North Carolina is a very diverse state with magnificent natural resources from the mountains to the coast. North Carolina’s state parks system is a natural resource-based parks system, which provides recreation that is compatible with the protection of those resources. Therefore, our parks are not highly developed with golf courses, lodges, etc. Though I am sure if you polled our staff you would get a variety of answers to this question, I am sure that most would include these parks:
William B. Umstead State Park
Located entirely within the city limits of Raleigh, William B. Umstead State Park is an oasis of natural woodlands dating to the 1930s. For the most part, it offers an undulating piedmont landscape with wild flowering dogwoods and southern wildflowers. Its location is convenient to other local travel destinations in the state’s capital, such as Duke Forest, the North Carolina Arboretum, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Art Museum.
The park’s 5,579 acres offer 22 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of bridle trails, and several mountain bike trails. Three manmade lakes offer scenery and the opportunity for springtime fishing. The Piedmont Beech Natural Area, a 50-acre tract of towering beech trees deep in the heart of the park, is included in the National Registry of Natural Landmarks. A tent-and-trailer campground opens March 15 and two primitive camps are open year-round for young groups and nonprofit organizations.
Merchants Millpond State Park
More than 3,300 acres of state park surround a 760-acre millpond that dates to 1811. Heat and insects can make exploration of the park a challenge in the summer months, but spring shows the swamp habitat at its best with abundant wildflowers and wildlife.
Fishing, with a valid license, is allowed in the pond and can be very productive in the spring as bass and bluegill spawn. A canoe or kayak is the best way to explore the millpond, which opens onto Lassiter Swamp. It’s a true southern swamp with towering bald cypress and tupelo gum trees graced with Spanish moss. Canoes can be rented at Merchants Millpond State Park, which also offers family campgrounds, backpack camping and canoe-in camping.
Birding is another popular springtime activity, with more than 200 species having been recorded in the park. Spring and fall bring migrations of swamp warblers, most notably throngs of parulas, prothonotaries and yellow-throated warblers. There are more than nine miles of hiking trails, including a handicapped-accessible trail at the pond’s edge. Much longer trails, such as Lassiter and Coleman, afford the visitor an exploration of a range of habitats in the park.
Hammocks Beach State Park
Accessible only by private boat or state parks ferry, it offers one of the most pristine beaches on the Atlantic Coast. A popular nesting site for loggerhead sea turtles.
Stone Mountain State Park
Roaring Gap, NC
A popular site for camping, hiking and trout fishing. Stone Mountain is the home of the recently restored Hutchinson Homestead.
With its rugged terrain and a network of cascading streams, Stone Mountain State Park offers a true mountain experience. Its elevation at roughly 1,000 feet lower than the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains means that spring comes earlier here. Dogwoods, wild azaleas and mountain wildflowers are abundant. About 17 miles of rated trout streams attract anglers year round, but spring can offer a memorable fishing experience. Rainbow and brown trout dominate the lower elevations, while brook trout inhabit the higher, cooler stretches of water. There are special “delayed harvest” and “catch and release” streams as well as accessible fishing piers. There are more than 80 campsites in the park as well as backcountry camping opportunities. The park also offers a restored mountain homestead complete with log cabin and outbuildings. The mountain itself, with a 600-foot-high granite dome outcrop, offers spectacular scenery as well as opportunities for rock climbing.
Morrow Mountain State Park
The only NC state park with a swimming pool, Morrow Mountain offers camping, cabins, hiking, bridle trails, fishing and boat rentals. Also home to the restored Kron House, residence, greenhouse and office of a 19th century physician.
Hanging Rock State Park
A popular destination for climbers, Hanging Rock was constructed by the CCC. the new visitor center offers great views of the Sauratown mountains and a museum. Other facilities include cabins, camping, swimming, fishing, bridle trails and hiking.