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10 Fantastic National Parks in North Carolina

A waterfall in autumn. Photo of Looking Glass Falls in North Carolina.

Unsplash/Looking Glass Falls

When many people think of North Carolina, they picture the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail, or the Smoky Mountains. However, in total, there are ten national parks in North Carolina.

This number includes national parks, monuments, seashores, and historical parks. Each one is unique and set aside for the enjoyment of citizens worldwide for a variety of reasons. Here is a complete list of all the national parks in North Carolina, where to stay, things to do there, and more.

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Map of National Parks in North Carolina

A map of the national parks in North Carolina

National Parks in North Carolina Road Trip Itinerary

A map of the ideal route for a road trip to the national parks in North Carolina.

Fly in/out: Charlotte

Day 1: Drive from Charlotte to Wilmington, stop at Moores Creek National Battlefield (3.5-hour drive)

Day 2: Drive from Wilmington to Cape Lookout National Seashore (4-hour drive, requires ferry)

Day 3: Spend additional time at Cape Lookout National Seashore

Day 4: Drive to Cape Hatteras National Seashore via Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Wright Brothers National Memorial (6-hour drive)

Day 5: Spend time at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Day 6: Drive to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, stay in Greensboro for the night (5.5-hour drive)

Day 7: Head to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park via the Blue Ridge Parkway (4-hour drive)

Day 8: Spend some time hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t forget about the Appalachian Trail!

Day 9: Stop by Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site on your way back to Charlotte (4-hour drive)

An image of the a road through fall foliage trees. The text on the image is encouraging you to download a checklist of the national parks in North Carolina by signing up for e-mail notifications.

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The sun begins to set over the mountains. Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

Unsplash Photo

The Appalachian Trail might be the most famous long-distance trail in the world. Its rise in popularity has the popular culture to thank with many movies and books released in recent years focused on the trail.

The 2,180+ mile-long path spans the east coast of the United States and traverses some of its best scenery and most historically resonant places. Along a thru-hike, you pass through many national and state parks.

There are also multiple trailheads to make short day hikes and section hiking possible. Some of the most popular spots in North Carolina include Max Patch (pictured above) and routes through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

How to Get There: The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine. You can hike any portion of the trail via multiple trailheads or thru-hike all 2,180+ miles.

Map: download here or here

Things to Do: Backpacking, camping, hiking

Park Entrance Fee: There is no fee to hike the trail, but some national and state parks along the route may charge a fee.

Where to Stay: There are shelters along the way for camping.

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (304) 535-6278

Blue Ridge Parkway

A paved road on the side of a mountain. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

Unsplash Photo

The 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

While 469 miles may not sound long, the nature of the road makes traveling it time-consuming. Speed limits are lower than you might expect to accommodate for the twists and turns as you weave your way through the mountains.

It’s worth driving for a short distance if you don’t have time for the entire route. The scenery along the way is stunning, and you’ll immediately know why it’s known as “America’s favorite drive”.

How to Get There: The Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Tennesee to Virginia. Some popular places to visit in North Carolina include Waterrock Knob, Linville Falls, Mount Pisgah, and the visitor center in Asheville.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Biking, fishing, hiking, music concerts, picnicking, scenic drives, winter activities

Park Entrance Fee: None

Where to Stay: There are some campgrounds scattered along the Parkway. I also recommend cabin rentals.

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (828) 348-3400

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Black and white stripes on the side of a lighthouse with a red base. Cape Hatteras is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

Pixabay Photo

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, one of the national parks in North Carolina located on the ocean shore, is constantly changing. As a set of barrier islands in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, every ocean wave and wild storm brings something new.

Yet somehow, these islands have survived for centuries. With rising sea levels due to climate change, that could change in our lifetime. Get to Cape Hatteras before it’s irrevocably changed, and climb its famous lighthouse while you’re there!

How to Get There: Due to limited road access to these small islands, it’s easiest to access from the north on NC-12. From the south, a ferry is required.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Beach activities, boating, fishing, hiking, lighthouses, nature/wildlife viewing, water activities

Park Entrance Fee: None, however, various activities do require admission

Where to Stay: White Doe Inn, Roanoke Island Inn, Pirate’s Cove, Elizabethan Inn, Burrus House Inn

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (252) 473-2111

Cape Lookout National Seashore

A black and white lighthouse on a sandy beach. Cape Lookout is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

Unsplash Photo

Cape Lookout is one of the most popular national parks in North Carolina.

While sandy beaches and lighthouses are enough to draw a crowd, Cape Lookout has even more: wild horses. I don’t know what it is about wild horses, but people (including myself) go nuts about seeing them. At Cape Lookout, head to Shackleford Banks for your best chance to see them. If you have extra time, you can even volunteer to be on Pony Patrol!

You can also climb its lighthouse and visit the undeveloped islands, just make sure to pack everything you need (including food and water).

How to Get There: Two areas of Cape Lookout National Seashore are accessible by road. Otherwise, you’ll need to utilize the ferry system. More information here.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Beach driving, birding, camping, fishing, kayaking, lighthouse climbs, shelling, swimming, wildlife viewing, windsurfing

Park Entrance Fee: None, but there are a few fee-based activities.

Where to Stay: There are some cabins available in the park. There’s also the Beaufort Hotel, Pecan Tree Inn, and Mariner’s Retreat.

