NC State Parks Rules and Regulations

Our rules are for the protection of our visitors and natural resources, and to make everyone's visit safe and enjoyable. The information on this page is a synopsis of rules, regulations, state park policies, as well as some state and federal laws. Please observe these rules during your park visits for your safety and enjoyment, as well as the safety and enjoyment of others. Doing so will help protect North Carolina's state parks now and in the future.

General

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Possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited, except in designated areas.

Visitors shall not be or become intoxicated while within any state park or recreation area.

As a courtesy to other campers, please observe the campground quiet hours. Quiet hours are typically from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Parks with different quiet hours will have them listed on the park's camping page.

The production or emission in any park or recreation area of noises, amplified speech, music or other sounds that annoy, disturb or frighten state park visitors is prohibited at all times.

Some state parks border or are scattered along many miles of rivers, waterways, and other areas, which may border privately owned land. When traveling waterways and using parklands in any of the state parks, please respect the rights of private property owners and avoid trespassing on private land when parking vehicles, hiking, biking, paddling, etc.

Pets are permitted in all state parks, as long as:

  • they are on an attended leash of no longer than 6 feet;
  • they are under the constant control of the owner; and
  • they are on pedestrian trails only.

Pet owners who do not have their pets on a leash will receive a fine.

Pet owners must pick up after their pet. Pet waste is not fertilizer and should not be left on the ground. It is toxic and harmful to plants and other animals in the state park. Pet waste can also transmit disease and puts other state park visitors at risk. Properly dispose of pet waste in garbage bins. Do not throw waste bags in the woods or leave them on the ground.

Pets are not permitted off-trail. Many rare plants live on thin soils and wet rocks and are vulnerable from climbing, trampling, and scraping. Visitors with pets should yield to all other trail users, including bicyclists and equestrians, when possible.

Pets are allowed in most state park campgrounds. Overnight, pets must be confined to the owner's tent or vehicle during quiet hours. Pets are not permitted in cabins.

Pets are not allowed in the bathhouses or swimming areas.

Pets are strictly prohibited from entering any building, with the exception of service animals and authorized search and rescue dogs.

Owners may be asked to remove dangerous or noisy pets from the state park.

Pets are not allowed on the ferry at Hammocks Beach State Park.

Park visitors are prohibited from ascending or taking off within or upon any state park area or state park water surface, of any airplane, flying machine (including drones, unmanned aircrafts, and quadcopters), balloon, parachute, glider, hang glider (except with permit at Jockey's Ridge State Park), or other apparatus for aviation.

In some limited circumstances, these machines may be operated after obtaining a Special Activity Permit from the state park.

Additionally, state law prohibits people from launching or recovering any unmanned aircraft systems from state property without consent.

Firearms and other weapons are prohibited, except that those with a proper permit may possess a concealed handgun in permitted areas and under the requirements of North Carolina G.S. 14-415.11.

Exception: Federal law (36 C.F.R. § 327.13) prohibits all loaded firearms or ammunition on those lands and waters at Falls Lake, Jordan Lake, and Kerr Lake state recreation areas managed by the state parks system and owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

All firearms and weapons are prohibited in state park visitor centers and park offices.

Fireworks, cap pistols, air guns, bows and arrows, slingshots, and lethal projectiles or missiles of any kind are prohibited on all properties managed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Metal detectors are not allowed in any state park area, except to locate lost personal property when authorized by a Special Activity Permit.

The removal, destruction or injury of any tree, flowers, artifact, fern, shrub, rock, or other plant or mineral in any state park is prohibited unless with an approved collection permit for scientific or educational purposes.

Certain areas of the state park may be closed to public use for safety or for the management and protection of natural resources.

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A permit is required for any project involving the collection, removal, or disturbance of any natural or cultural resource of any state park unit and for projects that require placing monitoring equipment in any state park unit.

Activities that occur as part of a typical visit to any state park, such as wildflower photography or wildlife observation, do not require a permit.

Requests for personal or commercial collecting, or for projects that do not address specific research needs, will be denied. Manipulative or destructive research is generally not permitted.

School trips for purposes of simple observation do not require a permit. However, classes that visit the state park to collect specimens or to conduct experiments that are not part of a scheduled state park educational program are required to obtain a permit. Teachers should contact the park superintendent in advance of their arrival to determine if a permit is needed.

Activities that require additional permits:

Certain research projects may require compliance with other environmental and administrative regulations. It is the applicant's responsibility to determine if additional permits are required, to contact the appropriate agencies, and to obtain those permits. The Division of Parks and Recreation will not issue a park research permit until all other required permits have been obtained.

