Best National Parks in North Carolina Guide
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
- Moores Creek National Battlefield
- Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
- Wright Brothers National Memorial
- Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the USA’s most visited parks, drawing around 15 million people annually. It’s the place to be if you’re seeking North Carolina national parks for camping.
Check out the Cades Cove Visitor Center, the Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, and the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
There are also magnificent Smoky Mountains waterfalls in and around the park. With so many things to see and do here, is it any wonder people like us return to visit the Smoky Mountains time after time?
2. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
If you’re looking for National Parks near Charlotte NC, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is likely the closest, at just over 3 hours away.
Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and hundreds of volunteers.
North Carolina is home to 95.7 miles of the AT, but another 224.7 miles of the trail run along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Appalachian Trail in North Carolina boasts the highest point on the entire route, with Clingmans Dome towering at a whopping 6,643 feet in elevation.
It takes 6 to 7 days of hiking to complete the NC portion of the Appalachian Trail, passing through Bly’s Gap as you cross into NC and right through the tiny town of Hot Springs.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things To Do in Hot Springs NC
3. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is distinct from the country’s many other National Parks.
It encompasses 469 miles of scenic road that takes visitors through some of the most jaw-dropping vistas in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This unique North Carolina National Park runs through Virginia as well, stretching from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In our experience, there are a vast number of remarkable, unmissable stops on the North Carolina portion of the Parkway, including 132 scenic overlooks.
North Carolina Historic Sites & Battlefields
4. Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
If you’re a fan of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writer, and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, then a trip to his home site in Flat Rock (near Hendersonville NC) is a must!
While the home gave Mr. Sandburg the peace and tranquility he needed for his craft, Mrs. Sandburg used the rest of the 30 acres to raise goats.
5. Moores Creek National Battlefield
On February 27, 1776, nearly 1,000 NC patriots were lying in wait to fire at the charging (and soon-to-be surprised) band of King George loyalists.
After losing a few men, the Loyalists surrendered, which led to the end of British rule in the colony and inspired the vote for independence.
Guests can head to the historic site’s Visitor Center to view a video and see exhibits depicting the battle. A number of the original weapons used in the battle remain on display.
While you’re there, don’t miss a chance to visit the Patriot Monument. It commemorates the only patriot soldier killed in the battle, Pvt. John Grady.
6. Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
When visiting this NC National Park, you’ll find yourself on the grounds of another very important Revolutionary War battlefield.
The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought on March 15, 1781. This 2.5-hour battle between General Greene and Lord Cornwallis’ troops changed the course of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution.
Even if you’re not a history buff, this park provides an abundance of beautiful nature for you to enjoy, with free self-guided walking and driving tours.
Start at the Visitor Center, where you can speak to park rangers who can give you the lowdown on the battlefield, as well as other attractions in the park.
Informative exhibits at the Visitor Center include original artifacts from the important battle.
7. Wright Brothers National Memorial
Fans of Orville and Wilbur Wright, aviation, and/or magnificent feats in human history should visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in the Outer Banks.
This NC National Park is located in Kill Devil Hills, but it was once (famously) known as Kitty Hawk.
There’s a 60-foot granite monument that commemorates the moment when the Wright Brothers successfully achieved the world’s first controlled flight on December 17, 1903.
The Kitty Hawk National Park offers tours, with markers pinpointing successful launching and landing points during their attempts. It also has a Visitor Center with several museums celebrating a century of flight.
This park offers a great blend of history, museums, and a beautiful beach-adjacent site that appeals to just about anyone. You can even go hang gliding on the famous dunes!
READ MORE: 10 Great Train Rides in North Carolina
8. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Located in Manteo NC, the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is packed with history and legends.
Managed by the National Park Service, this historic site was home to the mysterious Lost Colony of Roanoke which disappeared 400 years ago much to the bewilderment of current historians and archaeologists.
There’s an extensive Visitor Center packed with ancient artifacts that were excavated nearby, plus mounds marked as the “resting place” of the fort that stood in the 1580s.
Visitors can also watch the Lost Colony theatrical production outdoors at Waterside Park, or wander around the Queen’s Rose Garden to get a feel for Elizabethan gardens.
They also have impressive exhibitions on the Algonquian people, early English settlers, the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony, and the Civil War Battle of Roanoke Island.
There is also a video to watch about the relationship between the English settlersand the Algonquian people.
North Carolina National Seashore Parks
9. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
If you visit Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you’ll witness one of the largest preserved parcels of land in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
This National Seashore stretches some 70 miles, and encompasses several villages along the way.
Visitors can enjoy coastal cruises along this North Carolina National Seashore. Birding, fishing, and surfing are also popular activities here, as are taking long walks on the beach and scenic drives.
Over a million people visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore each year, yet in our experience you often feel as though you have the beach all to yourself.
While exploring the sands, take a moment to think about the nation’s indigenous people, who lived here long before the European settlers came and ultimately forced them out.
READ MORE: The 20 Best NC Swimming Holes for Summer
10. Cape Lookout National Seashore
From birding and camping to climbing lighthouses, fishing, and wandering around historic villages, there’s something for everyone on the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore.
One of several fantastic national parks in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Cape Lookout boasts 56 miles of beautiful coastline that is only accessible by passenger ferry or personal boat.
Established in 1966, the park was designated a North Carolina Natural Heritage Site 20 years later. Today, guests can find rustic campgrounds and an informative Visitor Center.
Note that if you do choose to visit, you’ll need to take all the essentials you might need with you, as there are no shops or commercial facilities here.
But if “roughing it” isn’t an issue for you, be ready to experience nature’s beauty at its most pristine! -by Emma Gallagher, featured image of Newfound Gap by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett