Camping in North Carolina offers an exciting experience for any type of camper. With a wide variety of climates and ecosystems, North Carolina offers a broad selection of campground options ranging from green forests to active dunes.
What’s the Best Time of Year to Go Camping in North Carolina?
If you’re prepared, any time can be a great time to hit up North Carolina campgrounds. Camping in North Carolina is truly a four-season pursuit.
If you don’t want to brave the cold, late spring through early fall is the best time to visit. If you’re willing to put up with a bit of chill, you’ll be rewarded with a color-changing fall landscape, easily the most beautiful time of year for camping in North Carolina.
What Are the Top Outdoor Activities in North Carolina?
If you can dream it, you can do it in North Carolina. There’s a place for every outdoor lover in the Tarheel State, from sea level to the mountaintops.
The Appalachian Trail cuts through North Carolina, so hikers of all stripes should spend some time on it. Mountain biking, watersports, and snow sports are all popular outdoor activities in North Carolina. If you want to embrace the colder weather, head to the popular Beech Mountain Resort.
What Are the National Parks in North Carolina?
There is only one national park in North Carolina, though it was the second-most visited one in all the U.S. in 2021. Beyond that, there are several popular National Park Service sites and national forests to visit.
While often associated with Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park extends into North Carolina. Since entrance to Great Smoky is free, crowds are abundant during the peak season June to October. You’ll contend with fewer visitors if you’re willing to visit in the offseason. However, if you can’t get to the park in the offseason, braving the throngs of tourists is worth it for the views and hiking available here. This is worth being near the top of the list for those camping in North Carolina.
While not a national park, Cape Hatteras is run by the National Park Service. You won’t have to pay an entrance fee if you're an inter-agency pass holder. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the most iconic destination, but the whole seashore is worth a visit. If you’ve got a capable 4x4, you can adventure along the sand here, but make sure you have the necessary permits.
The Pisgah National Forest offers some of the best hiking and camping in North Carolina. If you plan to visit Asheville, the Pisgah National Forest isn’t too far from the city. Pisgah is home to some of North Carolina’s best waterfalls and most scenic mountaintop views, including several of the highest peaks on the eastern seaboard. Mountain bikers looking to hit the trails should check out Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
If you’re short on time, you can explore the Uwharrie National Forest in less than a weekend and still enjoy yourself immensely. There are plenty of day use areas, so you can bring everything you need and never have to go back to the car. If you want to enjoy the off-road trails here in your vehicle or on your mountain bike, make sure you get your pass beforehand.
What Are Some of the Most Popular State Parks in North Carolina?
Gorges is routinely a bucket list stop for those exploring North Carolina’s state parks. With no admission fee, it’s always a crowd favorite. If you saw the waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest and couldn’t get enough, make your way to Gorges State Park for even more! Those looking to get into the backcountry should definitely add this to their list as Gorges State Park is one of the best spots for backcountry camping in North Carolina.
Jockey’s Ridge is a reminder of the diversity of the North Carolina state parks. With sprawling sand dunes, it’s hard to believe Jockey’s Ridge and Gorges State Parks are in the same state at all. Jockey’s Ridge is home to the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern U.S., meaning these dunes continually change landscape and character because of the winds.
If you’re looking for something a bit more secluded, Merchants Millpond offers tranquil getaways for all of its campers. Centered around the main scenic pond, you’ll find several miles of nearby hiking trails to keep you occupied during the day. Merchants Millpond is quite manageable if you’ve only got an overnight’s worth of time.
Morrow Mountain embodies the best of North Carolina’s fall colors when the leaves change. If you want to fall asleep under a canopy of orange leaves while camping in North Carolina, don’t skip Morrow Mountain. You’ll never be short on activities with miles of multi-use trails near your campsite.
What Are the Top Attractions in North Carolina?
Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” this winding drive is sure to be an immersive and incredible experience you won’t forget. While you don’t have to do the whole thing to appreciate it, those who are willing to strap in for the long haul have 469 scenic miles to look forward to. You’ll find views of the Appalachians, surrounding national forests and parks, and charming pieces of classic North Carolina architecture all along the way!
There are so many things to do besides just camping in North Carolina! While the state boasts a robust outdoor scene, there’s an equally robust arts and culture scene to explore here. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is especially likely to be a hit for those traveling with children. With exhibits on the ecology of North Carolina and a wide variety of live programs, the museum offers something for everyone in the family.
The quickest way to travel back in time in North Carolina is to visit the Biltmore Estate. This historic mansion was finished in the late 19th century and is actually the largest privately owned house in the entire country. You’ll find a host of rotating art and culture exhibits here and even three different places to spend the night!
This top attraction in North Carolina is a bit out there. Fans of oddities will love this sculpture park. With lots of creative wind-powered art pieces, Whirligig is the perfect place to spend an afternoon admiring these novel contraptions. Whirligig Park also hosts events, so be sure to stop into a live show or farmer’s market while you’re there.
Where’s Some of the Best Food in North Carolina?
You can’t visit North Carolina without trying authentic Carolina-style barbecue. Wilber’s is always towards the top of nationwide barbecue rankings, and the slew of visiting patrons can attest to why.
Just outside of Chapel Hill lies some of the best fine dining in North Carolina. If you want to get dressed up and make an event out of a meal, The Fearrington House is where you want to be. This restaurant has a rotating seasonal menu, so you’ll always have fresh local offers to choose from.
Gamekeeper is also in the arena of fine dining, though a step down in formality from The Fearrington House. That isn’t a bad thing, though! Gamekeeper has a philosophy of making fine dining fun.
With a full menu of traditional and unique meat options, Gamekeeper is always doing something creative. You won't be left out here if you aren’t in the mood for meat. Gamekeeper’s local menu caters to all diets, so meat and veggie lovers alike can enjoy fine, fun dining.
Lantern blends into Chapel Hill’s downtown backdrop, making it a well-kept secret. This modern space is unassuming from the outside but holds a menu of innovative and delicious Asian foods for those who know where to look.
North Carolina has it all, and camping in North Carolina is the best way to experience it. From the trailhead to the museum to the restaurant, you’ll want to use every hour of the day to explore this beautiful state. There’s no bad season to visit North Carolina, so pack up your gear and get to it!