South Mountains State Park
Guide

Introduction

South Mountains State Park is a rugged backpacker's paradise covering over 19,000 acres of land in North Carolina. This beautiful state park is a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that begins in Georgia and runs along the eastern states to southern Pennsylvania. The area became popular in the early 1800s due to the discovery of gold and was mined until the early 1900s. In the 1930s, the Conservation Civilian Corps (CCC) worked on what was then known as Camp Dryer, building structures and mapping out trails. By the 1940s, a proposal was made to have the camp become a state park, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the proper steps were made to officially purchase the land.

The total land acquired at that time was almost 6,000 acres. At a later date, additional land was purchased, bringing the total acreage to almost 20,000 acres of land. The park opened its gates in 1975 with over 40 miles of hiking trails and a beautiful waterfall standing 80 feet tall. South Mountains State Park offers fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, and many more activities for the entire family to enjoy during an RV vacation to the Carolinas.

The park has quite a few spots available for visitors who intend on camping or using the space for group functions. There are 18 campsites available for RV and trailer reservation, and two of the sites are equipped with electrical hookups. There is also an equestrian campground available with stalls and horse trails nearby.

The park enjoys warm summers, moderate rain, and plenty of sunshine. The winters are cold with far fewer visitors, but the park remains open all year except for Christmas Day. You can watch the leaves change color in the fall or go fishing in the summer. No matter what season of the year, there are plenty of activities to enjoy when you bring your motorhome to South Mountains State Park.

RV Rentals in South Mountains State Park

Transportation

Driving

On your way to the park’s entrance, you can stop by Salem, Dysartsville, Casar, or some of the other cities that surround the park. These towns offer movie theaters, shopping malls, restaurants, and boutiques. You can stock up on groceries or just walk around interacting with the locals and learning more about the history of the small towns that litter the area.

The park’s main entrance is located two hours away from Columbus, NC. If you travel 1.5 miles off SR-1901 and turn on SR-1904, you will see the sign welcoming you to South Mountain State Park. There are other entrances to the park, but all visitors must stop by the park’s office before departing to their assigned site.

After you have checked in and found your site, you can wander around the park. It is important to note that the park does close its gates at night and reopens in the morning. You are not allowed to enter nor exit once the gates are closed unless it is an emergency. If you do have an emergency, then contact the rangers or park hosts, and they will do their best to help you.

It is recommended that you either walk or ride your bike around the park. Keep in mind though that while mountain bikes are allowed in the park, they are not allowed in common areas. Due to the park’s high elevation, flooding is not a big issue, but there may be mudslides due to heavy rains. Be sure to keep an eye on the forecast before you travel, as you don’t want to run into trouble on the road in your RV. In case of inclement weather, the park will send out an advisory to all its visitors.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in South Mountains State Park

Campsites in South Mountains State Park

Reservations camping

Equestrian Barn Campground

There are 15 sites available for you if you have a horse and an RV. Each of the campsites is pet-friendly and has a picnic table and fire ring. Showers, restrooms, and water spigots are available nearby. All motorhomes and rigs must be 71 feet or smaller. The smallest length limit is 56 feet, so the sites are really quite large. Two of the sites are ADA-accessible. Keep in mind, this campground does require you to have a horse.

The Equestrian Barn Campground is located next to the Jacob Fork River and the equestrian trail. There are 33 horse stalls in the center of the campground. These have to be reserved separately, which can be done online 11 months in advance when you reserve your campsite. The stalls are 10x10 feet and one stall has to be reserved for each horse. Also, make sure you bring all the paperwork needed for your horse, including a negative Coggins test.

Family Campground

In the foothills of the South Mountains of North Carolina, South Mountains State Park offers 18 spacious campsites for RVers that can handle rigs up to 50 feet in length. However, many of them are only 15 feet long, so it is important to check the length limits when making your reservation, which can be done 11 months in advance. Site 12 is ADA-accessible and sites 17 and 18 have 50-amp electric hookups but no water or sewer. The other 16 campsites do not have any utilities at all.

