Jones Lake State Park in Elizabethtown, NC is the perfect place for a winter hike, or to cool off in the summer.
When I visited, I enjoyed a quiet winter hike around the lake. But I can see where the swimming area and picnic tables would fill up in the summer. The large parking lot is a giveaway that this park gets crowded in the summer.
The parking lot is next to the Visitor Center, right when you turn into the entrance. There are restrooms accessible from outside. Behind the Visitor Center is a grassy area with a ton of picnic tables, a field for sports, sand volleyball courts, a covered picnic area with a fireplace on either side, a small sandy beach area, and a boat house.
If you head to the right, there’s a wooden swing to sit and enjoy the lake.
I like to find a word to describe each State Park in NC. My word for Jones Lake is “cute”. From easy trails to a picnic area, to a small but clean campground, it has everything you need in a small package.
Facts About Jones Lake State Park
Jones Lake and nearby Salters Lake are Carolina Bays. These are a series of elliptical depressions found in the southeastern US. They’re mysterious because no one knows how they were made.
In 1939, the park opened and was the first state park for African Americans. It was immediately one of the most popular parks.
Jones Lake State Park Entrance
There is one entrance to Jones Lake State Park, off Rte. 242. You’ll find a large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center. Further down the road is the campground.
Things to do at Jones Lake State Park
While swimming and picnicking are big draws in the summer, camping and hiking provide quiet getaways in the off-season.
If you have a NC fishing license, you can hang out at the pier, relax, and catch some fish.
There are three trails. If you hike them all, it’s about 7.5 miles. Because Cedar Loop Trail is a loop and connects with Bay Trail, you to hike the entire loop, you have to hike it 1.5 times.
The trails are easy with no elevation gain. There’s nothing tricky. You can easily hike them in sneakers.
The Family Campground has 20 sites. Several have electrical hookups for RVs. While this seems to be the largest number of campers, there were a few tents when I visited.
There’s also a group campsite for established groups.
The lake has a small beach area and is a big draw in the summer. There’s also a boat house where a third-party vendor rents boats.
You can rent a canoe or kayak and enjoy the lake in-season.
Trails at Jones Lake State Park
There are three trails at the park, although the By Trail and Cedar Loop Trail are the same in one area. Overall, the trails are easy and well-marked. I had a lovely day hiking.
Keep in mind that while the Bay Trail does circle the lake, you only have lake views about a third of the way. The rest of the time, you’re in the woods off to the west side of the lake. If you look at the park map, you can see this better.
All the trails are relatively flat with no elevation gains. Overall, I rate all of them easy and they can be hiked in sneakers. The only reason I would rate the Bay Trail moderate is due to the length of the hike.
Mileage: 4 mile loop
Blaze: White diamonds
Rated: The park says moderate, but this is due to the mileage. The terrain is easy.
The Bay Trail is Jones Lake’s main trail. It forms a circle around the lake and the pine forest on the western side. This is a pretty trail with 3 overlooks and the fishing pier.
Many people were walking their dogs along sections of the trail when I visited.
You have views of the lake for about 1-1.5 miles of the hike. The rest of the time, you can enjoy sand trails, pine forest, and fun boardwalks.
I found the park map misleading. It shows the Bay Trail ends at the Cedar Loop Trail. This is incorrect. The Bay and Cedar Loop Trails intersect and are the same trail if you follow the bottom of the Cedar Trail. They continue to remain the same on the tail leading back to the Boat House.
Cedar Loop Trail
Mileage: 1 mile loop
Blaze: Red circles
The Cedar Loop Trail is a 1 mile loop that you can hike from the Boat House. The best way to access it is to go past the Boat House (if you’re facing the lake, to your right). You’ll see the trail head kiosk.
One thing I didn’t like is that the top half of the loop goes right up against a road with houses. I don’t generally like to hike in an area where someone can drive a car right up to a remote section of trail. Overall it felt safe, but I wish there had been something there to block the trail from the road.
The Cedar Loop and Bay Trails are the same for part of the way. The diagram in the hiking section explains this better.
Salters Lake Trail
Mileage: 1 mile, one-way
Blaze: Yellow rectangle
Rated: The park rates this trail moderate, but I rate it easy
The Salters Lake Trail splits off the Bay Trail and takes you to nearby Salters Lake. At the end of the trail is a picnic table and area where you can view the lake.
The trail is mellow and makes a pretty jaunt through the woods.
Camping at Jones Lake State Park
There are two camping areas, the family campground loop, and the group campsite.
With a mere 20 campsites, the Family Campground is small and quiet. It’s situated as a loop with sites inside and outside.
There’s a well-maintained bath house with a sink out back for dishes. Inside the Women’s bathroom are 4 individual stalls with showers. You have a large changing area with the shower further inside.
There are also sinks and toilet stalls.
Most of the campsites are designed for RVs. The pads are small and would be tight for a large tent. You could fit a 2-person backpacking tent on most and possibly 2, 2 person backpacking tents on others.
Across from the bath house are 2 grassy sites that are more amenable to tent campers.
There are trash cans everywhere, and the campground seemed pristine.
The ADA site is paved and adjacent to the bathhouse.
Some sites are near the road campers will take to reach the campground. Make sure to look at the campsite photos and avoid these if you want a quieter evening.
The Group Campsite is for organized groups. There’s a short road with a gate off the main family campground. These are tent sites. There is no RV hookup.
It’s close to the main campground with bath house and there’s potable water at the site. You’ll also find several picnic tables. While it is car camping, it’s a more primitive feel than the family campground.
Tips for Visiting Jones Lake State Park
To avoid the crowds, head out in the fall and winter for a quiet hike or a weekend at the campground. If you need to cool off in the summer, it’s a great place to swim.
The trails are well marked. Every turn has a sign that clearly indicates which direction is the trail. As long as you keep an eye out, you’ll be fine.
There aren’t a lot of people around in the fall and winter so you could be on your own. I had cell signal the entire time I was there and there’s a service road that covers almost half the Bay Trail, so help is close by.
The trails weave from direct sunlight to tree coverage. You’ll want sunscreen and bug spray. Even in January, I was bitten by a few bugs.
Jones Lake State Park – Wrap Up
Jones Lake is a natural phenomenon and a fun place to visit. It’s perfect anytime of the year. You can enjoy the solitude in winter or join in the fun during the summer.
With playing fields, sand volleyball, a boat house with kayaks, and a swim area, you can relive your favorite days from camp, or make new family memories.