Beat the Crowds and Cabin Fever: Here Are Five Under-the-Radar Outdoor Destinations in North Carolina

Hikers in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina near Asheville. (Image via Shutterstock)

By jenniferbringle

September 7, 2021

The cure to your cabin fever is getting an actual cabin in North Carolina’s ridiculously picturesque mountains.

From the mountains to the sea, North Carolina abounds with outdoor adventure. And if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy nature with the kids, step off the beaten path to check out some of the state’s lesser-known outdoor attractions. Here are five to try:

Hanging Rock State Park, Stokes County

Part of the Sauratown Mountains—an isolated mountain range in Stokes and Surry counties sometimes called “the mountains away from the mountains”—Hanging Rock State Park offers family friendly outdoor fun just 30 miles from Winston-Salem.

Hikers can traverse more than 20 miles of trails that wind up the mountain past streams and waterfalls. Anglers will enjoy fishing the stocked lake, or simply taking a swim or renting a canoe. Picnic sites with grills—including wheelchair accessible facilities—dot the park, and those who want to extend their stay can pitch a tent at one of more than 70 campsites or rent a rustic stick cabin.

Oak Island

Offering more public access points to the beach than any other North Carolina coastal town, Oak Island makes it easy for families to enjoy outdoor fun. In addition to swimming, surfing and sandcastle building, visitors rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to traverse Davis Creek and the Point—an area protected from ocean waves by a sandbar. Or explore the salt marsh ecosystem of the Oak Island Nature Center, where you can spot everything from waterfowl to alligators.

Graham County

Nestled amid the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest, Graham County abounds with outdoor fun for all ages. 

The county boasts more than 150 hiking trails, including the family-friendly Yellow Creek Falls Trail—a .6-mile round trip path that leads to a waterfall. And the paved Cherohala Skyway Spirit Ridge Trail and the Maple Springs Overlook just outside of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest both offer sweeping views and ADA accessibility. 

After the hike, head to Lake Santeetlah, where families can canoe and fish in the pristine waters surrounded by soaring mountains. Another great place to cast a line? Snowbird Creek, where a 1.8-mile stretch is stocked by the wildlife commission during the delayed harvest season (kicking off Oct. 1 each year), making catch-and-release fishing easy for families.

Jones Lake State Park, Elizabethtown

While North Carolina Bay Lakes neighbor Lake Waccamaw may be better known, Jones Lake beckons families with its warm, shallow water and sandy beach. 

Jones Lake State Park—opened in 1939 as the first state park for African Americans—has a rich history of hosting family reunions and other gatherings. And families today find plenty to do. Along with swimming, the park has canoe and paddleboat rentals during the summer, and a four-mile hiking trail looping the lake leads hikers through Spanish moss-draped pond cypress stands. The park also offers camping at 20 wooded sites, six of which have RV hookups.

Morrow Mountain State Park, Albemarle

One of the highest points in the Piedmont, Morrow Mountain State Park boasts bird’s-eye views of the surrounding Uwharrie Mountains.

Fifteen miles of hiking trails crisscross the park, ranging from a short loop for novice hikers to longer routes for the more experienced. The park also has 16 miles of bridle trails for horseback riding through bottomland forests of poplar and sycamore trees. Water activities abound on Lake Tillery, with canoe and kayak rentals available, as well as fishing from the accessible pier. And for overnight stays, the park offers more than 100 tent and RV campsites.


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