Bring your group to experience a hidden gem within North Carolina State Parks. We do not boast of the highest peaks, largest lakes or the most miles of hiking trails but you will enjoy amazing sunsets, solitude, and memories that will last a lifetime. A unique camping opportunity awaits for the organized group that desires to unplug and unwind in a mysterious Carolina bay environment.
Camp Ipecac, which accommodates up to 92 persons, was named for the Carolina ipecac herb that readily grows in this sandy environment. The camp layout is spacious and includes private cabins, a sizable mess hall with commercial kitchen and a modern bathhouse. The smaller, but ever so popular, Camp Loblolly Bay accommodates up to 48 persons. This Camp was named after the prevalent evergreen tree that produces white blooms in the summer. Camp Loblolly is fully accessible and contains group cabins, a mess hall with commercial kitchen and a modern bathhouse. Park occupants have been known to spend many hours in the camp as each camp also includes a horseshoe pit, volleyball court, basketball court, and fire pit.
Venturing beyond the camp borders, your group can experience the Carolina bay ecosystem by land or by water. A 1-mile hiking trail will guide you through a forest of bay shrubs, cedar, cypress, gum and alongside the longleaf pine ecosystem. The trail also features spectacular views of the lake and signs that interpret formation theories of Carolina bays. Many hypotheses have been proposed and include theories of underground springs, meteorite impacts, and sinkholes. As of yet, no single explanation has been universally accepted creating the mystery of these oval-shaped depressions. A 500-foot pier which extends into the shallow, mysterious, tea-colored waters is the perfect place for a sunset. Swimming, fishing and sunning are also among favorite pastimes described by visitors. Twelve canoes, located just at the water’s edge, are available to registered campers.
If you are looking for an exclusive, extraordinary place to get a little rest and relaxation, Singletary Lake State Park just may be what you’ve been searching for.
Written by Amy Bernhardt, park ranger at Singletary Lake State Park.
By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
Nestled between Charlotte and the Sandhills of North Carolina, Morrow Mountain State Park was established as North Carolina’s third state park in 1935. Uwharrie National Forest, separated from Morrow Mountain State Park by the Yadkin/Peedee River, was designated a U.S. National Forest by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Many people wonder why the Uwharries are so small and are surprised to learn that they are one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These ancient mountains have more archaeological sites per acre than any other forest in the Southeast! They are SO old, in fact, that dinosaurs may have roamed there amongst what were once 20,000-foot summits. Erosion, like that which wore the Appalachians down from heights comparable to the Rocky Mountains, also took their toll on the Uwharries, which now top out at 1,100 feet.
Prior to becoming a national forest, the area was used for mining, farming, and timber. Much of Morrow Mountain State Park’s facilities display beautiful stone that was mined from the mountain itself years ago. That adds incredible charm to the park– from the stone walls to the stone on the visitors center and cabins, this natural element ties together different areas of the park and gives it an unmistakable, memorable character.
Morrow Mountain State Park has fantastic amenities. My favorites are the six rustic family vacation cabins offer the opportunity to get away from it all while still enjoying some modern comforts. Deep in a wooded area of the park, each cabin has a bathroom, living room, fireplace, kitchen with dining space and two bedrooms that can accommodate up to six people. If you’re looking to get away from too much technology and the daily grind but camping is a bit too “rustic” for you, these cabins are the perfect compromise. Front porch rockers and traditional wood fireplaces make these cabins a great getaway for all seasons.
An expansive boathouse on Lake Tillery offers state-of-the art canoes and kayaks for rent to paddle and experience the beautiful park from the water. For hikers, several trails wind throughout the park ranging from a half mile to over four miles and from easy to strenuous. This park looks and feels like one of our western parks, but offers a more central location. Morrow Mountain reminds me of Raven Rock State Park in that way.
Morrow Mountain State Park is also a great place for group camping, reunions, gatherings or retreats. In addition to the park’s large pool and pool house, picnic shelters and a community building that can hold up to 110 guests are available to reserve.
