Pettigrew State Park, NC

Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina is a pretty place to get away near the coast. Just an hour east of Greenville, NC, it’s located on Lake Phelps, the second largest natural lake in the state.

For a park in the middle of nowhere, it has a lot to offer. There’s rich history here. You can visit Somerset Place Historic Site, view a handmade canoe which is thought to be thousands of years old, swim in a lake, see an eerie cemetery, enjoy a great night camping, and just relax.

When I visited, I was surprised by how many people visiting Nags Head and Kitty Hawk stopped by to check out this little park and enjoy a picnic lunch. Clearly there’s something about this little park that draws people in.

A wooden pier out over a blue lake.

What to Know Before Visiting Pettigrew State Park

There are two important pieces of information you need to know before heading out to Pettigrew State Park.

I love all of North Carolina’s State Parks, but Pettigrew has to be the most “out in the middle of nowhere” State Park on the list. It’s near the coast, is very flat, and GPS won’t work well. Make sure you have a screenshot of the step-by-step directions or write them down.

I would also follow the GPS. I know this sounds odd when I just said it won’t work. While the turns may be 200 yards off, they’re still the correct turns.

You’ll figure out quickly that most of the roads form a grid. And you’re going to think you can just go straight rather than make a right, then a left. But you would be wrong. Some of the roads become one-lane dirt roads, and I suspect several are private.  GPS will keep you on the paved roads.

The second thing to know is that you are in bear country. Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest populations of black bears in North Carolina is in this area.

You’ll know this because Plymouth, NC is pretty close, and they are home to the National Black Bear Festival. This includes tours to see black bears in the wild. And you’ll see hunting guides advertised everywhere.

Black bears at the coast tend to be larger than those in the mountains. This crowd are winners in the bear lottery. They have flat land, so they don’t have to climb mountains chasing blueberries, and food is plentiful year-round. It’s the bear equivalent to winning the showcase on The Price is Right.

When hiking, be aware. Keep your food in scent proof bags, talk to yourself as you hike, or better yet, hike with someone. And if you see a ton of fresh scat, including big piles and little piles, consider re-routing your hike to a new location. This could be mom and cubs.

A hand made canoe from over a thousand years ago created by digging out a large tree.

Entrances to Pettigrew State Park

There are two park entrances, the main entrance and the Cypress Point Access. Overall, the park is small and easy to navigate.

Main Entrance

The map, website address, and GPS will all say is on Lake Shore Road in Creswell and that’s because the mailbox is there. However, the actual entrance is on Thirty Foot Canal Road. 

You’ll drive down Lake Shore and GPS will tell you “You’ve arrived” about 200 feet too soon. Just keep going and you’ll see a building and parking lot which indicates this is probably the park.  Make the turn onto Thirty Foot Canal Road and you’ll see the park sign about 50 feet in front of you.

(This assumes you’re approaching with the lake on your right).

There’s a small parking area in front of the park office with picnic tables to the side.  If you keep going straight, you’ll see the road to the campground with a sign.  Further down is the pier.

Visitors can also park at Somerset Place State Historic Site. This can be tricky using GPS so I highly advise writing down the directions form the official website.

Cypress Point Access

The Cypress Point Access is off Shore Drive.  While the park’s website does not provide an address, I found that Google Maps offered it as an option when I typed in “Pettigrew State Park” and took me straight there.

Google provides the address as 2803 Shore Dr., Creswell, NC 27928.

Here you’ll find a decent gravel parking area with a boardwalk leading over the water. It’s a pretty area and quiet. The Morotoc Trail Head is also here.

An antebellum white house with green shutters with grey shacks behind it that served as slave quarters at Somerset Place historic Site.

Things to do at Pettigrew State Park

For a small park, Pettigrew has a lot to offer. Personally, I would bring my mountain bike next time. I’m not a great mountain biker, but this is more just biking down a nice trail.


The park notes 9 miles of hiking trails. At the main entrance, the trails are mostly old road beds. After a hard rain, they may flood.

The Morotoc Trail, which connects the Cypress Point Access to Moccasin Trail which then takes you to the Park Office, is a strip of grass alongside a stream, similar to a canal. 

I felt the trails were better suited to mountain bikes.

Mountain Biking

The park’s 9 miles of trail allow for hikers and mountain bikes. The Morotoc and Moccasin Trails would be best suited for mountain bikes. While the terrain isn’t difficult or technical, they’re both areas where grass has been mowed to create a trail and the ground is uneven.

Bee Tree Trail, Cemetery Trail, and Lake Shore Trail would be fine for hybrid bikes.  I wouldn’t try a road bike on any of the trails, but a hybrid could handle most of the internal trails.


