Camp Right By The Beach At This Underrated State Park In North Carolina

For outdoorsy travelers seeking the perfect beach retreat in the Carolinas, state parks and nature preserves provide a great alternative to busy tourist traps. To camp just minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, head down the Southeast U.S. coast to Carolina Beach State Park. Located 12 miles south of the city of Wilmington in North Carolina, Carolina Beach State Park is sprawled out over 750 acres on Pleasure Island. Not only does the park boast breathtaking views of the Atlantic coast, but the southern shoreline borders the scenic Cape Fear River. 

Naturalists of all kinds can appreciate the park's rich coastal habitats that are a safe haven for animals, including white-tailed deer, shorebirds, several frog species, and even river otters. Interestingly, the park is famously known for being home to the Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant native only within 70 miles of Wilmington. To truly experience the beachy wildlands of Carolina Beach State Park, pack your camping gear and plan a stay in the park.

The park's camping options

The Carolina Beach State Park campground is nestled within the park's lush forest. There are 69 campsites with no hookups, as well as 10 additional campsites that include hookups for water, electricity, and sewer. All 79 sites include a fire ring or picnic table and grill. If you plan to keep it simple and stay at a basic campsite, it costs just $26 per night. Campsites with full RV hookups are just $36 per night. Within the campground, visitors have access to a showering area with hot water, restrooms, and water spigots.

Along with the campsites, Carolina Beach State Park features six camper cabins that are perfect for families and small groups. Each rustic lodge has HVAC units, electrical outlets, and two rooms: one with a queen bed, and one with two sets of bunk beds. That said, you still have to use the campground bathhouse and bring your own bedding. These six sites cost $78 per night. Whether you're looking to book a classic campsite or a cozier cabin, reservations for Carolina Beach State Park can be made online. Once you set up your tent and unpack your gear, it's time to explore the southeastern state park's thriving coastal ecosystems.

Activities at Carolina Beach State Park

There are nearly nine miles of well-marked trails that are mostly flat, making them suitable for hikers of all abilities. For a casual stroll, set off on Snow's Cut Trail; this .75-mile long route begins at the campground and leads through a pine-hardwood forest — all while providing panoramas of the Intracoastal Waterway. The Sugarloaf Trail is a three-mile hike that's another must-do for nature enthusiasts; you'll amble through a coastal forest before reaching a tidal swamp and longleaf pine savanna. You'll also be rewarded with gorgeous views of the 50-foot Sugarloaf Dune. 

Due to dangerous conditions, there is no beach access to the Atlantic Ocean from Carolina Beach State Park. However, there are still ways to incorporate watersports into your itinerary. Local retailer Paddle NC has kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rental options at the park that begin at $30. Setting off from the park's marina, you can traverse the waters of Cape Fear River or gently row through the bay of Myrtle Grove Sound. 

For an exhilarating aquatic experience, consider renting a jet ski to bolt through the salty waters. On the Intracoastal Waterway, Wilmington Jet Ski Rentals offers jet skis that begin at $110 per hour. Fortunately, if you do want to dive into the ocean, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach are less than 10 minutes away. Avid campers and adventuring families alike are sure to discover a trip to Carolina Beach State Park will not disappoint.