Where to Go Camping in North Carolina

Waterfront camping | © -ted/Flickr
Waterfront camping | © -ted/Flickr
Photo of Lynn Houghton
27 July 2021

The romance of North Carolina is undeniable; wild horses roam around the Outer Banks islands, which stretch along the state’s Atlantic Coast, while the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the west. There are plenty of dark skies, free from light pollution at night, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Cherokee into Virginia is spectacular. Here’s our pick of the best camping spots in North Carolina.

Green Mountain

Natural Feature
Map View

This spectacular landscape is accentuated by the gently flowing Toe River which has trout fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other water activities. There are rolling meadows, endless woods and long-range views of the mountains meaning that biking, hiking and horse riding are well catered for. Green Mountain is known for its mild, temperate climate with more than 200 days of sunshine a year. It’s chilly in winter but who cares about that when you can gather round a roaring campground fire?

Panther Tent

Camping
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Statue of Captain Otway Burns in the town square of tiny Burnsville, North Carolina. Burnsville is the start of the Quilt Trail which honors handmade quilt designs of the rural Appalachian region.
© Richard Ellis / Alamy Stock Photo
Overhanging the banks of the North Toe River is a campground with six luxury tents on platforms above the water, nestled among the Great Smoky Mountains. Awaken to peaceful surroundings and then step up the pace with some swimming, fishing or boating. There are also mountain bike routes and miles of hiking trails. Lights are solar powered and on-site shared facilities include restrooms, hot showers, kayaks and a fire pit. You can park up right alongside your tent and it’s a short drive to downtown Burnsville, which has plenty of shops and restaurants.

Buckhorn

Architectural Landmark
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Kayaking on Buckhorn Reservoir
© PJF Military Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
Famous for its tranquil lake and reservoir, picturesque Buckhorn has many amenities tied in with water activities including fishing, swimming and boating. Also around the lake are barbecues, biking, horse-riding trails, duck hunting as well as hiking. The proximity to towns and major cities such as Chapel Hill makes this a well-loved and popular destination.

The Retreat at Seven Mile Creek

Camping
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Wake to the sound of birdsong and trickling water when staying at this superb nature retreat. Only 20 minutes from Durham and Chapel Hill, it is also close to Hillsborough, which is well known for its farmers’ markets. This wilderness area provides an opportunity to see white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, barred owls, red-shouldered hawks and more. Have a dip in the creek before hitting the hiking trails and in the evening enjoy a bonfire or relax under star-filled skies.

Lillington

Architectural Landmark
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With shopping and a selection of restaurants, Lillington is a substantial rural town crossed on its northern end by the impressive Cape Fear River. This is the place for paddle-board yoga, river tubing, whitewater kayaking, canoeing and overnight trips (activities depend on river levels). Nearby is the Lost Paddle Tavern which offers 16 local brews as well as excellent live music. There is also an exceptional one-mile botanical trail which circles the town’s community centre.

Meadow Escape at CATHIS Farm

Camping
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CATHIS Farm
Courtesy of Meadow Escape at CATHIS Farm / Expedia
For quiet and relaxation, camping near a gorgeous pond surrounded by beautiful meadows is a perfect choice. Start your morning with breakfast and coffee made on your own campfire and end the day grilling up s’mores. After kayaking or canoeing on any one of the nearby lakes or on the Cape Fear River, stop at a farmer’s market or nose around flea markets in nearby Mamers. For baseball fans, the Fayetteville minor league team plays most nights during summer and is only a half-hour’s drive away.

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  • Union Mills

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    Chimney Rock with American flag flying at Chimney Rock State Park in the foothills of Hickory Nut Gorge North Carolina
    © Michele Oenbrink / Alamy Stock Photo
    Many farmers and ranchers make their home here in the Blue Ridge Mountains so there are riding stables aplenty and a plethora of farmers’ markets. Try out your dredging, sluicing and panning skills at the Thermal City Gold Mine and swing by the General Store at Cherry Mountain Farm, just out of town. For those seeking adventure, look no further than nearby Chimney Rock State Park, which has panoramic views from Chimney Rock and fantastic hiking paths such as the Hickory Oak Falls Trail.

    Happy Tails Campsite

    Camping
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    Courtesy of Happy Tails Campsite / Expedia
    A highlight of this campsite, located in the foothills of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, is its proximity to the Happy Tails Animal Sanctuary, which rescues all manner of creatures including porcupines, pigs, horses and lynx. Campers will also be near the Chimney Rock/Lake Lure area; activities are numerous and include water sports, horse riding, zip lining and golf. Asheville, with its great restaurants, breweries and amazing coffee culture is less than an hour away.

    Barnardsville

    Architectural Landmark
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    Sliding Rock Falls on Looking Glass Creek in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, USA in the autumn season.
    © Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
    In the long shadow of Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in North Carolina, and part of metropolitan Asheville, is Barnardsville. This lovely mountain town offers basic services to travellers and residents alike, with many visiting the Big Ivy Community Center for its events and sports facilities, including a pool. Seek out Navitat Canopy Adventures which takes zip lining to a new level. At nearby Pigsah National Forest, you can jump in and experience the Sliding Rock waterfall on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.

    Crow Creek Wetlands

    Camping
    Map View

    Primitive camping is an enchanting, back-to-nature experience and, for those who enjoy roughing it, this is just the spot. Set on the Ivy River, which is where the fire pit is located, this bare-bones experience among beautiful meadows will leave you on a natural high. The camp keepers here provide tents on request and this location is only a few miles from enigmatic Asheville, plus the extensive and beautiful Pisgah National Forest with its many attractions.

    This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Shawndra Russell.

    These recommendations were updated on July 27, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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