Camping at Carolina Beach State Park: Rustic Charm Meets Coastal Adventure

A view of the Carolina Beach Pier from Freeman Park, which is the north end of Carolina Beach. The image is taken low to the ground with waves coming towards the viewer.

Only 20 minutes from Wilmington, North Carolina, and one mile from Carolina Beach, camping at Carolina Beach State Park invites you to escape into nature and enjoy the soothing experience of sleeping under an enchanting canopy of towering pines, only steps from the beach. Nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Carolina Beach State Park offers the best of both worlds where dense forests meet sandy beaches. Go from hiking trails through the trees to dipping your toes in the sand and water in a matter of minutes, before retreating back to your campsite to enjoy a meal by a roaring fire under a dreamy star-filled sky. This is a complete guide for your next Carolina Beach State Park camping adventure.

Carolina Beach State Park Camping

Camping at Carolina Beach State Park allows you a retreat into a peaceful wooded oasis only one mile from beautiful Carolina Beach. With unique features like carnivorous plants and a 50-foot historic sand dune, hiking trails, and a marina, a camping trip here leaves you with no shortage of adventures.

DRV Mobile Suites fifth wheel RV nestled among the trees at Carolina Beach State Park campground.
Our RV nestled in the trees at Carolin Beach State Park campground

Carolina Beach State Park RV & Tent Sites

Carolina Beach State Park offers 69 campsites with no hook-ups for RVs or tents, and 10 RV campsites with full hook-ups (water, sewer, and electric).

All campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. There are also centrally located bathhouses with restrooms, hot showers, and a dump station for RVs. One of our favorite features of the park was being able to wander through a sunlit path in the woods to take a long hot shower… a luxury not always easy to come by when dry camping!

There is a 14-night maximum stay at Carolina Beach State Park campground and reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.

  • Check-in time is 4 pm and check-out time is 3 pm

Cost:

  • $26/night for dry camping sites
  • $36/night for full hook-up sites

Carolina Beach State Park Cabin Rentals

The park also has six mini “log cabins” for a rustic stay in a coastal town. Cabins can sleep six people in two rooms, one with a queen bed and one with two sets of twin-sized bunk beds.

Cabins do offer more luxuries, including electricity, heat, and air conditioning. There are no restrooms in the cabins, but the bathhouses are easily accessible. In addition, campers are required to bring their own pillows and linens as they are not provided.

Cost: $58/night

Tips for Camping at Carolina Beach State Park

  • Book your campsite in advance: Carolina Beach State Park is a popular destination, especially during the summer months, so make sure to book your campsite well in advance. We were able to book a 2-week stay with our 40ft RV by booking during the winter months 6 months in advance. You might want to book even earlier for the summer months. (Reservations can be made online through Reserve America)
  • Check site photos and dimensions carefully. Many sites are narrow and would be tough to fit larger RVs.
  • Bring a generator: Solar will be hard to come by as spots are nestled in the trees. Generators are allowed outside of the quiet hours of 11 pm-7 am.
  • Plan for the weather: The climate in North Carolina can be unpredictable, so make sure to check the weather forecast before your trip and pack accordingly.
  • Bring bug spray: The park’s lush forests and river location make it a prime spot for mosquitoes and other insects, so make sure to bring bug spray. Also, be prepared for LOTS of pollen in the spring months. We experienced both during our visit in February/March.
  • Respect the wildlife: Carolina Beach State Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including alligators, so make sure to respect their space and stay at a safe distance.
  • Leave no trace: Pack it in, pack it out! Take care of your site and properly dispose of all trash in the receptacles located at the campground entrance.

Best Things To Do At Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. The park has several hiking trails for long peaceful walks in nature as well as opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating in the Cape Fear River. The park is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species and is also a great place for birdwatching and wildlife observation. Carolina Beach State Park is the perfect place to unplug, connect with nature, and enjoy the outdoors.

Carolina Beach State Park Trails

While camping at Carolina Beach State Park, you have access to 9 miles of unique hiking trails that wind throughout the park and can be accessed easily from the campground. Many trails are able to be combined, creating the perfect opportunity for a hiking adventure that feels most fulfilling for you!

