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Best NC State Parks to Visit in Spring

Spring brings flowers, views, and great camping. This is when I start moving from the coastal parks to the Piedmont and Mountains.

NC is my home and I love our State Parks. I guide hikers looking for everything from the best views to a crazy adventure and listed out my top picks for NC State Parks in the Spring.

View of mountains covered in green trees in the distance from an overlook. There is a wooden fence structure used to tie horses while the riders rest.

Tips for Spring Hiking in NC

While the weather hovers anywhere from 65 to 75 degrees, we can get a few hot days and cold nights. The relative humidity is also going to pick up. Do not underestimate the effect of the humidity. It’s soul sucking.

Make sure you have plenty of water and bring some food like a sandwich or energy bar.

It’s tricky figuring out what to wear hiking in the shoulder seasons. Always check the weather before you go and pack an extra layer. Even if it feels warm, if you become drenched in sweat, more insulation can keep you warm during breaks.  

Several of our state parks become muddy after a good rain, especially if you’re walking along streams or lakes. Wear shoes with good tread and that offer support.

In the mountains, the views of mountains in the distance will start to haze. During fall and winter the cold winter air pushes the haze out and, with the leaves no longer on the trees, you get spectacular views. Come springtime, the warm, moist air creates a haze and the trees and bushes are in full bloom, often blocking views.

It’s a different type of pretty in spring with green grass, flowers in bloom, and warm breezes.

Lastly, secure your keys and phone. I know this sounds weird, but I’ve found car keys and phones on the trail. Many people don’t use a pack and, without a coat providing pockets, folks get a little creative with storage.

Keys and phones have a habit of popping out of pockets and detaching from belts. Don’t believe me? Ask the Rangers. They have stories.

Top NC Parks to Visit in the Spring

We’ve all got our favorites and I’m not saying any of the other NC State Parks aren’t awesome in the spring. These are just some of my personal favorites. As long as you’re getting out there, exploring, and enjoying the fresh air, you can’t go wrong.

Our State Parks offer tons of activities from picnic areas to rock climbing to kayaking to swimming to hiking and more. There’s plenty to discover.

Waterfall in a grotto. There is a brown, rocky wall on the left and the waterfall falls into a brown pool at the bottom.

Hanging Rock State Park

I love Hanging Rock State Park. It’s about two hours from Raleigh and Durham, perfect for a great day hike. You can also grab one of the campsites at the family campground and enjoy a weekend getaway.

They have easy trails to waterfalls, a moderate trail to the Hanging Rock overlook, or a crazy 11-mile round trip 5 peaks challenge. Basically, there are hikes for everyone from easy family-friendly adventures to training for a big adventure.

With a little driving, you can see all 5 waterfalls at the park. Two are at separate entrances and too far to hike.  Three are near the main Visitor Center. 

There’s also a lake with a sand beach. It opens for swimming in the summer, but you’ll see people fishing around the edges year-round.

It’s the perfect way to get the feel of being in the mountains without the drive.

Stone Mountain State Park

You can’t miss the 600-foot dome popping out of the earth at Stone Mountain State Park, it’s a National Natural Landmark and well-known in North Carolina.

When it comes to hiking, the park doesn’t disappoint. Part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail which goes from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains all the way to Jockey’s Ridge State Park at the beach cuts through Stone Mountain.

Enjoy the Stone Mountain Loop Trail around the mountain, visit Stone Mountain Falls, or head to Wolf and Cedar rock overlooks.

If you do head to Stone Mountain Falls, make sure you have shoes with good tread. There’s a section on the way down that’s sheer rock and it’s slippery. Take your time and hug the rail if you need to.

Parking can get tight, but you can avoid this by grabbing one of their 90 campsites. Want a little privacy? Try one of the backcountry sites.

With plenty of green grass, flowers, and gushing water, this is a favorite among locals.

Wooden bridge over creek at South Mountains State Park.

South Mountains State Park

Since I wrote a ton of articles on South Mountains State Park, I think you probably already know how much I enjoy hanging out there.

It’s about 3 hours from Raleigh and Durham. A bit far for a day hike, but since the park has 9 campgrounds, there are plenty of options to stay the night. You can choose from primitive backpacking sites, the family campground, or the equestrian campground.

There are plenty of trails, but the favorite in the park is the High Shoals Loop past the 80-foot High Shoals waterfall. The good news is that once you climb to the top, it’s flat and downhill from there.

If you’re looking for an easy stroll, try the River Trail and continue onto the Hemlock Nature Trail. Both trails hug the Jacob Fork River offering opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery.

For a good workout, try creating a loop with Possum Trail and Chestnut Knob. You’ll need to be in good shape to pull this one off, but the views are amazing.  Possum Trail is one of my favorites.

