North Carolina. It’s a state full of natural beauty with both the rolling mountains of the high country and some of the most stunning seashores in America along the Outer Banks. These are our top five parks in North Carolina for getting away. Whether you’re planning an escape from the cold or looking ahead to your summer vacation, many of these parks have options for all seasons.
They also have some quality souvenirs in their gift shops, if you’d like to add to your stoneware mug collection.
Lake Waccamaw State Park
Just a short drive from the beaches of North Carolina’s southeast coast, Lake Waccamaw State Park is a geological wonder. It’s also a fine example of the natural beauty of the marshlands of the Tar Heel State. Spanish moss drapes the old-growth forests. Some of the oldest cypress trees in the region call this place home, and there’s plenty of wild animals hiding out around the lake.
Scientists have discovered fossilized whale bones in the park, on top of the alligators and other wildlife that live there. Why were the bones so far inland though? Experts believe the ocean once came this far inland but receded over the course of several million years. For this and other fossils, Lake Waccamaw’s visitor center also has more to learn for the science and dinosaur lovers of the world.
Lake Waccamaw is a hiker’s delight all year long. During the spring and fall, it’s also an idyllic place to go camping, with multiple campsites available inside the park.
In the park’s information center, you might also find some stoneware mugs that feature its scaly residents. These Java Tasters and Executive Slims feature an alligator swimming through the glaze. Fittingly for the park’s marshes, you can find this mug in Cranberry Bog, plus Mustachio and Blue Moon on some styles. Not only do they make a great addition to your mug collection; they also fund Lake Waccamaw State Park so we can keep this natural wonder clean and thriving for generations.
Raven Rock State Park
In the heart of North Carolina between Raleigh and Fayetteville, Raven Rock State Park’s biggest attractions are the rocks from which the park gets its name. But, they’re only one piece of this gorgeous park.
Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and see some color? Raven Rock is the perfect place to see nature in full color during the fall months. The park has 26 miles of trails and boardwalks for hiking along the Cape Fear River. Use these trails to climb to scenic bluffs and the sheer cliffs along this rolling river. Want a horse to do the legwork instead? The park also offers trails for horseback riding, plus spots for paddling and fishing.
The mugs you find at Raven Rock State Park feature the bird for which the park is named, sitting on a branch. This year, you can expect to find this unusual design on the Wide Mouth and Java Taster and other designs. Look for this quality way to support the park at the visitor center on Raven Rock Road.
Elk Knob State Park
In the Appalachian west of North Carolina, Elk Knob State Park has breathtaking views of the hills.
Even in the midst of winter, the park offers panoramic views of North Carolina’s high country. Given the higher elevations, this part of North Carolina also gets snow during the coldest months of the year. While this might be a turnoff for some, for visitors like us who are used to the snow and cold weather, it’s a golden opportunity for some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Just make sure you pack your own equipment.
On the other hand, a springtime hike has treasures hidden high and low. This is the season when you’ll most likely find baby deer, black bears and other wildlife waking up from the winter, plus wildflowers in full bloom. It’s also an awesome time to go camping, though you might wake up to the loud, croaking sounds of the park’s ravens starting their day with the song of their people.
You’ll find a rainbow of mugs at Elk Knob State Park, from golden Sandstone to the classy yet funky Denim Tuxedo. All of the stoneware mugs showcase the park’s black bear residents and make for a souvenir that can potentially last a lifetime.
Lake James State Park
In west central North Carolina, in the state’s wild natural heart, Lake James State Park is tucked away near the state’s famous mountains. With placid, crystal-clear waters, there are sandy beaches and rocky shores where you can see the vistas of the lake up close and personal.
If you like being on the water, Lake James is the park for you. Largemouth and smallmouth bass live in the lake, along with walleye and other popular freshwater fish. It’s also a delightful spot to bring your boat or paddle with the park’s rental canoes and kayaks.
The mugs at Lake James State Park’s visitor center include some glaze colors you’ll rarely see anywhere else. You can expect to find colors like Rustic Rose and Amethyst Horizon next to Copperhead Run and Autumn Fire. Each mug features a realistic of one of the park’s bridges, overlooking some extremely detailed woods. Like all Sunset Hill Stoneware products, these are microwave, dishwasher and oven safe. They’ll also be a reliable coffee companion for years to come.
Blue Ridge Parkway
A national park stretching through western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the country, especially in the fall. In fact, the parkway’s website labels it as America’s Favorite Drive. Stretching through both North Carolina and Virginia, the highway spans 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Top off your gas tank and pack a picnic lunch. The Blue Ridge Parkway has some of the most breathtaking overlooks in America and is rich with history. Any trip you take down this scenic highway is full of places to explore, so be prepared to stop and spend the day admiring the views. Are culture and history more your thing? The Peaks of Otter Lodge, Johnson Farm, or Folk Art Center might be the place to go. There are plenty of towns where you can stop and rest or eat along the way, too.
The National Park Service maintains the land around the Blue Ridge Parkway, so there are multiple visitor centers where you can learn about the natural and cultural history around the highway. The visitor center in Asheville, NC is open year round, so you can plan the rest of your trip from this mountain hub. Or, if you’re headed south, you can cap off your trip by purchasing the exclusive mugs and other souvenirs like collectible patches and pins. The stoneware coffee mugs you’ll find in the bookstore come in glazes like Root Beer Float and Copperhead Run that perfectly represent the rustic splendor of this scenic stretch of highway.
No matter which park you visit, North Carolina is a great winter getaway. However, we’ve only listed a few of the incredible wonders the Tar Heel State has in its parks. To find even more, use our mug map or visit the North Carolina State Parks website.
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