There’s a family campground with 13 sites and a bath house with sink for dishes. I thought Pettigrew also had the best firewood of any park. It’s in a covered area and there’s plenty of it. Payment is on the honor system and it’s inexpensive.

I would go for sites 1-6 for better privacy if you have a tent.  RVs will likely prefer the higher numbered sites which are flatter and have more grass.

Groups will also find a more primitive group campground that can accommodate up to 26 guests. You won’t find running water here and it’s about 400 yards from the parking lot to the campground. This is in a separate area of the park, away from the family campground. Hikers will see it along the Bee Tree Trail.

Boating and Paddling

The park has a dock where you can launch a motorboat.  It’s also easy to launch a kayak or canoe from the same location.

While you could launch a kayak from the Cypress Point Access, you’ll have to haul it to the water and there aren’t great places to easily get in and out of the water.


Pettigrew State Park has an area for swimming towards the end of the pier. Seating is available for parents so they can watch their children swim. There is no lifeguard. You are responsible for yourself and any children you are in charge of.


I saw people fishing at both entrances. As long as you have a valid NC Fishing license, you can set up shop in a variety of locations.

Visit Somerset Place State Historic Site

Somerset was the third largest antebellum plantation in North Carolina. Active from 1785 to 1865, it was home to the Collins family.

You can take a self-guided tour or a guided tour of the grounds which include the Collins Family home, enslaved dwellings, hospital, and jail.

Trails at Pettigrew State Park

There are 6 trails between the two entrances. Most of the trails are old dirt and gravel roads.  The exception is Lake Shore Trail which has a long boardwalk and narrow trail. All trails are open to hikers and cyclists.

None of the trails have blazes, but there are signs. I did have a little trouble finding where to go when I came out at Somerset Place.  It took a little bit to find where the trail continued on the other side of the Historic Site.

Section of mowed grass on the edge of a canal that is used as the Morotoc Trail.

Morotoc Trail

Mileage: 4.2 miles one-way
Rated: Strenuous due to the length
Location: Cypress Point Access, near the entrance to the parking lot, behind the bathroom.

This is a patch of grass that goes alongside a canal.  It’s a bit of a slug fest with uneven ground. I thought I didn’t like hiking on gravel, but miles of uneven grass is my new “nope” when hiking.

I saw a lot of fresh bear scat in the first mile, including some that made me think there could be a mom with cubs.

The trail eventually connects to the Moccasin Trail which will eventually take you to the main park entrance.  Overall, it’s 7 miles from the Cypress Point Access parking lot to the Park Office. This is clearly noted on a sign before you start.

While it’s a pretty trail in its own right, you’ll be out in the open for a while so lather up on the sunscreen.

A section of grass lined by tree and shrubs that is part of the Moccasin Trail.

Moccasin Trail

Mileage:  2.8 miles one-way
Rated: Easy
Location: Just past and behind the picnic tables adjacent to the Park Office at the main entrance.

This was another uneven grass trail. It also paralleled Lake Shore Road the for a good section. I’m not a fan of trails that go alongside roads if I’m hiking alone. It does have some pretty sections as it dips into the woods, closer to the lake, and the overlook is pretty.  

I’m a fan of old trees and there are plenty on this trail. Some of the Bald Cypress trees have trunks around 8-10 feet in diameter.  The only other place I’ve seen this is Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

I saw some people online say there is a small trail to a viewing tower near the Moccasin Overlook. I didn’t see that, and my thought is there is some confusion. My guess is they are referring to the wooden tower at nearby Pungo Lake.  

A long boardwalk that bends to the right in the distance. It is going over an area of wet grass with large cypress tress on either side.

Lake Shore Trail

Mileage: 0.25 miles one-way
Rated: Easy
Location: Main entrance, on the left of the road leading to the pier

I really liked this little trail which doubles as the park’s TRACK trail for kids in parks. It’s cute and winds through the woods. On top of that, it has the longest boardwalk I’ve ever encountered and I love boardwalks.

You’ll find yourself immersed in marshland with trees coming out of the water. Surprisingly, you’ll find yourself emerging into farmland and the Somerset Place Historic Site.

A grassy road with a creek on the left and lined by trees that is the Bee Tree Trail.

Bee Tree Trail

Mileage: 1.3 miles one-way
Rated: Easy
Location: Main entrance. There’s a connector from the family campground, or you can take Lake Shore Trail to Somerset Place and pick up Bee Tree Trail on the far site of the Historic site, past the main house. Look for a sign that says “authorized vehicles only”. Go that way and take the right split. You’ll immediately see a sign for the trail.

This is a nice trail that winds around the woods and leads to two overlooks. The first is down the Bonarva Trail and the second is the Bee Tree Overlook at the end of the trail.

