park.

You can also ride your bike on loop trails ranging from 1.4 to 6 miles.

For an even more challenging ride, the Fonta Flora State Trail snakes 19 miles and loops around Lake James. When completed, this trail will eventually connect Morganton and Asheville. The Fonta Flora is multi-use and very popular for cyclists.

Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville

Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

Ashe County

North Carolina State Parks Mount Jefferson State Recreation Area NC

You can see Mount Jefferson from the Blue Ridge Parkway, but visit Mount Jefferson State Natural Area and look down at West Jefferson and its Ashe County surroundings.

You can drive to Mount Jefferson’s summit and enjoy beautiful views of its surroundings. But, first, of course, you should hop on one of the park’s five fairly short yet difficult hiking trails.

You can stare out toward Virginia and Tennessee from the Jefferson Overlook. The kid-friendly TRACK trail (1.1 miles) runs from the summit to Luther Rock. From Luther Rock, you can see the New River to the east on clear days.

Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

Mount Mitchell State Park

Yancey County

NC State Parks Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell State Park manages lands that include the tallest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. While you can hike to the peak and have the rush of accomplishment, we totally recommend driving.

The 1/4-mile paved accessible trail leads to an observation deck with panoramic views.

There are plenty of wonderful hiking trails within Mount Mitchell State Park, including the Deep Gap Trail which runs 4.3 miles through Mount Craig, the second-tallest peak.

The higher altitude means flora and fauna mimic that of colder climates. However, it also means the weather can be unpredictable and change fast.

If you are hiking and hear thunder at any time, start heading back to your vehicle or searching for somewhere safe.

Before leaving Mount Mitchell, we highly recommend you stop by the restaurant inside the park. Bring your appetite or work one up!

At the foot of Mount Mitchell, check out Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls and nearby Burnsville‘s local businesses and restaurants.  

Read More: Hiking Roan Mountain for Beautiful Appalachian Trail Views

New River State Park

Ashe County

New River State Park in Ashe County (near Mount Jefferson) features excellent water sports and wildlife viewing opportunities. There are four access points to this North Carolina state park, but Wayoner Road and US-221 seem to be the most active.

The natural canoe trail at New River State Park is perfect for beginners as the water is shallow and slow. If you do not have your own canoe, Zaloo’s is a local company that covers rentals and shuttles.

Read More: The 11 Best Places to Go Snow Tubing in North Carolina

South Mountains State Park

Burke County

North Carolina State Parks High Shoals Falls South Mountains State Park
High Shoals Falls.

South Mountains State Park is also the largest North Carolina state park with 20,871 acres of preserved land. It displays the same rocky features as the nearby Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, but state officials have made it more accessible.

The park’s most popular feature is the 80-foot High Shoals Falls which sits along a 2.7-mile loop. It’s one fo the most beautiful waterfalls in the state that we’ve witnessed and worth the hike.

There are more than 40 miles of trails to explore here if you’re looking for additional challenges after High Shoals Falls.

Backcountry backpacking camping is available at South Mountains State Park and a strenuous 17-mile mountain biking loop.

Fishing is also prevalent here. You’ll see anglers dotting the streams and creeks casting reels for wild trout.

Read More: Things to Do in Hickory

Stone Mountain State Park

Alleghany and Wilkes Counties

NC State Parks Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain State Park (near Elkin and Wilkesboro) is one of our favorite North Carolina state parks for various reasons. 18 miles of trails, the massive granite dome, and gorgeous waterfalls comprise this outdoor beauty slice.

Hiking the 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop to see both Stone Mountain Falls and the dome’s base is the most popular activity, but don’t forget to drive further down and cool off at Widow’s Creek Falls.

Read More: 20+ Kid-Friendly Waterfalls In NC (Easy Hikes And Swimming Holes!)

Central North Carolina State Parks Sites

Central North Carolina is where you’ll find the state’s biggest cities and 13 interesting North Carolina state parks to explore.

