Come along as we discover the breathtaking beauty and untamed wonders of North Carolina National Parks, where nature’s magic awaits at every turn.
From the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains to the seascapes of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina is home to a variety of beautiful national parks.
North Carolina’s options for outdoor adventure is one of the many reasons we love living here!
Exploring these wilderness areas is a great way to experience the wonders of nature.
Below we’ll look at an overview of North Carolina National Parks and offer tips and tricks for getting the most out of your outdoor adventures.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced explorer, we’ll show you how to make the most of your visit to these amazing locations.
North Carolina National Parks
Whether you’re looking to explore a scenic mountain trail, camp near a serene lake, or simply take in the beauty of nature, the national forests in North Carolina offer something for everyone.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
As one of the most popular national parks in the United States, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a diverse range of attractions. This is also the most visited national park in NC/TN.
On the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this park is home to over 800 miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, and breathtaking views.
The park has very popular trails for hiking, and for good reason! One of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Clingmans Dome.
Clingmans Dome is at the highest point in the park at an elevation of 6,643 feet. The observation tower on Clingmans Dome gives you stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Another must-visit location in the park is Cades Cove. This is a historic settlement where you can see well-preserved homes, churches, and other structures from the 1800s.
The park is also known for all the different kinds of animal life you can find there. Black bears, elk, deer, and many species of birds, plus so many others, are likely to be spotted when you’re visiting this park. You can see these animals in their natural habitats by taking guided tours or exploring the park on your own.
The park has a variety of camping sites and lodging options available, so there are plenty of opportunities to stay overnight and fully experience all that the park has to offer.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Stretching over 450 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers one of the most scenic drives in the country. It is known for showcasing the natural beauty of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains landscape.
Along the way, you can stop and enjoy all of the attractions. The Parkway is open year-round and provides a perfect opportunity for a scenic road trip.
One of the most popular attractions along the Parkway is the Folk Art Center. This museum features the work of local artists and craftsmen.
Another highlight is the Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot-long bridge that snakes along the rugged mountain terrain, providing a stunning view of the valley below.
On top of the scenic drives and attractions, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers lots of hiking trails, from easy strolls to challenging climbs.
For those looking for an easy walk, the Craggy Gardens Trail is a great choice. This 1.5-mile trail offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and wildflowers during the spring and summer months.
For a more challenging hike, try the Mount Mitchell Trail, which takes you to the summit of the highest peak in the eastern United States.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a must-visit for anyone exploring North Carolina’s national parks. This gorgeous stretch of coastline offers miles of pristine sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, and diverse wildlife.
At Cape Hatteras, you can enjoy a variety of activities, like swimming, fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching. The area is also home to some iconic lighthouses, like Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which stands at an impressive 198 feet tall and is the tallest brick lighthouse in the country.
Cape Hatteras is rich in history. The seashore played a significant role in the Civil War and was home to several early European settlements.
When visiting Cape Hatteras, be sure to take advantage of the many ranger-led programs, including guided hikes, beach walks, and educational programs for kids.
You can also explore the seashore’s maritime forests, which are home to a diverse array of plants and animals.
Uwharrie National Forest
Uwharrie National Forest is a beautiful national park located in central North Carolina. It is perfect for those who love the great outdoors.
Covering over 50,000 acres, this forest with plenty of activities, like hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting.
The park is known for its rolling hills, dense forests, and lots of scenic rivers and streams. You can explore the forest by foot on one of the many miles of trails for hiking or take a scenic drive along one of the forest roads.
Some of the most popular day hikes include the Birkhead Wilderness Trail and the Uwharrie Trail.
Camping is also available in this park, and there are a variety of campsites to choose from. Whether you prefer to rough it in a tent, or want all the comforts of an RV, Uwharrie National Forest has you covered.
Fishing is another popular activity in the park, with a number of streams and lakes providing ample opportunity to catch a variety of fish.
The Badin Lake Recreation Area is a popular spot for anglers, with largemouth bass and catfish being the most commonly caught species.
Uwharrie National Forest is also a great place for hunting enthusiasts, with several game species including deer, turkey, and squirrel available. You are required to have a valid hunting license and abide by all state and federal regulations.
Pisgah National Forest
Nestled in the heart of western North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest is a nature lover’s paradise. We love Pisgah National Forest and we spend a lot of time there!
The park has over 500,000 acres of land and the usual activities like hiking, fishing, camping, and mountain biking.
One of the main attractions of Pisgah National Forest is its many waterfalls, including Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. These stunning natural wonders are the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day and take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape.
