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NORTH CAROLINA TRAVEL GUIDE

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina Slide Rock, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Welcome to the bigroads.com travel guide to North Carolina! Hopefully this page helps provide some inspiration and tips to help you plan your next trip to North Carolina.

Take note that I build and maintain this website as both a hobby and public service. I take joy in performing travel research and sharing my experiences and adventures. I do not make any profit from this website, and you will see no ads on it. Your constructive feedback about this site and its content is encouraged. Please email me if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement.

Author/Contributor: Greg Parsons

OVERVIEW



North Carolina is famous for its beaches, mountains, and waterfalls. No other state on the East Coast can match that combination. BBQ is a national pastime in the state, and North Carolina might just be the best state in the U.S. for eating that type of food. The city of Asheville serves as a great hub for the western North Carolina mountains, and consistently makes "top medium-sized U.S. cities" lists. A portion of the most popular national park in the country also sits in North Carolina (the Great Smoky Mountains). North Carolina also contains the famed Outer Banks, known for its pristine shoreline and sand dunes.

TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA



Are you short on time or struggling to choose something to do or see in North Carolina? Here are my selections for the top 10 attractions or experiences in North Carolina, in no particular order:

Tour the magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville
Drive some of the spectacular 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway
Go waterfall hunting in the North Carolina mountains (there are 100s of them)
Hike or drive to the top of the state at Mount Mitchell State Park
Explore the beaches and shorelines of the Outer Banks
Drink and eat your way around Asheville, one of the most likable medium-sized cities in the U.S.
Take a hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Paddle through rapids on a whitewater rafting trip on the French Broad River or Nantahala River
Drive on the beach in Corolla
Tour the huge U.S. Navy Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington

If I could select only one place to visit in North Carolina, I would choose Asheville. Asheville is one of the very best medium-sized cities in the U.S. The arts scene, beer, BBQ, and outdoor activities that are possible there are incredible. Asheville is comparable to places like Bend in Oregon, Bozeman in Montana, and Portland in Maine.

For a list of 10 great attractions in each U.S. state, click here.

5-STAR ATTRACTIONS IN NORTH CAROLINA



Here is my opinionated list of 5-star attractions in North Carolina. I believe each of these attractions should be on your North Carolina bucket list since they are all noteworthy from a national perspective:

Northwestern North Carolina (including Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Linville)
ATV/ORV-ing in Banner Elk or Boone - a popular ATV/ORV-ing area; Appalachians Outdoor Adventures is one local operator
Biltmore Estate, Asheville - offers excellent guided tours of the largest private home in the U.S.; also has a beautiful garden and a winery
Blue Ridge Parkway - a 469-mile scenic drive from central VA to southwestern NC that offers many beautiful scenic views and diversions
Blowing Rock, The - a tourist attraction with several attractions, the most notable of which is scenic views from a unique rock formation
Doc's Rocks Gem Mine, Blowing Rock - a tourist attraction where kids pan for their own gems and minerals; also has a small fossil museum
Foggy Mountain Gem Mine, Boone - a tourist attraction where kids pan for their own gems and minerals
Grandfather Mountain, Linville - a tourist attraction with a mile-high swinging bridge; this is different from Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville - a mountainous park with fantastic hiking trails (including some that scale ladders)
Land of Oz, Beech Mountain - a Wizard of Oz-themed amusement park
Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway - a famous section of the Blue Ridge Parkway with an elevated road winding around a corner
Linville Gorge / Linville Falls, Marion - a scenic area with a waterfall, gorge, and excellent hiking trails
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Blowing Rock - take a guided tour of a country estate; also features 25 miles of carriage roads/trails
Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park, Boone - one of the finest places for intermediate and advanced mountain biking on the East Coast
Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap - known for its 600-foot granite dome, mid-19th century farm, fly-fishing, and hiking trails
Tweetsie Railroad, Blowing Rock - take a 3-mile ride on a train pulled by a historic locomotive; also has a few other tourist attractions
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, Banner Elk - a fun 3,160-foot long mountain coaster ride with three circular loops