The best moderate hike is the Hidden Cove Trail.  It’s easy to miss. Look for the parking lot on your left before the equestrian campground.

One note about the park, if it’s raining hard, the trails along the rim flood. This includes the Upper Falls Trail. While they clear fast, if you’re up there when the rain hits, it’ll be an adventure.

Crowders Mountain State Park

Before I get a bunch of hate mail, I will caveat this with the fact that locals have nicknamed Crowders Mountain State Park “Crowded Mountain.” This is one of the most crowded parks in North Carolina. But the reason is that it’s also amazing.

It’s a good workout, and you can get away from the crowds, but you’ll need to hike Crowder’s Trail to Pinnacle Trail, to Ridgeline Trail.  Once you’re on Ridgeline, there will be fewer people.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can hike all the way to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina.  This is 28 miles round trip, so plan for it to be a backpacking trip. For a day hike, just go as far as you feel is comfortable for your pace.

Don’t forget to check when the park closes (it changes depending on the month) and give yourself enough time to get back.

Crowders Mountain is odd and beautiful. It’s a monadnock, which is a remnant created by erosion. Basically, it’s just this rocky mountain in the middle of nowhere. This is why it offers amazing views. You’re standing on top of the tallest piece of land for miles. It’s truly amazing.

Jordan Lake State Park

Jordan Lake State Park is perfect for anyone living in Raleigh, or nearby, and spring is one of the best times to visit.

If you wait until summer, the park will be crowded with boaters, campers, people fishing, and everything else people do on a local lake.

In the spring, school is still in session, and you get perfect weather, a beautiful lake, and not too many people. The added benefit is that the park is a sprawling area around the entire lake with trails everywhere. This tends to spread out the crowds.

You can hike portions of the Mountains-to-Seat trail, pick up a section in deep woods, hike to an old, abandoned road, or just enjoy the lake.

The lake is man-made reservoir created by flooding a town. It was created by flooding a town. Underneath the water are remnants of buildings and old roads. When the water recedes, you can sometimes see what’s left of the roads.

With so many trailheads, there’s plenty of parking. It’s a great way to get away from it all and still make it home for dinner.  

Wooden pedestrian suspension bridge spanning across a small river. It ends in an area filled with green trees.

Eno River State Park

Another local favorite is Eno River State Park. Spring brings flowers and higher water levels as you hike along the river.

There’s nothing better than walking across the suspension bridge leading to Cox Mountain Trail as it takes you over the river and into lush, green woods.

If you’d like a more solitary hike, try parking at the Pleasant Green access and hike Laurel Bluffs Trail to the Rock Quarry and back.

I also enjoy the Old Cole Mill access with Bobbitt Hole and Cole Mill Trails. The two trails over an easy hike and it’s usually not as crowded as the main entrance.

Another favorite is connecting Buckquarter Creek and Holden Mill Trails for a 4 mile loop. You can make it a little longer by going down the spur on Holden Mill that takes you past the old mill.

Walking along a river is one of the most relaxing things I can think of. And since it’s in Durham, it’s close to Raleigh, Chapel Hill and nearby areas.

A short waterfall coming over a large, flat rock into a pool. It is surrounded by green trees.

Gorges State Park

Spring brings rain and that means gushing waterfalls. Nowhere is this more evident than Gorges State Park. From the Grassy Ridge park entrance, you can enjoy the Rainbow Falls Trail which will take you past three waterfalls.

You can also enjoy the Bearwallow Valley Trail which has little kiosks that tell a story as you go. Plus there are plenty of picnic areas to enjoy lunch.

On top of that is one of the best Visitor Centers around. There are activities, tons of information, a back porch with rocking chairs, and a sitting area where you can rest.

The park also offers a wonderful family campground with RV sites, and tent sites. They also have primitive cabins with bunks and electricity. The cabins also happen to be located right across from the bathhouse.

For an extra adventure, you can drive down the road to visit Whitewater Falls, the tallest waterfall in North Carolina. Want extra hiking? Drive the other way to Panthertown and step behind the famous Schoolhouse Falls.

Nearby Brevard also offers options for eating and plenty of Airbnbs and VRBOs if you prefer something other than a tent.

Wrap Up: Best NC Parks to Visit in Spring

These are some of my favorite North Carolina State Parks to visit in the spring. Honestly, you can’t go wrong at any of our parks this time of year. Even the coastal parks aren’t too warm or buggy yet.

From flowers in full bloom, to lush green trees, to gushing waterfalls, to flowing rivers, our State Parks are the perfect weekend getaways in spring.

Longer days make for better hiking and great camping. Come check them out.

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