If you are someone who believes that insect-eating plants are interesting (and not creepy), then you should definitely put Green Swamp on your list. Home to over 21 species of native orchids, 14 kinds of insectivorous plants species and more than a dozen rare animals, the Green Swamp Preserve features a large longleaf forest that is maintained by controlled burning.
There is scope for activity too – from the 1.5 mile out-and-back flat trail that will take visitors through various savannas, to board walking through thick shrubs. Visitors are welcome in the Green Swamp every day, all year round.
Address: The Nature Conservancy, Southeast Coastal Plain Office, 2807 Market Street, Wilmington, NC 28403
Phone: (910) 395-5000
Yes, it is a reserve, focused on preserving something. In this case: preserving the longleaf pine forest along with the animals and plants which thrive on it. But it also offers a chance for visitors to unwind either by doing an activity or by enjoying the sheer beauty of nature.
Spread over an area of 900 acres, Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve offers a unique combination of offering activities while working for a specific cause. The preserve has a guided tour system in place, and offers a network of short and easy trails that make for enjoyable and invigorating hikes. It also has a visitor center that offers museum-like exhibits which showcase, among many different things related to nature, the longleaf forest and its history, as well as the flora and fauna that forms a part of its ecosystem.
The forest itself is a spectacle with trees old and new, large expanses of wiregrass, and rare-to-find plant and animal species, and makes for a great place to go bird-watching or observing wildlife. If you want to spend a quiet, enjoyable, challenge-free time, this is the place to be.
Address: 1024 Ft. Bragg Road, Southern Pines, NC 28387
If there is one thing you will never find at Morrow Mountains State Park, its boredom. A place that is abundant in terms of opportunities of recreation, Morrow Mountains State Park offers a wide range of things to do, from going on any of the numerous adventures to sitting back and taking the spectacular view from the highest point on the piedmont.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to pursue here, from camping, swimming, paddling and fishing, to hiking, horseback riding, mountain climbing and biking, and many others. The place has over 15 miles of trails for hiking, the Lake Tillery, which is used for all water-related activities, as well as the Pee Dee River. Boat, canoe and rowboat rentals are available, and so are RVs which are equipped with bathhouses. The campground has over a hundred sites for RVs, trailers and tents. The park even features a museum and offer summer-long interpretive programs.
Address: 49104 Morrow Mountain Road, Albemarle, NC 28001
Besides featuring Lake Norman, the state’s largest man-made lake, Lake Norman State Park has a lot to offer to its visitors. From 30.5 miles of single-track trails that make one of the region’s popular mountain biking areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds for individuals as well as groups, to free interpretive programs offered by park rangers and educational exhibits in the visitor center, Lake Norman State Park surely has no dearth of activities to go for.
And then of course there is Lake Norman, a 34-mile main channel that covers an area of 32,510 acres. The Lake itself offers more activities than one can count, from boating and fishing (which are the major activities), to a 125-yard-wide swimming beach that lies at the lake’s south end. The place is complete with a bathhouse complex and a boat ramp from where boats can be rented.
Address: 759 State Park Road, Troutman, NC 28166
A fantastic place for climbing or hiking, or simply sitting back and enjoying being in the midst of nature, Crowders Mountain State Park is located 32 miles west of Charlotte. It takes an average of 40 minutes to get there. Containing a wide variety of terrains – from flat valleys to towering cliffs, Crowders Mountain State Park has a lot to offer to its visitors, no matter what their age, experience or fitness level.
Crowders Mountain State Park has companion peaks, i.e. The Pinnacle and Crowders Mountains, which together offer towering 150-foot cliffs, 25-mile-wide magnificent views, and a rugged terrain that offers challenging hikes and climbs. In fact, the rock-climbing activities bring in people from several different counties and even from other states. The State Park offers 11 different trails, which range from pastoral to very strenuous, and run for miles altogether, as well as a Backcountry camping feature complete with individual sites and rent-able cabins. Boats and canoes are available for rent too, and one can take them on the 9-acre lake either to fish or to canoe.
There are other opportunities too: One can visit the visitor center, which hosts museum-style exhibits and ongoing interactive programs. And if you visit in the summer, you’ll be greeted by the welcome station and get the opportunity to be a part of the rangers’ interpretive programs.