Asheville (see below for the rest of western North Carolina)
Asheville Pinball Museum - a vintage pinball and arcade museum where you can play on more than 75 machines for one set price
BBQ restaurants in Asheville - the city of Asheville has some of the best BBQ in the U.S. (e.g. 12 Bones, Luella's, Moe's, etc.)
Blue Ridge Parkway - a 469-mile scenic drive from central VA to southwestern NC that offers beautiful views and many diversions
Breweries in Asheville - there are an impressive 30-plus breweries found in and around Asheville
Guided brewery tours in Asheville - there are several companies that offer guided tours of some of Asheville's best breweries
Guided food tours in Asheville - Asheville is a foodie destination, and several companies offer guided food tours
Guided sightseeing tours in Asheville - several companies offer sightseeing tours in Asheville, including Gray Line Trolley Tours
Folk Art Center / Southern Highland Craft Guild - offers a museum, shop, and live demonstrations related to Appalachian arts and crafts
LaZoom - take one of several comedic tours of Asheville in a purple bus
North Carolina Arboretum - beautiful botanical gardens within Pisgah National Forest
Western North Carolina Nature Center - a medium-sized nature center with 60 species of animals local to the southern Appalachian mountains

Western North Carolina (including the area surrounding Asheville and the southern/central sections of Pisgah National Forest)
Blue Ridge Parkway - a 469-mile scenic drive from central VA to southwestern NC that offers many beautiful scenic views and diversions
Canopy Ridge Farm, Lake Lure - a fun outdoor aerial adventure park with zip-lining
Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock - has hiking and walking trails that climb up interesting geologic formations that offer scenic views
Elijah Mountain Gem Mine, Hendersonville - a tourist attraction where kids pan for their own gems and minerals; there's also a goat farm here
French Broad Adventures, Marshall - a popular outdoor adventure company that offers whitewater rafting, zip-lining, and canyoneering
Gorge Zipline Canopy Tour, Saluda - claims to be "America's steepest, fastest zipline canopy tour"
Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, Lake Lure - a historic bridge that has been converted into a flower garden with more than 2,000 species of plants
Looking Glass Falls, Pisgah National Forest - a near-roadside 60-foot waterfall close along US-276 (Pisgah Highway); close to Sliding Rock
Looking Glass Rock, Pisgah National Forest - a large, pluton monolith rock formation that you can hike to the top of
Max Patch, Pisgah National Park - take a short hike to earn views from a bald 4,600ft mountain; a top highlight of the Appalachian Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville - drive or hike up to the highest mountain on the East Coast (6,684')
Navitat Canopy Adventures, Barnardsville - outstanding zip-lining tours; also offers treetop aerial adventures and offroad driving tours
Pearson's Falls, Saluda - a privately-owned nature preserve with more than 300 species of wildflowers and plants plus a 90-foot waterfall
Pisgah National Forest - one of the premier national forests of the East; 500,000-acres of tall peaks, waterfalls, and 100s of miles of trails
Sliding Rock, Pisgah National Forest - one of the best natural waterslides in the U.S.; unbelievably fun!; close to Looking Glass Falls
Whitewater rafting on the French Broad River - one of the most popular whitewater rafting rivers in the East

Southwestern North Carolina (including Bryson City, Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Nantahala National Forest)
Cherohala Skyway - a scenic and fully paved 43-mile National Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC
Crystal Mountain Gem Mine, Brevard - a tourist attraction where kids pan for their own gems and minerals
Dry Falls, Nantahala National Forest - an impressive 65-foot waterfall on NC-64 in the Cullasaja Gorge; you can walk behind the falls
DuPont State Recreational Forest - a fantastic state-run nature preserve with several waterfalls and more than 80 miles of multi-use trails
Fields of the Wood, Murphy - a famous religious park and roadside attraction known for its 300-foot wide Ten Commandments
Gorges State Park, Sapphire - holds more than two dozen waterfalls; very popular with hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and mtn bikers
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - the most visited national park in the U.S. has scenic views, historic sites, waterfalls, and great hiking
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City - one of the best scenic railroad rides in the U.S.
Highlands Aerial Park, Scaly Mountain - excellent zip-lining and an aerial adventure park
Mingo Falls, Cherokee Indian Reservation - a stunning 120-foot waterfall found just outside of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee - a cultural and historical museum called a "top 10 Native American experience" by USA Today
Nantahala National Forest - the largest of North Carolina's national forests has 600 miles of trails, whitewater rafting, scenic drives, and more
Nantahala Outdoor Center ("NOC"), Bryson City - one of the greatest outdoor adventure centers in the U.S. (e.g. rafting, kayaking, zip-lining)
Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee - visit a replica of an 18th-century eastern Cherokee community
Tail of the Dragon - a paved scenic drive with a staggering 318 curves in 11 miles; dubbed "America's #1 motorcycle and sports car road"
Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, Nantahala National Forest - a 3-story stone lookout tower on Wayah Bald (mountain) that offers great views
Wheels Through Time Museum, Maggie Valley - one of the best transportation museums in the U.S.; best known for its vintage motorcycles
Whitewater Falls (Upper Falls), Sapphire - one of the tallest waterfalls on the East Coast; while here, also hop into SC and see the Lower Falls
Whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River - one of the most popular whitewater rafting rivers in the East

