Natural Wonder | North Carolina
Calling all wanderers, outdoor lovers and active families to of North Carolina! There’s something about the soft peaks and valleys of North Carolina’s mountains or the soothing waves of the coast that beckon to those seeking outdoor adventure and beauty.
From the dense greenery of summer, to the blazing colors of autumn leaves, the landscape here is a year-round display of Mother Nature’s majesty. But this place isn’t just a pretty face – you can get up close with nature around every curve of winding road. Hike through remote wilderness, drive along scenic byways, cool your feet in the powerful Atlantic waters or take in the natural splendor from countless vistas. A visit with North Carolina’s natural beauty is an open invitation to participate in nature’s greatest attractions.
Bryson City: Small Town, Big Attractions
As you make the three-hour drive due west from Charlotte Douglas International Airport, you’ll notice a transition from relatively flat terrain to the increasingly windy mountain roads as you enter Western North Carolina. Your first stop, Bryson City, was named one of the top 20 mountain towns to visit in 2016 by Smithsonian Magazine. Head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just north of Bryson City, for a hike up to Clingman’s Dome. The views from the top of the highest point on the Appalachian Trail are sublime. Thrill seekers, hook up with Nantahala Outdoor Center, recognized as one of the best outfitters on earth by National Geographic Adventure and the nation’s premiere paddling school by the New York Times. Go whitewater rafting, ziplining, mountain biking and stand-up paddle boarding. Make a quick visit to the so-called Road to Nowhere, a scenic road that was never completed. You can walk through the dark, eerie tunnel if you dare. After a thrill-filled day, enjoy a cold Noon Day IPA or Bryson City Brown at Nantahala Brewing Company before settling down for the evening.
Enter the Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County
The charming town of Brevard is about two hours from Bryson City on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, a beautiful drive through pastoral farmland, tiny mountain outposts and tranquil forest scenery. As you approach Brevard, throw on a bathing suit and stop at Sliding Rock. On a hot day, you’ll find throngs of enthusiastic swimmers slipping and sliding down a weather-worn, 18-meter boulder and splashing into the refreshing mountain water below. Spectacular waterfalls are the star of the show in Transylvania County. Top photo opportunities include Looking Glass Falls, accessible right from the roadside; Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont National Forest; Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park; and Upper Whitewater Falls, the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains. Wind down with a guided walking tour around downtown Brevard (available through the Transylvania Heritage Museum); look for Brevard’s famous white squirrels and grab a beer at Brevard Brewing Company – their specialty lagers are divine.
Rutherford County: Water Adventures & Mountain Views
Rested up after your day of waterfall explorations, stop for lunch in historic downtown Hendersonville on your way to Lake Lure, where the 1980s classic “Dirty Dancing” was filmed. In the warm months, Lake Lure is a hive of activity. Families congregate near the water park features and sunbathers take in the rays on the wide, sandy shore. Lake Lure Adventure Company rents boats, kayaks and paddleboards and offers water ski trips on the lake. Take it easy with a guided boat tour to learn about the natural history of the Hickory Nut Gorge, and see popular “Dirty Dancing” filming sites. Look up on a clear day and you’ll see a rock outcropping with an American flag flying in the breeze. That’s the show-stopping Chimney Rock State Park, just down the road from Lake Lure, where you can hike and take gorgeous photos of the lake and gorge – it’s particularly beautiful during the fall season, when the leafs are changing colors. If the dam is open, the waters of the Broad River that runs through town are super for kayaking. Afterward, browse the quaint shops in the town of Chimney Rock, and toast to another adventurous day over a pint at the family-friendly Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery.
Up in the High Country in Boone
Home to Appalachian State University, Boone is an interesting blend of college town and remote mountain outpost. For a low-key experience, you can shop at the original, old-time Mast General Store, ride a steam train on the Tweetsie Railroad, sift for minerals and gems at a gem mine or enjoy an ale at one of the local breweries. Of course, you’ll be spending time outdoors here, so take the winding, two-lane road of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway (check for seasonal closures) to Grandfather Mountain, the area’s biggest attraction. Admission to the park gets you a CD tour for your car that directs you to hiking trails, wildlife habitats, the nature museum and scenic outlooks along the way. Cross the mile-high swinging bridge, which sways over a rocky gorge some 1,600 meters in the air, offering a thrilling experience and can’t-miss views. Nearby, the town of Blowing Rock attracts visitors with zip lining, aerial ropes courses and skiing in the winter. It’s about two hours back to Charlotte Douglas International Airport – enjoy the scenic descent back down to the flat lands.
