North Carolina is an unparalleled haven for nature lovers. This state has an impressive 41 state parks, 10 national parks, and 4 national forests. It’s one of the most diverse landscapes you’ll come across in the United States. North Carolina’s state park system spans from Jockey’s ridge on the east coast to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US. Popular destinations like Chimney Rock State Park and Cherokee National Forest can be found all over the state, with excellent tent camping to be found everywhere.
You could camp along the French Broad River, or check out the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. There are great opportunities to thru-hike a section of the Appalachian Trail and see countless dramatic waterfalls. North Carolina is abound with excellent tent camping opportunities, making the hardest part of your trip choosing where to go first! We’ve collated this list of the best places to camp in North Carolina to narrow down your options to only the best recreational opportunities. From dense salt marshes to cascading waterfalls, tall mountain peaks to coastal barrier islands, read on to discover the location of your next camping adventure!
1. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the United States, measuring 469 miles. This preserved area passes through Virginia to North Carolina traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains, a chain of rocky outcrops that form the NC section of the Appalachian Mountain range. The road begins in North Carolina just between the Cherokee Indian Reservation and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Blue Ridge Parkway continues all the way to Virginia where it becomes the Skyline Drive, a famous attraction in Shenandoah National Park. On either side, the area around the Blue Park Ridgeway is managed by the National Park System and the United States Forest Service. That means every vista around every corner offers stunning views of natural land. The Blue Park Ridgeway is one of North Carolina’s biggest attractions, and you’d be remiss to leave it out of your NC camping experience.
Mount Pisgah Campground is located in the Pisgah region of the Blue Park Ridgeway, which covers the final 139-mile stretch of this iconic road. Located in the heart of the rolling mountains, this Carolina campground is surrounded by hardwood forests. This popular camping spot offers more than 100 sites for tents and RVs, we recommend making a reservation to ensure your campsite. The nearby Frying Pan Trail is a popular draw, which travels 1.6 miles from the campground to Frying Pan Mountain. All camping spots are non-electric, but drinking water is provided.
2. Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock State Park sits on the Sauratown Mountain Range, a separated eastern range often called “the mountains away from the mountains” because of their divide from the Blue Ridge Mountains nearby. This 9000-acre state park has peaks of more than 2500 feet, with the highest point being Moore’s Knob at 786 meters above sea level. You can hike to this point or one of many other interesting attractions using more than 20 miles of trails in this state park.
Hikers, bikers, and equestrians are all welcome in Hanging Rock State Park. In the summer season, boating and swimming are popular activities, while fishing is a big attraction all year round. On Dan River, you can go tubing if angling doesn’t have the thrill you’re after. This stone mountain state park also offers some fantastic rock climbing opportunities. Hanging Rock has some of the best camping in North Carolina for adventurers, with plenty of waterfalls to check out. We also recommend seeing the view over the Piedmont plateau, which stretches out all the way to Virginia.
This North Carolina State Park offers a well equipped but simple campground, with two loops of tent and trailer sites. Drinking water, bathrooms, and hot showers are provided, but only pit toilets are open in winter. If you’re going in a group, Hanging Rock is one of the best places to camp in North Carolina. The primitive group sites offer a fantastic wilderness experience in this scenic state park.
3. Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell is well known for being the highest point east of the Mississippi, its peak stands at 6684 feet. Mount Mitchell is a member of the Black Mountain Range, a part of the larger group of Blue Ridge Mountains. This North Carolina state park is only 35 miles from Asheville, making it the perfect destination for your getaway from the city. There are plenty of fantastic hiking trails in this park, including the popular walk to the summit.
If you can’t make the hike all the way to the top of Mount Mitchell, there’s a road all the way to the top making this peak accessible to everyone. The summit trail is only 10 minutes from the car park but is fairly steep. At the top, a mind-blowing view over the mountains and firs of this state park is enjoyable from the observation deck. The peak of Mount Mitchell is a must-see at this fantastic North Carolina state park.
This pet-friendly state park has no admission fee, meaning you can take in some of the best views in NC for free! There are limited camping options at Mount Mitchell State Park, with spaces for tent campers only. Drinking water is available but the sites are mostly primitive, without any connection to electricity. Flush toilets, fire rings, and a trust bear-proof food storage box are all you need to enjoy a fantastic camping trip to North Carolina’s highest peak.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The border between North Carolina and Tennessee is home to one of the more beautiful sections of the Appalachian Mountain Chain; the Great Smoky Mountains. This mountain range is home to a selection of North America’s highest peaks, including Clingmans Dome which is the second-highest point in North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail passes directly through the center of this national park, so it’s a perfect place to check out a section of this infamous through-hike.
More than 10 million visitors come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park every year, more than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon all combined! Hiking is the most popular activity by far, as on foot you can see many of the park highlights. Check out mountain rivers, countless waterfalls, look out for elk and other wildlife. Great Smoky Mountains is quite clearly some of the best camping in North Carolina.
Smokemont Campground is our recommendation for a night amongst the peaks, located on a quiet forested bridge near the state border. Tent and RV sites are available with flush toilets and potable water provided. This family-friendly campground has plenty of space for picnics or sports games, all against the gorgeous setting of the Smoky Mountain peaks. The scenery in this National Park is part of what attracts millions of nature lovers, you could spend a lifetime just taking in the view.
5. Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest is a certified gold mine of fantastic outdoor opportunities. More than 500 thousand acres of hardwood forests, whitewater rivers, towering peaks, and crashing waterfalls make up this prime adventure destination. This camping spot near Asheville has something to offer for everyone, with jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas around every turn.