Central North Carolina: Greensboro and Winston-Salem area
Greensboro Science Center, Greensboro - a science museum that also includes an aquarium, zoo, and an aerial adventure park
Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury - offers stunning scenic views, 48 miles of hiking trails, 15 miles of biking trails, waterfalls, and more
High Point Chest of Drawers, High Point - a 38-foot tall chest of drawers; one of North Carolina's best roadside attractions
International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro - an important civil rights museum located at the site of a famous non-violent protest
North Carolina Transportation Museum, Spencer - offers a collection of aircraft, automobiles, and trains on display; biggest focus is on trains
North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro - supposedly the world's "largest natural habitat zoo"; features more than 1,800 animals
Old Salem Museums & Gardens, Winston Salem - a living history museum with several original buildings and interactive activities
Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle - known for its iconic geologic knob, 14 miles of hiking trails, and other outdoor recreation opportunities
Shell Oil Clamshell Station, Winston-Salem - the last remaining Shell Oil station that is shaped like a clamshell; a great roadside attraction

Central North Carolina: Charlotte area
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte - NFL stadium; home of the Carolina Panthers
Billy Graham Library, Charlotte - explore the life and legacy of the famous religious leader
Carowinds, Charlotte - a large and outstanding amusement park; one of the best amusement parks in the U.S.; more than 55 rides
Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord - one of the most famous NASCAR racing tracks
Discovery Place Science, Charlotte - a great all-ages science and technology museum
Hendrick Motorsports Complex, Charlotte - a small racing car museum
Lazy 5 Ranch, Mooresville - a small, private zoo with over 750 animals; features wagon rides and petting areas
Metalmorphosis, Charlotte - a large and striking kinetic sculpture of a human head; one of North Carolina's best roadside attractions
Mint Museum Uptown, Charlotte - one of the largest art museums in the Southeast
NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte - a "shrine to the history and heritage of NASCAR"
North Carolina Transportation Museum, Spencer - offers a collection of aircraft, automobiles, and trains on display; biggest focus is on trains
Whitewater Center, Charlotte - calls itself the "world's premier outdoor center"; features an artificial whitewater rafting and paddling park
Zmax Dragway, Concord - the world's first four-lane drag-racing strip

Central North Carolina: Durham and Raleigh area
Duke University, Durham - one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S.; the campus includes a good art museum
Duke University Chapel, Durham - a stunning and towering cathedral; the "center piece of Duke University's campus"
Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), Durham - one of the top indoor performing arts theaters in the U.S.
JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh - a small but lovely arboretum and botanical garden
Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh - an exceptional children's museum (one of the best in the U.S.)
Museum of Life & Science, Durham - an excellent indoor and outdoor science museum; has a large butterfly exhibit
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh - one of the best art museums in the southern U.S.
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh - the largest natural history museum in the Southeast
Pullen Park, Raleigh - a public park with walking trails, a carousel, children's rides and play areas, pedal boat rentals, and more
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham - beautiful gardens with miles of walking trails
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson - a small art park featuring unique windmills and other "whirligigs"; one of NC's top roadside attractions

Central North Carolina: Fayetteville area
82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum, Fort Bragg - indoor and outdoor museum exhibits about the famed 82nd Airborne Division
Airborne & Special Operations Museum, Fayetteville - features, exhibits, dioramas, and artifacts of elite members of the U.S. military
ZipQuest Waterfall & Treetop Adventure, Fayetteville - a fun aerial adventure park with zip-lining