If you’re looking for a day of family fun, a quiet, rocky hike, a picnic with a view, or some outdoor exercise right in the Piedmont, Morrow Mountain State Park has everything you could hope for. This is a great option for folks who live in the coastal plain and don’t want to drive all the way to the mountains, or residents of the Piedmont who want a nearby getaway. The leaves are stunning today and in the coming weeks, so it’s the perfect time for a visit.
Katie Hall is the new-ish Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.
By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
Thirty years ago, McDowell and Burke counties joined together to have a state park created on Lake James. In a team effort between both chambers of commerce and county commissions, the counties lobbied their state representatives for funding for a park. The park was dedicated in 1987. The original Catawba River Area that features Fox Den Loop, walk-in tent camping sites and Sandy Cliff Overlook is now complemented by the larger Paddy’s Creek area, which hosts the Long Arm Peninsula with boat-in camping, drive-in tent camping area, a large day-use area, beach and bathhouse, and several trails.
On Oct. 5, the community came together to celebrate three decades of the park. Elected and appointed local, state and federal government officials attended alongside volunteers, staff, supporters, and business leaders. Park Superintendent Nora Coffey hosted tours of both the Catawba and Paddy’s Creek sides of the property.
Nearly 50 guests gathered at Paddy’s Creek picnic area for the bar-b-que lunch and a program from state and local officials and Friends of Lake James State Park. Bob Hunter, vice president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the outstanding partnership between Burke and McDowell Counties that made the park possible. Hunter, who served in the legislature at the time, was instrumental in passing the authorizing legislation as well as the State Parks Act during the 1987 session. Eric Jenkins, president of Friends of Lake James State Park, spoke about the important Paddy’s Creek acquisition in 2004, which added nearly 3,000 acres to Lake James State Park. That acquisition expanded the park to six times its former size and allowed the conservation of more than 30 miles of shoreline on the 6,500-acre lake in Burke and McDowell counties.
State Parks Director Mike Murphy talked about the State Parks Act, established the same year as the authorization of Lake James State Park, and the funding allotted to the new park upon its authorization that allowed it to be operational far faster than its predecessors in the system. He also thanked everyone who has supported the park through the years, many of whom were in attendance. “Lake James State Park is a special place. When I walk in here, I feel like I am home. So many local community citizens came together to establish this incredible state park, and we are all very thankful for their efforts,” he said.
Park Superintendent Nora Coffey looked ahead to plans for the future of the park. A new visitor center for welcoming and educating visitors and the much anticipated Cove Bridge are on the horizon. Connecting Paddy’s Creek and Long Arm Peninsulas, the 238-foot Cove Bridge will provide continuity between the peninsulas for recreation and emergency response. It will be a centerpiece for the lovely Fonta Flora State Trail, which loops through the park and is 16 miles long thus far. A new 6,500 square foot visitor center will serve as the main park office and will host an exhibit hall, a classroom, restrooms, retail space, and an outdoor amphitheater for large groups. A new parking area will support the visitor’s center and access to the mountain bike trails and the Fonta Flora State Trail. The Over Mountain Victory National Historic Trail is routed adjacent to the park, providing even more recreational opportunities nearby.
About Lake James State Park
About Lake James State Park
Lake James State Park rests on the edge of the expansive Pisgah National Forest and weaves along peninsulas on beautiful Lake James. The park stretches through both Burke and McDowell Counties with headquarters in Nebo, N.C. It hosts a thriving ecosystem with foxes, rabbit, muskrat, mink, pileated woodpeckers, hawks, owls, salamanders, and newts, and so much more.
This park sets itself apart with its mountain scenery and stunning clear waters. Celebrated flora of the North Carolina Mountains including pink lady slipper, Jack-in-the-pulpit, passion flower, Indian pipe and cardinal flower grace the banks of the park. Mountain laurel, rhododendron and flame azalea are also abundant in the hilly terrain. Beautiful lakeside campsites abound to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Make sure you make it out to Lake James State Park in the next couple of weeks to catch the leaves changing. We’ll see you there!