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (252) 728-2250

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

A white house with green shrubs in the front yard. Carl Sandburg Home is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

NPS Photo

If you’ve never heard of Carl Sandburg, that’s okay. I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t know who he was either. You must be like me in that you’re not necessarily a poet.

Carl Sandburg was a poet whose poetic voice focused on America. Today, tours of his home in North Carolina are extremely popular.

Additionally, there is still a farm on-site with a well-known herd of goats. Visits to the farm are self-guided while tours are required for the house.

In addition to these main attractions, there are a few hiking trails on-site as well. This is one of the most unique national parks in North Carolina.

How to Get There: Carl Sandburg’s home can be accessed from I-26. If you have a GPS, use the address 1800 Little River Road, Flat Rock, NC and follow signs for visitor parking.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Farm, hiking, house tours, poetry readings and contests, ranger programs

Park Entrance Fee: None, but there is a fee if you wish to join a ranger-guided tour of the Sandburg home

Where to Stay: Mill House Lodge, Highland Lake Inn, CedarWood Inn

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (828) 693-4178

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

An aerial view of a coastal theater. Fort Raleigh is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

NPS Photo

You’ve probably heard of Jamestown in Virginia, but I’d be surprised if you knew about Fort Raleigh, one of the most fascinating national parks in North Carolina.

This is another one of the first European settlements on the east coast. It’s believed the English were here from 1584 to 1590. More historical uses of the land include the Algonquian, the natives the English encountered, and a refuge for enslaved peoples during the American Civil War. While much of the fort has disappeared, the stories remain.

Today, the must-see attraction is the Waterside Theater where performances of The Lost Colony are performed by the local historical society.

How to Get There: With a GPS, you can use the street address 1500 Fort Raleigh Road, Manteo, NC to find the park. It’s located on Roanoke Island near Wright Brothers National Memorial and Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Hiking, monuments, museum, performances

Park Entrance Fee: None, though some activities may require payment

Where to Stay: Scarborough Inn, Westside Inn, Historic Manteo House

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (252) 473-2111

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Blue hazy mountains. Great Smoky Mountains is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

Unsplash Photo

Did you know that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in America? It’s for a good reason.

While it is definitely crowded, I have found that hiking on many of the park’s hundreds of trails will provide solitude. Most visitors stick to scenic drives, Cades Cove, Laurel Falls, and Clingman’s Dome (and I don’t blame them).

If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds, explore some other corners of one of the most famous national parks in North Carolina.

How to Get There: To visit the North Carolina side of the park, you’ll enter via Cherokee, NC. You can get here from I-40 via US-74, US-19, and US-441. Don’t trust your GPS systems to guide you correctly. More information is available here.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Backpacking, biking, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, scenic driving, waterfalls, wildlife viewing

Park Entrance Fee: None, but there are fees if you wish to camp.

Where to Stay: Great Smokies Inn, Panther Creek Cabins, Fairfield Inn

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (865) 436-1200

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

A staute of a man on a horse. Guilford Courthouse is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

NPS Photo

The largest battle in the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War was fought here in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse took place on March 15, 1781.

Begin your visit at the visitor center and watch the park film, one of the best in the country. Next, walk the battlefield grounds, drive the Battlefield Tour Road, check out the Hoskins Farm, and view the 28 monuments on-site dedicated to the soldiers who fought here.

How to Get There: Greensboro is a large city in North Carolina with good public transportation and an international airport. I-840 and I-73 are very close to the park.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Biking, hiking, museum, scenic drives

Park Entrance Fee: None

Where to Stay: Battleground Inn, Proximity Hotel, O’Henry Hotel

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (336) 288-1776

Moores Creek National Battlefield

Men fire a canon in a battle reenactment. Moore Creek is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

NPS/Nate Toering

Moores Creek is another one of the national parks in North Carolina that focuses on military history.

Moores Creek was the site of another important battle during the American Revolution. Here, the Scottish Highlanders charged for the last time and the American Patriots achieved their first significant victory on their road to freedom.

Walk the history trail, stop in the visitor center, and visit during a living history event to get the most out of your visit.

How to Get There: The park is accessed by NC-210, about 20 miles northwest of Wilmington.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Birding, fishing, living history, picknicking

Park Entrance Fee: None

Where to Stay: The closest lodging is available in nearby Wilmington, North Carolina. I recommend The Hive, Embassy Suites, and Dreamers Welcome.

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (910) 283-5591 x2234

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Stone markers along a paved path. Wright Brothers National Memorial is one of the national parks in North Carolina.

NPS Photo

In addition to Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is one of the most famous national parks in North Carolina.

It was here in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina that Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first successful airplanes on December 17, 1903. They chose Kitty Hawk because of it’s flat, plain location (there were hardly any trees or buildings at the time).

There are many monuments and memorials to their achievement here today, but the most significant is pictured above. Follow this path and you’ll follow the first flight lines in history. On the stones marking the path are details of what took place there all those years ago.

How to Get There: Wright Brothers National Monument is on US-158 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Map: download here

Things to Do: Memorials, museum, visitor center, walking

Park Entrance Fee: $10 per person, valid for 7 days.

Where to Stay: Outer Banks Inn, Shutters on the Banks, Sea Ranch Resort

Official Website: click here

Speak to a Park Ranger: Call (252) 473-2111

Pin National Parks in North Carolina

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