Did you camp growing up? I have fond childhood memories of camping with my family. Since we’ve had our son, I’ve been looking forward to taking him on his first camping trip. Excited to see him experience the magic of a campfire and waking up to the sounds of the birds outside his tent. Of course, for every one thing that can go great on a camping trip with kids, it seems like there are twice as many things that can go wrong. Now that I’m a parent, I’ve been rudely awakened to how much work my parents put into our family trips, between the packing, the driving, the cooking, the whining, etc.
A few months ago, with a mix of excitement and anxiety, I sat down to research campsites to do a camping test run – an overnight stay close enough to home so we could always pack and sleep in our own beds if we needed to.
What I realized, in a total “duh” moment, is that there are a number of state parks nearby that are perfect for a low-key weekend of family-friendly camping.
How do I define family-friendly camping? With a toddler, I look for car camping sites so we can painlessly unload the car, bathrooms so I can easily deal with my son’s pull-ups, and a variety of options for low tech entertainment: body of water ideally with a swim beach and/or boat launch for canoeing, playground, and easy and flat trails.
Below is a list of four North Carolina State Parks within two hours or less from Raleigh and Durham. I selected parks that offer a range of camping options. All of the parks have hook-ups for RVs and sites for car camping. There are a few others in the area like the Eno River State Park that have hike in sites, but we’re not there yet.
1. Jordan Lake
There are several campgrounds at Jordan Lake, but my recommendation if you have younger kids is Poplar Point Campground, specifically Loop E. This area has a playground and is the closest to the swimming area. Jordan Lake is usually livelier than other state parks in the area.
2. Falls Lake
There are also several campgrounds at Falls Lake. I was really pleased with our experience at the Holly Point Campground. We had a site in Loop 3, but Loop 4 would also have been good. Even though all the spots were taken, the campground was relaxing and quiet at night. Both Loop 3 and Loop 4 are within walking distance from the playground and swimming area. It’s worth noting that the campground is directly in the flight path for Raleigh-Durham Airport. My son loved this, but it did make it feel less like a nature retreat.
3. Kerr Lake
My in-laws love camping here. They are particularly fond of the County Line Camp Area, which offers amazing sites right on the lake. This camping area doesn’t offer as many amenities however as some of the others situated around the lake, but is just lovely and serene. The Hibernia Campground is a good option for families. It still offers a lot of campsites with gorgeous lake views, with the additional amenities of a playground and several boat launches. While there isn’t a swimming area, you’re guaranteed to find a good fishing spot, which should occupy your children…for a good 5-10 minutes.
I have not been to this park yet, but I can not wait to go. The park is situated on the cliffs that overlook the Neuse River. It is one of only a handful of state parks that has camper cabins which offer beds and air conditioning for when the summer heat kicks into full gear. The park has a small swimming area and they rent out kayaks and canoes to take out on the river.