By: Katie Hall, Public Information Officer, North Carolina Div. of Parks and Recreation
My memories of Chimney Rock date back 20 years. Following a childhood filled with family reunion vacations to central Mississippi, relaxing in the rocky foothills around Lake Lure nestled at the foot of Chimney Rock Mountain was a new world to me. It really is an unforgettable place. There is nothing like the striking emerald green of the lake, the rocky, colorful face of Rumbling Bald, and the Rocky Broad River scurrying quietly behind Chimney Rock Village where nature and tourists collide.
When I began planning my trip to hike the new Skyline Trail, I thought the magic the area held in my youth would be dampened by all of the inspiring experiences in the natural world I’ve since enjoyed. In fact, I fell more in love with Hickory Nut Gorge than ever before.
If you look at Chimney Rock on a map, you’ll see it’s geographically in the North Carolina foothills. If you study it from an aerial photograph, the area looks like scattered rolling green hills freckled across the landscape. But when you’re there in the heart of the village near the entrance to Chimney Rock State Park, most of us wouldn’t think to use the word “hills.”
Steep cliffs surround you on both sides as you look east and west through the gorge. You are a 10-minute stroll from Lake Lure, within earshot of the extraordinarily beautiful Rocky Broad River, and you can glance up from practically anywhere and see Chimney Rock, tall and proud, waving the American flag.
I look up from the village to the Chimney Rock at the challenge I have ahead, and I take a deep breath. Today, we are heading up. All the way up. Challenge accepted.
Can you fathom 800 stairs? I tried to think of the last time I would’ve climbed anything near that many and thought of climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. 232 steps. There are 898 steps to the top of the Washington Monument. Uh oh. As it turns out, going up 800 steps is every bit as hard as you imagine. When the new elevator opens this fall, you’ll get to skip the first 500 if you want.
On the way up, it helps tremendously that there is a beautiful view of the gorge at nearly every landing. You’ll peer into caves, duck under overhangs, venture out onto overlooks, and take in stunning views of Chimney Rock along the way. On this mild day with a breeze, it’s certainly more comfortable than roasting inside a lighthouse.
The start of the Skyline Trail is at Exclamation Point, which is at the end of a short trail from the Chimney Rock to Devil’s Head to an elevation of 2,480 feet. There, a smooth expanse of bald rock that is shaded in the morning and an ample overlook area welcome you. Take your time to enjoy the views of the other half of Chimney Rock State Park across the gorge. Don’t miss the up-close view of Devil’s Head, a natural balancing rock with a sinister profile and one of the most exciting features of this hike.
From there, the Skyline Trail takes you to Peregrine’s Point at 2,640 feet, named for the falcons that rule this area. Did you know that Peregrine Falcons can dive at 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest animal in the world? These are the cool things you learn when you hang out with a park ranger. Peregrine’s Point is a great spot to stop, rest, and refuel before tackling the rest of the Skyline Trail. There are picnic tables and room to stretch out, and, of course, a spectacular view.
Finally, the trail leads you down to Hickory Nut Falls at 2,580 feet. The trail from here is under a luxuriously thick and relatively tall canopy, providing much appreciated shade and low light even mid-day that is great for photographs.
Here, at one of the highest points on Chimney Rock Mountain, the soil becomes more acidic and the flora becomes woodier, bursting with Rhododendrons. A rocky creek crossing adds a bit of fun on this last stretch of trail. As you approach the top of Hickory Nut Falls, you know something spectacular is ahead. I look forward to getting back to do the relatively easy trail to the bottom of the falls.
Don’t forget that after hiking up 800 steps, you also must come back down. On our hike, the heavens opened and showered new challenges upon us- 800 wet stairs back to the bottom with rain in our eyes. At this point, we decided it would be helpful to have a waterslide or zipline back to the bottom instead. Don’t get your hopes up—safety first.