  • Eno River State Park
  • Falls Lake State Recreation Area
  • Hanging Rock State Park
  • Haw River State Park
  • Jordan Lake State Recreation Area
  • Kerr Lake State Recreation Area
  • Lake Norman State Park
  • Mayo River State Park
  • Morrow Mountain State Park
  • Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
  • Pilot Mountain State Park
  • Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve
  • William B. Umstead State Park

Eno River State Park

Durham and Orange Counties

North Carolina State Parks Eno River State Park Cox Mountain Trail
Cox Mountain Trail.

We don’t want to reveal our favorite, but Eno River State Park is near our house in Durham and is an easy free escape throughout the year. The park features 30-plus miles of trails that meander along the beautiful Eno River.

Eno River State Park is an absolute treat.

Among the 24 miles of hiking trails, our favorites include Cox Mountain (3.75-mile loop), Fanny’s Ford (1-mile loop), Pump Station (1.5-mile loop), and Buckquarter Creek (1.5-mile loop).

Read More: Restaurants in Durham

Falls Lake State Recreation Area

Durham, Granville, and Wake Counties

North Carolina State Parks Falls Lake State Recreation Area

Falls Lake offers many fun things to do, from simply admiring its beautiful water to fishing, boating, swimming, and even hiking and biking.

The trails at Falls Lake range from short and easy to lengthy and challenging. Beginners will enjoy the Rolling View Kids TRACK Trail (0.75 miles). However, if you’re up for a challenge, the Falls Lake Trail is a 50-mile trail that runs along the shore.

Mountain biking trails at Falls Lake vary in difficulty. Inner, Outer, and West are the intermediate loops, and more serious riders can test their abilities on the advanced South Loop.

Read More: Hiking Near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

Hanging Rock State Park

Stokes County

NC State Parks Hanging Rock

Protecting the Dan River and the end of the Sauratown Mountain range, Hanging Rock State Park is our favorite day trip from Durham and Raleigh. It’s closest to Winston-Salem but is also an excellent day trip from Greensboro.

Hiking the Hanging Rock Trail (2.6 miles roundtrip) is usually our first choice, thanks to the epic views that await.

The park has other fun hikes, including Moore’s Wall Loop Trail (4.7 miles) and the Indian Creek Trail (7.2 miles round trip).

The park also has five named waterfalls. Lower Cascades is the easiest waterfall to access and is our favorite in the park.

Read More: The Best Yadkin Valley Wineries

Haw River State Park

Guilford and Rockingham Counties

North Carolina State Parks Haw River State Park

Haw River State Park is still developing but features the Environmental Education Center and Conference Center.

The conference center has several dormitories, conference rooms, and recreational facilities for groups of 10 to 180.

Primarily used for state employees, outside organizations can use these facilities and make for a great location for family reunions or staff retreats.

Read More: Fun Museums in Greensboro (Kid-Friendly, Contemporary Art, and More!)

Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Chatham and Durham Counties

North Carolina State Parks Jordan Lake State Recreation Area

Jordan Lake is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and marveling at the beautiful water. The Seaforth and Ebenezer Church areas have two of the most popular beaches out of them all.

Believe it or not, there’s some great hiking at Jordan Lake. The New Hope Trail is a 5.4-mile loop and is one of the park’s most fun and challenging paths. You’ll find incredible views of the lake along this mostly forested path.

Jordan Lake is where you’ll also find the largest concentration of our national bird (the bald eagle) in the Eastern US. We found one nesting spot but didn’t see any eagles the last time we were out on a boat there.

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Kerr Lake State Recreation Area

Vance and Warren Counties

North Carolina State Parks Kerr Lake State Recreation Area

Kerr Lake is a very nice spot for campers and birders, with seven access areas around different parts of the 50,000-acre reservoir’s shoreline.

There are multiple ways to enjoy this park, with hundreds of campsites (including group camps and RV hookups), swimming beaches, and boating ramps.

The lake is one of the best in fishing, and the Nutbush Access hosts tournaments.