Flytrap Trail: 0.5-mile easy trail with short boardwalks that offer you the opportunity to get a unique up-close experience with the rare carnivorous venus fly trap plants the park protects.

Venus Flytrap located on Flytrap trail in Carolina Beach State Park
Venus Flytrap found on Flytrap trail

Sugarloaf Trail: This easy, 3-mile loop takes you through forest, swamp, and beach and brings you to the historic 50-foot dune, Sugarloaf Dune. It once served as an important navigational marker for those approaching Wilmington by sea. Sugarloaf Dune was also used in defense of the port by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Female Hiker looking out at the Cape Fear River from the top of Sugarloaf Dune
Looking at the Cape Fear River from the top of Sugarloaf Dune

Campground Trail: Easy 1-mile trail among Longleaf Pines and Live Oaks on a sandy path

Sand Live Oak Trail: Easy 1.5-mile loop accessed via the Sugarloaf Trail

Male hiker crouching with his labradoodle on sugarloaf trail at Carolina Beach State Park.

Snow’s Cut Trail: 0.75-mile easy one-way trail that runs parallel to Snow’s Cut, the body of water where the Cape Fear River meets the Intracoastal Waterway. Off this trail, a long stretch of beach is uncovered during low tide each day. The perfect spot for some solitude!

Labradoodle walking along the beach of Snow's Cut in Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Azalea walking on the beach of Snow’s Cut

Oak Toe Trail: 0.25-mile easy one-way trail accessed via the Sugarloaf Trail. A short offshoot to a sunny stretch of beach and long grass with stunning views of the Cape Fear River

View of the Cape Fear river on a sunny day with light grass growing in the sand
Oak Toe Trail

Fitness Trail: 1-mile easy loop with activity stations

Biking: If you are bringing your bikes along, there is also a great town-maintained greenway you can pick up just outside the park gates! Bikes are not allowed on the trails in the park, but you can ride your bike to the marina, or hop on the greenway for an easy trip into town or down to Carolina Beach!

Carolina Beach State Park Trail Map

Some trails do get closed during controlled burn periods, which preserve and maintain the park and its ecosystem. Looks for signs or check the park’s website for information about closures!

Carolina Beach State Park map. The map includes the trail systems within the park as well as the marina and compground.
Carolina Beach State Park

Carolina Beach State Park Marina & Rentals

Only 0.6 miles down the road from the campground, the 54-slip marina is the perfect place for boating, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, or catching a picturesque sunset.

Located at the marina, Paddle NC offers a variety of rentals including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Also located at the marina, Wilmington Jet Ski Rentals also offers partial day jet ski rentals! Rentals are typically seasonal so be sure to check availability depending on the timing of your visit!

There is also a boat launch at the marina. The cost of a boat launch is $7

The sun setting over the horizon at the Carolina Beach State Park marina beach
Sunset at the marina

Learn More At The Visitor Center

The Carolina Beach State Park Campground is a great place to learn about tours and programs being offered during your stay, learn more about the park’s history and animal and plant life and conservation efforts, and get a peek at some of the park’s rare plants!

Hours:

  • 8 am -5 pm daily

Local Things To Do in Carolina Beach

With so much to do in the state park, don’t forget to venture out into the local community as well! The town of Carolina Beach is known for its beaches, but that’s not all you can do in this charming coastal area! Here are some of our favorite (and free!) activities we enjoyed during our camping trip to Carolina Beach State Park:

Disc Golf At Good Hops Brewery: Only a short bike ride, walk, or drive from the Carolina Beach State Park campground, Good Hops Brewery is a great place to enjoy a cold beverage while playing a round of disc golf (free) that has been built between the trees behind the brewery. A perfect relaxing evening!

Sunrise at Kure Beach: Getting up to enjoy the sunrise is one of our favorite activities. It is such a nice time to enjoy quiet mindful moments and appreciate the beauty of the transition from evening to a new day. Kure Beach and Kure Beach pier are the perfect settings to watch a fiery sunrise emerge over the deep blue horizon.

