The “Tar Heel” state of North Carolina is overflowing with beautiful parks to visit. In fact, it is home to over forty state parks alone, plus two national seashores, a national park and several national historic trails. From the mountains of Western North Carolina to the beaches of the east, there are numerous places to enjoy the outdoors and take in the beautiful scenery, while either getting in a little exercise or some relaxation. Here are just a few that you’ll definitely want to check out.
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Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Manteo
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Manteo protects parts of three of NC’s barrier islands – Bodie Island, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island. In addition to beautiful beach and sound accesses, the Seashore is also home to lots of nature trails, a campground and of course, the famous Outer Banks lighthouses, which can be climbed all the way to the top!
Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock State Park, which is located in the town by the same name, is best known for the 315-foot overlook that provides breathtaking 75-mile views of Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge. The park also offers a 404-foot waterfall, six trails for hiking, fishing, picnic areas, concessions and a gift shop.
Crowders Mountain State Park, Kings Mountain
Crowders Mountain State Park in Kings Mountain is a hiker and climber’s dream. There are eleven different trails for hiking, ranging in ability from beginner to strenuous, that also link up to Kings Mountain State Park and Kings Mountain National Military Park. If you feel adventurous and want to climb to one of the park’s two pinnacles, you’ll enjoy 25-mile views of the surrounding scenery. Plus, there’s a nine-acre lake for fishing and canoeing, as well as rock climbing, bouldering and backcountry camping.
Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach
Fort Macon State Park, located in Atlantic Beach, NC, is a unique destination spot since it is both a beautiful waterfront park, as well as a historical site. In addition to a pristine shoreline for fishing, swimming and sunbathing, the park also features a coastal education center and a fully-restored, Civil War era fort that offers guided tours and cannon and musket demonstrations.
Grandfather Mountain State Park, Banner Elk
Grandfather Mountain is one of the most iconic places to visit in North Carolina. The massive 2,456 acre park is home to twelve different trails and numerous backpack camping sites, but is also some of the most challenging terrain as well. The area is also home to the popular tourist spot, the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City
Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually spreads across both North Carolina and Tennessee, there’s plenty to be seen on the NC side. First, there’s the beautiful six-mile Lakeview Drive, which begins just outside of Bryson City and offers breathtaking views of the area. There are also plenty of trails for hiking and biking, several impressive waterfalls, picnicking, fishing, camping and the Mingus Mill Mountain and Farm Museum to explore.
Jockey's Ridge State Park, Nag's Head
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is another unique park in that it’s mostly made up of a giant sand dune. The infamous dune is the tallest on the East Coast and can reach up to 100 feet tall, depending on the winds. The massive park covers 426-acres and offers plenty of space for climbing the dune, flying a kite, going sandboarding, taking off on a hang glider or just enjoying the view from the top. There is also plenty of wildlife to enjoy including swans, osprey, deer and foxes.
Lake Norman State Park, Troutman
Lake Norman is the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. And the state park built around it not only offers beautiful views of the water, but also some of the area’s most popular trails for mountain biking. The 30.5 miles of trails are also open to hikers. In addition, there is a 125-yard beach area, picnic shelters, a boat ramp, a 32-site family campground and bathhouse and lots of opportunities for fishing. There are also several educational exhibits located in the on-site visitor center and along some of the shorter trails.
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville
The summit at Mount Mitchell State Park is the highest point east of the Mississippi, at a whopping 6,684 feet. Take in the amazing views from the park’s observation deck, then visit the on-site museum to learn about the cultural and natural history of the area. There is also a large network of hiking trails that range in difficulty, a nine-site tent campground, and a concession area and restaurant that are open during the summer and early fall.