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Park Rules

Park Rules

A trail sign at Fort Macon State Park
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Our rules are for the protection of our visitors and natural resources, and to make everyone's visit a safe and enjoyable experience. The information given below is a synopsis of rules, regulations, park policies, and in some cases state and federal laws. Please observe them for your safety and enjoyment as well as the safety and enjoyment of others. It will preserve our parks and make them a valuable resource now and in the future.

In some cases there may be park-specific rules or policies that apply to activities within a particular park. Please check with your park of interest for additional information about its park-specific rules.

Also, the list below represents activities available across the parks system. All activities are not available at every park. You may contact your park of interest to get information about specific activities offered at that park.

Click the links below to view specific rules.

General Rules

Possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited, and visitors shall not be or become intoxicated while within any state park or recreation area.

As a courtesy to other campers, please observe the campground quiet hours. Quiet hours are typically from 10pm until 7am. The production or emission in any park or recreation area of noises, amplified speech, music or other sounds that annoy, disturb or frighten park visitors is prohibited at all times.

Some parks border or are scattered along many miles of rivers, waterways and other areas which may border privately owned land. When traveling waterways and using parklands in any of the parks, please respect the rights of private property owners and avoid trespassing on private land when parking vehicles, hiking, biking, canoeing, etc.

Firearms and other weapons are prohibited except that those with a proper permit may possess a concealed handgun in permitted areas and under the requirements of North Carolina G.S. 14-415.11. All firearms and weapons are prohibited in state park visitor centers and park offices. (EXCEPTION: Federal law (36 C.F.R. § 327.13) prohibits loaded firearms or ammunition on those lands and waters at Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas managed by the state parks system and owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

Fireworks, cap pistols, air guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and lethal projectiles or missiles of any kind are prohibited on all properties managed by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Metal detectors are not allowed in any park area except to locate lost personal property when authorized by a Special Activity Permit.

The removal, destruction or injury of any tree, flower, artifact, fern, shrub, rock or other plant or mineral in any park is prohibited unless with an approved collection permit for scientific or educational purposes.

Certain areas of the park may be closed to public use for safety or for the management and protection of natural resources.

Pets are permitted in parks so long as they are on an attended leash no longer than 6 feet and under the constant control of the owner, and on all pedestrian trails.

Pets are allowed in some campgrounds–contact the specific park. Overnight, pets must be confined to the owner's tent or vehicle during quiet hours. Pets are not allowed in the bathhouses or swimming areas.

Pets are strictly prohibited from entering any building, with the exception of service animals and authorized search and rescue dogs. Owners may be asked to remove dangerous or noisy pets from the park.

Pets are not allowed on the ferry at Hammocks Beach State Park. 

A permit is required for any project involving the collection, removal or disturbance of any natural or cultural resource of any state park unit and for projects that require placing monitoring equipment in any state park unit.

Activities that occur as part of a typical visit to any state park, such as wildflower photography or wildlife observation, do not require a permit. Requests for personal or commercial collecting, or for projects that do not address specific research needs, will be denied. Manipulative or destructive research is generally not permitted. School trips for purposes of simple observation do not require a permit. However, classes that visit the park to collect specimens or to conduct experiments that are not part of a scheduled park educational program are required to obtain a permit. Teachers should contact the park superintendent in advance of their arrival to determine if a permit is needed.

Activities that require additional permits: Certain research projects may require compliance with other environmental and administrative regulations. It is the applicant's responsibility to determine if additional permits are required, to contact the appropriate agencies and obtain those permits. The Division of Parks and Recreation will not issue a park research permit until all other required permits have been obtained. Regulations that require compliance may include but are not limited to: the Endangered Species Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Coastal Area Management Act. Other agencies that may require permits include the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the NC Department of Agriculture's Plant Conservation Program.

Fill out a permit application online.

Littering is illegal. State law requires aluminum cans and plastic bottles to be placed in recycling containers. To help maintain a clean and safe environment for park visitors and wildlife, place trash in proper containers. Wildlife may mistake plastic bags for food and may become entangled in discarded fishing line or other types of litter.

Burying trash is prohibited. Shifting winds and other types of weather may expose trash and endanger wildlife and the environment.

State law requires aluminum cans to be placed in recycling containers where available.

North Carolina state parks are wildlife preserves. The hunting, trapping, pursuing, shooting, injuring, killing or molesting of any bird or animal is prohibited. Feeding or baiting wildlife is prohibited.

Loggerhead and other sea turtles are protected by law. Anyone who harms the turtles, nests or hatchlings is subject to prosecution. Do not enter marked nesting sites on foot or by vehicle.

Bald eagles are protected by law. It is illegal to kill, harass or possess—dead or alive—any eagle or part of an eagle, including feathers and talons. Convictions related to such violations may result in fines as high as $20,000 and imprisonment for one year.

Nesting shorebirds are protected by law. Anyone who harms the birds, nests, or chicks is subject to a fine. Do not enter marked nesting areas on foot or by vehicle. Anyone who enters the sites, harms or harasses the birds is subject to a fine.

Rules for Activities

In parks where boating and fishing are allowed during park hours, such activities are regulated by all applicable North Carolina laws and regulations, including those regarding fresh and coastal recreational fishing licenses, boat registration and safety requirements.

Laws and regulations may be enforced by the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation as well as other regulatory agencies including—but not necessarily limited to—the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Department of Transportation and/or the Division of Marine Fisheries. If unsure, call the specific park office before your visit to learn of boating and/or fishing opportunities.

Boats, rafts and canoes are prohibited within designated swimming areas.

In all parks, bicycles are permitted only on those trails or other park areas specifically designated for their use. Not all parks have bicycle trails. Please check with the individual park for availability.

Bicycle riders under age 16 must wear a helmet.

Bicycle passengers who weigh less than 40 pounds or who are less than 40 inches tall must be seated in a separate restraining seat. All other bicycle riders must be seated on saddle seats. Persons unable to maintain an erect, seated position cannot be bicycle passengers.

Conducting commercial business/activity in any park is prohibited except during special events governed by a Special Activity Permit.

Photography or video production for commercial purposes is prohibited except under a Film Permit.

Camping is allowed in designated areas by permit only. In most cases, campers register with a ranger on site or at an on-site registration box. You must register even if you have reserved a campsite.

Fires are permitted only in designated areas and must be tended at all times. Gathering firewood is generally prohibited, but may be allowed in some parks.

All vehicles left in the park after posted park hours must be registered.

Visitors must be 18 years or older to register as campers.

There is a maximum limit of 6 people, 2 tents and 2 vehicles per family campsite. All camping equipment and vehicles (if applicable) must be on the campsite and not spread out in the woods. Group campsites vary depending on the size of the campsite, but typically hold 5-25 individuals.

See the Reservations page for more information about camping and cabins.

Hammocks Beach State Park operates a ferry service to Bear Island. Carts and wagons are prohibited on passenger ferries due to space and weight limitations. Passenger conveyance devices, such as strollers and wheelchairs, are allowed. Pets are not allowed on the ferry or in the swimming area.

Hang gliding is only allowed at Jockey's Ridge State Park. Only visitors with a USHGA Hang 1 or other agency-approved rating may hang glide in the park.

For your safety and protection, please stay on designated trails and hiking areas. Also, many rare plants live on thin soils and wet rocks, and are vulnerable to damage from climbing, trampling and scraping.

In parks where horses are permitted in designated park areas or on bridle trails, horses are allowed only on those trails or other park areas specifically designated for their use. Some parks may require special use permits for bridle trail use where trail maintenance is a concern.

Horses are prohibited from camping areas, swimming areas, cabin areas, picnic areas and other day-use areas.

Loading/unloading horses is permitted in designated park areas only. Owners are required to remove all feces from designated horse trailer parking areas.

No carts, carriages or other horse-drawn apparatus are permitted on park trails.

A negative Coggins test not more than 12 months old for all horses over six months of age is required. Proof of equine testing certification must be carried by the horse owner at all times while the animal is within a park.

Rock climbing is only allowed in five parks, by permit (climbers must register before beginning a climb), in designated areas only, and with proper equipment. Those parks are: Chimney Rock, Crowders Mountain, Hanging Rock, Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain. Climbing is prohibited at all other parks.

  • All climbers must register with the park staff and must keep in their possession a valid rock climbing and rappelling permit.
  • Organized private, commercial, or non-profit groups must obtain a special activity permit prior to the outing. Contact the park office.
  • NC state parks do not install or maintain any climbing route or fixed anchors.
  • New routes are not permitted.
  • Climbers climb at their own risk and are responsible for obtaining proper equipment and training.
  • Unroped climbing is discouraged.
  • Route selection and the decision to rely on any fixed anchors are the climber's responsibility.
  • Climbing activities are permitted in designated areas only and must coincide with the park's posted hours of operation.
  • All accidents and injuries must be reported to park staff.
  • All climbers and rappellers must schedule their activity in order to leave the park by the posted closing hour.
  • Park only in designated parking areas

Sandboarding and kiteboarding are only allowed at Jockey's Ridge State Park in a designated area on the dune October 1 through March 31, by permit only.

State parks allow for many special recreational activities such as bicycling events, marathons, photo tours, kite-flying contests, club meetings, etc. However, all such events must be held under a Special Activity Permit. The fee is $35.

You can download a Special Activity permit application or obtain one from the park office.

Swimming is not allowed in all parks. Check with the individual park. Swimming and surfing—where allowed—are only permitted in designated areas.

Public nudity, including public nude bathing is prohibited. Children under age five are exempt.

North Carolina motor vehicle and traffic laws apply in all state parks.

Unlicensed motor vehicles, including golf carts, unregistered motorcycles, snowmobiles, utility vehicles, mini-bikes and all-terrain vehicles, are prohibited. Reasonable accommodations will be made for persons with physical disabilities. Electric wheelchairs are permitted but the operator must be the person with the physical disability.

Unlicensed drivers may not operate motor vehicles on park roads.

Motorized vehicles are permitted only in designated areas and not permitted on park trails.

All vehicles left in the park after posted park hours must be registered.

No carts, carriages or other horse-drawn apparatus are permitted on park trails.

View All State Park Regulations (PDF)

State Parks NCAC Rules - Subchapter 12A

State Parks NCAC Rules - Subchapter 12B

State Parks NCAC Rules - Subchapter 12C