However, there is a large shower house with restrooms that have running water, and there are water spigots with potable water in several areas of the camp. In addition, each site has a fire ring with a grill and a picnic table that seats six, which is the maximum amount of guests you can have. Half of the campsites are along the banks of Jacob Fork River while the others are just a short walk away with excellent water views. Fido and Fluffy can join the family at the campground as long as they are restrained and accompanied at all times during your visit.

Alternate camping

Backpacking Campgrounds

If you are a hiker and want to get out of the RV and into the woods for a few days, South Mountains State Park is a good place to do it. They have 24 backpacking sites in seven different backpacking areas around the park grounds. You will need a permit to camp out in any of these spots, so you need to stop at the kiosk outside the visitor center to register before walking off into the woods.

Each of the backpacking areas is marked on the map as they are all within different areas of the park. The Upper Falls and Little River Areas are within 1.4 miles of the parking lot, Shinny Creek is 1.2 miles away, Sawtooth is 2.5 miles, Jacob Branch is about 3.8 miles away, Fox Trail is almost five miles, and Murray Branch is 5.4 miles from the lot. Make sure you bring water and print a map to take with you. All areas have a pit toilet located nearby, but there are no water spigots or other amenities.

Seasonal activities in South Mountains State Park

In-Season

Attending Interpretive Programs

There are interpretive programs for kids as well as people of all ages. Each year, rangers lead programs highlighting the ecosystem and history of the park. You can sign up for these programs online or by calling ahead. If no program is scheduled while you are visiting, you can ask one of the main staff members for a brief guide of the interpretive areas. You may come across the 80-foot tall waterfall or look out from one of the mountain viewing areas.

Mountain Biking

South Mountains State Park is home to one of the few mountain bike trails in the state. There is a 17-mile loop ranging from easy to strenuous. It is recommended that each rider is in good shape before they try to complete this loop. If at any time you become winded or strain a muscle, take a breather and drink some much-needed water. Mountain bikes are also allowed on the hiking trails, just be mindful of other users and practice proper trail etiquette.

Fishing

If you plan to go trout fishing, then you will need to remember to pack your North Carolina fishing license and a special trout license in the RV. From October to the first Friday in June, you are only allowed to use single hook artificial lures and every fish you catch must be released. The fishing areas are marked on the park’s map, but you may want to ask a ranger or camp host about the best spots. Remember to pick up some bait and a rod if necessary, on your way to the park.

Off-Season

Picnicking

Gather the family into the motorhome and head to South Mountains State Park for a picnic. Whether you want to just have a meal with the whole family or hold a party for a bunch of people, the park has you covered, literally. The picnic shelter at the Jacob’s Fork parking lot has room for up to 80 people with a fireplace, two barbecue grills, water, electricity, and 12 tables. It is available on a first-come, first-served basis, but it is better if you reserve it in advance. For those who just want a picnic table and grill, these are located in areas around the park for anyone’s use.

Horseback Riding

South Mountains State Park is a prime destination for RV campers who love horseback riding. You have over 30 miles of equestrian trails to choose from when riding. You may bring your own horse but remember to read the trail information before you set off on your ride. Some of the trails are shared with mountain bikers and hikers so keep an eye out for other travelers. Each horse must have a negative Coggins test and you must provide their feed. Keep the stables clean by not riding when it has rained for a couple of days.

Hiking

With over 40 miles of trails to hike, there is no doubt that you will always have somewhere new to explore. Some of the trails are shared with mountain bikers and horseback riders, so walking to one side rather than in the middle of the trail is highly recommended. The trails range from easy to strenuous, so be sure to hike according to your own limit. You will need a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a water bottle. If you plan on hiking in the summer, then bring a map and some bug spray with you to make your journey easier.

Find the perfect campsite.