By Cassandra Brooklyn
State and national parks across the Carolinas are open again and are ready to provide a much-needed dose of nature.
It’s official. State and national parks across North Carolina and South Carolina are officially open, and not a moment too soon! After being pent-up inside for so long, visiting the wide-open spaces in large parks is the perfect way to enjoy nature while safely social distancing.
Note that some parks have a staged approach to re-opening so some restrooms, pavilions, camp grounds and visitor centers may still be closed. The types of activities allowed on different roads may also fluctuate. That means roads that normally allow cars may now only be open to cyclists and pedestrians (and vice versa). Before heading out, check the park’s website for more details. Then grab your keys, a reusable water bottle, a face mask, and get out to enjoy the outdoors!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is America’s most visited national park. Averaging over a million visitors per month between May-October, the park is advising visitors to arrive early to avoid the crowds and to skip destinations where the parking lot is full. With over 800 miles of trails in the park, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a less-traveled trail you’ll have all to yourself. Camping and hiking opportunities abound but be sure to bring your bear spray and read up on the park’s suggestions for how to behave around black bears.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina
Home of the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast, Jockey’s Ridge is a family-friendly park that’s great for picnicking, kite flying, and sunset watching. There’s also a museum in the visitor center and a 360-foot boardwalk with exhibits about the sand dune’s ecology. Trails are short and sweet, and are perfect for visitors who may not be huge fans of hiking. Mobility-impaired visitors can call 24-hours in advance to schedule a ride to the top of the sand dunes in the park’s all-terrain vehicle. Hang gliding is also available in the park but USHPA membership is required and a flying permit must be obtained from the visitor center.
Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina
With seriously spectacular views, incredible hiking trails, rock climbing, bouldering, and a 400-foot waterfall, this nearly 7,000-acre park truly has something for everyone. There’s hiking trails for all skill levels, hands-on activities for all ages, and the park hosts guided hikes, cooking classes, birdwatching tours, and photography lessons.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Known as the “Redwoods of the East”, Congaree National Park is a hardwood forest with one of the largest stands of old-growth hardwood trees in North America. Some of the park’s famous “champion trees” even soar to over 160 feet. As much of the park is swampy, some sections are best explored by canoe, though a 2.4-mile elevated boardwalk allows visitors to explore by foot.
Devils Fork State Park, South Carolina
Devils Fork State Park sits at the southern tip of Lake Jocassee, a mountain spring-fed lake that serves as the park’s main attraction. Lake Jocassee is not only known for great fishing – especially among those with a taste for trout – the clear waters are perfect for swimming, paddle boarding, and even scuba diving! With lakeside villas (pets welcome) and campsites for RV or tent camping, the park is perfect for multi-day adventures, though day trippers are always welcome on the trails and in the lake.