Northeastern North Carolina (including Corolla, Duck, Hatteras Island, Kitty Hawk, Manteo, Nags Head, and Ocracoke)
Boat tours from Duck - watersports, sailing tours, parasailing, fishing charters, etc.
Boat tours from Manteo / Roanoke Island - dolphin tours, sightseeing tours, sailing charters, crabbing/shrimping tours, etc.
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head - a 156-foot tall lighthouse in Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton - a famous black-and-white striped lighthouse on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks
Cape Hatteras National Seashore - uncrowded beaches (e.g. Coquina Beach) on a barrier island
Carova Beach, Corolla - 12 miles of undeveloped beaches that extend from the northern border of Corolla to the NC/VA state line
Corolla Adventure Park, Corolla - an excellent aerial adventure park
Corolla beaches - features roughly 20 miles of beaches, some of which you can drive on; this area is referred to as the "northern Outer Banks"
Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Corolla - climb 220 steps up to the top of a historic brick lighthouse
First Flight Adventure Park, Nags Head - a fun aerial adventure park with a zip-line
Jennette's Pier, Nags Head - a popular 1,000-foot long concrete ocean fishing pier
Jockey's Ridge State Park, Nags Head - supposedly the largest natural sand dunes on the East Coast
North Carolina Aquarium, Manteo - one of three great state-run aquariums in North Carolina
OBX Airplanes, Manteo - popular scenic aerial/flying tours of the Outer Banks
Offroad driving tours in Corolla - drive your vehicle on a beach (or take a guided tour); there's a good chance you'll see wild ponies
Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Scotland Neck - an excellent wildlife park with many birds plus gardens and nature trails
Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills - see the site of the first successful powered airplane flight

Southeastern North Carolina (including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach, Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach)
Airlie Gardens, Wilmington - walk 67-acres of beautiful garden
Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington - tour a huge World War II-era U.S. Navy battleship
Cape Lookout National Seashore - take a boat ride to explore more than 50 miles of wild beaches on 2 islands; offers beach camping
Carolina Beach State Park, Carolina Beach - a coastal park with great hiking trails, fishing, and boating; a popular place to spot Venus flytraps
Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach - visit an early 1800s coastal fort
Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro - take a ferry to visit an unspoiled beach and three barrier islands; excellent paddling opportunities
Historic District, Wilmington - elegant streets filled with historic buildings; connects with Wilmington's lively riverfront area
Moores Creek National Battlefield, Currie - visit a Revolutionary War battlefield
North Carolina Aquarium, Kure Beach - one of three great state-run aquariums in North Carolina
North Carolina Aquarium, Pine Knoll Shores - one of three great state-run aquariums in North Carolina
Oak Island Beach, Oak Island - there are nearly 10 miles of beachfront in the town of Oak Island; great sunrise and sunset viewing spots
Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Wilmington - a historic theatre and performing arts center in downtown Wilmington
Tryon Palace, New Bern - visit the former headquarters of the British governors of North Carolina in the late 1700s
Wrightsville Beach, Wrightsville Beach - a five-mile long beach that is one of the best beaches in NC; popular for surfing and watersports

Are you aware of any other 5-star attractions in North Carolina? If so, please email me at gparsons66@hotmail.com.

For a list of 5-star attractions in neighboring states, click on any of these links:  GA  |  SC  |  TN  |  VA

BEST TOWNS & CITIES TO VISIT IN NORTH CAROLINA



These towns and cities in North Carolina are generally regarded as the most interesting to travelers:

North Carolina Mountains
Asheville - a medium-sized city famous for its arts scene, breweries, BBQ restaurants, cool/hip culture, and the magnificent Biltmore Estate
Blowing Rock - a small mountain town dubbed the "crown of the Blue Ridge"; close to Grandfather Mountain and Tweetsie Railroad
Boone - a mountain town with great Blue Ridge mountain scenery; known for its Appalachian music heritage and attractive downtown
Bryson City - a small gateway town of Great Smoky Mountains National Park; access to the Appalachian Trail; offers whitewater rafting
Mount Airy - a small city with a historic downtown that has many shops; access to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Central North Carolina
Charlotte - a major city known for its professional sports teams, motorsports, whitewater rafting center, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Raleigh - a major city known for its many excellent museums; often called the "Smithsonian of the South"

North Carolina Coast
Beaufort - a small waterfront town known for its maritime history, great seafood restaurants, and excellent boating and fishing opportunities
Nags Head - a small beach town on the Outer Banks that offers many water sports; make sure to visit Jockey's Ridge State Park
Ocracoke - a small town on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks region; offers excellent beaches, sea shell-hunting, and fishing
Topsail Beach - a small beach town on Topsail Island; known for its beaches, maritime forests, and sea turtles

My favorite city in North Carolina is Asheville - I recommend that first-time visitors spend at least 4-5 nights there. There are many major attractions in the area, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest, and the Biltmore Estate. There are more than 40 breweries in and around the city. Asheville also has some of the best BBQ restaurants in North Carolina, and the city has a great arts scene. All told, Asheville is one of the best mid-sized cities in the U.S.

