A state full of natural wonders and eye-catching landscapes, North Carolina’s abundance of state parks and bodies of water makes it a perfect location for an overnight camping trip. Home to both a beautiful coast with soft dunes and flat plains and rugged mountain vistas, here you can pitch a tent and have an adventure of enjoying the outdoors on a scenic hike and stargazing up at the Milky Way. From beachside camping to pitching a tent sky high in the mountains, here are some of the best places to go camping in North Carolina.
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If you’re looking for a real backpacking experience out in nature, then the remote Linville Gorge is the place to go. Located in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest, this massive deep-cut gorge plunges almost 2,000 feet deep. Stretching across 12 miles, here you’ll find rock formations, canyon walls, and the beautiful Linville Falls waterfalls. A perfect place for campers who want to spend their days on the trail, here you can chase waterfalls, discover summit views and catch memorable sunset views from Shortoff Mountain. Campsites are available on-trail near the summits.
Mount Pisgah Campground
Reaching 5,000 feet in height, Mount Pisgah Campground is one of the highest campsites you’ll find along the Blue Ridge Parkway, only 20 miles away from Asheville. Perched high up in the clouds with rolling mountain landscapes, here you can enjoy panoramic views from the observation deck or go on a hike on one of the popular hiking trails that range from moderate to difficult. Choose the Frying Pan Trail for 1.6 miles of adventure through thick hardwood forest along the rocky terrain, and rest your head in one of the 52 sites available for reservation and dine at the nearby restaurant at Pisgah Inn. If you’re the spontaneous type, don’t fret, as there are still 74 other campsites on a first come, first serve basis.
Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro
With 323 acres and home to 4 beautiful islands, Hammocks Beach State Park is one of North Carolina’s crown jewels. One of the most popular areas to explore is Bear Island, a three-mile-long, undeveloped barrier island only accessible by the park’s passenger ferry or by paddling a canoe or kayak. Here visitors will find a beautiful area perfect for beachside camping, where massive dunes and stunning ocean views make for a memorable overnight stay. You’ll have plenty to do here, from the hiking trails on Bear Island to the well-marked paddle trails, while fishing, swimming and picnicking are all a favorite pastime in the area.
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville
The highest peak east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell is one of the state’s most beautiful places to pitch a tent. Its dramatic summit and easily accessible observation make it stand out from the rest, where campers can soak in the lush forest views, visit the on-site museum to learn about the area’s cultural and natural history, and hit the trails for a day of outdoor adventures. A nine-site tent campground with grills and picnic tables are available, in addition to a full-service restaurant, concession stand, and gift shop.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Located on the Southern Outer Banks on the Crystal Coast, Cape Lookout National Seashore is a hidden gem in North Carolina that boasts three undeveloped barrier islands that span across 55 miles. The perfect place to go swimming, birding, windsurfing and shelling, camping is also a favorite pastime here, as this is a place that you can truly get away from it all. A popular area to go surf fishing, the beautiful beaches are also known for being home to wild horses. Where fishermen, whalers, and stockmen have gone on daring adventures, you can now take a guided tour of the Portsmouth Village, climb the lighthouse, and lounge on the sun-kissed beaches on Shackleford Banks.
Carolina Beach State Park, Carolina Beach
Carolina Beach State Park is a popular 761-acre park, where you’ll find easy access to some of the state’s best fishing spots. Perfect for those looking for a secluded camping spot, set up your tent underneath the towering trees and spend your days hiking the miles of various habitats. See if you can find the rare Venus flytrap, one of the world’s most unique carnivorous plants and observe the park’s wide diversity of plant and animal life. Family camping cabins are available for those who prefer a night of air-conditioning, while group camping and a family campground offer a picnic table and grill.
Jones Lake State Park, Elizabethtown
Considered one of the greatest geological mysteries in the country, Jones Lake State Park is home to the phenomenon of the Carolina bays. A 2,308-acre park, outdoor enthusiasts will delight in the area’s range of activities on offer, from the four-mile trail that loops around the bay lake to the range of aquatic activities available in the shallow waters. Wooded campsites are equipped with a fire ring, grill, and picnic table, while one site has electrical and water hookups. In the summer months, you can explore the area by canoe and paddleboat, while the visitor center introduces guests to the ecology of the bay lakes, from the bay thickets to the pond cypress stands covered with Spanish moss.
Pettigrew State Park, Creswell
Considered an angler’s paradise, Pettigrew State Park is the home of the famous Lake Phelps, a 16,600-acre lake where fishing is king. A combination of nature, history, and recreation, here you’ll find crystal clear waters for bass fishing alongside ancient American Indian dugout canoes and the grave of a Confederate general. Soak in the landscape of the grassy meadow and majestic cypress trees, as a family campground and group camping are available, featuring picnic tables and a grill. Perfect for a day of spotting wildlife, take a hike along the trails or hop in a canoe to paddle along the Scuppernong River to see animals in their natural habitat.
Lake James State Park, Nebo
Home to a 6,512-acre lake, Lake James State Park is a sprawling reservoir with more than 150 miles of shoreline, offering visitors a peek at the Appalachian Mountain range. With a range of family-friendly activities available, campers will find walk-in, boat-in and drive-in campsites, each with their own amenities that cater to a range of travelers. The park has an extensive trail system with over 25 miles of scenic paths, 15 of which are available for mountain biking. Kids will want to hit the Holly Discovery Trail for its educational features, while those looking for an adventurous day of natural landscapes can head to the historic Overmountain Victory Trail.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
If sleeping to the sound of the ocean waves and the sight of sea turtles along the seashore sounds appealing to you, then a trip to Cape Hatteras National Seashore is in order. Combining the calm of the salt marshes with the beautiful starry night sky, campers are spoiled for choice with the four campgrounds near the ocean. Providing a unique way to experience the barrier islands, here you can get an up close and personal look at the plants, wildlife, and natural landscapes. Take a stroll along the picturesque beach, kayak along the sound, or climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the most picturesque lighthouses in North Carolina, to see its 75 miles of protected land along the Outer Banks.
Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury
With sheer cliffs and peaks of bare rock, Hanging Rock State Park offers a combination of quiet forest and cascading waterfalls. With a breathtaking view of the Piedmont plateau, campers will find tent and trailer campgrounds and cabins for those who prefer a more glamping-type experience. Covering more than 18 miles, the hiking trails are here are worthy of a day trip to see the waterfalls and mountain views, while those who want to see the trails on a bike will find a single track with a view of the Sauratown Mountains. Ideal for a day of soaking the area’s beauty, head to the 12-acre lake to cool off in the refreshing waters.
Merchants Millpond State Park, Gatesville
Considered one of the state’s rarest ecological communities, Merchants Millpond State Park is home to a coastal pond and swamp forest. The area’s diverse landscape offers a variety of camping experiences, from a family campground in the pine forest to a walk-in group campsite, while five campsites can be reached by backpacking along the Lassiter Trail and 10 sites can only be accessed via a canoe. With massive cypress trees, Spanish moss and wetland wildlife, you can paddle along the placid, shallow waters and discover beavers, otters, owls, or if you prefer to stay dry on land, explore the 10 miles of hiking trails.