“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” -Edward Abbey
The woods and water can be an integral part of your UNC experience -and you don’t have to go far to find them.
The triangle region is full of outdoor spaces to camp, hike, run, and paddle.
Ask any outdoor enthusiast and these spots will be on their list of adventures while at UNC. Explore them! We start with those closest to campus and swirl outward across the state.
Learn more about these spots – and then, go play outside! (pro tip: Don’t feel comfortable adventuring on your own? Check out Carolina Adventures Expeditions! They provide gear, guides and routes for some of these fantastic adventures.)
Battle Park – Hiking and trail running available. Located on the east side of campus and downhill from the Coker Arboretum. The park is named for Kemp Plummer Battle, president of UNC from 1876 to 1891. The park symbolizes the important connection between nature and art at UNC. Download a trail map.
Mason Farm Biological Reserve – Hiking, trail running, and bird watching available. Located 2 miles (3 minutes by car) from UNC. It is south east of the Botanical Gardens and Totten Center. A pass is free at the visitor education center of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Bolin Creek & Sewell School Trails – Mountain biking, hiking and trail running available. Located 7 miles or 15 minutes by car from UNC. A lovely place to enjoy the outdoors. Creek walks and fundraisers occur with the “Friends of Bolin Creek” group.
Duke Forest – Hiking, trail running, fishing, horseback riding and mountain biking available. Located 10 miles or 20 minutes by car from UNC. Duke Forest is used primarily for teaching and research laboratory but also included limited public recreation. Group activities must be approved in advance.
Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area – Hiking, trail running, fishing, camping and picknicking available. Located 15 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. The Occoneechee Mountain summit is the highest point in Orange Country with 190 acres of land and nearly 3 miles of trails. No fees are charges for the use of this park’s facilities. However, visitors must be 18 years or older to register as campers.
William B. Umstead State Park – Boating, Fishing, Horseback Riding, Hiking, Trail Running, Camping, Picnicking, Cycling available. Located 20 miles or 25 minutes by car from UNC. Park includes shelters, campsites, canoes, and kayaks that can be reserved for a reasonable fee.
Eno River State Park – Hiking, Trail running, Camping, Fishing, and Canoeing available. Located 20 miles or 30 minutes from UNC. A great place to rock hop up the lovely river. Reservations for camping are not required but recommended.
Haw River – Fishing, Canoeing, Swimming, Horseback riding, and Paddling available. Located 25 miles or 30 minutes driving from NC. The Haw River has recently made an impressive reversal from a heavily industrial polluted river to a home for a variety of wildlife. Bonus – visit the Haw River Ballroom after a day of play for some live music.
Little River Regional Park and Natural Area – Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Bike, Camping available. Located 25 miles or 35 minutes driving from UNC. Little River offers a convenient spot to getting into nature including 14 miles of hiking / running or mountain bike trails, a butterfly garden and playground.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area – Boating, Hiking, Camping, Picnicking,Community Building, Swimming, and Cycling available. A great spot to kayak! Located 30 miles or 40 minutes by car from UNC. Entrance Fee: Car = $5/day; Bus or Van = $10/day
Campsite Rentals: $18/day
Raven’s Rock State Park – Boating, Fishing, Hiking, Camping, Picknicking, Camping, Swimming available. Located 50 miles or 1 hour by car from UNC. The park offers primitive backcountry camping areas for families, groups and paddlers; all supplies must be carried in, but the solitude is worth the effort.
Hanging Rock State Park – Boating, Fishing, Hiking, Picnicking, Camping, Swimming, and Climbing available. Located 200 miles or 2 hours by car from UNC. Rowboat/Canoe Rentals: $5 for the first hour and $3 for each additional hour. Cabin Rentals: Accommodates up to 6 people for $83/day; by reservation only and minimum two-night stay required. $14 per person. Campsite Rentals: $18/day Swimming: $4/day
Uwharrie National Forest – Camping (backcountry and car), Off-road vehicle use, Boating, Hunting, and Fishing available. Located 105 miles or 2 hours by car from UNC. The Uwharrie National Forest was purchased by the federal government in 1931 during the Great Depression and became popular after large gold discoveries in nearby mines. Badin Lake offers numerous recreation activities, including camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and hunting.