Address: 522 Park Office Lane, Kings Mountain, NC 28086
If you’re looking for a place that offers the outdoors and has a historical edge to it, then this is just the place for you. One of the most popular parks of North Carolina, Fort Macon State Park is named after Fort Macon – a five-sided fort was originally built in the 1826-1834 period for the purpose of guarding the Beaufort Harbor’s entrance.
The state park, in addition to showcasing some of the best military architecture of the 19th century, also offers sandy beaches, trails and scenic views.
History buffs will definitely not be disappointed here – Civil War reenactments are held during the summer, while guided tours are held throughout the year. There are also several extensive exhibits – both indoors and outdoors, as well as a museum-grade coastal education center.
Outdoor enthusiasts will not be disappointed either – the park offers several outdoor activities such as picnicking, biking, hiking, and fishing. Visitors – especially children – should definitely check out the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
Address: 2303 East Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach, NC 28512 252-726-3775
If you like something that’s grand yet outdoorsy, you must definitely head to Stone Mountain State Park. Located in the northwestern part of North Carolina, the park lies in the bordering areas of the Wilkes and Alleghany counties. Declared a National Natural Landmark in 1975, Stone Mountain gets its name from a 600-foot magnificent gray-white colored granite dome, which is home to several activities such as picnicking, climbing, hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding, among others.
There are over 18 miles of trails, and over 20 miles of waters dominated by the trout. There is also a campsite with over 90 different sites, backpacking facilities and utility hookups. Another major attraction of the place is Hutchinson Homestead, a mountain farm from the mid-19th century that has been restored and made available for visiting.
Address: 042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap, NC 28668
Phone: 336-957-8185, 1-877-722-6762 (for reservations)
One of the largest and most scenic lakes in the Southeast, Kerr Lake is spread over an area of 50,000 acres with over 850 miles of shoreline. The park, which offers a wide variety of activities, features a large variety of terrain, from picnic areas, to beautiful shores to picturesque coves, among much more. There are numerous campsites, beaches for swimming, the lake Kerr, and two private marinas.
There are activities for both land and water lovers, as well as for the history buffs. Water-lovers can go Fishing, water-skiing, boating, sailing, and swimming, while land-lovers can camp, hike, bike, bird-watch and picnic. Those in love with adventure sports can go wind surfing as well.
The state park offers a classic and antique car show every October. So if you’re a fan of cars, you definitely should not miss it!
Address: 6254 Satterwhite Point Road, Henderson, NC 27537
Popularly called the ‘Central Park of Charlotte,’ Freedom Park is located in the Dilworth/Myers Park/ right in the midst of high-class residential architecture. Spread over 98 acres, Freedom Park is filled with a wide variety of plant life, which makes it ideal for a walk or rest in the sun on a hot summer day.
The park offers activities too, from several paved trails which originate from the 7 acre lake located in the center of the park, which is very popular with cyclists and joggers, to playgrounds, baseball grounds, tennis courts and even a bandshell for open-air concerts. The park, which connects to the Little Sugar Greenway is both dog and child (or family) friendly.
Address: 1900 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC
Phone: (704) 432-4280
Known for offering some of the most scenic views of the mountains, Chimney Rock is located 95 miles from Charlotte. The park gets its name from a 300-feet high spire, which is present on the park’s southern side. There is a small stairway to the summit of the spire, which was built in 1885. There was an elevator to the summit, which is currently closed down for repairs.
In addition to scenic views, Chimney Rock several trails for hiking and mountain biking, and the Rocky Broad River, which is a major attraction for catching trout. Don’t forget your fishing license, though, since that’s a requirement here. One can access the fishing waters from the front gate of the park. The Rumbling Bald Mountain has a facility for rock climbing, though it is not available to beginners and cannot be availed without a permit and registration.
Unlike other parks, Chimney Rock has several other attractions besides its outdoor ones. There are two gift shops and a restaurant, as well as grills and picnic tables which are located at various spots. The gift shops, which are located on the bottom and top of the elevator, offer various souvenirs, books, clothing and decorative items, among others. The Old Rock Cafe, which is the resident restaurant offers several traditional and contemporary dishes to visitors, and even has a patio dining feature.
Address: 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Located on the eastern side of the campus of the University of North Carolina, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, which is truly a spectacle to look at, is open to both students and the general people. Originally opened in 1966 as a method to educate biology students, the Botanical Gardens were later opened to the public and relocated to the Van Landingham Glen, McMillan Greenhouse, and the Susie Harwood Garden, each of which specialize in a specific plant life.
