(The Triangle Trend) — It’s time to “gather ‘round the campfire and sing a campfire song”, because camping season is back and in full swing for cooler-weather campers. Whether you’re just in it to roast marshmallows and tell stories or go ziplining and skiing, you’re able to do a little bit of everything in North Carolina. With some of the best campsites in the country, NC’s outdoor junkies are able to cash in big time at these state parks.
3001 South Mountain Park Avenue, Connelly Springs, NC 28612
For a great hiking location within 90 minutes of central Charlotte, South Mountains State Park is your golden ticket. This huge park features a notable waterfall, 25+ miles of hiking trails and numerous campsites. The most popular hike is the High Shoals Falls trail. It’s 2 miles almost exactly to the top of the falls and back to the parking lot. The heated indoor showers in the campsite restroom are great for post-runs in the cool months. Little cell phone coverage, so it’s perfect to reconnect with nature. Only con, as with most parks, is that the firewood there is hard to burn. But once you do build a large enough fire and generate enough heat, it is self-sustaining.
The park’s front-country campground has 18 campsites with picnic tables and fire circles. Half of them back up to the Jacob Fork River, which offers year-round trout fishing (catch and release only). Two of the campsites have electric hookups for RVs and one is wheelchair accessible. There are also 20 backpacking sites, each big enough for two tents; a pit toilet is nearby. Drive-up campsites are $15 a night; backcountry campsites are $10 a night. (Source: REI)
1790 Hanging Rock Park Rd, Danbury, NC 27016
Hanging Rock State Park is one of the NC State Park System’s crown jewels. Well-maintained campgrounds, trails, and scenic areas abound with views unmatched outside of Pilot and Stone Mountain State Parks. The facilities at the site are cleaned regularly and there is warm water and dedicated sinks for washing dishes. The grounds are well-kept and the camp hosts and rangers are lovely and helpful. It’s amazing that such a gorgeous and mountainous place is so close to the Triangle. You can get there in 2 hours from West Durham. The most popular trail is the Hanging Rock Trail, a 1.3-mile route up to the park’s namesake peak. From Hanging Rock, there are spectacular 360° views all around. Especially on a fall weekend, expect a crowd of hikers, families, sunbathers, and photographers. For a less crowded hike, consider the hike up to Moore’s Wall.
During the winter, the bottom loop of the drive-in campsite is available, with 42 campsites to select from. Only a pit toilet is provided, and services and facilities are limited. The cost of a campsite is $10 per night. The park also has ten cabins available year-round, two of which are handicap accessible. During the winter, cabins cost $88 per night with a two-night minimum.
5564 Meat Camp Rd, Todd, NC 28684
Elk Knob State Park is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks, as well as one of its tallest, with altitudes ranging from 4,500 feet at the park entry to 5,520 feet at the top. Because of this, the park is a popular location for explorers looking for a sample of winter in the Southern Appalachians. Elk Knob is North Carolina’s only state park with cross-country skiing, and it even maintains a fleet of snowshoes for visitors to borrow when it snows. The one-mile Maple Run Trail is ideal for cross-country skiing and forms a pleasant circle near the visitor’s center with even elevation.
Elk Knob State Park does not have a constructed campground, but it does have three backcountry campsites that may accommodate up to six people, or two tents, apiece. Because camping sites are basic and fires are prohibited, campers should bring suitable winter attire. On one of the park’s exposed ridges, zone camping is available, where you can pitch your tent wherever between two posts. The views from the ridge are spectacular, especially on a clear night when you can see the stars; but, because it may be very windy in the winter, you’ll be better off descending into the valley to Site #2, which is close to a flowing stream. The cost is $10 per night per spot.