Click here if you'd like to see a complete list of towns and cities that I find interesting across the entire U.S.

WHAT IS NORTH CAROLINA FAMOUS FOR?



Here are some things that North Carolina is famous or well-known for:

aviation history
barrier islands
BBQ
beach piers
beaches
breweries (e.g. in Asheville)
college basketball
driving on the beach
furniture
gem mines
mountains
NASCAR
national forests
national seashores
pork / pig farms
scenic drives
tobacco
whitewater rafting
wild horses
wineries

Click here if you'd like to explore what other U.S. states are famous for.

NATIONAL PARKS IN NORTH CAROLINA



There is currently one national park in North Carolina. There are also many other federally-managed parks and properties in the state, including:

National Parks
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - the most visited national park in the U.S. has scenic views, historic sites, waterfalls, and great hiking

National Forests
Cherokee National Forest
Croatan National Forest
Nantahala National Forest
Pisgah National Forest
Uwharrie National Forest

National Historical Parks / Other National Parks & Properties
Appalachian Trail National Scenic Trail
Blue Ridge Parkway
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
Moores Creek National Battlefield
Overmountain Vicotry National Historic Trail
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Wright Brothers National Memorial

For more information on North Carolina's national parks, visit the North Carolina page of the National Park Service. For an overview of all U.S. national parks, click here.

STATE PARKS IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina has more than 40 state parks. The state parks of North Carolina cover a variety of terrain, including beaches and mountainous areas. Here is a list of many of the finest state parks in North Carolina:

Northwestern North Carolina (including the Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Linville areas)
Grandfather Mountain State Park, Linville - a mountainous park with fantastic hiking trails (including some that scale ladders)
Stone Mountain State Park, Roaring Gap - known for its 600-foot granite dome, mid-19th century farm, fly-fishing, and hiking trails

Western North Carolina (including the Asheville area and the southern and central sections of Pisgah National Forest)
Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock - has hiking and walking trails that climb up interesting geologic formations that offer scenic views
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville - drive or hike up to the highest mountain on East Coast (6,684')

Southwestern North Carolina (including Bryson City, Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Nantahala National Forest)
DuPont State Recreational Forest - a fantastic state-run nature preserve with several waterfalls and more than 80 miles of multi-use trails
Gorges State Park, Sapphire - holds more than two dozen waterfalls; very popular with hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and mtn bikers

Central North Carolina (including Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem)
Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury - offers stunning scenic views, 48 miles of hiking trails, 15 miles of biking trails, waterfalls, and more
Pilot Mountain State Park, Pinnacle - known for its iconic geologic knob, 14 miles of hiking trails, and other outdoor recreation opportunities

Northeastern North Carolina (including Corolla, Duck, Hatteras Island, Kitty Hawk, Manteo, Nags Head, and Ocracoke)
Jockey's Ridge State Park, Nags Head - supposedly the largest natural sand dunes on the East Coast

Southeastern North Carolina (including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach, Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach)
Carolina Beach State Park, Carolina Beach - a coastal park with great hiking trails, fishing, and boating; a popular place to spot Venus flytraps
Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach - visit an early 1800s coastal fort
Hammocks Beach State Park, Swansboro - take a ferry to visit an unspoiled beach and three barrier islands; excellent paddling opportunities

To see my list of the top 100 state parks in the country, click here.

BEST WATERFALLS IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina has several hundred natural waterfalls, making it one of the very best states in the country for waterfall hunting. Here are some of the best waterfalls in North Carolina:

Northwestern North California
Linville Falls in Linville Gorge Wilderness

Western North Carolina (including the Asheville area)
Hickory Nut Falls in Chimney Rock State Park
High Falls in DuPont State Recreational Forest
Triple Falls in DuPont State Recreational Forest

Pisgah National Forests (in western and southwestern NC)
Crabtree Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Moore Cove Falls Pisgah National Forest
Rainbow Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest

Nantahala National Forest (in southwestern NC)
Bridal Veil Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Cullasaja Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Dry Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Glen Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Silver Run Falls in Nantahala National Forest
Upper Whitewater Falls in Nantahala National Forest

Southwestern North Carolina
Mingo Falls in Cherokee Indian Reservation

Take note that there is also a famous waterfall called Crabtree Falls in Virginia. The Crabtree Falls in North Carolina is obviously different.

For a listing of all known waterfalls in North Carolina, visit the World Waterfall Database.

