From pristine beaches along the Atlantic coast to calming lakes in the piedmont and sweeping vistas in the mountains, North Carolina is a great destination for outdoor lovers.
Raven Rock State Park is nestled along the banks of the Cape Fear River in Harnett County. Located about an hour southwest of Raleigh, the nearly 5,000-acre park has more than 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, with terrain varying from short, gentle paths along the creek to moderate treks through forrest canopies and to the area's namesake rock, which towers at 150 feet high and stretches more than a mile wide.
In addition to hiking and mountain biking, Raven Rock has dedicated equestrian trails, fishing sites, and picnic shelters as well as campsites for RVs, campers, and backpackers. While there is no launch inside the park, its waters are part of the 56-mile Cape Fear Canoe Trail, ideal for those who want to explore the area by paddle.
Here's a guide for your next trip to Raven Rock State Park.
Things to See and Do
An ideal day trip from nearby Raleigh or Winston-Salem, Raven Rock offers several outdoor activities for visitors of all skills and ages, whether you're seeking a gentle, family-friendly hike or an action-packed rapids paddle. For those wishing to stay overnight, there are campsites and rustic cabins on the grounds as well as budget-friendly hotels in nearby towns.
The park is open year-round except for Christmas Day. Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from November to February, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from March to May, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. from July to August, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in September and October. The visitors center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist visitors with overnight accommodations, updates about river conditions, vehicle registrations, firewood and sundry purchases, and other important information related to your stay.
With more than 50 miles of hiking trails, the park offers some of the state's most scenic and accessible hiking. In the spring, spot colorful wildflowers and thickets of mountain laurel on the 6.6-mile Mountain Laurel Loop Trail. Year-round, the park's namesake 2.6-mile Raven Rock Loop Trail is a moderately paced option that winds through dense forest to a descending staircase under the rock, offering a waterfall, sunset views, and the occasional bald eagle dipping to the river for fish. Other trail highlights include the 0.6-mile, beginner-friendly Fish Traps Trail and the easy 1.5-mile Little Creek Loop Trail, both of which are ideal for spotting local wildlife and watching river rapids.
Horseback riding is permitted on designated equestrian trails. The four-mile East Loop Bridle Trail winds through deep forrest canopy on the north side of the river, while the equally distant West Loop Bridle Trail passes through creek crossings and scenic Jumping Fish Falls. Note these are shared paths, so be mindful of hikers. Riders must bring their own equipment.
Mountain biking is permitted on the popular and beginner-friendly Mountain Laurel Loop Trail, which connects into a 2.6-mile intermediate loop, which is narrower and more technical. A 4.3-mile advanced loop that branches out from the main trail offers a challenge for experienced bikers.
Paddle the 56-mile Cape Fear Canoe Trail, which can be accessed near the park at US 1 bridge over Deep River. The trail flows through the rapids of both Fish Traps and Lanier Falls, and paddlers must bring their own equipment and wear life vests at all times. Contact the park's main office before setting out, as occasional floods can make the rapids dangerous and unnavigable.
Fishing is permitted for anglers with a state fish license. The park's two best spots are along the Cape Fear River at the mouth of Campbell Creek and at Fish Traps. Local fish include green sunfish, catfish, and largemouth bass.
The park has a large, shaded picnicking area on the river's south side, with 27 tables, eight grills, drinking water, restrooms, and a refreshment stand with snacks for purchase. There is one picnic shelter which can be reserved in advanced or is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Where to Stay
Inside the park, there are tent, trailer, RV, backpacking, and paddle-in campgrounds as well as six cabins. Located just shy of the park's main entrance, the Moccasin Branch Campground has a communal bathhouse with toilets, hot showers, and water spigots as well as RV hook-ups and campsites outfitted with tent pads and campfire rings with grills. The campground also has six cabins with electric outlets and HVAC units, but no bathrooms—guests must use the campground bathhouse.
The Family Wilderness Camp offers five campsites along the Campbell Creek Loop Trail approximately 2.5 miles from the main park entrance, while there are also six campsites along the river at the Little Creek Loop Trail, all of which offer a vault toilet, fire ring, and grill. All vehicles must be registered with the visitor center, and firewood is available for purchase for $5.
Outside the park, accommodations are available in several nearby towns. The closest major town is Fayetteville, which is 32 miles away and has several hotel chains such as the Comfort Inn, Doubletree by Hilton, and the Holiday Inn & Suites. Additional affordable hotel chains are available in the nearest town of Lillington, which is 7 miles from the park. To be closer to the city and amenities, stay in one of Raleigh's many hotels, like the luxurious lakeside Umstead Hotel & Spa or the boutique The Mayton.
Additional cabins, condos, and other vacation rentals are available via Airbnb, VRBO, and other providers in the area.
How to Get There
From Raleigh, the trip is 40 miles and takes approximately one hour and five minutes. Follow US-401 S to NC-42 E/NC-55 E in Fuquay-Varina. From there, follow NC-55 EE and NC-210 S to US-421/West Front Street in Lillington. Continue six miles on US-421 and then turn right on Raven Rock Road and follow it 3 miles to the park.
From Winston-Salem, the trip is 102 miles and takes one hour and 40 minutes. Take US-421 to to Sanford to exit 143 A. Continue on US-421 for approximately 15 miles to the park entrance.
Note that there is a separate entrance for the Bridle Trails, which are on the north side of the Cape Fear River off River Road.
Tips for Visiting
- While there is no fee for the park, all campsites must be booked in advance and require a $3 reservation fee.
- The park gates close at night, so make sure you are back inside the grounds at closing time, which varies by season.
- The main trails can get crowded on weekends in summer months.
- Consider a trip to nearby Raleigh and its many attractions, including the North Carolina Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University as well as the city's many restaurants, shops, and breweries.