A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Make a day trip to a park near you or a New Year’s resolution to hike them all! For a printable PDF of our 41 state parks, click here. Carolina

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Make a day trip to a park near you or a New Year’s resolution to hike them all! For a printable PDF of our 41 state parks, click here. Carolina

A Guide to North Carolina’s 41 State Parks

Make a day trip to a park near you or a New Year’s resolution to hike them all! For a printable PDF of our 41 state parks, click here.

Carolina Beach State Park – Carolina Beach

This coastal park is home to the Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant unique to the wetlands of the Carolinas. Located along the Cape Fear River, this secluded area is no less dynamic than the nearby Atlantic.


Carvers Creek State Park – Spring Lake

A historic Rockefeller family vacation home is set among the longleaf pines of this park, whose scenic landscape spans more than 4,000 acres, rich with natural and historical beauty.


Chimney Rock State Park – Chimney Rock

 Protruding from the mountainous landscape, Chimney Rock is aptly named for its geologic form. And while this granite feature is the main attraction, waterfalls and a wealth of flora and fauna are captivating, too.


Cliffs of the Neuse State Park – Seven Springs

Over time, erosion has carved out these 90-foot cliffs that loom above the Neuse River. This land was once occupied by Tuscarora and Saponi tribes, who used the river for travel and the surrounding land as ceremonial grounds and gathering places.


Crowders Mountain State Park – Kings Mountain

When drilling and excavation in nearby areas threatened the beloved Crowders Mountain, local residents convened to protect it, and this state park was established in 1973.


Dismal Swamp State Park – South Mills

Once a site of extensive logging, this now-protected land has rebounded. Sixteen miles of trails lead visitors around this hauntingly beautiful landscape, and a 2,000-foot boardwalk ventures into the Great Dismal Swamp itself.


Elk Knob State Park – Todd

Elk Knob is the only park in the state that offers cross-country skiing during the winter. Dramatic elevation changes create an endurance challenge rewarded by beautiful forests and summit views.


Eno River State Park – Durham

The Eno River is tucked away amid the bustle of Durham and Orange counties, and curves along nearly 30 miles of trails. This Piedmont gem is also home to a historic mill site.


Falls Lake State Recreation Area – Wake Forest

Initially created to control flooding and act as a reservoir for surrounding communities, Falls Lake quickly became a popular spot for outdoor fun. Today, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail weaves in and out of the area, attracting hikers and leisurely walkers.


Fort Fisher State Recreation Area – Kure Beach

Catch a glimpse of Loggerhead sea turtles on the protected portions of the area’s oceanfront, or explore the trails that weave through the salt marsh.


Fort Macon State Park – Atlantic Beach

Step into Fort Macon’s casemates and immerse yourself in Civil War history. Or venture over to the undisturbed shoreline for a peaceful swim.


Goose Creek State Park – Washington

Live oaks draped with Spanish moss frame the trails of this park, located in an area once home to the Tuscarora Indians, royal governors, and, later, subsistence farmers.


Gorges State Park – Sapphire

This rugged landscape was long used for industrial purposes, until conservation efforts began in the late 1970s. Subsequent years of land donation and protection led to the creation of the park, which is now a haven for many rare species.


Grandfather Mountain State Park – Banner Elk

Home to more than 70 rare and endangered species, Grandfather Mountain has long attracted global attention for its distinctive ecology and physical grandeur. Severe weather, cliff-climbing ladders, and intense terrain make for a uniquely challenging experience.


Hammocks Beach State Park – Swansboro

This undeveloped barrier island was first recognized as a valuable spot by Native Americans. Dugout canoes, pirate ships, and World War II Coast Guardsmen have all prowled the surrounding shallow waters. Nowadays, visitors can still explore paddling trails and enjoy nature, undisturbed.


Hanging Rock State Park – Danbury

This park’s namesake rock juts out from the earth like the bow of a large ship, overlooking the wooded lands below. The park is set among the Sauratown Mountains, known as the “mountains away from the mountains” for their distance from the Blue Ridge.


Haw River State Park – Browns Summit

This park is a serene getaway for the Triad region, set along the Haw River with miles of trails for exploring. A boardwalk to the river stretches from the Piedmont Loop Trail, a scenic and short hike through the park.


Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nags Head

The steep, sandy slope of the dunes may inspire an urge to tumble all the way down. Many do just that, or opt to hang glide, a more graceful approach to the East Coast’s tallest sand dune. Roanoke Sound meets the park on its inland side, where paddling, sunbathing, and sandy shoreline trails encourage visitors to relax.


Jones Lake State Park – Elizabethtown

The Southeastern United States is home to around 500,000 bays, best described as slight topographical depressions in the Coastal Plains. Jones Lake is one of these features that still contain shallow open water, which invites reptiles, birds, and vegetation to settle in permanently.


Jordan Lake State Recreation Area – Apex

Everett Jordan Lake proves itself to be a generous resource for both practical and recreational use. Surrounding communities rely on this 14,000-acre reservoir for its water supply and a host of fun activities on and off the water.