Stretching nearly the length of the coast of North Carolina is a string of beach communities and untouched natural landscapes known as the Outer Banks. Frequently abbreviated OBX, this remote ribbon of barrier islands offers an ideal escape. Stretch your legs with walks along sandy beaches, explore historical attractions, stroll quaint villages dotted with lighthouses, or visit rolling sand dunes where you can take flight by hang glider. Or, do as many do around here and simply enjoy the island life with a blanket on the beach to watch the sunset.
Natural Beauty & Adventure on Hatteras Island
Stretching nearly 230 kilometers, the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway (called Highway 12) is the main thoroughfare for travel along the islands. Head south for a day of sun and sea to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, encompassing 110 kilometers of protected, undeveloped shore. Enjoy surfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, crabbing and sunbathing. Do a self-guided climb (open seasonally from the third Friday in April to Columbus Day in October) of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, with its horizontal black-and-white stripes, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S. At the far end of Hatteras Island, ride the free ferry to remote Ocracoke Island. With thousands of shipwrecks estimated offshore, this is a must-visit for divers. History buffs will also be intrigued by the World War II-era British cemetery. If you’re ready to rest your flip flops for the day, there are low-key, affordable accommodations in the village of Hatteras.
The Charming Beach Towns of Duck and Corolla
Head back north up the highway and pass by your starting destination for a day in the charming towns of Duck and Corolla. At Duck Town Park and Boardwalk, go canoeing or kayaking, search for crabs, take the kids to the playground and walk the beautiful boardwalk. At the adjacent Waterfront Shops, pick up gifts and souvenirs at locally owned boutiques and have lunch at a waterfront restaurant. If you’re looking for beach access, head to neighboring Corolla, where wild mustangs freely roam the sands. Multiple companies offer off-road tours on the beach to get you closer to these untamed creatures. From March to the beginning of December, you can climb the 220 steps to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, an unpainted brick structure that is worthy of at least a pretty picture in the off-season. Nearby, take a tour (self-guided or ghost-themed) at the Whalehead Club, a restored, 1920s-era mansion by the water. With its convenient amenities and casual resort feel, Corolla is a great place to stop for an overnight.
Discover More North Carolina Wonders
NC Stage Company
Asheville, North Carolina
NC Stage Company is a 127-seat professional theatre located in downtown Asheville, NC. In its 17th season, the company produces between six and seven plays a year. They have won Best Local Theatre from Mountain Xpress for ten consecutive years and were the 2006 winner of the George Parides Award for Best Professional Theatre from the NC Theatre Conference. The company presents compelling theatrical experiences that allow the audience members to experience stories that help them see, behold, and contemplate the human experience. Check out their fascinating 2018 – 2019 season line up, and get your season pass. ncstage.com
Fayetteville Arts Counvil
Fayetteville in Cumberland County is rich in arts and culture. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy performances, concerts, exhibitions, and programs at some of the finest attractions in the state. With everything from ballroom dance clubs, and basket making groups, to fascinating guest speaker talks, and historic tours through downtown Fayetteville itself; there isn’t a place in town that the Arts Council has not made accessible, open, and educational for the public. In Fayetteville, there is always something to see, do, experience, or learn. theartscouncil.com
Warren County, North Carolina
Warren County is an almost endless array of bucolic fields, intriguing country houses, and rustic historic barns that speak to a quieter, gentler age. Pass some of North Carolina’s most architecturally distinguished antebellum homes, rolling fields of crops and livestock, and two inland seas: Kerr Lake and Lake Gaston with its 350 miles of shoreline and 70,000 acres of perfect water. Rediscover the charm of small town America in Warrenton, Norlina, and Macon. Experience culturally rich Warren County! warrencounty.com