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North Carolina Travel Guide
National Parks

North Carolina Outdoor Recreation: National Parks

Great Smokey Mountains National Park

National Parks in NCThe most visited national park in the US is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern United States. Known worldwide for its diverse plant and animal life including deer, black bear, wild boar, wild turkey, bobcat, foxes, mink, river otter, weasel, beavers, groundhogs, skunks and flying squirrels. There are over 200 species of birds and 23 speices of snakes including the posionous timber rattler and copperhead. With over 1500 species of wild flowering plants, the park comes alive with colors in the late spring and early summer. In October the leaves begin to change at the higher elevations and continue into early November creating a visual show that has captivated visitors for decades if not centuries.

The park attracts over nine million visitors each year. Once a part of the Cherokee homeland, the Smokies today are a hiker's paradise with more than 800 miles of trails, picnicking, sightseeing, fishing, auto touring, horseback riding, nature viewing, and photographic opportunities abound. The park has several campgrounds open from early spring to late October. Reservations are recommended especially in the summer. Click Here for More Information

Uwharrie National Forest

Uwharrie National Forest, NCThe Uwharrie National Forest in Central North Carolina cover over fifty thousand acres in what are believed to be the oldest mountain range in America. With more than 700 species of wildflowers, plants and ferns, the forest is rich in wildlife including deer, wild turkey, (both in numbers large enough to be hunted) rabbits, foxes, squirrels, racoons and birds including hawks, owls, water birds and quail. It is also home to bald eagles. There are abandoned gold, silver, copper and lead mines and people still pan for gold in the many streams in the forest. The first large gold discovery in the United States occurred around 1799 at the nearby Reed Gold Mine.Recreational panning for gold is allowed on most of the Uwharrie National Forest. Rivers within or bordering the forest include the Yadkin River full of white bass, largemouth bass, bream, smallmouth, catfish and pickerel. The best time to fish the river is in the spring. Other rivers include the Pee Dee River, the Uwharrie River, West Fork and the Little River. Other bodies of water include Lake Tillery and Badin Lake which is well stocked with catfish, bream, largemouth, white and striped bass. Badin Lake is also a boaters paradise. Water skiers, cruisers, and sailbboats can be seen dotting the lake during warm weekends and summer vacations. Best time to come is during the week when traffic is light. Many people anchor their boats and camp on the shore.

Besides the miles of walking trails there are trails set aside for dirt-bike and all terrain vehicles plus nearly forty miles of horse trails. There are areas for rock-climbing and as of spring 1998, there are three main routes open to mountain bikes in the Wood Run Area of the Uwharrie National Forest. Click Here for More Information

Nantahala National Forest

Nantahala-ForestThe Nantahala National Forest is the largest National Forest in North Carolina covering with over 530,900 acres of mountains, streams, lakes and wildlife. It includes some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery in the Eastern US including two river gorges. Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains and the Nantahala River, a mecca for whitewater sports enthusiasts, goes through a magnificent gorge. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails and a number of camping areas some with hot showers. Wildlife includes black bear, deer, wild boar, bobcat and others. Click Here for More Information

Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National ForestDominated by Mt. Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest covers over half a million acres and is located between the towns of Brevard, Waynesville and Asheville, NC. The 12 mile long Linville Gorge, with walls 1500 feet high is a challenge even to experienced hikers due to its rugged terrain. Wilson Creek is popular with kayakers and the park is known for easy access to many waterfalls, hiking and camping areas. Mount Mitchel and Grandfather Mountain though not part of the park are open to the public for a small fee. Nearby Brown Mountain is known for the Brown Mountain Lights, a series of lights that have been a mystery for 200 years and are one of the most famous of North Carolina legends. Click Here for More Information

Cape Hattaras National Seashore

Cape Hattaras National Seashore, North CarolinaAmerica's first National Seashore stretches 70 miles from Oregon inlet near Nags Head to Ocracoke Island and is also known as the Outer banks. Because of the proximity of the gulf stream these barrier islands which protect the large bays from the Atlantic, are home to a large variety of animals and plants, not to mention many speices of fish, some local and some migrating. The park's fishing and surfing are considered the best on the east coast. There are over 400 species of migrating birds as well, including Canadian Geese, Brown Pelicans, Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. There are a number of islands which are part of the National Seashore, some of which are only accessable by private ferries and some only accessable by private craft. Known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms, Cape Hatteras has had a number of shipwrecks and the shifting sands often expose the skeletons of these. Cape Hatteras National Seashore has four campgrounds, all capable of serving tents, trailers, and motor homes. See also Outerbanks and Ocracoke

Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest, NCLocated between New Bern and Emerald Isle in Eastern North Carolina, the Croatan National Forest is mostly swamp and thick brush and is home to alligators, black bear, deer, bald eagles, hawks, osprey, and many other smaller birds, mammals and reptiles. The forest has a diverse ecosystem of coastal and inland swamp habitats. It is a popular area to fishermen and hunters though the large number of bugs, including mosquittos and the dreaded horsefly may discourage all but the most hearty campers and hikers. There are hiking trails, including the 26 mile long Neusiok, Boat launches, campgrounds and day-use areas make this park a place to be enjoyed in the late fall and early spring. Hot weather, bugs and snakes may send you heading for the beach in the summer. The Croatan Forest is home to the largest collection of carniverous plants of any park in the US. Click Here for More Information

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