Kerr Lake State Recreation Area – Henderson

This 50,000-acre reservoir, located along the Virginia state line, is known to Virginians as Buggs Island Lake, after an early settler of the area.


Lake James State Park – Nebo

Set at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake James has been a hydro- electric power source for Duke Energy since the early 1900s. Fittingly, it was named after the company’s cofounder, James B. Duke.


Lake Norman State Park – Troutman

In addition to North Carolina’s largest man-made lake, this state park also boasts one of the region’s most popular mountain biking networks.


Lake Waccamaw State Park – Lake Waccamaw

This Carolina bay is home to at least five species on the state’s rare plant list, along with some aquatic species you won’t find anywhere else in the world. A boardwalk trail extends 375 feet into the lake, perfect for taking in the natural surroundings.


Lumber River State Park – Orrum

True to its name, Lumber River was an 18th-century hotspot for timber harvest and transport. Many communities cropped up along the riverbanks as a result, some of which are still around. The park is now sectioned into three parts: scenic, recreational, and natural, all varying in public accessibility.


Mayo River State Park – Mayodan

Smooth rocks pepper the Mayo River, where falls and flowing waters have rounded the river’s edges over time. Look for well-preserved Native American fish traps, as well as leftover relics from local textile mills.


Medoc Mountain State Park – Hollister

Standing just 325 feet above sea level, Medoc Mountain is what remains of a mighty mountain range formed during the Paleozoic Era. Years of withstanding the elements has softened its peak, but up-close exploration reveals still-rugged terrain and steep slopes.


Merchants Millpond State Park – Gatesville

A certain eerie beauty is cast upon this swamp-like environment, where bald cypress trees create winding paths for both turtles and kayaks. The primarily aquatic environment is home to many species of flora and fauna, including two primitive fish species: the longnose gar and the bowfin.


Morrow Mountain State Park – Albemarle

The four major peaks within this park — Morrow, Sugarloaf, Hattaway, and Fall — are all less than 1,000 feet tall. Morrow Mountain has the highest elevation within the park, rising 936 feet.


Mount Jefferson State Natural Area – West Jefferson

This mountain, covered in a variety of wildflowers, trees, and shrubs, was once named Panther Mountain, inspired by a local legend. Later, it was renamed in honor of Thomas Jefferson and his father, Peter, who owned and surveyed nearby lands.


Mount Mitchell State Park – Burnsville

The strenuous six-mile hike to the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River, rewards those who brave it with spectacular views.


New River State Park – Laurel Springs

This park encompasses a scenic portion of the New River, which was named a National Wild and Scenic River in 1976. Despite its name, the New River is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in North America, predating the mountains it now winds through.


Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area – Hillsborough

Keep an eye out for the Brown Elfin, a rare species of butterfly, while strolling this area’s wooded trail. Due to this species’ seasonal presence, researchers believe that the habitats of Occoneechee Mountain have remained largely unchanged since the last Ice Age.


Pettigrew State Park – Creswell

This park encompasses Lake Phelps, an ecologically and archaeologically fascinating site that has witnessed thousands of years of human history. Artifacts like dugout canoes, found sunken in the lake’s shallow water, provide insight into the past.


Pilot Mountain State Park – Pinnacle

The protruding form of Pilot Mountain has long been a landmark for travelers. When the Saura Indians lived in the region, they used it as the “Great Guide” or “Pilot.”


Raven Rock State Park – Lillington

Rising 150 feet above the Cape Fear River, the impressive Raven Rock was named for the, yes, ravens that once roosted atop it. Many other unique rocky features are seen throughout the park, too.


Singletary Lake State Park – Kelly

Carolina bays are known to be shallow, and at just 11.8 feet deep, Singletary Lake, surrounded by old cypress trees, currently holds the title for the deepest bay lake in North Carolina.


South Mountains State Park – Connelly Springs

This area was once the site of a gold rush when the mineral was found at Brindle Creek in 1828. Today, there are hikers instead of miners. The park’s beautiful landscape includes elevations up to 3,000 feet, as well as an impressive 80-foot waterfall.


Stone Mountain State Park – Roaring Gap

The center of this 14,000-acre park is Stone Mountain, a bald-faced dome. A restored mountain farm stands on the land below, welcoming visitors to delve into the lives of the area’s early settlers.


Weymouth Woods – Sandhills Nature Preserve Southern Pines

The longleaf pine forests of this area once spanned across the Southeast. Although the longleaf population has dwindled, this preserve provides a window into the landscape and ecology of the past


William B. Umstead State Park – Raleigh

Established in the wake of poor farming practices and the onset of the Great Depression, this land was purchased by the Resettlement Administration to create a public recreational area. Now bordered by Raleigh’s bustling highways, this surprisingly serene land is a perfect way for city dwellers to get outside without going far.

This story was published on Dec 16, 2020

Our State Staff

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.