Lake Norman State Park

Iredell County

NC State Parks Lake Norman

Lake Norman State Park (near Mooresville and Statesville) protects a portion of NC’s largest artificial lake. You might even see someone famous while riding your boat here.

Because of favorable weather, it’s not uncommon to see people water skiing on the lake or camping year-round. There is also a wonderful beach that is open to the public and easy to access near the visitor center.

Hiking the 6.2-mile Lake Shore Trail is a must, but many who come to Lake Norman State Park mountain bike the 30-mile Itusi Trail. Designed and maintained by the Charlotte-based Tar Heel Trailblazers, this is a must for any biker.

Read More: 25+ Great Things to Do in Lake Norman (Nearby Towns and Parks)

Mayo River State Park

Rockingham County

Mayo River State Park is one of our developing parks, but there’s still plenty of fun for everyone here. Its accesses are pretty spread out, with Mayo Beach’s Fall Creek Waterfall one of the park’s highlights on the Virginia-North Carolina border.

At the Mayo Mountain Access, there are a couple of designated trails, including the Mayo Mountain Loop (1.8 miles) and the half-mile Mayo River TRACK Trail.

A few accesses allow paddling here, including Mayo Beach, Mayodan, and Business 220.

Morrow Mountain State Park

Stanly County

North Carolina State Parks Morrow Mountain State Park

15 miles of hiking trails, 16 miles of bridle trails, and a large family campground makes Morrow Mountain State Park the perfect destination for families!

The peak is the highest in the Uwharrie Mountains and is believed to be more than 585 million years old. You can hike it or drive to the top for a great view.

At the base of the park is the Yadkin-Pee Dee River that’s popular for fishing. The onsite swimming pool for campers also gets busy in the summer!  

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Orange County

North Carolina State Parks Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area Hillsborough NC

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is one of very few peaks in our Central Piedmont. However, its overlook is reminiscent of many found in Western North Carolina.

You’ll first need to park at the trailhead outside downtown Hillsborough to reach it.

You can hike around the peak via the 2.2-mile Mountain Loop or take the short route to the Overlook Trail that leads to a view of the Eno River below. From the parking lot to the top, there’s a 350-foot change in elevation.

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

Pilot Mountain State Park

Surry and Yadkin Counties

NC State Parks Pilot Mountain

Pilot Mountain State Park is largely known for the iconic 1,400-foot pinnacle that greets drivers from miles away on US-52 or I-77. The park itself is shared by Surry and Yadkin counties and has hiking trails, an accessible view of Big Pinnacle, and camping sites.

Take a short walk on the Little Pinnacle Overlook Trail (0.1 miles) for a quick and perfect look at Big Pinnacle. The Mountain Trail (4.3 miles) awaits from the Park Office, and you can connect to the Grindstone Trail (3 miles) for a roughly 6-mile loop.

The cliffs of Pilot Mountain are also very popular for rock climbing and rappelling.

At the base of Pilot Mountain State Park is the Horne Creek Living Historical Farm which represents farm life at the turn of the 20th century.

Read More: 25 Wonderful Wineries Near Asheville (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

Moore County

North Carolina State Parks Weymouth Woods Moore County NC

Weymouth Woods (near Southern Pines in Moore County) is an often overlooked but wonderful preserve in the North Carolina State Parks system.

Its trails interweave around the Weymouth Tract, one of three preserved by the park. Here, the Weymouth Woods Visitor Center awaits, and it’s one of the most impressive in the state.

Since the trails are fairly short and well-connected, we love creating our own loops. One example is the 1.5-mile loop that combines the Pine Barrens with the Gum Swamp Trail.

As we mentioned, there are two additional tracts at Weymouth Woods. The Paint Hill Tract offers 1.3 miles of trails, and the Round Timber Trail at the Boyd Tract is where you’ll find the oldest known living longleaf pine tree.