Regulation that require compliance may include, but are not limited to: the Endangered Species Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the Coastal Area Management Act. Other agencies that may require permits include the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Plant Conservation Program.

Littering is illegal. To help maintain a clean and safe environment for state park visitors and wildlife, place trash in proper containers. Wildlife may mistake plastic bags for food and may become entangled in discarded fishing line or other types of litter.

Burying trash is prohibited. Shifting winds and other types of weather may expose trash and endanger wildlife and the environment.

State law requires aluminum cans and plastic bottles to be placed in recycling containers.

North Carolina state parks are wildlife preserves. The hunting, trapping, pursuing, shooting, injuring, killing, or molesting of any bird or animal is prohibited.

Feeding or baiting wildlife is prohibited.

Loggerhead and other sea turtles

... are protected by law. Anyone who harms the turtles, nests, or hatchlings is subject to prosecution. Do not enter marked nesting sites on foot or by vehicle.

Bald eagles

... are protected by law. It is illegal to kill, harass, or possess — dead or alive — any eagle or part of an eagle, including feathers and talons. Convictions related to such violations may result in fines as high as $20,000 and imprisonment for 1 year.

Nesting shorebirds

... are protected by law. Anyone who harms the birds, nests, or chicks is subject to a fine. Do not enter marked nesting areas on foot or by vehicles. Anyone who enters the sites, harms, or harasses the birds is subject to a fine.

In some cases, there may be park-specific rules or policies that apply to activities within a particular state park. Please check with your state park of interest for additional information about its park-specific rules.

Also, the list here represents activities available across the state parks system. All activities are not available at every state park. You may contact your state park of interest to get information about specific activities offered at that park.

For activities

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Where allowed, boating and fishing in state parks are regulated by all applicable North Carolina laws and regulations, including those regarding fresh and coastal recreational fishing licenses, boat registration, and safety requirements.

Laws and regulations may be enforced by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, as well as other regulatory agencies, including — but not limited to — the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and/or the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. Please contact the relevant park office before your visit to learn of boating and/or fishing opportunities.

Boats, rafts, and canoes are prohibited within designated swimming areas.

In all state parks, bicycles are permitted only on those trails and/or other park areas specifically designated for their use. Not all state parks have bicycle trails. Please check with the state park for more information on park facilities.

On multi-use trails, bicyclists should yield to both hikers and equestrians when possible. Bicyclists should follow posted directions on bike trails for the safety of all visitors and to help park staff maintain bike trails.

Bicycle riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet.

Bicycle passengers who weigh less than 40 pounds or who are less than 40 inches tall must be seated in a separate restraining seat. All other bicycle riders must be seated on saddle seats. Persons unable to maintain an erect, seated position cannot be bicycle passengers.

E-bikes are allowed on all trails where traditional bikes are allowed. The speed limit on all trails is 25 mph.

Conduct commercial business and/or activity in any state park is prohibited, except during special events governed by a Special Activity Permit.

Photography or video production for commercial purposes is prohibited, except under an approved Film Permit.

Camping is allowed only in designated areas and by permit. In most cases, campers register with a ranger at the state park or at an onsite registration box. You must register even if you have reserved a campsite.

There is no dispersed camping at state parks, except for the zone camping area at Elk Knob State Park.

Fires are permitted only in designated areas and must be tended at all times. Gathering firewood is generally prohibited but may be allowed in some parks.

Please do not transport firewood into our state parks, because you could unknowingly spread dangerous insects and diseases, such as the emerald ash borer, which can harm the natural resources. Buy firewood locally where you intend to burn it, or buy heat-treated firewood. Visit the Don't Move Firewood website for more information on how to have a risk-free campfire experience. All state parks with camping areas sell firewood at either the park office or visitor center, or the concession stand, or through the campground host.

All vehicles left in the park after posted park hours must be registered.

Visitors must be 18 years or older to reserve a campsite, and there must be at least one adult 18 years or older present at the campsite throughout the duration of the stay.

There is a maximum limit of six people, two tents, and two vehicles per family campsite. All camping equipment and vehicles (if applicable) must be on the campsite and not spread out in the woods. Group campsites vary depending on the size of the campsite, but typically hold 5 to 25 individuals.

See the general Camping page for more information about camping and cabins.

Hammocks Beach State Park operates a ferry service to Bear Island.

Carts and wagons are prohibited on passenger ferries unless collapsible. Park staff reserve the right to suspend the use of collapsible carts due to space and weight limitations at any time. Passenger conveyance devices, such as strollers and wheelchairs, are allowed. 

Pets are not allowed on the ferry or in the swimming area.

The ferry service at Hammocks Beach State Park is the only ferry service that the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation offers. For information about other coastal ferries, please visit the N.C. Department of Transportation's Ferry Division website.

