Discover North Carolina’s National Parks: A Comprehensive Guide
North Carolina, nestled between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains, offers a diverse range of national parks to travelers seeking natural beauty, history, and adventure. From the renowned Appalachian Trail to the birthplace of aviation, this state is home to some of the most cherished and visited sites in the United States. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the wonders that North Carolina’s national parks have to offer and provide you with all the relevant information to plan your next trip.
Table of Contents
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
- Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
- Moores Creek National Battlefield
- Wright Brothers National Memorial
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a world-famous, 2,190-mile-long footpath that traverses through 14 states, including North Carolina. Established in 1921, the trail was built by private citizens and completed in 1937. Today, it is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, state agencies, and thousands of dedicated volunteers.
North Carolina’s Stretch of the Trail
In North Carolina, 95.7 miles of the Appalachian Trail winds through the state’s picturesque landscapes, with elevations ranging from 1,725 to 5,498 feet. The trail runs along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina for 224.7 miles, offering hikers unparalleled views of the region’s natural beauty, including forests, mountains, and meadows.
Planning Your Hike
Before setting out on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, it is essential to plan your hike carefully. If you intend to hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, be sure to obtain an advance permit and make camping reservations. Additionally, consult the Appalachian Trail Guide to North Carolina and Tennessee for detailed information on the trail and its highlights.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that stretches 469 miles through western North Carolina and Virginia. Connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, the parkway offers travelers an unforgettable journey through the eastern Appalachians. With a top speed limit of 45 mph, visitors can fully appreciate the breathtaking views and numerous recreational opportunities along the way.
Highlights and Attractions
The Blue Ridge Parkway is home to a plethora of overlooks, hiking trails, and waterfalls. Some popular stops along the parkway include Crabtree Falls, Linn Cove Viaduct, Craggy Gardens, and the Oconaluftee Visitors Center. The parkway is also dotted with nine campgrounds, which are open seasonally for visitors to enjoy.
Visitor Center and Information
For those planning a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park Service operates a visitor center in Asheville, North Carolina, offering interpretive programs, exhibits, and helpful information on the parkway’s attractions.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
A Pristine Coastal Treasure
Established in 1953 as the first national seashore in the United States, Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches across 70 miles of pristine shoreline on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The seashore protects parts of three barrier islands – Bodie, Hatteras, and portions of Ocracoke.
Activities and Attractions
From swimming and camping to bird-watching and windsurfing, Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers a wide range of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the historic lighthouses along the seashore, including the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which stands at an impressive 208 feet, making it the tallest brick lighthouse in the country.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Remote Coastal Beauty
Cape Lookout National Seashore, located south of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, spans 56 miles of beaches and barrier islands. Accessible only by boat, the seashore offers a more remote and undeveloped coastal experience. The region is home to the striking Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the picturesque Shackleford Banks, where wild ponies roam freely.
How to Get There
To reach Cape Lookout National Seashore, visitors must take a commercial ferry or private boat from nearby coastal towns like Beaufort and Harkers Island. Once there, visitors can enjoy fishing, camping, and exploring the historic lighthouse.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
Celebrating Literary History
Located in Flat Rock, North Carolina, the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site preserves the home and property of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer, Carl Sandburg. Known as Connemara, the site offers guided tours of Sandburg’s home, complete with his extensive library and personal belongings.
In addition to learning about Sandburg’s life and work, visitors can enjoy hiking trails around the property and meet the small herd of dairy goats once owned by Mrs. Sandburg. The National Park Service also offers seasonal interpretive demonstrations, such as milking and cheese-making.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Exploring America’s First English Colony
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, located in Manteo, North Carolina, preserves the site of the first English colony in America, Roanoke. Established by John White and sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587, the colony is known for its mysterious disappearance in 1590, leaving behind only a pole with the word “Croatoan” carved into it.
Visiting the Site
At Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, visitors can walk through the park’s hiking trails, learn about the colony’s history through exhibits, and attend outdoor performances of The Lost Colony, a theatrical production depicting the story of Roanoke.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
America’s Most Visited National Park
Straddling the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only the most visited national park in North Carolina but also in the entire United States. With over 900 miles of hiking trails, historic sites, and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park offers a rich and diverse experience for all visitors.
Highlights and Must-See Spots
Some of the best hiking trails in North Carolina can be found within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Popular spots to explore in the park include Clingmans Dome Observation Tower, Deep Creek Trail (featuring three waterfalls), and Big Creek Trail, which leads to Mouse Creek Falls and more.
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
Commemorating a Pivotal Battle
Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park pays tribute to the Revolutionary War Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Fought on March 15, 1781, the battle saw British General Cornwallis clash with Colonial Army leader Major General Nathanael Greene, ultimately marking the beginning of the end for the Revolution.
Exploring the Battlefield
Visitors to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park can walk, run, drive, or bike around the site’s monument- and tree-lined paths, learning about the battle as they go. This living museum offers a fascinating glimpse into a pivotal moment in American history.
Moores Creek National Battlefield
A Significant Victory for Patriots
Moores Creek National Battlefield, located near Wilmington, North Carolina, commemorates the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Fought on February 27, 1776, this first significant victory for Patriots during the American Revolution discouraged Loyalists throughout the colonies and inspired a more revolutionary spirit.
Experience the Battlefield
Today, visitors can explore the park’s visitor center, which features interpretive exhibits and a park film. Additionally, a 0.7-mile history trail follows part of the road used by Loyalist and Patriot troops during the battle, offering a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of history.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Dawn of Aviation
Located in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the historic first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright on December 17, 1903. The memorial features a 60-foot pylon standing on Big Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers launched their glider, and a visitor center with interpretive exhibits, including a functional reproduction of the 1903 Flyer.
Exploring the Memorial
The Wright Brothers National Memorial offers visitors the chance to learn about the brothers’ journey to achieve flight through exhibits and reconstructions of their living quarters and hangar. Take a moment to appreciate the innovation, determination, and ingenuity that led to the birth of modern aviation.
From the awe-inspiring Appalachian Trail to the birthplace of flight, North Carolina’s national parks offer a diverse array of natural beauty, historical significance, and thrilling adventure. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or simply looking for a scenic getaway, these parks provide unforgettable experiences for visitors of all ages and interests. With this comprehensive guide at your side, you’ll be well-equipped to plan your visit to North Carolina’s national parks and make memories that will last a lifetime. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and prepare to be amazed by the wonders that await you in the Tar Heel State.