If you’re looking for a camping trip that will carry some cache with the folks back home, these experiences at national parks in North Carolina will give you bragging rights and memories that will stick long after you’ve broken camp.
1 Great Smoky Mountains National Park
1 Great Smoky Mountains National ParkWestern North CarolinaSee on map
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has four group campgrounds in NC, each offering a markedly different escape. Cataloochee, for instance, is in a secluded valley where remnants of a once-thriving mountain community remain (as do a herd of elk reintroduced in 2001). Deep Creek near Bryson City is a tuber’s paradise. Smokemont on the Oconaluftee River is known for trout fishing and swimming. If you’re looking for something more removed, the remote Balsam Mountain Campground is the park’s highest, at 5,400 feet, guaranteeing cool sleeping even in August.
2 Blue Ridge Parkway
2 Blue Ridge ParkwayWestern North CarolinaSee on map
The Blue Ridge Parkway offers one of the most beautiful drives in the country. Thanks to several campgrounds along its North Carolina run, motoring tourists never have to leave the scenic highway. Each stop offers not only rest from the road, but good adventure as well. At Doughton Park, explore the 30-mile trail network (the largest along the Parkway). Price Park offers a beginner-friendly hike around its namesake lake. Linville Falls is at the headwaters of Linville Gorge, one of the wildest spots in the East. Crabtree Falls offers solitude and a short hike to its namesake falls. And Mount Pisgah sits atop the Blue Ridge, offering long-sleeve hiking even in summer.
3 Cape Lookout National Seashore
3 Cape Lookout National SeashoreCrystal CoastSee on map
Take your pick of miles of open spaces in front of you at Cape Lookout National Seashore, where primitive beach camping is welcome at a majority of the barrier islands. And with no established campgrounds (just a few areas closed to campers), setting up among the dunes and relaxing under the stars is an experience unlike any other. During the day, visit the wild horses that roam the Shackleford Banks, see historic Portsmouth Village nearby and admire the Cape Lookout Lighthouse from its base.
4 Cape Hatteras National Seashore
4 Cape Hatteras National SeashoreOuter BanksSee on map
Like the beach experience but not the beach crowds? The four campgrounds on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, Frisco and Ocracoke – offer access to long stretches of beach that are particularly compelling at night, when the stars come out and dazzle a sky nearly clear of light pollution. All of the Cape Hatteras campgrounds are located on the ocean side separated from the beach by barrier dunes. The campgrounds have tent, trailer and motor home sites, with modern restrooms, potable water and grills, and are open from April through November.
Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.