Chimney Rock, like Grandfather Mountain, represents the great things that can come out of state partnership with private enterprise. North Carolina State Parks is able to protect precious land around the Chimney Rock from undesirable development and provide access to the natural areas around the rock, while the company that has run the Chimney Rock attraction for decades is able to maintain the local business and boost the economy of this charming area in the rocky foothills.
If you’re up for a real challenge with great rewards, find your way to Chimney Rock State Park this fall and get up to the Skyline Trail. You’ll leave knowing you’ve experienced something truly unique and a sense of accomplishment and confidence that will stick with you.
Katie Hall is the new(ish) Public Information Officer for North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation. A life-long North Carolinian, Katie is on a mission to explore all the State Parks she has missed or hasn’t seen in a decade or more. Her background is in environmental science, management and policy, communications and outreach.
Pettigrew State Park is a quiet park off the beaten path that offers its visitors a chance to get away from the everyday worries and to be immersed in natural beauty. Just seven miles from the sleepy little town of Creswell, Pettigrew is centered around a farming community of hard-working men and women. On your travels here, you will be greeted by miles and miles of beautiful farmlands that harvest crops such as corn, wheat, potatoes, and soybeans. You may feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. You may even wonder if you are lost. Sure, we hear it all the time here: “Y’all sure are ways out here…” and “There’s not much out this way!” From personal experience, the true treasures are most often times found off the beaten paths.
I had the pleasure of growing up just down the road in Columbia, NC. A great deal of my childhood was spent visiting Pettigrew State Park. My family attended fishing programs, Easter eggs hunts, and family and church picnics. We hiked and biked. In fact, much of our time here was spent playing in a large sycamore tree in the picnic area that is still here today. Many have enjoyed its wonder. I like to tell people that I don’t know what has changed… either I’ve gotten larger or the hole in that Sycamore has gotten smaller. Regardless, it’s always a joy to see people playing in my favorite sycamore tree. There are many other large and interesting trees found within the park boundaries. Many of them have lots of character and charm, like trees that you can walk into one of our many Frankenstein trees.
At Pettigrew, people will also have the chance to view a great deal of wildlife. We have a large population of black bears. The best time to view a black bear in our area is May-October. We also have an influx of winter waterfowl that visit the park November-February. Tundra Swans and snow geese have been counted in the thousands during our Annual Christmas Bird Counts. It’s amazing to see the large quantities of these incredible birds on Lake Phelps.
Visitors can also hike one of our many trails to Moccasin Overlook. This is a beautiful area to visit. Once you arrive at the overlook, you will be greeted by picturesque cypress trees, Spanish moss, and Lake Phelps. This is one of those locations within our park that you should just stop and breathe. From personal experience, make sure you stop and soak in all that this location offers. It will truly change your day!
Lake Phelps is a major highlight for people when they visit our park. Having an average depth of just 4.5 feet and clear waters, Lake Phelps is a prime spot for many to cool off in during a hot summer day. We also have the distinction of being a trophy bass lake, which makes Lake Phelps a popular place to go fishing.
As a child, I was also very interested in the historical significance of Pettigrew State Park. Because of Pettigrew State Park, I just knew that when I grew up I wanted to be an American Indian. You see, Pettigrew was once home to the Algonquin Indians. They were said to be seasonal hunters to the area. To date, 30 sunken dugout canoes have been located in the waters of Lake Phelps. Archaeological digs in the area have also located pottery shards and projectile points. Every September, Pettigrew offers 4th graders a chance to learn about the Algonquin’s home life, the animals that they hunted, pottery, projectile points, and dugout canoes. What a fascinating place to visit! You can picture my disappointment when my dad told me that being an American Indian wasn’t a job occupation. Ever since that time, I’ve wanted to be a park ranger for the State of NC. As a park ranger at Pettigrew State Park, I’m proud to work at one of North Carolina’s hidden gems.
