If you're planning a last-minute Labor Day weekend getaway, camping at North Carolina's many parks, forests and reservoirs is an economical approach, especially as hotels tack user fees onto nightly bills right and left.
A decent hotel room easily tops $100 a night and, according to the Associated Press, hotels are padding their profits by adding new surcharges and increasing the amounts of existing fees. These include anything from $10 to $25 a night for Internet access, to "resort fees" and mandatory tips.
But if you camp, the nightly fee is about a fifth or less of what you'll pay for a hotel. Plus you get outside in parks and recreation areas that you are already paying for through your taxes.
In National Park campgrounds in North Carolina, consider:
* Blue Ridge Parkway campgrounds at five sites for $16 to $19 per night.
* Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with four campgrounds that charge $20 to $23 a night.
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with six campgrounds in North Carolina (and more in Tennessee) that charge $14 to $23 per night.
And out on Cape Lookout National Seashore, primitive camping is free. Cabins on the seashore (which book early in the year) sleep four to 12 people and rent for $54 to $168 a night.
Elsewhere, five national forests - Croatan (nine campgrounds) at the coast, Uwharrie (six campgrounds) in the center of the state, and the Nantahala (16 campgrounds) and Pisgah (15 campgrounds) in the mountains - offer everything from family campgrounds for nominal fees to wilderness camping for free.
North Carolina State Parks offer camping of all types at 29 parks for $20 a night or less. Some parks, like Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and Kerr Lake have multiple large family campgrounds with hundreds of sites available.
The Corps of Engineers has three family campgrounds at W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir near Wilkesboro.
If you are connected to the military, you have access to seven Department of Defense campgrounds at the beach and at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro and at Fort Bragg outside of Fayetteville.
And, if you're into roughing it, the Tennessee Valley Authority offers free primitive camping at Apalachia Reservoir in the mountains near Murphy and Bladen Lakes State Forest has 40 acres open at no charge at Camp Chamblee near Elizabethtown down east.
National parks and forests and state parks allow reservations at many campgrounds but save some sites for walk-up campers, and other campgrounds do not take reservations. Check the information at the link and get in touch by phone or email, or through the online reservation system.
The potential for the prohibition first came up in April 2013, when officials said the idea was a result of visitor complaints and vandalism at the site.
Today the Forest Service said in a news release that officials had reviewed complaints of "drunken behavior at the site" that had "diminished the quality of the recreational experience and made the area unfriendly to families." The release also reiterates that facilities at the recreation area have been vandalized.
Fishers Landing has nine tent sites, access to riverbank fishing, vault toilets, running water, fire rings and picnic tables. It is about eight miles south of New Bern on U.S. 70.
The ban under consideration would prohibit alcohol at Fishers Landing for five years unless it was rescinded earlier, according to the news release.
Comments may be emailed to [email protected]; mailed to Croatan National Forest, 141 E. Fisher Road, New Bern, N.C. 28560; or faxed to 252-637-9113. They must be received by September 4 to be considered.
People who cannot or will not drink responsibly are prompting a ban on alcohol at Fishers Landing (below), a small Croatan National Forest campground on the Neuse River south of New Bern. Click on either photo below for more about Fishers Landing.
As part of our recent visit to the Boone / Blowing Rock area of the Blue Ridge Parkway, of course we visited Linville Falls and we were pleased to see work in progress to make visitors' experience there better.
The Blue Ridge Park Foundation is expanding the most easily accessed overlook at the waterfalls and will add interpretive material to explain the Linville Falls thrust fault. "This area lies within the geologically significant 'Grandfather Mountain Window' and is the beginning point of the Linville Gorge," the foundation says. "This important site deserves to be both viewed and interpreted for the public."
The Foundation is spending $21,500 to complete this work. For most people, the biggest benefit of the project will be that it significantly enlarges the crowded upper falls overlook.
So far, the most visible effect of the project is construction of pedestals for the rail fence that will be moved to encircle the entire rock ledge on the upper falls basin.
As it is, the upper falls overlook, which is the closest to the area's access site on the Blue Ridge Parkway, can get extremely crowded.
The twin upper falls:
Check out our new guide to Linville Falls, with photos of the lower falls (below) and the Dugger's Creek waterfall.
As part of our recent trip to the Boone / Blowing Rock "High Country" area of the western North Carolina mountains, we made a trip out to Wiseman's View above the Linville Gorge.