BEST SCENIC DRIVES IN NORTH CAROLINA



Here is a list of the best scenic drives in North Carolina:

Blue Ridge Parkway - an exceptional 469-mile paved route from US-441 in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Cherohala Skyway - a 51-mile paved route from Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC using both TN-165 an NC-143
Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway - a 52-mile paved route from I-26 (exit 9) that uses US-19, US-19E, NC-80, the Blue Ridge Parkway, & NC-128
Newfound Gap Road/US-441 - a 35-mile paved route from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC through a high pass in the Great Smoky Mtns
Outer Banks Scenic Byway - a 138-mile paved route along the northern coastline of NC; the drive requires two drive-on boat/ferry rides
Roan Mountain/Carvers Gap - a 25-mile paved route from Roan Mountain, TN (highway TN-143) to Bakersville, NC (highway NC-261)
Tail of the Dragon - an 11-mile paved route on US-129 with 318 curves from Chilhowee Lake in Tallassee, TN to Deals Gap/NC-28 in NC

I have only driven a portion of 76-mile Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pisgah National Forest (which includes US-276, US-64, and NC-215). I know there are several great attractions off this road (e.g. Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Falls), but I'm not sure how scenic the actual road is itself.

I also want to drive the 61-mile Mountain Waters Scenic Byway through Nantahala National Forest at some point to see if it's scenic enough to be included in my list above. I know it provides access to at least a few waterfalls (some of which might be roadside). This route includes the Cullasaja River Gorge area.

For a list of great scenic drives in each U.S. state, click here.

BEST OCEAN BEACHES IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina has many fantastic beaches. Here are many of the very best beaches in the state:

Northern coastline (from Ocracoke north to the Virginia border)
Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches
Carova Beach, Corolla
Coquina Beach, Nags Head
Corolla Beach, Corolla
Currituck Beach, Corolla
Frisco Beach, Frisco
Kitty Hawk beaches
Nags Head beaches
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge beaches

Southern coastline (from the Georgia border north to Cedar Island / Cape Lookout National Seashore)
Cape Lookout National Seashore beaches
Carolina Beach, Carolina Beach
Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle
Hammocks Beach State Park beaches
Kure Beach, Kure Beach
Masonboro Island Reserve beaches - accessible by boat only
Onslow Beach, Sneads Ferry
Pine Knoll Shores beaches
Radio Island Public Beach, Beaufort
Surf City beaches
Topsail Beach, Topsail Beach
Wrightsville Beach, Wrightsville Beach

BEST RAIL TRAILS IN NORTH CAROLINA



Here is a list of some of the best rail trails (or similar cycling paths) in North Carolina:

Central North Carolina (including Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem)
American Tobacco Trail
Little Sugar Creek Greenway
Neuse River Trail
Thermal Belt Rail Trail
Walnut Creek Trail

Southeastern North Carolina (including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach, Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach)
Gary Shell Cross-City Trail

For detailed information on all known rail trails in North Carolina, visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.

BEST AMUSEMENT PARKS / THEME PARKS IN NORTH CAROLINA



There are few notable amusement parks in North Carolina, including:

Northwestern North Carolina (including the Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Linville areas)
Tweetsie Railroad, Blowing Rock

Southwestern North Carolina (including Bryson City, Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Nantahala National Forest)
Santa's Land Fun Park & Zoo, Cherokee

Central North Carolina (including Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem)
Carolina Harbor, Charlotte
Carowinds, Charlotte
Frankie's of Raleigh, Raleigh
Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe, Greensboro

Northeastern North Carolina (including Corolla, Duck, Hatteras Island, Kitty Hawk, Manteo, Nags Head, and Ocracoke)
H2OBX Waterpark, Powells Point

Southeastern North Carolina (including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach, Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach)
Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, Wilmington
Water Boggan, Emerald Isle

BEST MUSEUMS IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina has many great museums. The best museums in North Carolina include:

Northwestern North Carolina (including the Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Linville areas)
Biltmore Estate, Asheville
Smoky Mountain Trains Museum, Bryson City

Southwestern North Carolina (including Bryson City, Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Nantahala National Forest)
House of Flags Museum, Columbus
Mountain Farm Museum, Cherokee
Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Cherokee
Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee
Scottish Tartans Museum, Franklin
Wheels Through Time Museum, Maggie Valley

