From the beaches of the Outer Banks to the rolling hills of the Piedmont to the highest mountains in the eastern United States, North Carolina's State Parks are naturally wonderful. And for the most part, admission is free. Some of the State Recreation Areas have an entrance fee during the active season and there are fees for camping, boat rentals, and other activities. But unlike state parks in other states, admission is generally free. So wherever you are in the state, there is a state park nearby for free or low-cost outdoor fun.
The following is a list of NC State Parks that I have written tips for. If the park itself doesn't have an individual page, I have listed the nearest town where the tip is located.
Carvers Creek State Park (in Spring Lake)
Crowders Mountain State Park
Eno River State Park
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (in Kure Beach)
Hammocks Beach State Park
Hanging Rock State Park
Medoc Mountain State Park
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
Mount Mitchell State Park
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area (in Hillsborough)
Pilot Mountain State Park
Raven Rock State Park
Stone Mountain State Park
William B. Umstead State Park
Explore N.C. culture on the 2nd Saturday of each month with significant bargains at several each of our 37 State Historic Sites each.
Low-cost, memorable, and educational family friendly opportunities are made available throughout the state by the North Carolina Cultural Resources Department through its 2nd Saturdays program. On these special Saturdays, you can find working artists as well as authentic North Carolina culture and crafts. 2nd Saturday’s feature hands-on historical activities and demonstrations, as well as the goods of local potters, weavers, photographers, painters, metalworkers, papermakers, jewelers, musicians, farmers, and growers.
On a recent second Saturday, the President James K. Polk State Historical Site in Pineville (just south of Charlotte) featured “Threading the Story: The Form and Function of Spinning and Weaving.” The program allowed visitors to learn about spinning, weaving, knitting, and dyeing. The market area featured the creations of local artisans.
Additionally, the NC Transportation Museum in Rowan County, Fort Dobbs in Iredell County and the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County hosted special programs on that same day.
Explore North Carolina history and participate in culture! Go to www.ncculture.com for information on upcoming 2nd Saturday programs.
Kitty Hawk (more accurately Kill Devil Hills) is the spot where the Wright brothers took their perfected flyer to and conducted the first succesful flight on December 17th , 1903. The site has a large monument, markers of the landing points of the first days flights and a museum dedicated to commerating the event.
This large park encloses 50 miles of the North Carolina barrier islands, known commonly as the Outer Banks. It has beaches, lighthouses, tidal marshes and some of Americas most famous historical sights such as Kitty Hawk and Roanoke Island Colony.
This is probably the most famous lighthouse in North America, if not the world. It was constructed in 1870. It recently had to be moved 2900 feet inland to prevent it from being engulfed in the ocean due to an eroding beachline. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse during the summer months.
Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi river. It is part of the Black Mountain chain of the Blue ridge mountains. It can be approached by driving to a parking lot a few hundred feet from the peak or via a 2 mile trail from the old park office
Starting at the end of April and running through August, the Midtown Music Concert Series takes place every Thursday evening in the North Hills outdoor shopping mall. It is beach themed with food, beer and live music. There isn't much in the ways of seating but it is still a nice way to hang out outside and enjoy an evening.
This was a very pleasant spot in which to break our drive between Charlotte and the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a man-made lake, which National Geographic has called one of the most beautiful in the world. Set at the foot of Chimney Rock in Hickory Nut Gorge the lake is long and not very wide. Many people appeared to have lovely homes on the shores, complete with boathouses, and it’s very much a recreational stretch of water – fishing, boating etc. We simply stopped to stretch our legs with a short walk and take some photos, though it would also make a great picnic place. You can also do boat tours (see website below), swim or simply relax on the beach.
This is by far one of the best aquariums I have been to. I used to go here constantly when I was growing up and the admission was free. Since then, times have changed. The aquarium is now BIGGER and BETTER than it was years ago!
This place has alligators, an octopus, several species of fish, sharks, and jellyfish. There is also a hurricane storm surge exhibit, and a bird watching area.
I highly recommend a stop here...it is well worth it!!
Admission is $8 for adults, Seniors: $7, Children: Ages 6-17: $6, 5 and under: FREE
The USS North Carolina was a battleship that was in service during World War II. Upon decomissioning (retirement), the US Government threatened to scrap the battleship and use the metal acquired to make other things. However, a big push by the locals and thousands of pennies donated by local schoolchildren saved this historic ship.
Onboard, you will find actual items used by the sailors during the 1940's, you will hear music from that time ("Cherry Blossom Pink and Apple Blossom White" and "In The Mood" were playing when I was there). There are also numerous photographs and other documentations showing how the sailors lived while serving. There is also the infirmary and the kitchen preserved to it's original entirety.
And, if you are lucky to find either one or both, actual authentic chapel Army-Navy hymnals and original pieces of the wood deck are on sale in the gift shop. All proceeds go to restoring and preserving the battleship.
Admission is Adult - 12 and over $9.00; Seniors (65 and older) $8.00; Military
(active duty or retired with military ID card) $8.00; Child - 6 through 11 $4.50;
Child - 5 and under Free.
Built in 1872 this lighthouse lives in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This lighthouse was decommisioned by the Coast guard and turned over to the park service in 2000.
The Smoky Mountains are one of, if not the biggest tourist destination in North Carolina. The mountains, while small, are covered in a layer of haze that give them their smoky experience. The national park that bears their name is the most visited park of all. Its a spectacular park filled with hiking trails, wildlife and other interesting sights.
For more information, feel free to visit my Great Smoky Mountains National Park page.
North Carolina has a whole coastline of beaches, which we rarely see because we are in the InterCoastal Waterway. That's because the North Carolina Atlantic coast is so hazardous for boating.
This past winter we saw the beaches along the northern barrier islands of the Outer Banks from Corolla to Ocracoke. One morning I got up at sunrise to take these pictures.
South of the Outer Banks, down to the Cape Fear River are a second stretch of beaches. The area around Atlantic Beach from Cape Lookout South is called the Crystal Coast. South of that is Bald Head, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, Sunset Beach, New Topsail Beach, Onslow Beach and many others.
The area is very popular with vacationers. The population of Atlantic Beach increases by ten fold in the summer.
The Wright Brothers National Monument has a monument, an air strip, a recreation of the Wright Brother's camp, and a visitor center which houses exhibits including reproductions of their wind tunnel, the 1902 glider and the 1903 Flyer. There are periodic ranger talks explaining the important advances that the Wright Brothers made and how their plane worked.
At the time of the Centennial of Flight celebration, the original visitor's center at the Wright Brother's National Monument was judged as "inadequate". So funds were raised by commericial firms and the Centennial Pavilion was built. Content partners (which means organizations who have exhibits here) include NASA, the United States Air Force, The Wright Experience, Outer Banks History Center, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission and others.
There was a 70 minute presentation about the Wright's experience on the island - including the first boat trip from Elizabeth City where the dinghy to get out to the big boat was leaking and the big boat was leaking and the sails were worn and the lines were frayed. Wilbur was afraid to eat any of the food on the ship. He got to Kitty Hawk 36 hours later - hungry.
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