Best of all: You can get into all of the below state parks for free.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Nags Head, NC
Just south of Kill Devil Hills, site of the
Know before you go: Check the park’s website in advance for seasonal hours and current weather restrictions. For mobility-impaired visitors, call the park at least 24 hours in advance to reserve an all-terrain vehicle ride to the top of the dune. If you need to rent recreational equipment, make reservations in advance. Finally, although the sand may seem inviting, wear shoes — hot sand at 30 degrees above air temperatures can quickly burn bare feet, and sandspurs hurt!
Carolina Beach State Park – Carolina Beach, NC
Located in the southernmost region of North Carolina’s coast near Wilmington,
Know before you go: The Flytrap Trail offers the best views of the park’s “captivating” plant life, but when you see these threatened species in the wild, leave them be. Many local nurseries and gift shops offer propagated specimens for sale. Don’t miss the visitor center, which features interactive exhibits on the park’s unusual plant life as well as the local animals and area history.
William B. Umstead State Park – Raleigh, NC
With more than 5,500 acres of woodlands inside the capital city’s Outer Loop,
Know before you go: Those bringing horses into the park will need to check in at the visitor center with proof of a negative equine infectious anemia (Coggins) test. Boats can be rented on weekends from May through September at the Big Lake boathouse.
Lake Norman State Park – Troutman, NC
Mountain bikers, take note: You don’t have to trek all the way to the western fringes of the state for a solid network of quality singletrack.
Know before you go: Like many North Carolina state parks, campsites here provide a range of amenities, so do your homework in advance to ensure you snag the perfect spot. If you’re a birdwatcher or are bringing the kids, stop in at the visitor center for plant and animal checklists. Wildlife of all varieties call this state park home.
Hanging Rock State Park – Danbury, North Carolina
Named for its rocky knobs and outcroppings,
Know before you go: Although it’s free to enter and climb in the park, climbers do need to register and secure a permit at the park office or climbing access points. Climbers are responsible for providing their own safety equipment. Swimming and renting canoes or rowboats involve a small fee.
Mount Mitchell State Park – Burnsville, North Carolina
Know before you go: Black bears live in the park and pose a danger to humans, but taking steps like storing food in bear-proof containers and properly disposing of trash significantly minimizes any risk. Review bear guidelines on the park’s website or speak to a ranger for information. Also, wear or carry layers of clothing to prepare for the park’s high elevations.
Gorges State Park – Sapphire, North Carolina
It’s all about waterfalls at the rugged
Know before you go: Gorges State Park is a carry-in/carry-out facility, so be prepared to pack out any trash you generate during your visit. Some trails aren’t recommended for beginning hikers, but park staff can offer suggestions based on your experience and fitness level. There’s a section of trail open to mountain biking at Gorges as well.