Flanked by four different states, and framed on its eastern side by the bracing waters of the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina is blessed with some of the most breathtaking state parks you could ever hope to visit.
Comprising diverse landscapes of towering mountains, rampaging rivers, dense woodlands and phenomenal lakes, these outdoor recreational destinations are terrific places to head to when you yearn to reconnect with nature.
Offering endless opportunities for activities like hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, picnicking and camping, they are all tailor made spots in which to relax and unwind.
If you live near the town of Highlands, a few of these places are not too far away from you either – including the five outlined below, which we would say are ‘must visit’.
Map of State Parks Near Highlands NC
Here is a map of the state parks in North Carolina covered in this post:
List of State Parks Near Highlands
All 5 of these state parks near Highlands can be reached within a fairly straight forward drive of up to 4 hours from the city.
They also offer a range of different types of camping facilities for those who want to stay at them for a few nights as well.
1. Lake James State Park
Location: 7321 NC-126, Nebo, NC 28761
Based around a picturesque 6,812-acre lake, the Lake James State Park is terrific place to head to if you love water based recreational activities.
Located about a 2 hour and 25 minute drive northeast of the city, this family friendly public recreation space offers plenty of opportunities for swimming, fishing and boating in its crystal clear and shimmering waters.
The park is also much loved by hikers who enjoy exploring more than 25 miles of trails that wind their way through it. Around 60% of which can be traversed by mountain bikes.
Overall, you will find three separate campgrounds here. One of them, the Paddy’s Creek Area, has 33 drive-to campsites, while some 20 walk-in sites can be procured at the Catawba River Area.
If you would prefer something more remote, the Long Arm Peninsula has a primitive site that can only be accessed by canoe, kayak or powerboat.
2. Mount Mitchell State Park
Location: 2388 NC-128, Burnsville, NC 28714
Another park that is a 2 hour and 25 minute drive (north) from Highlands is Mount Mitchell State Park.
For those into spectacular views, this is an excellent place to come. Because its elevated viewpoints – which reach a maximum of 6,684 feet – showcase magnificent, panoramic landscapes that include the breathtaking vista of a spruce-fir forest.
Also notable within the park is a captivating museum which conveys the cultural and natural history of the mountain via several exhibits. While a collection of trails, which have varying degrees of difficulty will enable you to venture around both its summit and wilderness area.
Camping accommodation is only available here between May 1st and October 31st. It takes the form of a family campground that offers nine tent sites. Each of which has its own grill and picnic tables.
Restrooms are located close to the campground, and a concession stand and full service restaurant operates during these days as well.
3. Lake Norman State Park
Location: 759 State Park Rd, Troutman, NC 28166
Previously known as the Duke Power State Park, you will reach Lake Norman State Park after a 3 hour and 15 minute drive from Highlands.
As you might have guessed, the main drawcard for this 1942-acre public recreational area, is the waterway which gives the park its name. As the largest man-made lake in North Carolina, it is a haven for those who enjoy activities like swimming, fishing, SUP, kayaking, canoeing and boating.
For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there are over 30 miles of single track to explore via hiking, or mountain biking. As well as several lovely spots for a picnic.
The campground provides 44 sites for overnight visitors. Overall, 12 of them come with water hookups, sewer and electricity connections that range between 30 and 50 amp.
All of these sites are equipped with a table, tent pads, fire ring that also has a cover and a paved picnic area. While other onsite amenities include kitchen facilities, restrooms with flushing toilets and a fireplace.
4. Pilot Mountain State Park
Location: 1792 Pilot Knob Park Rd, Pinnacle, NC 27043
Situated a 4 hour drive northeast of Highlands, it will take you a bit longer to get to Pilot Mountain State Park than the other destinations on this list. But once you get there you will be greeted with the wonderful site of the imposing Pilot Mountain.
Set within 3782-acres, the peak soars to a height of 2241 feet. For those who want to explore it, several trails enable you to ramble around the foot of the mountain and on to the picturesque Yadkin River.
The mountain offers numerous picnic spots, while on some parts of its cliff face you will even be able to go rock climbing or rappelling.
Towards the base of the slopes are 42 sites for tent and trailer camping. You will also be able to access two paddle-in sites via the river.
5. Stone Mountain State Park
Location: 3042 Frank Pkwy, Roaring Gap, NC 28668
Stone Mountain State Park is another park that is a 4 hour drive (north) from Highlands.
Encompassing 14,353-acres the park encircles a stunning granite dome. With over 18 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails you will be able to explore large parts of it on two or four legs. While those who enjoy angling will have over 20 miles of designated waters to cast a line for trout.
One of the most popular activities at this park is to scale the granite mountains 600-foot face. Though to do this you will need to get a rock climbing permit.
If you would prefer an activity that is a bit more gentle, there are several scenic picnic spots dotted through the park for you to enjoy.
The lovely campground here is open all throughout the year and provides 90 sites for overnight guests. A number of these sites have utility hookups, while group and other backpacking campsites are also available.