Besides a rich Native American history, the park also has many interesting historic tales. At 16,600 acres, Lake Phelps makes up a great deal of Pettigrew. Before colonists discovered Lake Phelps in 1755, area residents called the swampy area the Great Eastern Dismal and the Great Alligator Dismal. The wilderness was so fearsome that explorers refused to enter its borders. Tradition maintains that a group of hunters ventured into this “haunt of beasts” to hunt and to look for farmland. Most of the men turned back, but just as the remaining few were about to leave, Benjamin Tarkington climbed a tree and saw the lake a short distance away. His companion, Josiah Phelps, ran into the water while Tarkington was still up in the tree. As the first in the water, he claimed the right to name it Lake Phelps.
The park itself is named after the Pettigrew family, who used to own much of the land that is now within today’s park boundaries. The original Pettigrew family plantation was named Bonarva. One of its famous family members was General James Johnston Pettigrew, who fought in the Civil War. While visiting the park, make sure you hike to the Pettigrew family cemetery and pay your respects to this influential family of preachers, farmers, and war heroes.
While here you may also wander over to Somerset Place. Somerset is a North Carolina Historic Site that offers people the chance to view 19th-century plantation living. Tours at Somerset are given by a knowledgeable and informative staff. This is always a highlight for many that visit our park.
So, if you’re wondering what Pettigrew State Park is all about, take a trip to our hidden treasure! Stop by the office for a good ole Pettigrew welcome. Once you’re here, immerse yourself in all that Pettigrew has to offer.
Written by Charlotte Davis, Park Ranger at Pettigrew State Park
The N.C. Parks and Recreation Authority awarded $6 million in grants for 22 local parks and recreation projects at its meeting Aug. 25. Authority members, who serve three-year terms and are appointed by the Governor, the President Pro Tem of the N.C. Senate, and the Speaker of the House, gathered at the Nature Research Center in Raleigh for their quarterly meeting. Two new Authority members were sworn in:
The Authority voted on which local parks and recreation projects would receive $6 million in available grants from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which is supported by annual appropriations from the N.C. General Assembly. This year, the authority received 60 applications for local PARTF funds totaling $18 million in requested funding. A total of 21 local parks and recreation projects were funded in full, and one project was funded at 72 percent of the requested amount.
Projects include a new section of the Mountains-to-Sea State Trail in Alamance County, an innovative revitalization of a charming covered bridge for new recreational opportunities in Davidson County, and a wellness center in Green County.
The meeting was full of local leaders including mayors, county commissioners, town managers, and parks and recreation program managers. Following the public portion of the meeting, State Parks Director Mike Murphy and Deputy Director Carol Tingley updated Authority members on the status of active and pending Connect NC bond projects throughout the State Parks system and recent events, including the opening of the new profile trail access at Grandfather Mountain State Park, the approval of three new state natural areas by the General Assembly, and the Eclipse at Gorges, a weekend-long festival hosted by Gorges State Park that drew thousands of visitors from across the country and world to view the total solar eclipse.
The authority’s next meeting is in November at Hanging Rock State Park.
Full List of Awarded Projects
City of Burlington: Willowbrook Park
Halifax County: Halifax County Recreation Improvements
Town of Oak Island: Middleton Park Redevelopment
City of Sanford: Kiwanis Family Park Renovations
Catwawba County: Riverbend Park Expansion
Yadkin County: Yadkin Memorial ParkRecreation
Nash County: Nash County Play Together Regional Park
Alamance County: Haw River Trail Mountains to Sea Trail
Davidson County: Wil-Cox Bridge Recreation Area
Town of New London: New London Park Project
Greene County: Greene County Wellness Center
CIty of Wilson: Cavalier Terrace
City of Archdale: Creekside Park Enhancements
Polk County: Little White Oak Mountain
Town of Valdese: Lake Rhodhiss Park Acquisition
Town of N. Topsail Beach: Town Park Renovation
Town of Forest City: Thermal Belt Phase Trail Phase1
Few things in life have inspired me to be up and moving before 3 a.m. I think the last time was to watch a meteor shower 15 years ago. Welcoming an unknown number of visitors to Gorges State Park on total eclipse day was bound to be an adventure.
