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Naturally Wonderful Northeastern North Carolina State Parks

Posted on 11/08/2018 by Visit Elizabeth City

Merchant's Mill Pond, fall foliage and cypress trees with reflection on water at dusk
Elizabeth City is in the middle of an outdoor playground. Our location offers easy access to four different state parks, making it a favorite place for nature lovers to launch a quick weekend getaway. Start at Pettigrew State Park for fishing and then learn about the mysterious marshlands of Merchants Millpond and the Great Dismal Swamp where ancient towering cypress trees rise up out of the dark, still, tannic waters. Finish your trip by climbing to the top of the highest sand dune on the East Coast at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
The Serene view and calming waters at Pettigrew State Park. Photo by Christy Maready
Leave your Elizabeth City hotel, inn or B&B and head south, approximately 50 miles, to Pettigrew State Park, an angler’s dream as the fishing at Lake Phelps is legendary. Lake Phelps, North Carolina's second largest natural lake, is known to be teeming with largemouth bass, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, and catfish. Visiting anglers can wade into Lake Phelps from the boardwalk at the Pocosin Overlook. All regulations of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission should be followed. Pettigrew is popular with wildlife enthusiasts because of its central location on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, which is North Carolina’s least populated area. Thus, this park is in the middle of one of the state’s largest wildlife populations. Those guests visiting in early June are in for a treat if they attend the North Carolina Black Bear Festival in nearby Plymouth, NC, during the first weekend in June, where bear tours are available. You will need to pre-register as the tours fill up quickly. For history buffs, Somerset Place offers visitors the opportunity to explore the lives of plantation owners, slaves, and free blacks. In the evening, try the local cuisine at one of our many independently-owned restaurants.
fall foliage and cypress trees in water
Whether by hiking trail or by kayak, the views of the fall foliage are spectacular at Merchant's Millpond State Park.
After enjoying a breakfast at a local eatery like Montero's or Flour Girls, head approximately 35 miles east to Merchants Millpond State Park. This state park is nicknamed “the enchanted forest” as the landscape will make you feel like you have stepped into Tolkien’s Middle-earth—minus the elves. In the stillness of the park, you will be able to hear bird calls from owls to warblers and a chorus of frogs croaking in the background. Canoeing offers you an interesting, mysterious, and beautiful swamp and 750-acre millpond to explore. Canoes are available for rent year-round at the Visitors Center for $5 per hour. For those interested in seeing massive bald cypress trees and Spanish moss, this park has over 11 miles of trails that offer places to view the enchanted forest. Once back in Elizabeth City, visitors can explore our artsy side at Arts of the Albemarle and then enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.  
group taking tour of dismal swamp state park in back of truck
The Dismal Swamp Express is the perfect way to tour the park and meet new friends.
Located 20 miles north of Elizabeth City is the Dismal Swamp State Park. Project543 by Visit NC states, “The Great Dismal Swamp sounds downright…dismal. But what the name hides is one of the great natural areas left in the eastern United States and an area filled with history, mystery and adventure.” If you stop and listen carefully in this vast wetland, you can hear the soft, ghostly whisperings of freedom seekers, criminals and bootleggers who found this untamed, formidable, and otherworldly landscape to be their haven. Today, a 2,000-foot boardwalk allows you to experience the swamp without having to get off the beaten path. This park spans the North Carolina and Viriginia border, featuring 20 miles of trails where you can mountain bike, hike, paddle, and bird watch. The North Carolina Dismal Swamp State Park attracts hundreds of visitors to its Dismal Day event in October. While here, be sure to visit majestic Lake Drummond that Native American legend says was created by “the fire bird.” Upon your return to Elizabeth City, we recommend visiting Museum of the Albemarle to learn more stories about the region. This regional museum houses more than 750 artifacts that have been collected and thoughtfully interpreted into a cohesive regional story.  
Taking flight at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Photo credit George Candis
On the final day of your trip, visit our downtown Elizabeth City Aviation Trail sites where you will learn more about the Wright Brothers’ time in Elizabeth City. A trip to the coast is not complete without visiting the awe-inspiring Wright Brothers National Memorial (approximately 55 miles from Elizabeth City) where you learn how tenacity, focus, and experimentation, combined with strong winds, gave us the gift of flight. Five minutes from the Wright Brothers National Memorial is our final state park, Jockey’s Ridge State Park. As dry and sandy as the other three parks are wet and wild, Jockey’s Ridge, a natural wonder, is the highest sand dune on the eastern seaboard. Once you reach the top, you are rewarded with a view of the ocean that will make you grin from ear to ear as the combination of sea, sand and sun is breathtaking. Experience the gift of flight for yourself by booking a hang gliding lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites. Complete your trip by treating yourself to a sensational sunset while sitting on top of the ridge. Come and experience all the area has to offer by mixing and matching these activities to your preference. Share your favorite adventures in the area with us and the North Carolina Parks by tagging your photos on social media with #DiscoverECity and #ncstateparks.
map of all five state parks surrounding elizabeth city
Elizabeth City is in the center of 4 fabulous State Parks.

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