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I have camped in this state park several times, including with the Boy Scouts. Other than the park itself, I really enjoyed the camaraderie when our Scout troop and another Scout troop that was camping were playing“Capture the Flag.” I say all of this because it is a great place for group camping. However, it also has conventional camping and cabins. When I first started camping at Cliffs of the Neuse, it did not have more than a mile of trails. Now it has added some more trails. It also did not have showers or cabins in times past. This park has improved significantly over the years and now has showers that are frequently maintained. One of the things you have to be aware of is that this park is sandy, so when you are camping, you will probably want to put some kind of rug in front of your tent or RV to minimize the amount of sand that you track in. Don’t think choosing another site will move you away from the sand. It won’t. Another thing you have to be aware of is that in eastern North Carolina, fire ants can be a huge problem. Some of the trails are easy, but the Spanish Moss Trail is quite steep in some places. Also, the Galax trail is almost always flooded during the spring or after a series of rains. There is a lake for swimming and a large picnic shelter. On weekends, it is not unusual for there to be lots of people at the picnic shelters, so you will have to reserve them. The sites have picnic tables and fire pits as well. This is a great park for swimming and boating, but the hiking is limited. If I am not mistaken, the total length of trails is fewer three miles. However, the main attraction is the view over the Neuse River and the new visitor’s center. Even with limited trails, it is still a great park for relaxing.
The great thing about this campground is that it offers a peaceful setting no matter whether you are camping in your travel trailer, a tent, or as a group. As a leader of the Boy Scouts and the Royal Rangers, I have camped here many times in large groups. We even had a campout here with about 300 boys. As a group campout, there was lots of room for activities planned by our leaders—paintball, scavenger hunts, and evening campfire services. With that said, one of my latest campouts was just with a group of friends. I think the best fun was fishing, although I really like kayaking on the lake. At this campground, you don’t have to worry about driving in tent stakes if you are camping in a tent. The soil is sandy, and the ground is usually covered with pine straw. When I wanted to build a campfire, there were plenty of sticks and limbs to start and build a campfire. There is a swimming beach, but I would be careful about where I step since there is sometimes goose poop on the sand. You can also rent canoes and pedal boats. There is a hiking trail as well, but make sure you have waterproof shoes if it has recently rained. The trail beside the lake gets really muddy. The price is reasonable, and the staff is friendly. This is a laidback campground in a rural area, so if you are in need of supplies, you’d better bring them with you. The bath house has a concrete floor, but it is well-maintained. I have camped at this campground over a dozen times, and it never gets old. That’s why it’s one of my favorites.
I’ve known about this campground for a long time, but I never got a chance to camp at it until now. It was long overdue. The campground has pull-through and back-in sites. The sites are level and most have 30/50 amp hookups, as well as water. There is also a primitive tent camping area. You can choose to stay along the river or next to the woods. There are viewing platforms to look at the river, trails, and at least three ponds in which you can fish. There is not a swimming pool or an arcade pavilion, but there are a lot of things for children and adults to do. The campground is along the Neuse River, and it is part of the Neuseway Nature Center complex. The Nature Center has a variety of live animal exhibits, and across the street there is a planetarium and science center. Also included on the premises are a playground, a fossil dig, a picnic shelter, and a small train in which visitors can ride. You have to register at the Nature Center, which is about a hundred yards from the campground, and the fee was$20.00, which I thought was very reasonable. The host was one of the nicest hosts I have ever encountered at a campground. He answered all the questions we had, and he walked us to the bath house to make sure we understood how to enter the code to unlock the door. There are some drawbacks to the campground, although not many. It is a long walk to the bath house from the campground, but our host said that they are trying to get a bath house within the campground itself. The reason it has not been done sooner is because the whole area is in a flood zone, and they have to figure out the best way to have bathrooms there. The waters from the Neuse River have covered the entire campground and Nature Center complex more than once and almost every year. With that said, you will want to make sure the river has not flooded before you decide to go. It rained the entire time we were there, so we didn’t get to enjoy many of the outdoor opportunities, but I enjoyed seeing the river and the animal exhibits. However, there is a lot more to do across the bridge into Kinston. With a short drive of three-tenths of a mile, you will be on Herritage Street. Over the last three decades, the city of Kinston has been in a steady decline in population, and the crime rate has increased. However, city leaders have been bringing things back to life. This campground is right across the river from Herritage Street, which has a nationally known restaurant(The Chef and the Farmer), the only full size Civil War ironclad replica in the world, a successful brewery(Mother Earth Brewery), and many other eclectic shops and parks. For breakfast and lunch, Lovick’s Café is a great choice, and it has been in business since the 1940s. It is most famous for its dough burgers. For some people, this might be a two star campground because it doesn’t seem to offer much. Others, including myself, would rate it five stars because it has a little bit of both worlds—nature and civilization(Herritage Street). I will give it only four stars because I’m trying to be objective, knowing that people looking for campgrounds want swimming pools, game rooms, Wi-Fi, etc.
Raven Rock State Park is known for its namesake cliffs on the edge of the Cape Fear River. It has over a dozen miles of trails, which include horseback riding, hiking, and cycling trails. Since this park is along the fall line, most of the trails are easy with some rise and fall in elevation. Make sure you hike to the“Raven Rock” while you are there. It is impressive, and there are other trails that offer peaceful walks through the forest and other views of the river. The only camping allowed, for now, is primitive tent camping. The campsites can be reached either by hiking or by canoeing/kayaking in. There is a privy, but there are no showers. I counted seven spaces for camping. There is a site(or was) for group camping. The ranger told me that it is no longer in use. When I was talking to her, she said that they are working on an area for RV camping and that it would be ready next year. If I understood correctly, it will be in the area of the Mountain Laurel Loop Trail. When you camp there, make sure to take a good head lamp or flashlight. I had to walk quite far to get to the privy, and during the night, it is dark! The site that I chose was a longer walk to the privy than the other campsites, but it was a little more remote and private. I also had to by-pass a mud hole on the way to the privy, so again, take a good light source. The best thing about Raven Rock State Park is, of course, the 150’ cliffs along the river. The best thing about camping at Raven Rock State Park is how quiet it is. The hike is 1.7 miles, and other than the sounds of Cape Fear River down below, the only thing you hear at night might be an occasional airplane flying overhead. Since it was during December, I didn’t see any other campers. During the day, however, the park had several day hikers. If you want to camp in the backcountry but don’t want to hike very far to get there, this is a great place. If you have an RV or just want to camp where you can drive to, you will have to wait for a year, according to the park ranger.