With all that varied terrain, it’s not surprising that camping in the Tar Heel state offers a little taste of everything – from brilliant fall foliage to snow-peaked mountains and impossibly sunny beaches.
Narrowing down camping options around Asheville is like trying to squeeze an elephant into a thimble. This vibrant southern city is ringed by jaw-dropping mountain peaks, offering so much outdoor adventure it’s dizzying to pick a direction.
Autumn finds the expansive Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, awash in golden hues – but a June excursion offers less crowds and equal oohs-and-ahh’s in the form of lush green carpets and brilliant blooms of azaleas and mountain laurel.
The western third of the state is rife with possibility. Make your way to the tippy-top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River; or while away a day (yep, you’ll need a whole day) at the 8,000-acre Biltmore estate. Catch a summer sunset at Craggy Gardens when the pink rhododendrons bloom; or take the short hike up to Max Patch, “the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail”, for an afternoon picnic. Nearby, the Linville Gorge offers sweeping views, along with the stunning Linville Falls and Linville Caverns.
Moving east, the Piedmont region offers plenty of camping thrills a stone’s throw from bustling Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham. Over two miles of sheer rock face at Hanging Rock State Park are sure to tempt adept climbers during available months, just be sure check in with the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. Those looking to enjoy the water can head to Kerr Lake, a 50,000-acre reservoir just north of Raleigh – if the waters are deep enough in the Upper Haw River (two feet should do it), kayakers can enjoy some mild rapids in the quiet surround of thick forest.
The best places are never easy get to, but the 300 miles of long, skinny barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks (OBX, for short) are so worth the haul. Summertime finds the area bustling with activity, but those looking for quieter seaside excursions will find a more low-key scene come April or September. As to which town to choose, the sky’s the limit: the entire stretch is dotted with quaint coastal towns filled with award-winning restaurants, colorful local history and activities galore.
At Cape Lookout National Seashore, you can tour the lighthouse and spy wild horses; or take a quick paddle to Wrightsville Beach to Masonboro, an estuarine research reserve that’s undeveloped and accessible only by boat. On clear nights, you can catch stars and meteor showers amongst the comfort of fellow campers.
Those really looking to go off-grid should take the short ferry ride to Ocracoke, the southernmost island in the Outer Banks. Rent a bike for the day and wind down streets that lead to lighthouses and history at every bend. If you’re lucky, you may run into an Ocracoke native (O’Cocker, as they’re called) sporting the fast-disappearing Ocracoke brogue, an Elizabethan-inflected dialect with its own stash of words, like “buck” (male pal) and "dingbatter" (clueless tourist).