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Mount Mitchell State Park in North Carolina

8 Must-Visit State Parks in North Carolina (2023)

North Carolina is pleasantly blessed with an abundance of Natural beauty, which overflows in various ways. This Southern U.S. state has an array of State Parks, Staffed State Natural Areas, and State Reactional areas. The options are too many, so choosing one becomes very tricky and confusing. The Tar Heel State offers vivid beauty and diversity, from the mountains of Western North Carolina to spectacular carved rock formations, numerous beaches, and coastal plains. No two State Parks in North Carolina are similar, and that’s what attracts travelers the most here.

Whether you want to witness huge dunes at Atlantic Beaches or scale the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Carolina State Parks ideally provide for them all.

Throughout the year, there’s something new, exciting, and different to crave out of a trip to the State Parks here. However, with a whopping 40+ options, the real difficulty is often in narrowing down which one to choose. A State Park that can suit your personality and liking and make the trip worth it, North Carolina has that for you.

8 Must-Visit State Parks in North Carolina

Here are a few Popular State Parks in North Carolina that you may want to check out. Have a look:

1. Chimney Rock State Park

Located in the town by the same name, the Chimney Rock State Park boasts the most striking scenery in North Carolina. The park is located about half an hour southeast of Asheville and covers a huge area of 8,014 acres. The highlight of the park is a 315-foot granite monolith (Chimney Rock) that provides undisputed views of the park and the nearby residential settlement. Chimney Rock is accessible by elevator and is a must-visit feature in the park.

Chimney Rock State Park is also home to numerous hiking trails that range from moderately strenuous routes to family-friendly nature walks. Visiting the park also offer opportunities for biking, picnicking, fishing, repelling, rock climbing, and more. Individuals can also explore the impressive 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls or access the Rocky Broad River for some adventure.

NOTE: Chimney Rock State Park is accessible via paid admissions. The only free-to-visit area includes the Rumbling Bald Climbing zone.

2. Stone Mountain State Park

Stone Mountain State Park is a must-visit State Park in North Carolina that every traveler should add to his itinerary. Encompassing 14,353 acres, the park stretches through Alleghany and Wilkes Counties and multiple small towns. The highlight of the park is the namesake Stone Mountain (a Dome Mountain), which rises sharply at 600 feet and reaches an elevation of 2,305 feet. Featuring distinctive brown-gray color, the rock can be seen from far away in different zones of the park. Due to the rock’s placement, Stone Mountain State Park acts as North Carolina’s best spot for rock climbing and view watching.

Stone Mountain State Park also features hiking trails, quiet forests, cool mountain streams, cascading waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife. It is also home to a historic mountain homestead (19th-century Hutchinson Homestead). The homestead features a blacksmith shop, barn, meat house, corn crib, and a log cabin. It operates from March through October from Thursday to Sunday. Individuals can also choose to explore Garden Creek Baptist Church or attend its seasonal religious services.  

3. Mount Mitchell State Park

North Carolina’s first State Park (1915), the Mount Mitchell State Park, is another must-visit in the State. It preserves the highest peak east of the Mississippi River that towers 6,684 feet above Yancey County. The park stretches over 4,789 acres and is 35 miles northeast of Asheville along the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the park’s best features is the Observation deck (10 minutes from the parking lot), which provides breathtaking 360-degree views of about 85 miles. Apart from Mount Mitchell, the State Park also features other high peaks, including Mounts Halback, Craig, and Balsam Cone.

Hiking enthusiasts from all across North Carolina choose the park, and its mountain submits as their go-to trekking routes and destinations. Some of the popular options include a more strenuous hike (2.1 miles roundtrip) over to Mount Craig’s summit (6,647 feet) and an easy trail (0.75 miles) through the fir-tree forest. In addition, access the Old Mitchell Trial” (2.2 miles one way) and 1800s trail together for more adventure. Backpacking and camping too are some popular activities here.

