If you’ve been craving a vacation, that’s a bit offbeat and has something for everyone, Uwharrie National Forest may be just the place you need to visit. The forest has a lot of options for you to explore, right from regular activities like fishing and swimming, to unconventional choices like gold panning and overnight OTV rides.


What Is Uwharrie National Forest?


Located substantially in North Carolina’s rural region of Montgomery County, and extending partially into the Davidson and Randolph counties, the Uwharrie National Forest is a federally designated forest region that has a total area of 50,645 acres (which is roughly equal to around 205 square kilometers). The region is named after the ancient Uwharrie Mountains, atop which much of the forest is located.

The Yadkin river (which is one of the longest rivers in North Carolina) and the Great Pee Dee River (which originates in the Appalachian Mountains) border the forest on its west, and the town of Troy in Montgomery County borders the forest on the east. Up north, the forest ends near the northernmost range of the Uwharrie mountains. The forest supports a mix of pine and oak trees and is the smallest among the four national forests in North Carolina.

The History of Uwharrie National Forest

In 1799, the first major gold strike in the United States was found in the vicinity of this area. A few years later, in the nineteenth century, gold was discovered in the Uwharrie mountains. During the Great Depression, a minor gold rush also occurred in the region of the Uwharrie National Forest. The forest was purchased by the Federal Government in 1931 when the area was called the Uwharrie Reservation, and in the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy conferred the federal designation on the Uwharrie National Forest.

Inspired by the gold rushes in the previous centuries, people pan for gold in the streams and rivers of the forest when they visit. Two highways, namely the Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 run from the north to the south along the eastern border of the Uwharrie National Forest. NC 73 runs from the Yadkin River in the west to Mount Gilead in the east, and NC 24 and 27 both proceed from the river to Moore County in the east. Finally, NC 109 runs from Davidson County in the north to Troy in the south, making the national forest well-connected and easily accessible by road.


Things to Do in the Uwharrie National Forest

There are several recreational activities and adventurous sports you can enjoy on a trip to the Uwharrie National Forest. Explained below are the popular attractions and experiences you must include in your itinerary.

Horse Riding and Camping

people riding horses at the national park

The Badin Lake trail system stretches up to forty miles, and it offers a good deal of horseback-riding opportunities. There’s ample parking space in the field next to the Badin Horse Camp, just off Mullinix Road, and people who avail daytime rides can park their vehicles in this region. If you’re interested in camping overnight and experience horseback riding over two or more days, the Canebrake Horse Camp, which lies just off the Badin Lake trail system, provides overnight facilities for you and your horse.

Canebrake is one of the most sophisticated and advanced horse camps among the many similar facilities in the national forests in North Carolina. The camp offers the use of showers, restrooms, electrical hookups, and even a horse-washing station. On the whole, the Canebrake Horse Camp in Uwharrie National Forest has 28 camping sites, with parking spots for horse trailers. Up to two vehicles are allowed at each site.

Of these sites, four be double campsites, and each one is equipped with a picnic table, a grill, a fire ring, a lantern post, some tie posts, a few tack tables, and electrical hookups. These facilities come together effortlessly to make Uwharrie National Forest an ideal site for camping and experiencing horseback riding with your family.


Gold Panning

man getting water

If you’re interested in going beyond regular adventure sports and want to try your hand at something unconventional and unique, gold panning might be just the thing you need to explore. Also known as panning, pans are used to extract gold from deposits of water. It’s simple and practically one of the least expensive ways to mine minerals.

Coggins Mine is a good spot to try your hand at gold panning. The national forest is home to several rivers and streams, and hidden among these waters are several minerals, including gold. Recreational gold panning is allowed in most areas of the Uwharrie National Forest. There’s no fee or permit required, provided you only use a shovel and pan techniques and cause no significant disturbance to the waters.


ATV Rides

people riding an ATV

The Uwharrie National Forest boasts of the only public motorized trail system that’s located off the highway in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. Located in the Badin Lake Recreational Area, the trails allow dirt bikes, ATVs, UTVs, side-by-sides, and full-sized 4-wheel drive vehicles. You need to stay on the routes marked with symbols showing the type of vehicle you’re driving. The trails vary in difficulty and progress from easy to extremely difficult. Some of them are also open at night and can be ridden after sunset if the vehicle has working headlights and tail lights.


Hunting and Fishing

man fishing in the river

The Uwharrie National Forest is home to several game animals like white-tailed deer, wild turkey, rabbit, and gray squirrel. The US Forest service oversees the habitat in the federal regions, and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission controls activities like fishing and hunting in the game lands. You can engage in the sport of hunting at the Uwharrie Hunt Camp, which has eight sites for tent camping, each with a table, grill, lantern posts, and a tent pad.

There’s also a shooting range for target practice that’s open throughout the year. As for fishing, there are several species that the waters in Uwharrie National Forest are home to, such as catfish, big mouth bass, stripers, white bass, crappie, brim, smallmouth bass, and many more. Badin Lake, Lake Tillery, and Tuckertown all offer boating access for people interested in fishing.


Water Activities

People kayaking

If you’re fond of water activities, then there’s no dearth of options for you to explore in Uwharrie National Forest. You can paddle on the waters of the Uwharrie River and experience one of the last remaining unspoiled waterways in North Carolina. Paddling options are available for half a day, an entire day, and even overnight. Aside from paddling, you can also engage in boating (both motorized and non-motorized), swimming, and tubing. Arrowhead Campground also offers the opportunity to waterski.


Planning Your Adventure

writing on a blank page

If you’re interested in planning an adventurous trip to Uwharrie National Forest, here are tips to help you get started with this awesome idea.

Pick the Activities You Want to Explore

Look up the different activities and recreational experiences offered in the forest and select the ones you’ll want to explore. You don’t have to try it all; it’s okay to skip something you’re not fond of. And if you’re going as a family, remember to include something for everyone

Contact the Authorities for Permits

If you plan on fishing or hunting or doing any activity that requires permits, contact the authorities via email or phone, and inquire about any procedures you’re unsure about.

Plan Your Schedule In Advance

After you’ve chosen the activities you want to do, plan your schedule accordingly. Try not to squeeze in too many options on one day because you may have to hurry through it all, leaving you just a little time to enjoy your trip and explore the area thoroughly.

Pack Necessary Gear

If you plan on fishing or hunting, make sure you take the right equipment you'll need. Even if some gear can be purchased in North Carolina, it’s always better to have it with you before you travel.

Equip Yourself With Protective Gear

Take adequate drinking water along with you and wear bug spray to keep insects and ticks off. Also, since the forest is home to copperhead snakes and timber rattlesnakes, keep an eye out for wildlife. Also, if you plan on hunting, make sure you wear an orange jacket so you can be spotted easily out in the forest.

Check the Regulations

Some activities may be seasonal, and it can save you a lot of disappointment if you verify beforehand whether the activities you want to take part in will be available during the dates you plant to visit the forest.


If adventure isn’t your cup of tea, the Uwharrie National Forest also offers breathtaking views you can soak in as you stretch out by the waters and relax for a while. These views are particularly beautiful during the early hours of the day and in the evenings. So if you’re ever in North Carolina, remember to head out to Uwharrie National Forest. It may be the smallest of North Carolina’s forests, but it’s got plenty to offer.

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