Read More: Things to Do in Pinehurst

William B. Umstead State Park

Wake County

NC State Parks Umstead

Umstead State Park is tucked away on the outskirts of Raleigh and Cary and offers a great escape in the Triangle. The 6,000-acre park borders I-40 and US Highway 70, but you’d never know it aside from occasional airplanes landing and taking off from RDU.

There are two access points, Crabtree Creek and Reedy Creek, but probably the biggest secret is the chainsaw art in Umstead! A 25-foot fallen oak was transformed into woodland creatures and forest scenes by an artist from Tennessee.

For directions to the chainsaw art, read here.

Read More: Hikes near Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

Eastern North Carolina State Parks Sites

With so many interesting natural features along our coast, it’s no surprise that most North Carolina State Parks sites (17) are here.

  • Carolina Beach State Park
  • Carvers Creek State Park
  • Cliffs of the Neuse State Park
  • Dismal Swamp State Park
  • Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
  • Fort Macon State Park
  • Goose Creek State Park
  • Hammocks Beach State Park
  • Jockey’s Ridge State Park
  • Jones Lake State Park
  • Lake Waccamaw State Park
  • Lumber River State Park
  • Medoc Mountain State Park
  • Merchants Millpond State Park
  • Pettigrew State Park
  • Raven Rock State Park
  • Singletary Lake State Park

Carolina Beach State Park

New Hanover County

North Carolina State Parks

The first of our amazing Eastern North Carolina state parks sits along the banks of the Cape Fear River. Carolina Beach State Park is best known for the wild carnivorous plants native to the Wilmington area.

Search for Venus Flytraps while shrouded in tall coastal pines. Fishing is popular at the marina, which is also a great spot to launch a boat!

We enjoy hiking the 3-mile Sugarloaf Trail, which connects to some interesting offshoot trails and passes the Sugarloaf Dune. 

Read More: 20+ Great Things to Do in Carolina Beach (and Nearby!)

Carvers Creek State Park

Cumberland and Harnett Counties 

NC State Parks Carvers Creek

Carvers Creek State Park is one of our favorite outdoor attractions in Fayetteville! The 4,530-acre park is Sandhills terrain centered around Long Valley Pond, a winter home retreat for the Rockefeller family. 

Expect the trails to be sandy with lots of beautiful pines towering above.

There are two access points to Carvers Creek—Long Valley Pond in Spring Lake and Sandhills in Fayetteville. The Sandhills Access is very popular for horseback riding, and hikers will find longer trails here.

Read More: Things to Do in Fayetteville

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

Wayne County

NC State Parks Cliffs of the Neuse

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park is near Goldsboro in Wayne County and is a relatively small park, but worth visiting! Its 1,097 acres are still notable, largely thanks to the embankments (cliffs) that overlook the Neuse River. 

There are five hiking trails here, along with beautiful quiet fishing spots and an 11-acre swimming lake. Rent a boat, pitch a tent, or reserve a cabin at this wonderful NC State Park. 

Dismal Swamp State Park

Camden County

Dismal Swamp State Park Camden County North Carolina

Dismal Swamp State Park gives North Carolinians access to the million-acre Great Dismal Swamp. The North Carolina State Parks side of Dismal Swamp features 20 miles of trails, a 2,000-foot boardwalk, and many opportunities to scope out birds and wildlife.

You can also ride your bike on the trails and kayak the Dismal Swamp Canal nearby. I was once invited to join the park’s annual “Paddle for the Border,” which starts at Dismal Swamp State Park and ends 7-1/2 miles north in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Read More: 10+ Great Places to Visit in Camden County NC

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

New Hanover County

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area NC

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is an interesting park that borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River. It sits near the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the Fort Fisher State Historic Site but is not a place you should overlook.

The visitor center is home to a small exhibit area and restrooms. Beyond that, you can access the beach, the mile-long Basin Trail, or the seasonally open road that requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a permit.

This NC State Parks site is perfect for surf fishing, hiking to the Basin Overlook, or just enjoying a day at the beach.