A perfect sunrise as Kure Beach. The sun is peaking over the horizon, setting the sky on fire. Soft waves crash in the foreground.
Sunrise at Kure Beach

Freeman Park: At the north end of Carolina Beach, Freeman Park allows 4WD vehicles to drive on the beach and is also dog friendly! Here you can find dogs playing off-leash (on leash required April 1-September 30), find people fishing, enjoying a picnic, or camping, and watch surfers riding the waves.

Side view of Australian Labradoodle waiting patiently for a treat on Freeman Park Beach in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

Cost of Passes to drive on the beach:

  • April 1 – September 30, Mon-Sun$50 per day
  • October 1 – March 31, Mon-Sun, $30 per day

Camping Permits:

  • Available Memorial Day through Labor Day; $50/night
  • Reserve Here

Walk the Boardwalk at Carolina Beach: Carolina Beach offers a newly renovated boardwalk and shops, restaurants, and nightlife right at the shoreline. Clearly marked by a colorful Ferris wheel, walking around here feels like vacation.

Carolina Beach ferris wheel on a cloudy day with the Corolina Beach boardwalk in the foreground.
Carolina Beach boardwalk

Take a day trip to Bald Head Island: Bald Head Island is a natural treasure hiding in plain sight off the coast of Southport. Take the ferry from Fort Fisher to Southport to catch the Bald Head Island Ferry. For an in-depth guide, check out our article about planning your perfect day trip to Bald Head Island.

Aerial image of Bald Head Island lighthouse. Called "Old Baldy" for short.
Bald Head Island lighthouse “Old Baldy”

Fort Fisher State Historic Site: With free admission, Fort Fisher Historic Site allows you to walk back in time to the site where one of the final battles of the Civil War took place. Explore the grounds of the fort and take some time to reflect on the historical significance of where you are standing.

Woman reading educational signs at the Fort Fisher State historic site
Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area: Just across the street from the Fort Fisher Historic Site, walk on the beach and marvel at the waves crashing into the sharp rock wall protecting the shoreline. During warmer months, this is also where loggerhead sea turtles come to nest.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the Fort Fisher Recreation Area. Sharp, large rocks in the foreground.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher: A popular attraction that showcases a variety of marine life and offers educational programs and interactive exhibits, including a two-story open ocean exhibit. Hours: 9 am-5 pm, year-round Cost: $12.95/adult; $10.95/child

For a more in-depth guide, check out our article about all of the best things to do during a trip to Carolina Beach, North Carolina!

Fulfilling Travel Tips

When choosing a popular beach or coastal destination as your adventure, it might feel like there won’t be many opportunities for solitude. What we found most fulfilling about camping at Carolina Beach State Park is that it provided a peaceful escape where we could live in harmony surrounded by nature. This was amplified further by scheduling our visit during the winter season when coastal areas become sleepy little towns before the rush of summer visitors.

Camping provides the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the simple joys in life. The thrill of a long hot shower after a day of playing in nature, the smell of a campfire, and the smile of friendly faces around the picnic table. If you are looking to make the most of your next trip to North Carolina’s coast, consider forgoing traditional luxuries and immersing yourself in nature during a rustic stay under the whispering pines at Carolina Beach State Park. A dose of nature can go a long way for your health and happiness and camping is the perfect retreat from crowded beaches and busy streets.

Looking to further foster fulfillment during your camping trip to Carolina Beach State Park?

  • Take as many opportunities as you can to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature all around you in the park. Consider trying to have a few mindful moments in nature for a mood boost!
  • Learn something new about the plant or wildlife present in the park to deepen your appreciation and understanding of the world around you.
  • Lean into what bring you joy in the present moment. Follow where your curiosity leads you and honor your needs!

Looking for an even more laid-back beach getaway? Check out our guide to South Carolina’s best-kept secret: Edisto Beach!

Ready to explore more of the southeast and beyond?

READ: Ultimate Guide To The Best RV Trips On The East Coast

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