There are about 1.25 million acres of National Forest Service land in North Carolina, with a great majority open to the public for wide-ranging recreation. In addition to campgrounds in all four national forests in the state, the forests have day-use areas (below: Croatan, Nantahala, Pisgah, Uwharrie) available for sight-seeing, fishing, picnicking, swimming and other activities.
Several day use areas require a small fee, or a fee to reserve picnic shelters. National Forest picnic shelters seat 24 to 44 people. If picnic shelters have not been reserved, their use is free.
The national forests have also set aside backcountry and wilderness areas, such as the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, known for its hiking and rock climbing opportunities, and the lesser-known Birkhead Mountains Wilderness in the Uwharrie National Forest.
The mountains’ national forests are home to several beautiful waterfalls, including the 411-foot Whitewater Falls, the tallest falls east of the Rockies. The Croatan National Forest, on the coast, offers several opportunities for easy hiking on flat terrain through pine forests, saltwater estuaries, bogs and raised swamps, or “pocosins.”
Below, we have information about day use areas in each forest and contact information for each forest ranger district (the larger Nantahala and Pisgah forests each have multiple ranger districts). Look for more information about North Carolina’s national forests on the Hiking and Camping pages.
This is the headquarters office:
National Forest Links
Croatan Day Use Areas
– Black Swamp OHV Trails, near Maysville. Eight miles of trails designated for all-terrain vehicles, trail bikes and four-wheel drives with a wheel base of less than 50 inches. Daily fee is $5, season pass is $30. Permits are available at the trailhead, the district office and local stores.
– Brice’s Creek, near New Bern. Boat launch for non-motorized boats on Brice’s Creek, with picnic area. No fee. The Brice’s Creek Trail is the starting point of the Croatan’s Saltwater Adventure Trail, a paddler’s 100-mile, seven-day, almost-circumnavigation of the forest via water.
– Cahooque Creek Boat Launch, near Havelock. Non-motorized boat access to Cahooque Creek for fishing, kayaking, etc. No fee.
– Cedar Point Recreation Area, near Swansboro. A salt-water marsh and coastal forest near the mouth of the White Oak River with the Tideland National Recreation Trail, fishing, boat ramp, camping, picnicking, toilets. (252) 638-5628. Click on the photo above-right for more information.
– Haywood Landing, near Maysville. Boat launch for non motorized boat access to the White Oak River for fishing, kayaking, etc. No fee.
– Island Creek Trail, near Pollocksville. Half-mile interpretive trail through rich botanical area provides opportunity to view large and small wildlife. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Neuse River Recreation Area, near New Bern. Offers the Flanners Beach swimming area with cold-shower bathhouse, trails for hikers and bikers, camping, picnicking, flush toilets. (252) 638-5628. Click on the photo at left for more information.
– Patsy Pond Nature Trail, between Cedar Point and Morehead City. The interpretive trail through an open woodland of longleaf pines with low growing herbs and shrubs has .75-mile, 1-mile and 1.9-mile loops.
– Pine Cliff Equestrian Trails, near Havelock. The combined Foster, Jones and Wright trails provide 13 miles of bridle path. (Trail Map).
– Pine Cliff Picnic Area, near Havelock. The small site on the Neuse River has a picnic shelter, vault toilet and drinking water, and opportunity for fishing and hiking, including a trailhead for the 20-mile Neusiok Trail. Click on the photo at right for more information.
Go to Camping in Croatan National Forest for several more day use sites/campgrounds.
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Forest Recreation Map (includes Pisgah National Forest)
Nantahala Day Use Areas
Arrowood Glade, near Franklin. Roadside picnic site off of U.S. 64 on Wayah Road (SR1310) has picnic tables, a picnic shelter, grills, drinking water and flush toilets. Near Wayah Bald. Open April 1 – October 31.
– Balsam Lake, near Tuckasegee. Offers fishing and walking trail along Wolf Creek, picnicking, drinking water and flush toilets. No water or restrooms in winter. Overlooking the lake, Balsam Lake Lodge, with 16 twin beds, three bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen, can be rented by groups. Phone (877) 444-6777 or visit Recreation.gov for lodge rental. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Bridal Veil Falls, near Highlands. A short side road off of U.S. 64 allows you to drive behind the waters of Bridal Veil Falls. (828) 524-6441. Click on the photo at left for more information.
– Cheoah Point Recreation Area, near Robbinsville. Open April 15 to October 31. Includes a swimming beach on Santeetlah Lake, fishing, camping, boat ramp, picnicking (handicapped accessible; shelter), drinking water and flush toilets (handicapped accessible) and trails. (828) 479-6431.
– Cherohala Skyway, near Robbinsville. 30-mile drive along the crest of the Smoky Mountains, with overlooks, picnicking, trails and vault toilets. (828) 479-6431.
– Cherokee Lake Recreation Area, near Murphy. Open April 1 to October 30. Fishing pier (handicapped accessible), trails, picnic shelter, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). (828) 837-5152.
– Cliffside Lake, near Highlands. Open April 1 to October 31. Swimming and bathhouse with showers, seven short trails, two picnic shelters (can be reserved), drinking water, flush toilets. Adjacent to Van Hook Glade Campground. $3 fee per car. (828) 526-5912.
– Cullasaja Falls, near Highlands. The 250-foot cascade on the Cullasaja River is near the foot of the Cullasaja River Gorge. Upper Cullasaja Falls is nearby. (828) 524-6441. Click on the photo for more information.
– Dirty John Shooting Range, near Franklin. Six firing lanes or stations on a 100-yard range with target frames set at 25, 50 and 100 yards. Stationary paper targets or manufactured silhouette targets only. Vault toilet. $3 per person per day or a $25 for an annual pass. Open year-round. (828) 524-6441.
– Dry Falls, near Highlands. A short, easy trail allows you to walk behind the 80-foot Dry Falls. The site has bathrooms, picnic tables and parking. (828) 524-6441.
– Ellicott Rock Wilderness, near Cashiers. North Carolina is home to 3,394 acres of the 8,274-acre wilderness area shared with South Carolina (2,859 acres in Sumter National Forest) and Georgia (2,021 acres). The steep terrain offers hiking, primitive camping, fishing, waterfalls and access to South Carolina’s Foothills Trail.
– Fires Creek Recreation Area, near Hayesville. Fifty-three miles of trails are open to hikers or horseback riders, including the 25-mile Rim Trail in the Fires Creek Backcountry Area. A short loop trail leads to Leatherwood Falls. Camping is available at Bristol Horse Camp and at primitive sites at Huskins Branch Hunters Camp. (828) 837-5152.
– Glenn Falls, near Highlands. A steep one-mile trail leads to the three 60-foot drops of Glenn Falls (also spelled “Glen”). Click on the photo at left for more information.
– Hanging Dog Recreation Area, near Murphy on Hiwassee Reservoir. Lake is open to boating and fishing. Recreation area has about 10 miles of trails available for hiking and biking, a picnic grounds, vault toilets. Note: a campground was permanently closed in April 2018. (828) 837-5152.
– Granite City, near Cashiers. Unsanctioned area provides opportunity for bouldering, climbing and rappelling. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Jackrabbit Mountain Recreation Area, near Hayesville. Open May 1 to September 30. Swimming beach on Chatuge Lake, hot showers, 14 miles of bike trails, camping, fishing, boat ramp, picnic shelters, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). $3 fee per car. (828) 837-5152.
– Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, near Robbinsville. A figure-8 2-mile loop courses through a virgin old-growth forest. Picnicking, flush and vault toilets (handicapped accessible). (828) 479-6431. Click on the photo at left for more information.
– Moss Knob Shooting Range, near Franklin and Highlands. Four firing lanes or stations on a 150-yard range with frame targets set at 25 and 50 yards. Stationary paper targets or manufactured silhouette targets only. Vault toilet. $3 per person per day or a $25 for an annual pass. Open year-round. (828) 524-6441.
– Nantahala River Gorge, between Almond and Topton. 8.5 miles of whitewater rafting, hiking trails, picnicking, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). $1 per person fee, $5 for season. (828) 524-6441.
– Panther Top Shooting Range, near Murphy. Covered shooting pad for six 100-yard firing lines for rifles and four 25-yard firing lines for pistols. $3 per person per day or a $25 for an annual pass. Open year-round. (828) 837-5152. The Mountain Country Rod and Gun Club of Murphy maintains Panther Top. They have directions to the site and other info here.
– Silver Run Falls, near Cashiers. There is a short, easy crushed-stone trail to the base of the 30-foot falls. (828) 526-3765. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Standing Indian Picnic Area, near Franklin. Picnicking, drinking water, flush toilets. Open April 1 to November 30. Adjacent to Standing Indian Campground. $2 per car fee for day use. (828) 524-6441.
– Tsali Recreation Area, near Almond. More than 40 miles of trails open to hiking, and biking and horseback riding on alternating days. Tsali also offers seasonal hunting, camping, boat ramp, picnicking, drinking water, vault toilets (handicapped accessible). Open year-round; campground open April 15 – October 31. $2 fee for trail use, $15 for season pass. (828) 479-6431.
– Wayah Bald, near Franklin. Historic fire tower affords panoramic views. Bartram Trail and Appalachian Trail cross the area. Picnicking, vault toilets (handicapped accessible). (828) 524-6441. Click the photo at left for more information.
– Wayehutta OHV System, east of Cullowhee, aka Roy A. Taylor Forest. 24 miles of challenging trails for off-highway vehicles (OHV) less than 60 inches in width (motorcycles, utility terrain vehicles and all-terrain vehicles – ATVs). A 30-foot waterfall with rhododendron is located near the trail system’s entrance. Drinking water, vault toilets. Open April 1 to December 15. $5 per vehicle. (828) 526-3765.
– Whiteside Mountain, near Highlands. Two-mile loop trail to 4,930-foot summit with outstanding views. The Forest Service rates the trail “more difficult” because of its steepness. Vault toilets. $2 fee per car, $15 for season pass. (828) 526-3765.
– Whitewater Falls, near Cashiers. The 411-foot waterfall is tallest in the East. A short trail to an overlook is wheelchair accessible. Picnicking, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). $2 fee per car ($1 per person for more than seven people traveling together in a vehicle), $15 for season pass. (828) 526-3765. Click on the photo at right for more information.
Return to Top of National Forests
Forest Recreation Map (includes Nantahala National Forest)
Pisgah Day Use Areas
– Boone Fork Pond. From Lenoir take N.C. 90 West for seven miles, turn right on SR 1368 for three miles; pond is on the left. Fishing pond has accessible pier, picnic tables, trails. (828) 652-2144.
– Brown Mountain OHV Area, near Colletsville. Open April 1 to January 1. 34 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult for off-highway vehicles, including jeeps and other four-wheeled vehicles on some trails. Primitive camping is also allowed; sites have tables, grills and lantern posts, and there’s a water hydrant and vault toilet at the trailhead. $5 daily fee/$30 season pass to ride. (828) 652-2144.
– Carolina Hemlocks Recreation Area, near Burnsville. Open April 20 to October 30. Popular for swimming and tubing on the South Toe River, and tubes are available to rent. Also fishing, trails, picnicking, drinking water, flush toilets. Adjacent to Carolina Hemlocks Campground. More information from the Cradle of Forestry in America, which operates the campground. $3 fee per car. (877) 444-6777.
– Catawba Falls, near Old Fort. An 88-acre tract containing the 100-foot lower and 70-foot upper falls on the Catawba River became property of the Forest Service in 2010 and development was completed in December 2016. A trail and footbridges over the river and Chestnut Branch lead to the lower falls. Vault toilets. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Cold Spring, Harmon Den. From I40 Exit 7 take FR 148 for 3.7 miles, then turn right on FR 3626. Pretty picnic spot with fishing in Cold Spring Creek. Hiking and horseback trails. (828) 682-6146.