Stone Mountain State Park – Camping, Trails, Education and Events, Exhibits and Historic Sites, Fishing, Picnicking, and Rock Climbing available. Located 140 miles or 2.5 hrs by car from UNC. Fishing (Special Catch and Release): $15/day per section. Campsite Rentals: $18/day
Roanoke River – Canoeing, Camping (platforms; reservation required), Hiking, Fishing, Hunting and Paddling. Located 160 miles or 2.5 hours by car from UNC. A great place to paddle by day and camp by night on the water via wooden platforms.
Grayson Highlands State Park – Camping, Hiking, Fishing, Boating, Hunting, and Horseback Trails available. Located 170 miles or 3 hours by car from UNC. Fees for parking, admission and boat launch. Cabins and lodges can be reserved. Bonus: wild ponies!
Grandfather Mountain State Park – Camping (backcountry and car) and Hiking available. Located 180 miles or 3 hours and 15 minutes by car from UNC. Grandfather Mountain is a landmark outdoor spot for North Carolina. Camping is allowed at 13 backpack camping sites along the trail system and there are more than 12 miles of trails. Most of these trails are challenging; hikers must use the trails’ ladder and cables in some of the steeper sections.There are no fees for hiking or camping permits, but hikers and campers must be able to produce a valid permit when on state park trails or campsites.
Wilson Creek – Hiking, Camping (backcountry and car), Backpacking, Kayaking, Canoeing, Mountain biking, Horseback Riding, Tubing, Swimming, and Fishing available. Located 190 miles or 3.5 hours by car from UNC. Wilson Creek was once used as summer hunting grounds for the Cherokee Indians. Now, it serves as a wilderness area for numerous activities and events. Trails in the Wilson Creek area are rugged, but you can find some amazing spots to play in the water if you’re open to some adventure.
Shackleford Banks – Camping, Hiking, Boating, Fishing, Paddling, Biking, Swimming, Wind Surfing available. Located 185 miles or 4 hours by car from UNC. A part of the Cape Fear National Seashore, Shackleford Banks is the southernmost barrier island and home to over 100 wild horses.
Mount Rogers, Virginia – Camping (backcountry and car), Fishing and Hunting, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, and Scenic Driving available. Located 190 miles or 4 hours by car from UNC.
Linville Gorge Wilderness – Hiking, Camping (back country), Climbing, Mountain Biking, and Fishing available. 200 miles or 3 hours and 45 minutes by car from UNC. Known as the Grand Canyon of the east coast. Camping: A permit may be required to camp.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Offers Camping, Fishing, Swimming, Off-road vehicle use, Hunting, Shelling, Birding, Kayaking, Canoeing, Windsurfing, and Lighthouse tours. Located 215 miles or 4 hours by car from UNC. Climb the lighthouse or enjoy the beach.
Middle Prong & Shining Rock – Hiking and Camping (backcountry) offered. Located 255 miles or 4 hours and 15 minutes by car from UNC. There are no developed campgrounds in the Middle Prong Wilderness and therefore, backcountry camping is allowed. No open fires are permitted.
Panthertown Valley – Hiking, Fishing, Climbing and Camping (backcountry) offered. Located 275 miles or 4 hours from UNC. Panthertown Valley is great for hiking, as it features an array of threatened and endangered species and natural communities. Overnight camping and catch-and-release fishing are allowed in Panthertown, as long as regulations are followed to ensure the safety of the sensitive areas.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Camping (backcountry and car), Lodging, Hiking, Fishing, Picnicking, Wildlife viewing, and Auto touring available. Located 315 miles or 5 hours from UNC. The Smokies have a very biological diverse environment from big animals like bears, deer and elk, to microscopic organisms.
Do you have suggestions for other adventure locations? Additional info we should include about these? Pass along your thoughts in the comments.
This content was originally posted on August 1, 2012. It has been updated and edited for clarity.