Most staff and media were on site and ready to go by 3:30 a.m. Monday (Aug. 21), and rumor has it that eager visitors were lining up outside the gate as early as 1 a.m. We knew early on that morning we were right to plan for a large and enthusiastic crowd for the total eclipse at Gorges. The energy was palpable—the kind of energy you get from people camping out for tickets to a Rolling Stones concert, or to attend a coveted football game.
As cars entered the park from 5 a.m. through 7:40 a.m. when the gates closed, I noticed something: Nobody was honking. Nobody was yelling. Everyone was working together, being respectful of one another, being patient, and following directions of rangers.
Sleepy but giddy people from all over the world came pouring into the park at 5 a.m. sharp. They were well-prepared with tents, blankets, food, pillows, and chairs. The park was full of couples, groups of friends, families and loners. Some brought children still in pajamas, some brought parents and grandparents who maneuvered with walkers, canes, and scooters around our hilly viewing areas. Some brought their dogs, many of which I was able to meet.
Nobody was fighting over viewing spots, and many were even helping one another set up their mini campsites. We all watched the stars over Gorges and then the sunrise together, united in our ultimate goal of the day: TOTAL ECLIPSE.
I walked around as everyone set up their viewing spot to answer questions and make sure everyone was comfortable. I was greeted with smiles, positive attitudes, and kind words of appreciation from so many. A few people were reading, playing checkers, tossing a Frisbee, or chatting. Many—and I mean many—were just lounging, gazing at the sky and napping through the morning. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen so many people in one place just “relaxing.” It was a beautiful thing!
This day at Gorges was an incredible opportunity to see the magic of our park rangers educating children. Rangers from Pilot Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and New River state parks engaged young people and their families in eclipse-themed educational activities, arts and crafts, and safety exercises. I was impressed not only by how interested the children were in these activities, but in how excited the rangers were to share with them. We are so lucky to have such great park rangers!
At some point mid-morning, all of the cars that would fit had already been squeezed into the park, and everyone was sprawled out in hammocks, on blankets, or under tents. We enjoyed live music from the Quarter House Band, the Blue Ridge Bakery Boys, and Tina Eno; kids danced to the fun sing-a-long songs of the Singing Vegetables; and we ate kettle corn, cotton candy, SO many sno cones, gelato, pork bar-b-que sandwiches and Thai curry and bun bowls. And then….we lounged.
Around 12:30 p.m., the clouds really started to build. Whispers began- will it clear up? It BETTER clear up! We tested out our eclipse glasses and prepared for a life changing event. After 1 p.m., we caught our first glimpse of the eclipse as the moon began to move in front of the sun. Clouds teased us, but we all donned our eclipse glasses and enjoyed the beginning of the eclipse before heavy clouds and rain obscured our view.
Despite the party-crashing clouds, I think everyone was really amazed when the eclipse reached totality. The sky slowly became nearly dark. I ran around looking for different vantage points and hoping I could catch a peek at the sun, but clouds seemed to obscure the sun from every spot. The expansive views from the back deck of the visitor’s center showed towering cumulus near the horizon and the colors of sunset across the sky—in the middle of the afternoon.
The best part of this gathering was being unified in experiencing an extraordinary event much bigger than our lives, bigger than our problems, bigger than our country, bigger even than our planet. Is it that the people who come to North Carolina State Parks are all awesome, or is it that our parks bring out the best in people? Either way, it works.
Thanks to all who joined us at Gorges State Park for the total solar eclipse—not only for choosing Gorges for the eclipse, but for your patience, enthusiasm, kindness and consideration for those around you. We hope that you enjoyed Gorges State Park and that you will come back soon!
Youngsters get a safe look at the sun through a protected telescope