A scenic gem set just outside of Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, Falls Lake State Recreation Area offers beautiful woodlands and waterways galore. The park boasts several campsites, ranging from well-accommodated RV sites to primitive hike-in sites, as well as an extensive network of hiking and biking trails.
Boaters and swimmers can take advantage of Falls Lake's developed recreation and day-use sites, which include several swim beaches, boat launches, and even a marina with kayak and canoe rentals. Birders can explore thousands of acres of rich, bottomland hardwood forests, and dozens of miles of shoreline; both these habitats play host to a wide variety of avian life. Anglers, meanwhile, can head out onto the water or hike to a quiet spot on the water's edge. Largemouth bass, catfish, perch, crappie and more can be found in Falls Lake and its many coves.
In total, Falls Lake State Recreation Area has nearly 300 sites suitable for RVs and trailers, which are divided between two lovely, sylvan campgrounds. There are also three different group camping areas, and a sizable walk-in, tent-only campsite. Almost all the park's campsites, apart from being set in beautiful, forested areas, have the added bonus of being very close to the shoreline. A quick walk will take you right to the edge of Falls Lake, where you can cast a line, look out for bald eagles, or just enjoy a scenic sunset.
Other nearby parks worth a visit include Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, just to the west of Durham, and William B. Umstead State Park, just north of Raleigh.
Falls Lake State Recreation Area, bisected by two major roads, is quite easy to get to. NC-98, also called the Wake Forest Highway, cuts through the park going east-west, while NC-50, also known as Creedmore Road, cuts through the park going north-south. Some more minor local roads are required to get to the campgrounds themselves, but these are, for the most part, paved and well maintained. Visitors won't need to deal with any switchback turns or steep hills when heading to Falls Lake.
Snow is unusual in this part of the state, but ice is not uncommon during the winter months. If you are visiting in winter, be sure to take it slow, especially on days after a rainy night.
Since the park is spread out, it may not be possible (or, at least, not easy) to get from your campsite to a desired trail, beach, or boat launch by walking. Falls Lake has numerous developed recreation areas, though, and these almost always have sizable parking lots.
As for the campgrounds themselves, most spots are back-in, but even those with large rigs shouldn't have much trouble parking, as spots are also spacious and long.
The largest campground within the Falls Lake complex, Holly Point Campground, is located at the northern end of the Shinleaf Recreation Area, right off of New Light Road. This well-maintained campground sports 158 sites, most of which are suitable for RVs and trailers. Like most of the park's campgrounds, Holly Point is in a forested area and sits very close to the lake.
Eighty-nine of Holly Point's sites offer 30-amp electric and fresh water hookups. Though there are no sewage hookups, there's a dump station located on the grounds. Sites all sport grills and picnic tables. Modern restrooms with showers are within walking distance of all sites. There's an amphitheater and a lovely lakeside playground area too.
Even if you're driving a very large rig or hauling a sizable trailer, you should be able to find accommodation at Holly Point. All sites are back-in, but many are quite long - up to 120 feet, in some cases. Reservations for Holly Point can be made online, with bookings available up to 11 months in advance.
Rolling View is a sizable campground, similar in most ways to Holly Point Campground. It's located on the lake's western shore, just a bit north of the Wake Forest Highway - it's also the closest campground to Durham. A couple of extra offerings here include easy access to a boat ramp and the Rollingview Marina, which is just a few hundred feet to the east of the main campground.
Rolling View boasts 115 sites, 80 of which offer 30-amp electrical and water hookups. Like Holly Point Campground, Rolling View has modern restrooms with showers, a playground, and a sanitary dump station. There are plenty of sizable back-in sites, and there are several sites right along the lakeside. Reservations for Rolling View can be also be made online, following the same rules as Holly Point Campground.
Unfilled sites, whether group, hike-in, or RV/trailer, can be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. During the peak season, though, campgrounds get busy quickly, and many choice sites (with particularly good views, privacy, and/or long parking pads) can get snapped up fast. If you can, making a reservation is recommended.
Shinleaf has nine group camping spots, many of them right along the water. Sites are well separated and are within easy walking distance of restrooms and the Shinleaf amphitheater. The Falls Lake trail can also be easily accessed from Shinleaf's group sites. Reservations for these sites can be made online as well.
The B.W. Wells group camping area is located at the park's far eastern end. The area sports 11 group camping sites, which have the same amenities as the park's other group campsites. It provides easy access to the Long Loop trail, a causal loop that ambles through scenic woodlands.
As it does not abut any other campground, boat ramp, marina, or playground, the B.W. Wells area is also particularly quiet - it's a great choice for groups wanting to avoid the bustle of the park's busier sections. Reservations for group camping spots can be made online.
Looking for a camping experience that's quieter, and a bit more rugged and remote? The Shinleaf area of Falls Lake offers 47 primitive walk-in sites. Located on a peninsula jutting into Falls Lake, these sites are for tent camping only. The sites are also well-spaced, offering plenty of solitude, and letting campers take in the sites and sounds of Falls Lake's beautiful forests undisturbed.
Each site has a gravel tent pad (which helps with drainage), as well as tables and grills. The sites are also close enough to the parking area that, if you forget something in you're car, it's not a long trek back (the farthest site is about a quarter-mile from the parking area).
A modern restroom with showers is located in the parking area, and there's another small restroom at the opposite end of the campground. Primitive hike-in sites can be reserved online, just like group camping and RV camping spots.
The Rolling View area also plays host to one of the park's several group camping areas. These primitive group campsites don't offer any hookups, though they do have grills and picnic tables. Rolling View's group camping area is also within easy walking distance of the main campground, meaning you can use the freshwater spigots and restrooms there.
Group campsites are located in small clearings surrounded by woodlands. Each site can accommodate up to 35 campers, and Rolling View has four sites in total. Reservations for group sites can be made online.
The waters and the woods of Falls Lake State Recreation Area attract all manner of avian life. During the winter months, bald eagles nest here, feeding off the rich supply of fish in the lake. During the spring and fall, the park's forests play temporary home to many species of migratory songbirds, including northern parulas, hooded warblers, red-eyed vireos, and yellow warblers. Listen carefully on a summers eve and you may hear the distinctive call of a whip-poor-will.
In addition to its many miles of hiking trails, Falls Lake State Recreation Area also boasts over a dozen miles of mountain biking trails. While there's not much in the way of mountainous terrain here, some of these trails offer a fair bit of elevation change and can be quite challenging. Others are more mellow, taking riders on an easy jaunt through thick woodlands and over gentle hills.
Sometimes, trails may be closed due to excessively muddy conditions, or to prevent additional erosion - you can check with the park office to see which bike routes are open when you arrive.
Hiking trails abound at Falls Lake State Recreation Area - and there's something available for those of every skill level. Dozens of miles of footpaths criss-cross the park. Many of them skirt the edges of Falls Lake itself, offering great views and wonderful opportunities for fishing and wildlife watching. Other trails head deeper inland, into rolling hills and thick forests of oak, hickory, and pine.
Several short spurs and loops, such as the Duck Cove Trail or the Beaver Dam North Loop, offer easygoing ambles. Those looking for longer treks, for hiking or backpacking, can take on The Falls Lake Trail, a 50-mile route that follows the meandering southern shore of Falls Lake.
The famed Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which weaves for over 1,000 miles from the Great Smokey Mountains to North Carolina's Outer Banks, also passes through the park. Hiking here is a pleasure during any season, but autumn visitors will be treated to the forest's brilliant fall foliage.
The cool waters of Falls Lake can offer a respite from the summer heat and mugginess. Falls Lake State Recreation Area has several designated swim beaches, including ones at Rolling View, Beaverdam, and Holly Point (the latter being for campers only). Take a refreshing dip or soak up some rays while enjoying a nice sunbath. You're likely to see plenty of boats out on the water, and you may catch sight of eagles or hawks circling overhead.
Falls Lake's beaches are not staffed by lifeguards, so make sure to keep a careful eye on your kids - the park also asks that young children are outfitted with life jackets or personal flotation devices before swimming.
Busy as it gets, you should have no problems finding a quiet fishing spot at Falls Lake. The lake's meandering shoreline is dozens of miles long and replete with many coves and fingers. Those waters are well-stocked too.
Largemouth bass are the most common catch here, but anglers can also expect to pull up black and white crappies, bluegills, perch, striped bass, catfish and more. Wherever you end up casting your line, whether from a shady spot on the shore or from a boat out on the lake's placid waters, make sure you have a valid North Carolina fishing license.
Falls Lake's winding waterways, many coves, and forested shores make it a wonderful and scenic place to explore by boat. There are several boat launches within the park - no matter where you're camped, you shouldn't be far from one. Boats with gas-powered motors are not allowed on the lake, which helps keeps noise down. If you didn't bring your own vessel, you can check out the park's concessionaire, which offers paddleboard, kayak, and canoe rentals.