Central North Carolina (including Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem)
Andy Griffith Museum, Mount Airy
Airborne & Special Operations Museum, Fayetteville
Discovery Place Science, Charlotte
Greensboro Science Center, Greensboro
Hendrick Motorsports Museum, Concord
International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro
Marbles Kids Museum, Raleigh
Mint Museum Uptown, Charlotte
Museum of Life & Science, Durham
NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
North Carolina Transportation Museum, Spencer
Old Salem Museums & Gardens, Winston Salem
Richard Petty Museum, Randleman

Northeastern North Carolina (including Corolla, Duck, Hatteras Island, Kitty Hawk, Manteo, Nags Head, and Ocracoke)
Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills

Southeastern North Carolina (including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Topsail Beach, Wilmington, and Wrightsville Beach)
Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington
Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach
North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort

BEST DAY HIKES IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina is absolutely packed with fantastic hiking trails. Here are some of the best day hikes in North Carolina:

Northwestern North Carolina (including the Banner Elk, Blowing Rock, Boone, and Linville areas)
Calloway Peak via the Profile Trail, Grandfather Mountain State Park
Grandfather Trail, Grandfather Mountain State Park
Hawksbill Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness
Shortoff Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness
Table Rock Mountain, Linville Gorge Wilderness
Tanawha Trail to Rough Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park trails (e.g. Flat Top Mountain)

Western North Carolina (including the Asheville area)
Black Balsam Knob, Shining Rock Wilderness Area
Chimney Rock State Park trails
Crabtree Falls, Blue Ridge Parkway
Craggy Pinnacle Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway
High Falls & Triple Falls, DuPont State Recreational Forest
Mount Mitchell, Mount Mitchell State Park & Pisgah National Forest
Rainbow Falls, Gorges State Park

Pisgah National Forest (in western and southwestern NC)
Art Loeb Trail-Shining Rock
Grassy Ridge Bald
John Rock Trail Loop
Looking Glass Rock
Max Patch
Moore Cove Falls
Mount Mitchell, Mount Mitchell State Park & Pisgah National Forest
Mount Pisgah
Roan Mountain
Sam Knob Trail

When visiting Pisgah National Forest, make sure to also visit Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Both require only short walks from their designated parking areas. Both of these places are very busy and the parking areas may be full, especially on weekends.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (in southwestern NC)
Alum Cave
Brushy Mountain
Charlies Bunion
Clingmans Dome
Gregory Bald
Hemphill Bald
Mount Cammerer
Mount LeConte
Ramsey Cascades

Nantahala National Forest (in southwestern NC)
Dry Falls
Glen Falls
Huckleberry Knob
Wesser Bald Fire Tower
Whiteside Mountain

Northcentral North Carolina
Hanging Rock Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
Lower Cascade Falls Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
Moores Knob Trail, Hanging Rock State Park
Stone Mountain State Park trails (e.g. Stone Mountain Loop Trail)

Southcentral North Carolina (including the Charlotte area)
Crowders Mountain State Park trails (e.g. The Pinnacle)

Southeastern North Carolina
Carolina Beach State Park trails

The highpoint of North Carolina is Mount Mitchell (6,684'). You can drive-up and then take a short walk to the top (in season), or you can day hike or backpack to the top (very difficult).

BEST BACKPACKING TRIPS IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina offers many great backpacking opportunities, including some of the best trips on the East Coast. Some of the premier backpacking routes/areas in North Carolina include:

Appalachian Trail
Art Loeb Trail
Black Mountain Crest Trail
Grandfather Mountain
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness
Linville Gorge
Mountains-to-Sea Trail
Mount Mitchell
Shining Rock Wilderness
Uwharrie National Forest

CLASSIC OUTDOOR ADVENTURES IN NORTH CAROLINA



North Carolina offers a huge amount of outdoor adventures, including these classics:

Backpacking the Appalachian Trail
Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail
Backpacking Grandfather Mountain
Backpacking Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Backpacking Linville Gorge
Bouldering in/near Boone
Bouldering at Hanging Rock State Park
Bouldering at Rumbling Bald
Canoeing/kayaking on the French Broad River
Canoeing/kayaking on the Haw River
Canoeing/kayaking on the New River
Canoeing/kayaking on the Outer Banks
Cycling the American Tobacco Trail
Cycling the Neuse River Trail
Fly-fishing in Stone Mountain State Park
Helicopter tours in Manteo and Oak Island
Horseback riding in Marshall
Hot air ballooning in Candler (near Asheville)
Kayaking in Cedar Point
Kayaking in Kill Devil Hills
Kite-boarding in Rodanthe
Mountain biking in Bent Creek Experimental Forest
Mountain biking in Bent Creek Experimental Forest
Mountain biking Dupont State Forest
Mountain biking the Jackrabbit Mountain trails
Mountain biking at Sugar Mountain Resort
Mountain biking in Tsali Recreation Area (part of the Nantahala National Forest)
Parasailing in Beaufort, Corolla, Duck, Hatteras, or Ocracoke
Rock climbing at Crowder's Mountain State Park
Rock climbing at Hanging Rock State Park
Rock climbing at Linville Gorge
Rock climbing at Looking Glass in Pisgah National Forest
Rock climbing at Pilot Mountain State Park
Rock climbing at Rumbling Bald near Chimney Rock
Skydiving in Chester, Maiden, Manteo, Raeford, Salisbury, or Southport
Surfing in Ocean Isle Beach
Surfing in Wrightsville Beach
Tubing on the French Broad River
Tubing on the New River
Whitewater rafting the Cheoah River
Whitewater rafting the French Broad River
Whitewater rafting the Natahala River

SKI RESORTS IN NORTH CAROLINA



There are a few ski areas in North Carolina, but they are all on the smaller side from a national perspective. The largest ski area is Sugar Mountain, which has 20 trails and a vertical drop of 1,200ft.

NORTH CAROLINA TRAVEL TIPS



For offbeat and unique North Carolina attractions, visit one or both of these amazing websites: Atlas Obscura and Roadside America

UNIQUE / SPECIALTY FOODS TO TRY IN NORTH CAROLINA



Here are some unique / specialty foods to try while you are in North Carolina:

boiled peanuts
BBQ-Lexington style
cheerwine soda
cheese straws
cole slaw
hushpuppies
livermush
Moravian style cookies
pimento cheese
pulled pork sandwich
sweet tea

For a list of unique foods and mom-and-pop type eateries and restaurants in North Carolina (or any other U.S. state), visit the Roadfood.com website.
For a list of unique foods to try in each of the 50 U.S. states, click here.
For a list of the top-rated beers to try in North Carolina (or any other U.S. state), visit the Beer Advocate website.

OTHER KEY NORTH CAROLINA INFORMATION



State Capital:
Raleigh

Major Airports:

Charlotte and Raleigh

Largest Cities:

Charlotte (903,211), Raleigh (480,419), Greensboro (304,909), Durham (294,542), Winston-Salem (253,531)

Primary U.S. Interstates:

I-26, I-40, I-73, I-74, I-77, I-85, I-95

State Highpoint:

Mount Mitchell (6,684'); you can drive-up and then take a short walk to the top (in season), or you can hike or backpack to the top (very difficult)

Professional Sports Teams:

NBA: Charlotte Hornets
NFL: Carolina Panthers
NHL: Carolina Hurricanes

Funny or Unique Town/City Names:
Bat Cave, Climax, Horneytown, Lizard Lick, Loafers Glory, Rabbit Shuffle, Shoofly, Stiffknee Knob, and Stumpy Point

Take note that in general this travel guide intentionally excluded restaurants, lodging/hotels, breweries, wineries/vineyards, and certain other types of attractions (like arcades, ax-throwing, bowling alleys, and escape rooms). These types of places tend to come and go, and keeping up with that would be too challenging. I encourage you to use Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and other travel sites that have reader reviews to find the latest and greatest places that I haven't covered here.



Slide Rock, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
Slide Rock, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

views from Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina
views from Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

Biltmore Estate Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina

baseball water tower in Zebulon, North Carolina
baseball water tower in Zebulon, North Carolina

Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina
Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

views from Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina
views from Max Patch in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina

Looking Glass Falls in Pigah National Forest, North Carolina
Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina


ROAD TRIP GUIDEBOOKS



In addition to the information found on my website, I personally recommend purchasing these road trip/travel-related guidebooks. Click on any book cover to read reviews and/or purchase these books on Amazon.com.

        


MORE U.S. STATE TRAVEL GUIDES



Did you enjoy this state travel guide? If so, here are links to more of my comprehensive U.S. state travel guides:

Alabama Maryland Oregon
Arizona Massachusetts Pennsylvania
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California Minnesota South Carolina
Colorado Mississippi South Dakota
Connecticut Missouri Tennessee
Delaware Montana Texas
Florida Nebraska Utah
Georgia Nevada Vermont
Idaho New Hampshire Virginia
Illinois New Jersey Washington
Indiana New Mexico Washington DC
Iowa New York West Virginia
Kansas North Carolina Wisconsin
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Louisiana Ohio  
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