North Carolina’s state parks are known for their gorgeous mountain passes and panoramic Atlantic vistas. Each park has something unique to offer, whether a breathtaking view or a historic landmark. Of the 12 state parks in North Carolina, Courier Newsroom’s Cardinal & Pine picked some favorites to recommend for your next nature getaway.
Blue Ridge Parkway
“Every conversation should start with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the prettiest stretch on Earth, according to every survey conducted in this reporter’s household eight minutes ago,” writes reporter Michael McElroy in Cardinal & Pine, published by Courier Newsroom. He’s not wrong.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a stretch of trails and roads spanning about 470 miles (250 of those are in North Carolina). It’s the most iconic trail in the state.
Blue Ridge makes it to the top of the list because it shows off the best of North Carolina no matter where you start your hike. Every mile guarantees an incredible view, a wildlife sighting, or a patch of natural serenity that’ll make you wonder why you ever needed Facebook and Netflix.
Start your excursion on the stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is when the path begins to open up, exposing incredible views of the mountains.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a protected beach 70 miles long (yes, you read that correctly — 70 miles of beach!). If you don’t like getting sweaty in the woods, this is a great place to enjoy some fun in the sun and relax to the sound of the crashing waves.
McElroy of Cardinal & Pine recommends: “Camp on the beach, fish off the shore, drive an ATV on the sand, maybe check out some sea turtles. Cape Hatteras and its lovely lighthouse are well worth the trip. The protected stretch is on the Outer Banks and can be accessed by bridge or ferry.”
The Appalachian Trail
McElroy calls the Appalachian Trail “the jewel of any hiker’s crown, moving across wild mountains, fields, and waterways from Georgia to Maine,” in Courier Newsroom’s Cardinal & Pine. Only about 100 miles cut through North Carolina, but it’s a beautiful bit of trail.
If you stay near Asheville, it’s easy to access the trail just north of the city. It won’t take long to catch some epic views of the Smoky Mountains. Just make sure you do your homework first. The terrain is rugged, and you can only enter and exit the trail at certain points.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
The Appalachian isn’t the only trail worth hiking in North Carolina. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the path that American militiamen took during the Revolutionary War. It’s both a scenic trail spanning 330 miles and a piece of American history that you can experience firsthand.
If you’re into hiking, 87 miles of walkable paths transport you back to 1780. Don’t be surprised to see reenactors in period clothing making the journey. If you don’t have time to hike 87 miles, part of the trail is also open to cars. Just follow the markers to enjoy the views in speed mode.
Cape Lookout is not for the faint of heart. Only accessible by ferry, this undeveloped barrier island looks just as it did when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Well, most of it does. Parts of the 56-mile shoreline are accessible to visitors for fishing, swimming, boating, and other activities.
The best time to visit this North Carolina state park is at night. It’s been designated an International Dark Sky Park (IDSP), which means nearly zero light pollution. You’ve never seen stars like this before.
History buffs and engineers alike won’t want to pass up a visit to the birthplace of aviation — Kitty Hawk. The shoreline and sand dunes where the Wright brothers first achieved flight have been preserved. The park isn’t very big, but it’s guaranteed to impact curious minds of any age.
“The park service runs the spot where the Wright brothers left the ground,” writes McElroy in Courier Newsroom’s Cardinal & Pine. “A few miles south of Kitty Hawk, this historical site has preserved even the sand dune Orville and Wilbur leapt from, and the location they stayed in as they were troubleshooting any setbacks.”
Visit one or visit them all — there’s something for everyone in North Carolina’s stunning state parks.
Read more in Cardinal & Pine, a publication owned by Courier Newsroom.