Hang gliding is allowed only at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Only visitors with a U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association Hang 1 rating or other agency-approved rating may hang glide in the park.

For your safety and protection, please stay on designated trails and hiking areas. Also, many rare plants live on thin soils and wet rocks and are vulnerable to damage from climbing, trampling, and scraping.

On multi-use trails, hikers should yield to equestrians when possible.

In state parks where horses are permitted in designated park areas or on bridle trails, horses are allowed only on those trails or other park areas specifically designated for their use. Some parks may require special use permits for bridle trail use where trail maintenance is a concern.

Horses are prohibited from camping areas (except in equestrian camping areas), swimming areas, cabin areas, picnic areas, and other day-use areas.

Loading and/or unloading horses is permitted in designated park areas only. Not all state parks with bridle trails have horse trailer parking, so please contact the park prior to your visit to learn more about the facilities. Owners are required to remove all feces from designated horse trailer parking areas.

No carts, carriages, or other horse-drawn apparatus are permitted on park trails.

A negative Coggins test no more than 12 months old is required for all horses over 6 months of age. Proof of equine testing certification must be carried by the horse owner at all times while the animal is within the state park.

Rock climbing is allowed only in five state parks and with a permit. Climbers must register before beginning a climb. Climbers must climb in designated areas only and with proper equipment. The state parks that offer rock climbing are Chimney Rock, Crowders Mountain, Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain, and Stone Mountain state parks. Climbing is prohibited at all other parks.

All climbers must register with park staff and must keep in their possession a valid rock climbing or rappelling permit. All climbers under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian sign their permit prior to participating in any climbing activities at North Carolina state parks.

Organized private, commercial, or nonprofit groups must obtain a Special Activity Permit prior to the outing. Please contact the park to submit the permit application and to pay the group climbing permit fee.

Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity that can result in serious injury, death and/or property damage. By completing submitting the climbing permit form, climbers fully assume all risks associated with climbing in North Carolina state parks, including, but not limited to: injury (including death) and loss or damages to person, property, or otherwise, of any kind resulting from such risks and any associated activities.

Climbers are solely responsible for obtaining proper equipment and training. The N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation offers no supervision or instruction to climbers and does not approve or certify instructors or climbers in any manner. Unroped climbing is discouraged.

North Carolina state parks do not install or maintain any climbing surface, route, or fixed anchors. Route selection and the decision to rely on any fixed anchors are the climber's responsibility. New routes are not permitted, unless reviewed through the park's climbing management plan.

Climbing activities are permitted in designated areas only and must coincide with the park's posted hours of operation. Climbers are not permitted to enter the park prior to gate opening hours. All climbers and rappellers must schedule their activity in order to leave the park by the posted closing hour.

All accidents and injuries must be reported to park staff.

All climbers must comply with all rules and policies applicable to rock climbing in North Carolina state parks, including the most current version of the Rock Climbing Management Guidelines.

Sandboarding and kiteboarding are permitted only at Jockey's Ridge State Park. A permit is not required to partake in these activities. For kiteboarding, please use the parking area at the Soundside Beach access, located off of West Soundside Road.

State parks allow for many special recreational activities such as bicycling events, marathons, photo tours, kite-flying contests, club meetings, weddings, etc. However, all such events must be held under an approved Special Activity Permit. Please submit the completed application to the specific park where you are hosting your event.

Permit fees must be paid prior to the event. A $25 fee will be charged for all returned checks.

Swimming is not allowed in all state parks. Please contact the park prior to your visit to learn more about the facilities. Swimming and surfing — where allowed — are permitted only in designated areas.

Sharp drop-offs, boat traffic, strong currents, and unseen underwater hazards pose significant safety risks and make swimming outside designated areas very dangerous.

Public nudity, including public nude bathing, is prohibited. Children under the age of 5 are exempt from this rule.

North Carolina motor vehicle and traffic laws apply in all state parks.

Observe the posted speed limit when driving inside the state park. Be mindful of pedestrians, bicycle riders, and horseback riders that may use or cross the road.

Parking on the road or outside of designated parking areas is prohibited.

Unlicensed motor vehicles, including golf carts, unregistered motorcycles, snowmobiles, utility vehicles, mini-bikes, and all-terrain vehicles, are prohibited. Reasonable accommodations will be made for persons with limited mobility.

Unlicensed drivers may not operate motor vehicles on park roads.

Motorized vehicles are permitted only in designated areas and not permitted on park trails.

All vehicles left in the park after posted park hours must be registered.

No carts, carriages, or other horse-drawn apparatus are permitted on park trails.