4. Elk Knob State Park

North Carolina’s newest state park, the Elk Knob State Park, is another wonderful place to visit in the State. Operating since 2003, the part spans over 4,423 acres. It was originally established to preserve the natural State of Elk Knob, the third highest peak in Watauga County. Today the park operates as a year-round recreational destination, offering various activities. Though it is home to several hiking trails, one particular amongst them offers views of nearby peaks in Tennessee and Virginia.

Individuals can visit the nearby Appalachian State University in the Elk Knob State Park. The facility is famous for exhibits and community days about the nearby mountain communities. Besides that, during winters, the state park turns into a wonderland for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Experts also visit the park to learn about rare parts of life.

5. Hanging Rock State Park

Another popular state park in North Carolina is the Hanging Rock State Park. From the vision of outdoor recreation, it is one of the local’s favorites. The park is home to over 20 miles of hiking trails which either reaches some magnificent waterfall or mountaintop outcrops with all directional views. The most popular trail amongst them is the 1.3-mile Hanging Rock Trail which offers a moderate hike with breathtaking views. The trail begins at the visitor’s center parking lot and takes about an hour to reach the Hanging Rock summit. The views from the top of the rock are unparalleled and astounding.

Hanging Rock State Park is also home to a lake, streams, waterfalls, picturesque mountain views, a mountain cave, and rocky outcrops. On the park’s north end, the Dan River Access provides some excellent fishing, tubing, and paddling opportunities. Whereas Park Lake operates for fishing, paddling as well as swimming. For added adventure, the park also features camping cabins, picnic grounds, a 73-site campground, and rock-climbing opportunities (Moore’s and Cook’s Walls).

6. Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Entertaining the crows of over 2 million visitors every year, the Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the most-visited State Park in North Carolina. The park is located in Nags head and covers about 427 acres, including the tallest active dune system in the eastern United States. Jockey’s Ridge is a year-round tourist destination; there’s a lot to do in the park. Individuals can choose to walk through the 360-foot boardwalk or dive deep into the gorgeous maritime forests near the Roanoke Sound.

The State Park is also home to an interactive on-site museum with exhibits related to the unique ecology of the regional dune habitats. On the park’s south side, near the Atlantic coast, activities like swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, hand-gliding, and sandboarding are quite popular. Not only that, but it even offers all-terrain vehicle rides to the top of the dunes to physically challenged individuals.

7. South Mountains State Park

Covering 19,830 acres throughout the South Mountains area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is one of the most rugged state parks in North Carolina. The state park is just about 70 miles east of Asheville and 18 miles from I-40. Some of the exciting features of the park include 40 miles of trails for hikers, elevations to 3,000 feet, an 80-foot waterfall, and several mountain streams. South Mountains is best known for housing the High Shoals Falls and the Jacob’s Fork River.

For adventure enthusiasts, the state park features a 17-mile mountain bike loop. Backpackers can make their way through the woodland and reach some fine primitive camping areas. Besides that, with more than 33 miles of bridle trails, the park also offers equestrian camping. Other features to check out in the park include a visitor center featuring museum-quality natural and cultural history exhibits.

8. Pilot Mountain State Park

Located in Surry and Yadkin Counties, the last on our list is the Pilot Mountain State Park. The park covers 3,872 acres which include the distinctive 2,241-foot peak of Pilot Mountain. Acting as a year-round recreation, the park offers outdoor enthusiasts a wide array of activities in two distinct sections. The Mountain section features 14 miles of hiking trails, a tent, and a trailer camping site. Activities like rappelling and mountain climbing are popular here. In contrast, the River section features 14 miles of hiking trails, 9 miles of horseback riding trails, 2 paddle-in campsites, and an activity like fishing.

Pilot Mountain State Park is a popular daytime visit site where locals often enter for afternoon picnicking. The State park features three picnic areas, of which one is near the summit parking lot and the rest two near the Yadkin River. The amenities available on-site include picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets. Walking through the park, one can even spot some wildlife, including raccoons, American toads, Carolina wren, White-tailed deer, Opossums, etc.

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