North Carolina truly has something for every traveler. It is a state blessed with beautiful beaches, stunning mountain scenery and plenty of Old South charm. North Carolina is also the de facto home to NASCAR, America’s number one spectator sport. Visitors can enjoy outdoor activities from hiking, mountain climbing, and skiing, along with a taste of Appalachian culture in the Blue Ridge and Smokey mountains or visit some of North Carolina’s increasingly diverse cities. Sun, and sand await visitors to the state’s coastal region with secluded barrier islands in the Outer Banks and the bustling beach-side city of Wilmington. An overview of the best places to visit in North Carolina:
Map of North Carolina
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Chimney Rock State Park, which is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) from the town of Asheville, boasts miles of hiking trails and the beautiful 400-foot (120 meter) Hickory Nut Falls. Of course, the most famous destination in this state park is the more than 300-foot (90 meter) monolith known as the Chimney Rock, which boasts amazing views of surroundings. Visitors can either take the 26-story elevator or climb 500 steps — or the approximate equivalent of 31 flights of stairs — to reach the top of the Chimney. This park is relatively new, having only been authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2005.
Visitors looking for a destination where the pace is slower and there are no cars should head to Bald Head Island. This island, which can only be reached by ferry from the town of Southport or by private boat, boasts 14 miles (23 km) of beaches and a laid-back atmosphere. Traveling from one spot to another on this island is by foot, bicycle or on a golf cart. The island’s 1andscapes include marshes, maritime forests and the Bald Head Island Golf Course. This island is also a turtle nesting ground and during the summer months, its Bald Head Island Conservancy hosts Turtle Walks for visitors who want to help monitor a nest for emerging babies or to watch for mothers coming ashore to nest.
This lovely park, which is located close to the Winston-Salem area in the Sauratown Mountains, offers visitors over 18 miles (29 km) of trails that range from easy to difficult, and a lake that is perfect for boating, fishing and swimming. The park is also home to a number of pretty waterfalls. Hanging Rock State Park has ten cabins as well as a tent and trailer campground available for visitors who want to stay in the park. Hanging Rock State Park is famous for its stunning quartzite formations and ridges, such as the Devil’s Chimney and the eponymous Hanging Rock.
Old Salem is a living museum, a recreation of what life was like in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina during the 18th and 19th centuries. Through interaction with Old Salem’s reenactors and by strolling the streets of this National Historic Landmark, visitors can see and experience first-hand the culture and various trades of the Moravian settlers who lived in this area. Guests to Old Salem, for example, can watch shoemakers, gunsmiths and tailors go about performing their respective services or making their particular wares. In addition, some areas of Old Salem also offer visitors hands-on activities.
The town of Asheville, which is set in the beautiful Blue Ridge Foothills, enjoys a reputation for being a vibrant, artsy community. Its town center features a number of boutiques that showcase local creations as well as bars and great places to eat. Strolling musicians and street performers only add to Ashville’s overall creative vibe. Over the years, this beautiful and unique town has won a host of awards, including “America’s Quirkiest Town” from “Travel & Leisure” in September 2014, and it was named by “Good Morning America” as being one of its “Most Beautiful Places in America.” Ashville is also located very close to the world-famous Biltmore Estate. Built between 1889 and 1895 this Châteauesque-styled mansion is the largest privately owned house in the United States and attracts almost 1 million visitors each year.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered by many to be one of the most scenic roads in the United States and one of the best places to visit in North Carolina. This winding stretch of asphalt, which has earned both the National Parkway and All-American Road designations, is especially gorgeous during the fall months when the surrounding hills turn shades of oranges, yellows and reds. The parkway is also very pretty in the spring months when the Carolina rhododendrons and dogwoods are in bloom. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles (755 km) from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
Charlotte, which is the largest city in North Carolina, has a lot to offer visitors, especially those who love motorsports. Nicknamed the Queen City, Charlotte is home to a number of interesting attractions including the amusement park, Carowinds; the largest man-made whitewater park, the US National Whitewater Center; and the family-friendly Discovery Place, which combines a science museum with an aquarium. This city is also where visitors can find the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Motor Speedway. In addition, just about every NASCAR race shop, most of which are open to the public, can be found in the nearby suburb of Mooresville.
The Wilmington area is home to some of North Carolina’s most popular beaches — Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beaches. This historic port city is also a family-friendly destination. Its NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher was named by the “Travel Channel” as one of the best in the United States. Visitors can also enjoy taking leisurely strolls along Wilmington’s Riverwalk, which runs alongside the Cape Fear River. There are also a number of mansions and plantations in the area, including Poplar Grove Plantation, the oldest peanut plantation in the United States, and the antebellum Bellamy Mansion.
Because the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located within easy driving distance of a number of large East Coast cities, it is the most visited national park in the United States. But it’s not just this park’s accessibility that makes it so popular. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also famous for its abundant wildlife and beautiful scenery. Over 1,500 black bears, for example, wander this natural wonderland, as do deer, fox, turkey and even elk, which were recently re-introduced. In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts approximately 850 miles of trails and many pretty waterfalls.
The Outer Banks — or OBX, as it is known to the locals — is a string of barrier islands that hug the North Carolina coastline. These narrow islands were once a favored haunt of pirates, including the infamous Blackbeard. Today, the Outer Banks is a popular destination for vacationers seeking a break from the summer heat.
The northern end of the Outer Banks is famous for the wild horses that still wander its dunes. The middle section is home to the towns of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk on Bodie Island, where travelers can find numerous miniature golf courses, gift shops and restaurants. Roanoke Island, west of Bodie Island, is home to the town of Manteo, home to the ‘Lost Colony, ’ whose British settler inhabitants disappeared without a trace in the 1580s. Farther south lie the beautiful and relatively wild Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore.