State Parks and NC Beaches Reopen

Cary, NC — As COVID-19 cases continue to slowly drop, so do the “Closed” signs and on the gates of public recreation hubs across the state.

As of 5 PM on Friday, May 8, 2020, the first step of North Carolina’s three-phase reopening plan took effect, allowing entrance into several Triangle-based State Parks and NC beaches that have sat empty for about 2 months.

While it will be another estimated 2-3 weeks before the Stay at Home Order is entirely lifted in phase 2, here’s a look at the parks of the Triangle that have reopened and beaches to look forward to.

State Parks in the Triangle

A rock outcropping and beach are about a mile into the Company Mill trail, easily accessed at the end of N. Harrison Avenue in Cary.

William B. Umstead State Park

Approx. 10-20 minutes from Downtown Cary

Reedy Creek Entrance: 2100 N. Harrison Ave., Cary | Crabtree Creek Entrance: 8801 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh

The NC Division of Parks and Rec strongly suggests all visits to Umstead State Park be brief and focused on continually moving throughout the park. The hiking and multi-use trails of the park are open (along with the restrooms) from 8 AM to 9 PM for the time being.

The park’s website says, “This is not the time to hang out at the park.”

For this time of transition, there are no boat rentals, no horse access and camping facilities remain closed.

Tips for hitting the trails:

  • Bring water, the drinking fountains are turned off for now
  • If hiking in a group, walk single file when passing someone on the trail
  • Wearing face coverings such as a bandana or mask that allows easy breathing
  • Use the bathroom before you go as supplies inside the park’s restrooms are limited
  • Follow NC’s distancing and gathering guidelines

Eno River State Park

Approx. 30 minutes from Downtown Cary | 6101 Cole Mill Road & 4390 Old Cole Mill Road| Durham, NC

There are five access points to this 4,000+ acre park and just two of them are open during this time, the Fews Ford and Cole Mill entrances. The park remains open during normal hours of 7 AM – 10 PM daily.

All trails and bathrooms near these entrances are open, though the bathrooms will be closed throughout the day for regular cleaning. Picnic shelters are closed to promote social distancing and water fountains will be shut off to reduce the spread of germs.

Also on the “don’t do it list” are swimming at the Eno Quarry, parking on the road shoulder, blocking gates and entering through the three closed accesses.

Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Approx. 30 minutes from Downtown Cary | 625 Virginia Cates Road | Hillsborough, NC
40 minutes from Raleigh

This natural area boasts scenic views and hiking loops just a short distance from the intersection of I-85 and I-40. As with the others, this park’s trails and restrooms are open, but just about everything else is not, including the overlook area and the Eno River park office.

For anglers, this park is a great stop as fishing is allowed both on the Eno River and the two fishing ponds within the park. For those looking for a good stroll through nature, this park offers a 2.3 loop trail that dips up and down in elevation along the way.

NC Beaches

Pelicans fly overhead on Oak Island.

Atlantic Beach

Recreational access to the shore is allowed here with a few short-term rental opportunities. The local authorities will continue to restrict all gatherings to a size of 10 or less and social distancing, as with anywhere else, is encouraged. Other features of this beach like the splash pad, mini-golf and skate park will remain closed until phase two.

Carolina Beach

Restrictions have been lifted to allow access to public parking, beach activities and short term rentals. A trip to Carolina Beach will feel a little foreign still as restrictions remain in place for restaurants, bars, salons and other retail vendors that are ordinarily a big part of the experience.

Emerald Isle

The waters of Emerald Isle are open for swimmers, surfers, kayakers, anglers and boaters. Visitors are also invited to also fly kties, walk, jog and sit on the sand. The main rule of thumb here and at any beach in NC is to keep your distance from others and your group size to 10 or less. Face coverings are encouraged at this beach as well.

Wrightsville Beach

This popular beach not far from Wilmington, NC is open for non-stationary activities, meaning suntanning, sitting and fishing are not allowed. The local government also has a restriction in place to prevent folks who live in or are have visited a state that still has a Stay at Home order in place from booking a stay in a short-term rental.

Usual beach equipment including towels, blankets, chairs, tents, coolers and umbrellas are not allowed on the beaches during Phase 1.

A view of the coastline from the Oak Island Lighthouse.

Other NC beaches that have reopened with restrictions in place include Oak Island, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach and Holden Beach. Before making a trip, be sure to check out this resource for visiting NC’s beaches.


Story and photos by Ashley Kairis.

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