Throughout the year, you’ll see various birds and during nesting season, loggerhead sea turtles, and other endangered species.

Read More: Things to Do in Wilmington

Fort Macon State Park

Carteret County

Fort Macon

After Mount Mitchell, Fort Macon State Park is the second-oldest North Carolina state park.

This is a wonderful day trip if you stay at Atlantic Beach (perhaps Atlantis Lodge?) or Emerald Isle on the Bogue Banks, or Morehead City and Beaufort on the mainland. North Carolina’s leaders built the fort to defend the last two seaports.

Today, Fort Macon is the second most visited state park in North Carolina despite being one of our smallest.

When visiting Fort Macon State Park, make time to walk around the fully restored fort and the nature trails. There is also great fishing and a protected swim area.

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

Goose Creek State Park

Beaufort County

NC State Parks Goose Creek

Protecting parts of the Pamlico Sound near Washington, Goose Creek State Park spans 1,672 acres. Visit this park and walk the terrain that the infamous Blackbeard and the Tuscarora Indians once inhabited.

We love Goose Creek for the gorgeous views of the Pamlico River that await and the great hikes around its diverse ecosystems. Goose Creek (2 miles) and Mallard Creek (1 mile) are some of our favorites.

The Live Oak Trail will lead you to the park’s popular swimming area.

Don’t forget about the birds that come here, especially when visiting during the colder months. Tundra swans and Canada geese are a few of the many birds that pass through Goose Creek State Park.

Hammocks Beach State Park

Onslow County 

NC State Parks Bear Island Hammocks Beach State Park

Hammocks Beach State Park is an underrated gem in the North Carolina State Parks system.

This park near Swansboro and Jacksonville includes the secluded and undeveloped Bear Island.

You can reach Bear Island by boarding the park’s passenger or private ferry. We recommend Marsh Cruises for the latter!

The visitor center is where you’ll find the ferry dock. This is also an excellent launch spot for kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards.

If you didn’t bring your own boat, there are some great outfitters in Onslow, including Paddle NC.

Read More: Restaurants in Jacksonville and Onslow County

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Dare County

NC State Parks Jockeys ridge

One of the most popular things to do in the Outer Banks is to hike the tallest dunes on the East Coast! Jockey’s Ridge State Park is where you’ll find them, a 427-acre wonderland that is the most visited NC state park.

There are 3 officially designated nature trails, and you can start from the Visitor Center parking lot or the Sound Side lot to start.

Walking among the dunes is so much fun, but simply standing on one and watching the sunset over the sound is the best part.

Castle at Jockeys Ridge

You can bring a kite, sign up to paraglide off the dunes, and search for the hidden sandcastle! Park at Kitty Hawk Kites on Croatan Highway to see the latter hidden gem and use the pedestrian crosswalk.

You’ll see the former mini-golf castle to your left.

Read More: Wright Brothers National Memorial (How to See “First in Flight”)

Jones Lake State Park

Bladen County

NC State Parks Jones Lake

Jones Lake State Park protects the first two of a few Carolina Bay lakes in our North Carolina State Parks system—Jones State Lake and Salters State Lake.

Bays stretch along the east coast and are believed to have formed when permafrost thawed. From above, they almost look like thumbprints dotting the landscape.

The Bay Lake Trail traverses Jones Lake and is a lengthy five miles. However, you can hike four miles of the Bay Lake Trail, connect to the Salters Lake Trail (1 mile), and make it two lakes in one six-mile flat hike.

There’s also a swimming beach at Jones Lake with 50 picnic tables, grills, and a pavilion.

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

Lake Waccamaw State Park

Columbus County

NC State Parks Lake Waccamaw

Of all the North Carolina state parks, Lake Waccamaw is our favorite to pronounce. It’s also great because it protects the largest natural Carolina Bay.

The park has beautiful overlooks, walking trails easy enough for our toddler, and rare plants—including the native Venus flytrap.

There are seven officially recognized trails, but we recommend checking out Broadwalk Trail 1 (0.10 miles) for some of the best Lake Waccamaw views.

Lumber River State Park

Robeson County

Lumber River State Park protects 115 miles of the Lumber River, the only blackwater river designated National Wild and Scenic River.

Established as a National Canoe Trail in 1981, most of the recreational facilities for the state park are at Princess Ann and Chalk Banks access areas.

There are 24 boat launches along the river, and fishing is incredibly popular here, too. In these waters, you can catch black crappie, largemouth bass, catfish, and redbreast sunfish.

Medoc Mountain State Park

Halifax County

NC State Parks Medoc Mountain

Medoc Mountain State Park in Halifax County is on the fall line separating Central and Eastern North Carolina!

This park is a rare formation of mountains from the Paleozoic Age, 350 million years ago. With a large open field, Medoc Mountain is great for a picnic and fishing.

There are six bridle trails and 10 miles of hiking, with our favorites the 1.25-mile Discovery Loop and the 0.28-mile Habitat Adventure (TRACK).

We also hear that Medoc Mountain is supposedly the home of Bigfoot!

Read More: Sylvan Heights Bird Park (How to See 2,000 Exotic Bird Species and More!)

Merchants Millpond State Park

Gates County

Merchants Millpond State Park is a southern swamp with bald cypress trees, Spanish moss, and still waters. Most North Carolina state parks are unique, but this one is truly unlike any other.

Great for paddling, visitors to the park can rent canoes from the visitor’s center.

There are also several canoe campsites and 11 miles of trails at Merchants Millpond State Park. The Coleman Trail (2-mile loop) is great for kids, and the Lassiter Trail (6 miles) allows bicycles for some portions.

Pettigrew State Park

Tyrrell and Washington Counties

North Carolina State Parks Pettigrew State Park Phelps Lake

Enter a magical land of cypress trees and blackwater rivers.

Pettigrew State Park is 60 miles east of Greenville and sits off US-64 just before Alligator River and the Outer Banks.

This park protects the shores of Lake Phelps. That 16,000-acre lake is said to have the last old-growth forests in Eastern North Carolina.

Somerset Place, a former plantation, is also here and free to enter.

Trails here run around the lake, leading to overlooks and through sweetgum forest. You can also drive and park near the Pocosin Overlook, which offers some pretty sweet views!

Raven Rock State Park

Harnett County

NC State Parks Raven Rock

Sitting along the Cape Fear River, Raven Rock State Park near Lillington is an easy day trip from Raleigh and a favorite of ours from Durham.

Named for the 150-foot-tall Raven Rock, this NC state park gets very busy on the weekends.

The namesake Raven Rock Loop Trail is the most popular, looping 2.6 miles around the rock. Descend the stairs to reach the river and the underside of the rock.

Raven Rock State Park has three mountain bike trails, two bridle trails, and camping.  

Singletary Lake State Park

Bladen County

NC State Parks Singletary Lake

Singletary Lake is the last of our North Carolina State Parks but certainly not least. It’s just down the road from Jones Lake and another of Bladen County’s Carolina Bays.

Large groups come here to stay and learn about the park.

The cabins are one of the first things you’ll see upon entry, but a few trailheads lead to fairly diverse terrain. The CCC Trail is a mile-long loop that’ll take you by the scenic pier, through the bay forest, and toward the sandy edges of the park.

NC 242 between Elizabethtown and the highway’s intersection with US 421 is also known as the Meteor Lakes Byway, one of our favorite scenic roads. The road will take you to Jones Lake, Singletary Lake, and White Lake.

Ready to Explore these Amazing North Carolina State Parks Units?

We’re always ready to explore our favorite North Carolina State Parks, which change weekly. We just want to make sure you’re ready.

If you are or have ever visited any of these awesome places, we’d love to know which are your favorites. Also, is there one that we covered that’s your go-to park?

Let us know in the comments or by email. Don’t forget to share your state park adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

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