Exploring North Carolina State Parks can be exhilarating, but it can also be dangerous. Whether you are boating, paddling, surfing, swimming, or otherwise immersing yourself in the water, safety is just as important as having fun.

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Many state parks across North Carolina offer great opportunities for swimming, and safety is essential for all ages when enjoying this activity. If the park you are thinking about visiting has lifeguards, make sure you swim when and where the lifeguard is present. If you are at a park without lifeguards, be sure you are completely qualified to be swimming there, and use the buddy system.

Below are some general safety tips:

  • Know your ability.
  • Swim only in designated areas.
  • Use the buddy system.
  • Pay close attention to children.
  • Enter the water feet first.
  • Dress appropriately for the activity you are taking part in.
  • When available, swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.
  • Always swim with a buddy, and have adult supervision for all children.
  • Know the various types of ocean currents and weather conditions.
  • Use US Coast Guard-approved flotation vests if you are a weak swimmer.
  • Stay alert by checking the daily NOAA Rip Current Hazard Forecast and NOAA weather forecast.
  • Avoid swimming where danger is present: in rough seas, in inlets, around piers, at night, or during thunderstorms or other extreme weather conditions.

Every year, thousands of boating enthusiasts take to the waterways of North Carolina to fish, sail, water ski, and pursue other vessel-based recreation.

  • Wear a lifejacket, children 13 or under must.
  • Inexperienced paddlers should not stray far from shore.
  • Paddlers should avoid motor boats – high-use areas.
  • Stay out of designated swim areas.
  • Return to shore immediately during lightning or thunderstorms.
  • Take advantage of free boating safety courses.
  • Pay attention to changes in the weather.

To make certain that the public is safe, responsible, and free to enjoy boating activities throughout the state, the Wildlife Resources Commission enforces laws and regulations that all should observe. To learn more about safe boating, visit these resources:

In addition, most individual park sites offer more locally specific information on boating safety. To learn more about boating safety at a NC state park, visit that park's website or contact its staff for more information.

If you are paddling, be aware of what conditions are expected in the park. In areas of open ocean, paddling can be a high-risk activity that should not be undertaken alone, or by any novice, first-time, or inexperienced ocean paddler. Check the safety rules for any state park site you plan to visit and experience through paddling. Make sure to choose a form of paddling that is appropriate to your experience level –open ocean versus sheltered bays or wetlands, guided versus unguided, and so on –so that you can have the best possible experience exploring your state parks.

  • Stay on developed trails and don't stray from observation decks and platforms.
  • Pay attention to the warning signs and rules you see posted near waterfalls.
  • Never climb on or around waterfalls. Rocks are more slippery than they look.
  • Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools. Rocks and logs are often beneath the surface of the water but difficult to see. Currents caused by a waterfall can drag and keep you underwater.
  • Watch children carefully. Children should always be under the immediate supervision of adults when visiting any waterfalls. Pets should also be supervised. They can easily underestimate the slickness of rocks and the flow of water.
  • Never play in the stream or river above a waterfall. You can easily be swept over the falls by currents. Do not try to take photos or selfies at the top of a waterfall! People lose their footing while paying attention to their photo set-up and fall over.
  • Slippery rocks and mud are common along trails as you near waterfalls. Use extra caution on the trail as you approach waterfalls.
  • Since many waterfalls are in remote areas, a medical rescue could take hours.
  • Wear hiking shoes with a good grip. Flip flops and sandals make you particularly vulnerable to slipping or injuring yourself.
  • Bring a picnic and plenty of water. Reaching some waterfalls in your state parks requires a challenging hike!
  • Plan ahead to ensure you will be back at your campsite or parking area before sunset.
  • Winter is an exceptional time to visit waterfalls in North Carolina state parks, as trees drop their leaves and reveal sweeping views. Watch for icy patches along the trail and on decks and overlook areas from the mist of the waterfalls.