One particularly beautiful part of Pisgah National Forest is Linville Gorge, we highly recommend it for backpacking. This deep valley in Pisgah forest cuts 2000 feet into the earth, forming 12 miles of dramatic rock formations and canyons. Linville Gorge is also home to the stunning Linville Falls, a hotspot for every camper to see. There are tent camping spots scattered around this area, you might find a space near the summit of Shortoff Mountain.
Davidson River Campground is our favorite suggestion for a spot of North Carolina tent camping. This campground is on the border of Pisgah National Forest next to Davidson River, where there is plenty of angling (trout fishing is popular) and water-sport opportunities. With easy access to some of the best hiking trails around and a handful of water-adjacent campsites, Davidson River Campground should be at the top of your list.
6. Carolina Beach State Park
If you want to check out a section of North Carolina’s coastline, Carolina Beach State Park is an excellent spot to camp. Although it’s relatively small at only 761 acres, every inch of this state park is packed with fun activities. Carolina Beach is a great option for anyone wanting to do a spot of fishing on their camping trip, as this state park includes a marina and fuel dock. The Fort Fisher State Recreation Area offers even more fishing opportunities nearby.
Amenities in Carolina Beach State Park include a bathhouse, a marina store, and a rental shop for paddleboards, kayaks, and bikes. A range of camping accommodation is offered at this state park, the family campground is located in a wooded area. This part is open to tents and RVs, where 10 out of 80 campsites offer full hookups. Camping cabins are also available, but the best tent camping in this NC state park is found at the secluded sites. More adventurous campers can head out to the more primitive camping spots for a night under the towering hardwoods.
7. Lake James State Park
Lake James is nestled in a valley at the base of Linville Gorge, a stunning part of the Appalachian Mountains. Lake James State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Asheville and holds all the adventure you need on your natural getaway. The landscape is made up of dense forest and wildflower-covered rolling hills, all surrounding 150 miles of shoreline around Lake James. A large sandy beach makes for wonderful relaxation when the weather allows, and 8 hiking trails are newly established around the park.
Boating is understandably popular at this man-made reservoir, there are two boat ramps offering access to all kinds of craft. You can also rent a kayak or canoe from the beach area, ensuring you have plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. There are 20 walk-in campsites along the shoreline of the Catawba River, offering a stunning view over the water when you wake in the morning. A washhouse with hot showers is provided, making Lake James State Park some of the best camping in North Carolina if you want to sleep by the water.
8. Nantahala National Forest
If you want to take in some of the best views and stunning natural vistas in the state of North Carolina, Nantahala National Forest cannot be missed. It’s the largest national forest in NC at more than 500 thousand acres. Nantahala is the name of the deepest gorge in the park, and translates to, “Land of the noonday sun.” In this deep cut valley, the sun can only reach the forest floor at midday due to the huge surrounding mountains.
More than 600 miles of trails draw hikers and mountain bikers to this national forest. Nantahala National Forest is a true adventurer’s destination, with climbing, fishing, hunting, and more. Any nature lover should check out this North Carolina National Forest, it’s one of the best places to camp in the state. Cheoah Point Campground is one of many fantastic options in Nantahala National Forest, with easy access to Lake Santeetlah and many popular hiking trails. The open-wooded campsites are fully equipped to provide everything you need for a pleasant stay.
9. Cape Lookout National Seashore
For a truly unique North Carolina camping experience, visit Cape Lookout National Seashore. This 56-mile stretch of land is managed by the national park service to keep the area as natural and undeveloped as possible. The true draw of this section of NC’s outer banks is a 3-mile boat ride offshore, to three barrier islands. Visitors can spend their whole trip enjoying and exploring the pristine beaches, there are miles upon miles of undeveloped shoreline.
Cape Lookout National Seashore is perfect for fishermen, hikers, and wildlife enthusiasts. As well as birdwatching, you might be able to view wild horses too! There are several historic villages to explore, and a 163-foot lighthouse constructed more than 100 years ago. As this area is entirely non-commercial, only primitive campsites are on offer. There are plenty of choices if you want a secluded, private, and entirely natural place to pitch your tent. With endless seaside campsites to choose from, Cape Lookout is one of the best places to go camping in North Carolina.
10. Lake Powhatan Recreation Area
Only 10 minutes away from the city of Asheville, Lake Powhatan offers all the recreation you need on a break from the busy city streets. The lake itself offers a swimming beach, and the French Broad River offers further fishing opportunities nearby. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also a short distance away, so don’t miss out on this scenic drive if you’re car camping. Bent Creek Experimental Forest is located close by, where mountain biking opportunities are unparalleled.
Lake Powhatan Campground offers wooded tent sites with picnic tables and campfire rings provided. Restrooms and hot showers are also located on-site, but no further amenities are on offer at this natural campground. With easy access to so many of North Carolina’s premier natural areas, Lake Powhatan Recreation Area is an excellent choice for your next tent camping trip.
North Carolina has vast and varied wilderness, with a huge range of camping opportunities on offer. The coastal region of the state has undeveloped barrier islands with miles of pristine coastline, with many excellent options for camping by the sea. Inland, the Appalachian mountains pass directly through this state, bringing with them the Blue Ridge Parkway of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Hikers should check out the highest point in the state at Mount Mitchell State Park, where the peak reaches nearly 7 thousand feet.
North Carolina is also home to the USA’s favorite National Park; Great Smoky Mountains. This huge natural range holds a section of the Appalachian Trail and has many rivers and waterfalls waiting to be explored. Alternatively, Pisgah National Forest has it all with hiking, fishing, and watersports. We particularly like Linville Gorge, a stunning valley in the middle of this National Forest with excellent tent camping options. With so many fantastic choices for your tent camping trip to North Carolina, the hardest decision will be which locations to leave out.
Bonus tip: Check out this amazing mountain biking trail in Pisgah National Forest!