You have to drive a four-mile dirt road that's a little iffy in spots to get to this Pisgah National Forest day use area, but the reward is worth it. The views of Hawksbill and Table Rock mountains are iconic sights.
Read more about Wiseman's View in the newest addition to Carolina Outdoors Guide.
Hawksbill Mountain greets visitors to Wiseman's View, a Pisgah National Forest day use site above Linville Gorge. Click on the photo below or the link above for more photos and information.
It's known to many simply as "the Cascades," but the easily accessible Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall is a part of the larger family-friendly E.B. Jeffress Park.
The hike to the waterfall is an easy-to-moderate one-mile round-trip with only a very slight elevation change and a narrow stairway making it more than an easy stroll. The park also has a nice picnic area and a log cabin and log church on a wide lawn that's an easy half-mile walk from the parking lot.
Check out Carolina Outdoors Guide's new page about the Blue Ridge Parkway's E.B. Jeffress Park and the Cascades and Tompkins Knob trails.
The Cascades at the Blue Ridge Parkway's E.B. Jeffress Park as seen from the lower overlook. Click on the photo or the link above for more information.
Improvements at Graveyard Fields, an overlook near the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, will increase safety at the popular site, officials tell several mountain publications.
Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8) closed April 22 and reopened at the beginning of this month with twice as many parking spaces as before, a new bathroom, and improvements to the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, which include a boardwalk and signage. The National Park Service will also lower the speed limit in the area and now prohibits parking along the shoulder of the road.
The $360,000 enhancement was unveiled late in the day July 3 without announcement, according to Blue Ridge Now.
Willa Mays, chief development officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, which funded the renovation, told the Transylvania Times that safety has been an issue because the small recreation area's 17-space parking lot often overflowed with visitors' vehicles. Now there are 40 parking spaces.
Graveyard Field is popular in the summer for hiking the 2.3-mile Loop Trail, which includes three waterfalls, blueberries and wildlife viewing opportunities. The Loop Trail also provides access to Black Balsam Knob, Tennant Mountain and the Shining Rock Wilderness in the Pisgah National Forest.
Before changes were made, visitors frequently filled the existing lot, and parked on its median as well as several hundred feet of the shoulder of the road in both directions, Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods said in a news release in April. "This situation resulted in numerous incidents," he said.
"No parking" signs are posted for about 500-600 feet along the shoulder of the road, the Asheville Citizen-Times said earlier this month. Rangers have been issuing citations, which Don Coleman, supervisory park ranger, said can cost up to $5,000.
The speed limit in the area will be decreased from 45 to 35 mph this summer from Milepost 417 at Looking Glass Rock Overlook to about Milepost 420 near the entrance to the Shining Rock Wilderness Area, Coleman said.
A Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation video featuring the Steep Canyon Rangers has footage of the area and early renovation work, as well as an explanation of why preserving the area is so important.
A survey of National Parks visitation in 2013 released this week finds that 16 million visits to the nine national parks in North Carolina yielded more than $1 billion in spending during the year despite the fact that overall visitation in '13 dropped by 3.2 percent (9.1 million visits) compared to 2012.
The 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects report says the Blue Ridge Parkway experienced the largest decline of any park, with 2.3 million fewer visitors in 2013 than in 2012. The decline was primarily attributed to several lengthy weather-related road closures during the first three months of the year.
Overall, the drop in park visits was attributed to economic factors, weather, including Hurricane Sandy which damaged 70 parks on the East Coast in October 2012 and caused problems into July 2013, and park closures during the federal government shutdown in October 2013.
Nationwide, there were more than 273 million recreation visits to National Park Service properties, and visitors spent $14.6 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park). The contribution of this spending to the national economy was 238,000 jobs, $9.2 billion in labor income, $15.6 billion in value added (contribution to the Gross Domestic Product), and $26.5 billion in output (retail sales, business-to-business sales and exports).
Most park visits in 2013 were day trips, with 23.8 percent described as "non-local" and 19.2 percent local. Among the 53 percent that were overnight trips, 2.9 percent included a stay in a park campground and 1.1 percent include a stay in a park lodge. Another 6.4 percent of visits included camping outside of the park.
The $4.4 billion spent on lodging in hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, and an additional $354.5 million spent on camping fees make up the largest share of visitor spending. The $4 billion spent on food and drink represents the next largest share.
