If you've only passed through North Carolina while driving north or south on I-95, you might think it a relatively small state. For those of us who live on the coast and hunger for the mountains, the state is a much larger place. This fact presents a particular problem if, like me, you like to camp and hike. Beach camping is okay but can be hot and sweaty and is guaranteed to get sand into places you never dreamed it would get. Coastal hiking is flat, relatively boring and you are likely to get chased away by bugs.
So, if you have the time, definitely make the seven hour trip from the coast to the Appalachians as it's definitely worth the trip. However, if you only have one day off or are a weekend warrior, the mountains might be too far. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Cliff of the Neuse State Park in Seven Springs, NC. The park is located about 20 miles west of the town of Kinston which is about two hours from the coast and an hour from Raleigh.
Down at the base of the Cliffs on the Neuse River
The Neuse river
The trails are relatively short and are of easy to moderate ability levels. It definitely isn't the mountains but there is elevation and some beautiful scenery. In the summer, there is a lake available those wanting to swim or canoe.
Hiking trail from the top of the cliff to the river at the bottom
There aren't many campsites (about 35) which is both a positive and a negative thing. You can make reservations for a site and during the summer I would definitely suggest one. The sites are well maintained and there are clean facilities including showers and toilets.
flat ground covered in pine needles is great for camping
Most sites have brand new fire pits. The park has firewood for sale as well.
Overall, the park is a really nice alternative if you want some terrain but don't have the time to drive to the mountains.For more information, visit the Cliffs of the Neuse website.
A view of the Neuse River from the top of the cliffs.