NC State Parks: Raven Rock

by J. M. Pressley
First published: May 3, 2012

Raven Rock State Park in North Carolina offers an escape back to nature. Attractions include hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, fishing, and picnicking.

Raven Rock is a North Carolina state park straddling the Cape Fear River as it winds its northwesterly way toward the interior of the state. The park is situated in the fall zone of the Piedmont region, where the foothills meet the coastal plain. There are 15 miles of hiking trails that visitors can travel throughout the park. In addition, the north bank of the river features seven miles of bridle trails for horseback travel. The park was officially established in 1969 and has grown from an initial 220-acre tract to more than 4,600 acres today.

The park is named for the 150-foot bluff that overlooks the Cape Fear River. Prior to European settlement, Sioux and Tuscarora tribes used the area as hunting grounds. The first settlers arrived in the mid 1700s, highlander Scots who found the more rugged interior of the state similar to their native land. The bluff itself was first named Patterson's Rock in 1740 after Gilbert Patterson. Patterson's canoe had capsized, and the stranded settler took refuge under the rock. The rock took its present name in 1854 from the abundant ravens that could be seen roosting on its ledges. The nearby Northington Ferry was a major transportation link between Raleigh and Fayetteville for decades, drawing many visitors to the area. Following construction of the Lillington Bridge in 1920 and the advent of automobile traffic, however, the site went from a visitor attraction to harvested timberland.

In the late 1960s, two interests came together. The state recommended the addition of a state park in the general region of Harnett County. At the same time, local residents were opposed to selling the land around Raven Rock to commercial paper or mining interests. The county commissioners successfully presented their proposal to make Raven Rock a state park to the North Carolina Board of Conservation and Development. By the summer of 1969, the state legislature had approved the creation of the park. It opened to the public in 1970.

The bluffs at Raven Rock extend for more than a mile along the south bank of the Cape Fear River. Creeks cut through the ridges at several points. The park's rolling terrain supports an abundant variety of woodlands, wildflowers, and plant and animal life. Hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, fishing, and picnicking are among the attractions at Raven Rock. The park is open to the public year-round except for Christmas Day (see the Raven Rock State Park website for hours). Visitors should be aware that camping is only allowed by permit in designated areas. For canoeists, local rapids require caution and make life vests a must, especially during spring floods.

The park offers few amenities. The main picnic facilities are situated along Little Creek near the parking area; this includes 27 tables and eight grills. Restrooms, public telephones, and vending machines are nearby, along with several open play fields. There are three campgrounds in the park; campers can either register with a ranger on site or at an on-site registration box. The primitive campground has five sites that can accommodate up to four people. The group campground accommodates up to 20 people in each of its five sites. There are also six canoe camping sites. All camping grounds feature fire rings and vault toilets. Note that campers are asked to observe quiet hours, typically between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Getting There

Raven Rock State Park is located in Harnett County nine miles west of Lillington, North Carolina, on US 421. It's approximately 39 miles southwest of Raleigh, and can be reached via US 401. For specific directions and other park information, visit the Raven Rock State Park website.