The “Old North State” is one of the top camping destinations on the East Coast. It’s loaded with great campgrounds, from Smokemont in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina to Carolina Beach State Park near Wilmington on its eastern coast. And in between, there’s a plethora of wooded sites and nature preserves, hidden around cool cities like Charlotte and Ashville.
Where To Go Camping in North Carolina
North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states in the country and the perfect destination for a camping trip. There are few states, especially in the southeastern section of the US, that have the diversity of activities and destinations to enjoy that the Tar Heel State does.
There is something for every time of tent and RV camper here, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Best Times to Go Camping in North Carolina
North Carolina can be enjoyed any time of year, but the summer months tend to be the most popular, with Great Smoky Mountains National Park accounting for much of this traffic. For those who can wait, skipping the peak season crowds here is the best option. While summer in North Carolina is pretty, the state is fairly warm and humid overall.
If you can only travel during this peak season, the western part of the state (near the Appalachian Mountain Range) is going to be more temperate. For this reason, the Great Smoky Mountains is an awesome choice, with the highest average temperature in the upper 70s in July. The reason to skip the Great Smoky Mountains during summertime though is the massive amounts of crowds, not the weather.
Fall is the ideal time to be in North Carolina. The Tar Heel State has one of the most beautiful fall color displays in the country, especially in Great Smoky Mountains and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This famous national park has its second peak season whenever the fall colors are in full swing, so expect crowds if you’re heading to the park to go leaf-peeping (typically mid-October to early November).
While you won’t get the same colorful foliage, spring is a similarly comfortable time to be in the state. Those who want something warmer, though, will be better served heading towards the eastern seashores where spring and fall high temperatures are still in the mid to upper 60s.
Winter offers four-season camping for those who want it and are willing to gear up for it. Much of western North Carolina receives a moderate amount of snowfall, though the highest elevations of the state are a notable exception. NC has ski resorts and the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell at 6,684 ft. Beech Mountain, NC, and surrounding areas, for example, can see more than 80 inches a year.
New winter campers should be comfortable if they’re in the central part of the state or anything east of that where snow is minimal. Want to avoid the snow altogether? Head to the coast and enjoy moderate winter temperatures averaging in the mid-50s.
National Park Service Sites in North Carolina
North Carolina has 12 National Park Service (NPS) sites, with four that have camping. Three of those offer more traditional camping options, while Cape Lookout National Seashore is primitive camping only. That primitive camping is on the beach, though, making for a unique outdoor experience.
If you’re visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, note that the state line with Tennessee splits the park in two. Verify that your campsite is on the North Carolina side of the park or allow extra travel time to cross into Tennessee.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Cape Lookout National Seashore (primitive beach camping only)
National Forests in North Carolina
North Carolina also has a strong national forest system, with four well-loved US Forest Service sites. The Pisgah and Nantahala are by far the more popular of the four national forests here. The other two see significantly less visitation, though the Uwharrie tends to outdo the Croatan in overall visitorship.
- Pisgah National Forest
- Nantahala National Forest
- Uwharrie National Forest
- Croatan National Forest
Best Free Camping in North Carolina
North Carolina actually doesn’t offer that much free camping, though it’s better than some of its neighbors in the southeastern section of the country. 8% of North Carolina is federal land, with half of it managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS).
The four USFS-managed national forests account for much of the free camping in the state. The remaining federal land is split fairly evenly between the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the US Department of Defense (DoD). While dispersed camping is allowed at certain FWS locations, DoD land is rarely available for civilians and isn’t always free.
Some of the most popular primitive campsites in North Carolina include Harmon Den Dispersed Camping Area near Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Fires Creek Recreation Area near Hayesville, and the Blue Valley Dispersed Area in the Nantahala National Forest.
North Carolina State and Public Parks
The Tar Heel State has a solid showing of both federal and state land available for public use. There are 41 state parks here, and 34 offer camping of some sort. 28 of those 34 offer tent camping, but all 34 offer lodging of some sort.
The North Carolina State Parks website is the best resource for being sure you’ll have the amenities you need. Of all the state parks here, these 10 are among the most popular.
- Lake Norman State Park
- South Mountains State Park
- Carolina Beach State Park
- Hanging Rock State Park
- Pilot Mountain State Park
- Morrow Mountain State Park
- Lake James State Park
- Mount Mitchell State Park
- New River State Park
- Goose Creek State Park
RV Resorts and Unique Stays
The private camping sector in North Carolina keeps up with the robust federal and state options. Whether you’re looking for glamping near Great Smoky Mountains National Park or an RV resort getaway, North Carolina has something to offer. These six are some of the best choices in the state for glamping and RV resorts.
- Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort: Golden Valley
- Dan Nicholas Park
- North Pointe RV Resort
- Raleigh Oaks RV Resort & Cottages
- The Glamping Collective
- Sycamore Lodge RV Resort & Campgrounds
The Tar Heel State’s camping offerings are spectacular. From the ever-popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park to even the smallest of the state parks, North Carolina’s campgrounds are impeccable sites to camp year-round.