Bee Tree is also the only way to get to the Pettigrew Cemetery. Overall, this was a nice hike and I enjoyed the solitude.

A marshy area of lake with brown water and brown reeds coming out of the water as seen from the overlook on the Bonarva Trail.

Bonarva Trail

Mileage:  0.1 miles
Rated: Easy
Location: Off the Bee Tree Trail at the Main Entrance

Bonarva Trail is on the map, but not listed as a trail on the website. It’s a small offshoot from Bee Tree Trail that takes you past a waterway which can control the flow of water, and a beautiful overlook.

While short, it’s a great photo opportunity.

Ornate headstones that appear reddish copper and dark grey.  Ones has a cross at the top and another is in the shape of an obelisk.

Cemetery Trail

Mileage:  0.34 miles
Rated: Easy
Location: Off the Bee Tree Trail at the Main Entrance

Cemetery Trail is a dirt and gravel road that leads to the Pettigrew Family Cemetery.  I thought it would just be a few gravestones in the ground with a little fence, but it has beautiful, ornate grave markers on a small hill with a wrought iron fence and gate.

It’s one of the eeriest and most beautiful cemeteries I’ve seen.

While the trail should end at the cemetery and be one-way, there’s another road you can continue on. It was flooded so I didn’t go that way and I’m not sure where it leads, but a trail runner came from that direction while I was there.

To be honest, I may have been on the wrong trail. Since they’re not always marked or blazed, I just turned when I came to an intersection. It seemed more like a half mile to me (the park says 0.34 miles), but I was dodging puddles.

Camping at Pettigrew State Park

Pettigrew State Park has a family campground and a primitive group campground. These are both small and peaceful.

An orange and white tent pitched in an area with green grass.  There is a picnic table, fire ring and lamp post to the side of the tent.

Family Campground

The family campground has 13 sites and none have electric or water hookups. There was a good mix of small RVs and tents when I was there. Since the largest driveway is only around 15 feet, the area attracts vans and small pop ups.

Each site has a place for 2 cars to park, a picnic table, and fire ring. There’s a gravel road that creates a loop with all of the sites on the outer edge of the loop.

A small bathhouse has a place to wash dishes, flush toilets, and showers. It’s small, but perfect for the site.

Pettigrew State Park attracts people that want to get away. While there were kids running around, they were in bed by 9 and it was quiet.

One thing to note is that the sites on the side of the drive near the bathhouse are flat and flood when it rains. I would aim for sites 1 through 6.  Sites 8 through 10 were the worst with wet areas.

Primitive Group Campsite

There is a primitive group campsite that you can see from Bee Tree Trail. It has its own parking lot with room for five vehicles. From the lot, it’s about 400 yards to the campsite. This is primitive camping with only a privy.

Long wooden pier over a lake with trees growing out of the water. This is at the Cypress Point Access of the park.

Tips for Visiting Pettigrew State Park

There are maps on the park’s website and at the Park Office. However, the trails, while not blazed, are easy to follow and there are signs.

Besides difficulty locating the start of the Bee Tree Trail near Somerset Place Historic Site, I didn’t have any issues.

Since this is a coastal park, when it rains, there is going to be a lot of flooding on the trails and at some campsites.

There are roads near the park, but it’s such a rural area, there isn’t a lot of traffic. You’ll fee isolated and safe here.

Be aware at all times that you are in bear country. If there was ever a time to store your food in your car and not in your tent, this is it.

The park’s website is helpful. Be sure to take a look before heading out.

Dress Accordingly

In the summer, the park will be buggy and you’ll want good quality bug spray. Some of the trails have little tree cover so sunscreen is important.

Asking for Help

You may find yourself on your own here. It’s not a heavily used park. In the summer, I can see people kayaking or swimming, but there aren’t a lot of people on the trails, especially Morotoc and Moccasin.

My cell phone worked the entire time I was at the park. If you’re not great with directions, drop a pin at your car so know your way back.

Pettigrew State Park – Wrap Up

If you’re looking for a peaceful get away where no one can find you, then give Pettigrew State Park a try. Coastal, rural, flat, adventurous, it’s the perfect place to unwind.

Enjoy Phelps Lake, large trees, long boardwalks, an eerie cemetery, and a historic site. Then have dinner and enjoy a fire before sleeping under the stars.

You can also visit nearby Pungo Lake or the Pocosin Natural Area. While you can reach the park via paved roads, the tower at Pungo Lake and the Pocosin Natural Area both require long drives down dirt roads. Because the area is so flat, after a heavy rain, these may not be passible, especially in a smaller vehicle.

I honestly can’t recall a time where I enjoyed car camping more than at Pettigrew State Park. The next time I head there, I’m bringing my mountain bike.

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