K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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North Carolina boasts an array of natural landscapes that are perfect for a camping adventure. However, there are few things better than camping right by the water, where you can fall asleep to the peaceful sounds of the waves next to a river or a lake surrounded by lush wilderness. Check out these top beach camping spots in North Carolina.
A top state park in North Carolina, Carolina Beach State Park was once named the Regional State Park of the Year and sits on the Atlantic side of a barrier island south of Wilmington. It hosts a secluded, wooded camping area with 83 sites, all featuring picnic tables, and grills. It also houses a marina, miles of hiking trails, and provides a habitat for the Venus flytrap. Outstanding fishing for striped bass and flounder can be enjoyed from the fishing deck or riverbank, and there is a bathhouse with showers and flush toilets. Visitors can enjoy the fresh waters of the Cape Fear River, the estuarine waters of Masonboro Sound, and the salt waters of the Atlantic. A seasonal concessionaire offers kayak and stand-up paddleboard tours and rentals.
Surf City Campground is located at Topsail Beach, which has been ranked as one of North Carolina’s top destinations. The long, thin stretch of land located just south of Camp Lejeune has beach on both sides, so you can enjoy the warm Atlantic waters on one, ideal for swimming or splashing around with the kids, or the calmer inlet side for kayaking and fishing. The campground sits at the oceanfront, and offers both tent and full-hookup RV sites that are just steps away from the sand and the sea. While the campground doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities, it does provide a relaxing atmosphere and an ideal location, along with the basics, like a bathhouse, flush toilets, and wireless Internet.
This National Park Service campground is set on Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the outermost island in the Outer Banks, with 13 miles of pristine beach. Accessed by boat, the island offers a wide variety of activities, including surfing, sandcastle building, fishing, clamming, beachcombing and boogie boarding, as well as wildlife watching, including the wild ponies that roam the shores and more than 400 species of birds. You can pitch your tent right in the dunes, and catch an ocean sunrise in the morning. Flush toilets, drinking water, cold showers and grills are all provided. In the nearby village of Ocracoke, there are a number of restaurants, grocery stores, a tackle shop and gift shops.
Hammocks Beach State Park sits on secluded Bear Island, a three-mile-long undeveloped barrier island that can only be accessed by ferry or private boat, canoe or kayak. It hosts 14 primitive campsites, a bathhouse with pit toilets and outdoor cold-water showers. Facilities are only available during the warmer months of the year, so if you come during the off season, you’ll need to bring drinking water and everything else you need with you. Here you’ll find miles of gorgeous stretches of sand as well as the opportunity for hiking and fishing. The park’s mainland gateway has a full-service visitor center and is the launch site for ferry service and private watercraft. You can rent or bring your own kayaks, canoes or paddleboards to explore the paddling trails leading to marshes, Bear Island and Huggins Island, known for its unspoiled maritime forest.
Lake Santeetlah offers a more remote, wilderness camping experience, surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It boasts more than 75 miles of shoreline and hosts a variety of fish including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, bream, and lake trout. Set in the shadows of the mountains, visitors will find plenty of tranquility that can be enjoyed on the waters by paddling a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. There are also over 200 miles of hiking trails in the area, including an 8-mile hike from the lake that leads to the Appalachian Trail. More than 50 primitive campsites are scattered around the lake, and all include a fire ring and picnic table, although there is no drinking water or toilets, the good news is that they are free and don’t require any type of permit either.
Lake James is tucked into the rolling hills at the base of Linville Gorge. The over 6,800-acre reservoir boasts more than 150 miles of shoreline and is the centerpiece of Lake James State Park. There are 30 boat-in campsites that you can paddle to from across the lake, as well as 20 backpack sites that are a short walk from the parking lot. Facilities include a bathhouse with warm showers, a 700-foot swim beach, hiking and mountain biking trails. You can go swimming, enjoy sunbathing, boat, water ski or fish in the cool lake waters, or enjoy walks through the forests and wildlife watching.
Freeman Park is located at Carolina Beach, and unlike other stretches of the barrier islands off the coast of Wilmington, this park is special because it is completely undeveloped, allowing beach driving to off-roaders who like to cruise along the sand. Visitors can take their four-wheel drives right on the beach, pitch a tent and build a bonfire for an especially unique experience. Reservations are required between April and September; the rest of the year sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The park is one of the area’s most popular attractions, with visitors coming to camp as well as fish, swim, boat, go crabbing or cast for minnows. It’s also ideal for enjoying the dunes and majestic sea grasses and watching for wildlife.
Davidson River Campground sits within the Pisgah National Forest, providing close access to a wealth of spectacular North Carolina attractions, including Sliding Rock where visitors can slide down a natural rock waterfall, Looking Glass Falls, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. But you don’t have to leave the campground to have fun; with the river there are opportunities for swimming, tubing, swimming, and trout fishing. There are also a wealth of hiking trails in the forest, and with bike rentals available nearby, if you don’t want to bring your own you can rent one and enjoy some thrilling scenic rides out on the trails. The campground itself includes sites with tent pads, lantern posts, fire rings, and picnic tables, as well as showers and flush toilets.
Ocean Waves Campground, open March through November, can be found on Hatteras Island south of Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. It hosts 68 campsites with water and electricity and is just a short jaunt through the picturesque dunes from the ocean. It also offers a number of amenities, including a well-stocked camp store, a game room, and a swimming pool, so you can enjoy all types of activities on the beach, from surf fishing to quiet strolls, and then return to enjoy a refreshing dip in the sparkling pool. The campground also has free Wi-Fi and even cable TV hookups as well as a bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets.