8 Family-Friendly Hikes in North Carolina
From the mountains to the sea, these trails are perfect for the entire family.
Few states can challenge the diversity of North Carolina’s hiking trails. They cut through craggy mountaintops, waterfalls, river bluffs and tidal marshes to keep the whole family happy, active and entertained. So, pack a lunch and set aside a few hours to tackle these family-friendly North Carolina hiking trails together. While you’re at it, enjoy the many state and national park centennial celebrations taking place at the host sites. For additional information, visit ncparks.gov.
1. Carolina Beach State Park
Carolina Beach, NC
Flytrap Trail: This half-mile loop trail is popular for spotting carnivorous plants native to the area.
Sugarloaf Trail: This 3-mile, one-way trail provides views of lime sink ponds, carnivorous plants, birds, tidal marshes and Sugarloaf Dune — a pre-Colonial geological feature on which Civil War Confederate soldiers once slept.
2. Crowders Mountain State Park
Kings Mountain, NC
Pinnacle Trail: This strenuous 2-mile, one-way trail leads to King’s Pinnacle, the highest point in Gaston County. The last half-mile is a steep scramble to the top, but worth the effort. Little legs may take better to the Fern and Lake trails that combine for an easy 2-mile loop. Features include the lake with wildlife and a picnic area.
3. Hanging Rock State Park
Hanging Rock Trail: This moderate 1.3-mile, one-way trail leads to iconic vistas of the surrounding area. View the magnificent stone face and experience plenty of stairs along the way. The Upper Cascades Falls (.3 miles), a rock garden (.1 miles), Hidden Falls (.4 miles) and Window Falls (.6 miles, moderate) are also easily accessible from nearby trailheads.
4. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area
Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail: This easy 2-mile loop trail runs alongside the Eno River and features Mountain Laurel, rhododendrons, several interesting rock formations and the Occoneechee Mountain overlook, the highest point in Orange County. For an even easier hike, take the Chestnut Oak Trail past the ranger station to Overlook Trail and connect with the Mountain Loop Trail just before the overlook.
5. Pilot Mountain State Park
Jomeokee Trail: This moderate .8-mile loop trail offers two scenic views from Little Pinnacle and Big Pinnacle. A third lookout point is accessible directly from the summit parking area. Parking is limited on busy weekends, so arrive early to avoid delays.
6. Raven Rock State Park
Raven Rock Loop Trail: This easy 2.6-mile loop trail offers a view of the Cape Fear River from atop the 150-foot rocky bluffs. Hikers can also climb down 135 steps to amble along the river’s shore. An overlook provides a 350-foot-high view.
7. South Mountains State Park
Connelly Springs, NC
High Shoals Falls Loop Trail: This strenuous 2.75-mile loop trail follows along the Jacob Fork River to steps leading to an 80-foot waterfall and lookout platform. Falls are located 1 mile from the Jacob Fork Creek parking area.
8. Stone Mountain State Park
Roaring Gap, NC
Stone Mountain Loop Trail: View the 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls during this strenuous 4.5-mile loop, easily broken into manageable, one-way hikes. The 600-foot summit is a 1.5-mile hike from either the upper or lower trailheads. The trail from the upper trailhead to the falls is strenuous with 300 stairs. Avoid the stairs by leaving from the lower trailhead and taking the trail through Hutchinson Homestead to the falls (1.6 miles one way).
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate North Carolina State Parks Road Trip
Christa Hogan is a freelance writer and has hiked most of the trails mentioned with her husband and their three boys — ages, 4, 6 and 10.