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State Natural Areas

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State Natural Areas

The purpose of State Natural Areas is to preserve and protect areas of scientific, aesthetic, or ecological value. Facilities are limited to those needed for interpretation, protection, and minimum maintenance. Generally, recreational and public use facilities such as camping, swimming, picnicking, and hiking are not provided in State Natural Areas. However, with permission, these areas are sometimes available for ecological research and other low-impact uses.

State Natural Areas were established as a separate type of system unit in 1963 with the adoption of separate principles for management. The first State Natural Area, Weymouth Woods, was created that same year.


  • Baldhead Island State Natural Area

Brunswick County, Established: 1979

Adjacent to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, this natural area preserves a large portion of the Smith Island Complex, which consists of barrier islands, salt marshes, bays, tidal creeks, and estuarine islands.

  • Bear Paw State Natural Area

Avery County, Established: 2008

Located just north of Grandfather Mountain State Park, this property protects Hanging Rock Ridge and the headwaters of Dutch Creek. The Cherokee name of the site is "Yonah-wayah," which means "Bear's Paw." It is managed by Grandfather Mountain State Park.

  • Beech Creek Bog State Natural Area

Wautauga County, Established: 2002

This natural area protects a southern Applachian bog. It is managed by Grandfather Mountain State Park.


  • Bobs Creek State Natural Area

McDowell County, Established: 2017

A series of sheltered coves and ravines with unique rock formations, health natural ecosystems, and several rare plants in McDowell County. It is connected to a large area of forested lands that extend southward into Rutherford County.

  • Bullhead Mountain State Natural Area

Alleghany County, Established: 2000

Adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, this natural area is just north of Stone Mountain State Park


  • Bushy Lake State Natural Area

Cumberland County, Established: 1977

Managed by Jones Lake State Park, this area protects wet pocosin and Carolina Bay forest.


  • Chowan Swamp State Natural Area

Gates County, Established: 1973

Located along the northern shores of the Chowan River, this area is leased by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for management as a part of the Chowan Swamp Game Land

  • Hemlock Bluffs State Natural Area

Wake County, Established: 1976

This property is leased by the Town of Cary for operation as Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve.

  • Lea Island State Natural Area

Pender County, Established: 2000

Lea Island, which has joined with Hutaff Island over time, is a largely undeveloped barrier island that provides important habitat for sea turtle nests and shore birds

  • Lower Haw River State Natural Area

Chatham County, Established: 2003

This natural area is managed by Jordan Lake State Recreation Area and includes a two-mile hiking trail along the Haw River.

  • Masonboro Island State Natural Area

New Hanover County, Established: 1976

Managed by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, this area preserves an undeveloped barrier island near Wilmington. It is only accessible by boat.

  • Mitchell Mill State Natural Area

Wake County, Established: 1976

This natural area protects granitic flatrock outcrops, a fragile and rare ecosystem.

» Read about the cultural history of this state natural area

  • Mount Jefferson State Natural Area

Ashe County, Established: 1956

Formerly a state park, this area preserves the prominent peak of Mount Jefferson and is managed as a satellite of New River State Park. It hosts a large picnic shelter, cliffside picnic areas, multiple hiking trails, and stunning panoramic overlooks.

  • Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Orange County, Established: 1997

Managed as a satellite of Eno River State Park, this area preserves the highest point in Orange County. It hosts beautiful, long-range views of the surrounding landscape including the Eno River.

  • Pineola Bog State Natural Area

Avery County, Established: 2006

This natural area protects a southern Applachian bog (a type of mountain wetland mostly found in boreal ecosystems). It is managed by Grandfather Mountain State Park.

  • Run Hill State Natural Area

Dare County, Established: 1995

Managed as a satellite of Jockey's Ridge State Park, this area preserves Run Hill, a large sand dune north of Jockey's Ridge.

  • Salmon Creek State Natural Area

Bertie County, Established: 2017

Near the mouth of Salmon Creek, this area hosts 18 archaelogical sites including some that were once Native American villages and the remains of N.C. Governor Thomas Pollock's home. It is a haven for wintering and migrating birds.

  • Sandy Run Savannas State Natural Area

Pender and Onslow Counties, Established: 2006

This area preserves southern pine savannas in the coastal plain.

  • Sugar Mountain Bog State Natural Area

Avery County, Established: 2006

This natural area protects a southern Applachian bog (a type of mountain wetland mostly found in boreal ecosystems). It is managed by Grandfather Mountain State Park.

  • Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area

Carteret County, Established: 1971

Managed by Fort Macon State Park and the N.C. Acquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, this area preserves Bogue Banks' only intact maritime forest. Maritime forests provide lasting protection from erosion on barrier islands.


  • Warwick Mill Bay State Natural Area

Robeson County, Established: 2017

An healthy Carolina Bay and a large inland rookery, this area is home to great egrets, little blue herons, anhingas, white ibis, and the federally threatened wood stork. This area is managed by Audubon N.C.

  • Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

Moore County, Established: 1963

The first North Carolina State Natural Area, this property preserves stands of longleaf pine forests in the Sandhills region. Unlike most State Natural Areas, it hosts hiking trails and offers educational programming.

  • Yellow Mountain State Natural Area

Mitchell and Avery Counties, Established: 2008

This area protects a Grassy Bald in the Roan Highlands range. The area is adjacent to Pisgah National Forest. It is managed by Grandfather Mountain State Park.