North Carolina parks saw 16.13 million visitors and $1.04 billion in spending, while supporting 15,483 jobs. National park employees in North Carolina earned $471.5 million.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway, 62 percent of visits were in North Carolina and 38 percent were in Virginia, but North Carolina hosted only 44 percent of visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park compared to 56 percent in Tennessee.
Park visits, spending and jobs (with the Parkway and Smokies figures representing both states for each park) were:
+ Blue Ridge Parkway: 12.87 million visits, $782.9 million in spending, 11,283 jobs.
+ Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 2.21 million visits, $133 million in spending, 1,837 jobs.
+ Cape Lookout National Seashore: 416,569 visits, $17.64 million in spending, 246 jobs.
+ Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site: 81,711 visits, $4.5 million in spending, 65 jobs.
+ Fort Raleigh National Historic Site: 263,599 visits, $14.5 million in spending, 210 jobs.
+ Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9.35 million visits, $734 million in spending, 10,734 jobs.
+ Guilford Courthouse National Military Park: 541,581 visits, $32.8 million in spending, 477 jobs.
+ Moores Creek National Battlefield: 72,329 visits, $4.37 million in spending, 60 jobs.
+ Wright Brothers National Memorial: 447,795 visits, $24.6 million in spending, 354 jobs.
The shooting range closed in May 2010 because of stray bullets leaving firing lanes. Since then, the Forest Service has raised berms and reconstructed shooting stations, according to a news release.
Money from the Forest Service, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Rifle Association paid for renovation work.
The shooting range has 25-yard pistol and 100-yard rifle ranges and originally opened in 1996. Prior to closing, it averaged 1,000 visitors per month, according to the Forest Service.
Two North Carolina state parks on the coast have begun renting kayaks and paddleboards through a public-private partnership with a company that will also offer paddling instruction and conduct kayak tours from the parks.
At Carolina Beach, the service is at a soundside beach next to the park’s marina, the May issue of the state parks newsletter, The Steward, says. At Hammocks Beach, it’s located near an established paddling launch.
Paddle NC says it has new single, tandem and specialized fishing kayaks, and standup paddle boards for rent. Paddling instruction is offered though the company's Fluid Motion Paddling School and is taught by American Canoe Association-certified instructors.
Half-day and full-day tours of small groups will be available. "Our guides will show you the hidden coast of Carolina Beach State Park [or] Hammocks Beach State Park, or you can try one of our off-site eco-adventures," the company's website says.
At Carolina Beach, the site lists an eco-tour and a sunset tour for $50 each; tours of Masonboro Inlet, Shark's Tooth and Keg islands, and Zeke's Island for $60 each; and a full-day river tour for $83. Paddleboard tours or instruction cost $50. Tours at Hammocks Beach are similar.
Single kayaks, fishing kayaks and paddleboard rentals are $30 for two hours, $40 for half-day and $55 for full day at both parks. Tandems are $40, $55 and $65. At Hammocks Beach, two-day and three-day rentals of kayaks and canoes are available.
Update: The Forest Service said Friday at mid-day that it had reopened the parking lot at Max Patch though the fire continued to burn at 60 acres. The campground at Harmon Den and the two Forest Service roads (see below) remained closed. The news release did not mention Cold Spring picnic area.
Closed areas may reopen Saturay afternoon, the release says.
A fire in the Harmon Den area of the Pisgah National Forest is causing several areas to be closed, the National Forest Service said today.
The wildfire covers 75 acres and is expected to grow to 100 acres by the end of the day, the Forest Service said in a news release issued at mid-day.
Officials have closed the:
* Harmon Den Horse Camp, which has 10 sites and bridle trails.
* Cold Spring picnic area, which offers fishing and hiking and horseback riding.
* Max Patch parking lot, which provides access to the namesake grassy summit, hiking and horseback trails, and a fishing pond.
Forest Service Road (FSR) 148 (Cold Springs Road) and FSR 148A (Brown's Gap Road) are also closed.
Firefighters are establishing fire lines and conducting back-burning operations to contain the wildfire.
NCDOT message boards will provide information about the fire, which is producing smoke visible along I40 in the Pigeon Gorge, according to the Forest Service.
No structures are threatened, and no injuries are reported. The Forest Service is investigating.