– Cradle of Forestry in America Heritage Site, near Brevard (see also the Cradle of Forestry Interpretive Association in America site). Open April 14 to November 4. Two 1-mile interpretive trails, several exhibits and a movie at Forest Discovery Center, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). Pink Beds Picnic Area next door. $5 for adults, free for 15 years old and younger; $30 for a season pass. (828) 877-3130.
– Elk Falls, near Elk Park. Half-mile, moderate trail to a 65-foot waterfall. (828) 682-6146.
– Lake Powhatan Recreation Area, near Asheville in the heart of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest (forest map). Open April through October. Picnic area with 22 tables and swimming beach with lifeguards in summer, fishing pier (handicapped accessible), hiking and biking trails, drinking water and flush toilets. Adjacent to Lake Powhatan Campground. $5 fee per car, $20 for a season pass that is also good at North Mills River (below). Early April to late October. (828) 877-3130.
– Linville Falls, near Linville Falls community. Short trail leads to overlooks of the double waterfall, as well as views of Linville Gorge (see immediately below). Area connects via trail to Blue Ridge Parkway site with visitors center, restrooms and picnic tables. Vault toilet at site. (828) 682-6146. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, near Linville Falls community. The 2,000-foot-deep gorge is formed by the Jonas Ridge on the east and Linville Mountain on the west and is bisected by the Linville River. It offers numerous opportunities for hiking, backpacking, rock climbing (permit required), fishing, hunting and primitive camping. A permit is required for camping on weekends and holidays from May 1 through October 31.
– Looking Glass Falls, near Brevard. Observation points are available roadside on U.S. 276 and on a stairway to the pool at the foot of the 60-foot falls. (828) 877-3265.
– Lost Cove Picnic Area, near Burnsville. Picnic tables on the south Toe River adjacent to Black Mountain Campground. Open all year.
– Max Patch, near Hot Springs. Two loop trails of 1.4 and 2.4 miles. Hikers can climb to the grassy summit (elev. 4,629 feet) for 360-degree vistas that include Mount Mitchell to the east and the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. The Appalachian Trail crosses the area. (828) 622-3202. Click on the photo at right for more information.
– Murray Branch Picnic Area, near Hot Springs. Picnic tables and grills, two shelters, two accessible fishing piers, access for rafting or tubing on the French Broad River, and a short loop trail nearby. April 1 to October 31. (828) 622-3202. Click on the photo at leftt for more information.
– North Mills River Picnic Area, near Asheville. Picnic tables, plus nearby trails open for hiking, biking and horseback riding; fishing, drinking water, flush toilets. Adjacent to North Mills River Campground. $3 fee per car, $20 for a season pass that is also good at Lake Powhatan (above). April 1 to October 31. (828) 877-3265.
– Pink Beds Picnic Area, near Brevard. 21 picnic tables, 2 shelters. Drinking water, flush toilets. Shelter rental $50. Adjacent to Cradle of Forestry in America and its Forest Discovery Center. (828) 877-3265.
– Roan Mountain, near Bakersville. Short trails on mountaintop known for rhododendron gardens, grassy balds and spruce fir forests. Also picnicking, drinking water, flush toilets (handicapped accessible). Appalachian Trail crosses the area. Open May through November. $3 fee per car, $15 for a season pass. (828) 682-6146.
– Rocky Bluff Picnic Area, near Hot Springs. Picnic grounds with 10 tables and an amphitheater, plus 1.2-mile loop trail to Spring Creek, a trout-fishing creek. Drinking water and flush toilets. Adjacent to Rocky Bluff Campground. Open May through October. (828) 622-3202.
– Shining Rock Wilderness Area, near Canton. Shining Rock encompasses more than 18,000 acres with elevations varying from 3,300 to over 6,000 feet. There are multiple trails, but they are neither signed nor blazed, and are maintained at a low level. Groups of campers may not be larger than 10 people at any time, and campfires are not allowed. Sunburst Campground, with nine sites near Waynesville, is on the edge of the wilderness area. The wilderness area is named for the white quartz outcropping near the crest of the Shining Rock Mountain (6,040 feet).
– Sliding Rock Recreation Area, near Brevard. Popular 50-foot natural water slide that ends in a 8-foot-deep pool is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Lifeguards on duty in season. Two observation platforms. Flush-toilet restrooms, drinking water (water may be shut off with closing). $2 fee per person. Annual passes $25. (828) 877-3265.
– Sycamore Flats Picnic Area, near Brevard. Picnic area on the Davidson River adjacent to Davidson River Campground has a picnic shelter and 40 tables, grills and bathrooms, and a half-mile trail. Access to the river makes it popular for tubing and fishing. (828) 877-3265. Click on the photo for more information.
– Table Rock, near Morganton. Short trails along the rim of Linville Gorge to summit of Table Rock and the Chimneys. Also picnicking and vault toilets (handicapped accessible). Open April 1 to December 31. (828) 652-2144.
– Toms Creek Falls, near Nebo. A half-mile accessible trail leads to an observation deck at the foot of the 80-foot cascade. Off I-40 at U.S. 221 North (exit 85), go 12 miles to Huskins Branch Road then left for 1.2 miles to the parking lot and trailhead. (828) 652-2144.
– Upper Creek Falls, near Morganton. A steep, 0.4-mile trail leads to the top of the falls and a 0.9-mile trail goes to the bottom of the falls. A 1.6-mile loop requires twice fording the creek by wading or rock-hopping.
– Wisemans View, near Linville Falls. Short, wheelchair-accessible trail leads to views of Linville Gorge, and Hawksbill and Table Rock mountains. Vault toilets (handicapped accessible). (828) 652-2144. Click on the photo at right for more information.
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– Badin Lake Recreation Area, at Badin, comprises the five sites below and five family campgrounds.
– Badin Lake OHV Trail Complex. 17 miles of trails in four systems in the Badin Lake area of the forest are open April 1 to December 15 for all off-highway vehicles, except for a small portion of the Dickey Bell Trail located west of SR 6584, which is suitable only for use by ATVs or motorcycles. Permits are $5 a day or $30 for a season pass, and are available from the Uwharrie Ranger District Office and selected local stores. The Art Lilley Campground offers primitive camping among the trails. There’s no camping fee, but a trail permit is required.
– Cove Boat Ramp. Ramp with adjacent swim and fishing areas on Badin Lake, plus access to Badin Lake Trail and vault toilets. (910) 576-6391.
– Flintlock Valley Shooting Range, 1359 Moccasin Creek Road. Two shelters with covered shooting benches, restroom and parking. The rifle range is 100 yards and the pistol range is 25 yards. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. before Memorial Day and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Labor Day. $3 per day, $30 for annual pass. Passes are not sold on site and must be bought in advance. (910) 576-6391.
– Holt’s Picnic Area. Fishing on Badin Lake, picnicking and vault toilets. (910) 576-6391.
– Kings Mountain Point. Four handicapped-accessible fishing piers on Badin Lake, 32 picnic tables, a swimming beach, hiking with access to Badin Lake Trail, plus drinking water, vault toilets. Picnic pavilion has electricity, water and three grills, and accommodates 50. Large play field nearby. (910) 576-6391.
– Birkhead Mountains Wilderness Area. The 5,160 acres at the northern end of the Uwharrie Mountains have designated hiking trails (horses and vehicles are not allowed), and are available for primitive camping and hunting.
– Wood Run Mountain Bike Trails, between Albemarle and Troy. Includes Wood Run Road (11 miles out and back, and additional half-mile spur), 5-mile Supertree Trail and 6-mile Keyauwee Trail. Wood Run Camp offers primitive camping 1.4 miles from Wood Run Trailhead. On N.C. 24/27, two miles east of the bridges over Lake Tillery/Pee Dee River.
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