Featuring over 1,000 species of exotic succulents, orchids, and carnivores, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens are famous for being the home to the famous Titun Arum, which attraction a wide degree of attention when it bloomed back in 2007. Additionally, it houses several native Carolinas’ species.
The Gardens hold exhibits and also provide guided tours on request. And yes, admission to the place is absolutely free!
Address: 9090 Craver Rd, Charlotte, NC
Phone: (704) 687-2364
If you’re an out-and-out outdoor person, and loves nothing less than trying new things, this place is truly ideal for your getaway. The over a hundred feet Jockey’s Ridge, aside from being a very popular park, is also the tallest sand dune on the East Coast, and offers a wide variety of activities that only few other can parallel.
A very popular location for sightseeing and kite-flying, Jockey’s Ridge offers a spectacular view of that arches between the ocean and the Roanoke Sound. It has a state-of-the-art visitor center that houses a museum, along with a 360-foot boardwalk that regularly features exhibits on the ecology of the dune and acts as a gradual entry to the gigantic dune field.
Apart from sightseeing and kite-flying, one can go sand-boarding (albeit with a permit) and hang-gliding (via vendors only). One can also go to the park’s soundside and do activities such as wading, sunbathing, and paddling, or going on the one-mile nature trail which leads to grassy dunes, maritime thickets and wetlands. Other aerial activities, such as wind-surfing are also available. And if you’re a flying enthusiast, you can even visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial located nearby and see the exact site where brothers Orville and Wilbur’s made their iconic first flight. Although there is no way for staying overnight here, the day’s trip will more than make up for the deficit.
Address: 300 W. Carolista Drive, Nags Head, NC 27959
Located on Charlotte’s northern outskirts, the Latta Plantation Nature Center, which is located near the Catawba River, is a one of a kind natural reserve that is historic as well as beautiful and breathtaking. Originally owned by James Latta, an Irish immigrant who ran a cotton plantation on huge land in the 1800s, Latta today acts as a county-owned plantation that is a home to several endangered species.
Latta Plantation Nature Canter basically works as a historical museum and in addition to endangered livestock, features many things for visitors such as honeybee exhibits and cotton-picking demonstrations, among others. Also present is the Latta Nature Center, which offers several outdoor activities such as water activities, hiking trails and equestrian and guided tours.
Address: 6211 Sample Rd, Huntersville, NC
Phone: (704) 875-1391
One of the largest state parks in North Carolina, Lake James is spread over an area of 6,800 acres and has an impressive 150 miles of shoreline. The park is about 95 miles away from Charlotte, and is well-known for the various unique features that has.
In addition to the lake itself, Lake James State Park has over 25 miles of hiking trails, and 15 miles of biking trails, and offers some of the most breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains. It also offers stunning waterfront campsites and remote camping spots where you can only go by paddling – a feature that is unique to the park. Apart from three large picnic grounds, there over twenty walk-in campsites, which offer stunning views of the lake. One should definitely visit the Paddy’s Creek area, which should be seen to be believed.
With such a large area and so many features, there is something for every taste at Lake James. Those looking for peace and quiet can take advantage of the large and quite seaside or take a walk on the shore or near the nearby forests, while those who would love to go for a splash in the water can go for a number of activities such as fishing, boating and water skiing. One can also go kayaking or canoes using the rentals that are available at various times during the year. And then of course, there’s the hiking and biking.
Address: 7321 NC Hwy 126, Nebo, NC 28761
One of the most rugged state parks in the state, South Mountains State Park is the ideal place to go if you’re looking for some adventure as you escape the busy-bee city life. Located 65 miles from Charlotte, South Mountains State Park features a wide variety of terrains and features, from an 80 foot waterfall to 3,000 feet-high elevations and over 40 miles of hiking and biking trails.
There is no dearth of activities here for sure. Besides the hiking and biking trails, there is a separate 17-mile-long mountain biking loop. It is, however, not recommended for beginners and amateurs. For those who simply wish to camp, there are over twenty different backpacking campsites at six different locations, as well as several drive-to campsites near the Jacob Fork River. While the park has no lake, the river’s tributaries have enough room to go fishing, albeit with a license. The park also has a museum-like visitor center which shows beautiful as well as informative exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the state park.
Address: 3001 South Mountain Park Avenue, Connelly Springs, NC 28612