You’ll find no shortage of trails to explore in Pisgah National Forest. The park is home to some of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in the region, including the popular Black Balsam Knob and Mount Mitchell trails.
You can also take a leisurely stroll through the park’s scenic trails and enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest.
If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-fueled experience, Pisgah National Forest is a mountain biking mecca. The park has over 100 miles of mountain bike trails, ranging from easy to expert level. The trails have breathtaking views and challenging terrain.
It’s no wonder that Pisgah National Forest is a favorite destination for mountain bikers from around the world.
Croatan National Forest
Croatan National Forest is located in eastern North Carolina, and it is the state’s only coastal national forest. Covering over 160,000 acres, this notional forest gives the unique opportunity for you to explore both land and water activities.
The Croatan forest is home to diverse plants and wildlife. You can take a leisurely stroll on one of the many hiking trails or explore the waterways by canoe or kayak.
The Croatan Trail is a 20-mile hike that takes you through some of the forest’s most beautiful areas.
This park is also home to many historic sites, like the 17th-century settlement of the Tuscarora Indians. You can explore the remains of this ancient culture by visiting the Tuscarora Trail.
One of the most unique things about Croatan National Forest is the opportunity to see wild horses that roam the forest’s shores. The horses are believed to be descendants of horses left behind by early explorers. They are a rare sight to see!
Nantahala National Forest
Nestled in the southwestern region of North Carolina lies the Nantahala National Forest. This a 531,270-acre natural haven that has incredible scenery, beautiful waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.
The name Nantahala is a Cherokee term meaning “land of the noonday sun”. This describes the forest’s lush vegetation and the bright rays of sunlight that filter through the towering trees.
One of the most popular destinations in the Nantahala National Forest is the Nantahala River. Here, you can do world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking. The river is also perfect for fishing and swimming, and the surrounding forests provide excellent hiking and camping spots.
If you’re up for a challenge, take the Bartram Trail. This is a 115-mile trail that spans from Georgia to North Carolina. It cuts through the Nantahala National Forest and offers some of the most incredible views of the region’s diverse land.
Another must-see attraction in the Nantahala National Forest is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. This forest is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in the Eastern United States. For example, the famed Joyce Kilmer Memorial Tree, a 400-year-old giant poplar that stands over 100 feet tall.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Cape Lookout National Seashore is located on the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina. With over 56 miles of national seashores, sand dunes, and wild horses roaming freely, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful destinations on the East Coast. We hear it’s a perfect getaway for nature lovers.
The park has camping, hiking, fishing, and bird watching. You can also enjoy beach-combing, swimming, and surfing in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take a ferry to Shackleford Banks. There, you can watch the wild horses in their natural habitat.
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is one of the park’s most iconic features. The lighthouse has been in operation since 1859. You can climb the 207 steps to the top for breathtaking views of the island and the surrounding waters.
Cape Lookout National Seashore also has a rich history. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years. In fact, it was once a popular spot for pirates to anchor their ships.
The park’s Visitor Center has exhibits and information about the history of the island, including its role in the Civil War and World War II.
Moores Creek National Battlefield Park
Located in Pender County, Moores Creek National Battlefield Park marks the site of a Revolutionary War battle. This battle took place on February 27, 1776.
The park has guided tours, hiking trails, and a visitor center. There, you can learn more about the battle and its significance in American history.
You can explore the park’s 88-acre grounds. There, you’ll find a reconstructed bridge and interpretive exhibits that give insight into the battle’s events. The park also has several picnic areas and recreation areas, which make it a great destination for families.
Be sure to check out the park’s hiking trails. They wind through forests and over creeks, and give you tons of opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
Tips for Visiting North Carolina National Parks
Are you planning a trip to explore these national park sites and national forests in North Carolina? If so, there are a few tips that will help you make the most out of your visit.
Plan ahead: Make sure to research the specific national park you want to visit and plan your trip accordingly. Check the park’s website for information on entrance fees, trail maps, and any seasonal closures or restrictions.
Pack accordingly: Be prepared for the weather conditions and the terrain. Wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers, and bring plenty of water and snacks for your hike.
Follow park regulations: Always follow the park’s rules and regulations, including staying on designated trails and not feeding the wildlife. Respect the environment and leave no trace behind. If you have questions, you can always ask a park ranger or look at the National Park Service official website.
Take advantage of park programs: Many national parks offer ranger-led programs and guided hikes. These are great opportunities to learn about the park’s history, wildlife, and conservation efforts.
Consider visiting during the off-season: If you’re looking to avoid crowds and get a more immersive experience, consider visiting during the off-season when the parks are less crowded.
Before you go, here are more posts you’ll enjoy: