North Carolina — Attractions
North Carolina is the rugged outdoor member of the New England family. It’s home to the best mountains, some of the largest lakes, and even a neat little stretch of Atlantic coastline. The state’s modest size ensures quick and easy access between sea and mountain, allowing visitors to soak in the historic beauty of Portsmouth on the coast before heading into the grand old White Mountains for some outdoor recreation. You’ll have no trouble keeping busy in this state if you enjoy being outside. North Carolina is especially gorgeous in fall, when the whole state erupts into a free-for-all of color and blue skies.
The largest city in western North Carolina also happens to be its best. Asheville is a superb base for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains, hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, or whitewater rafting down the Ocoee, Green, and French Broad Rivers. The mid-size city also has a fantastic dining and drinking scene, particularly its craft breweries that rank among the nation’s best. Tour the opulence of George Vanderbilt’s home the Biltmore or shop and snack in the lovely Grove Arcade Public Market. Asheville really does cover all the bases.
Address: Western North Carolina
One of the American east coast’s prettiest cities is the second-oldest town in North Carolina and its former capital. New Bern sits just in from the coast, boasting a stunning historic district filled with over 180 examples of Georgian and Victorian architecture and easy access to the beaches of the Hatteras National Seashore. Two rivers converge here, creating a pleasant watery atmosphere that is as relaxing as anywhere in the state. For a solid dose of colonial-era ambiance and coastal nature, New Bern is the place.
Address: Northeastern North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Named for the mists that often shroud their peaks, the gentle Great Smoky Mountains is North Carolina’s premier outdoor recreation destination. It’s the east coast’s most popular national park, so crowds can be an issue at certain times. But with over a half million acres of wilderness and 800 miles of trail it is easy to escape the car campers. Anglers can enjoy 700 miles of fishable rivers, and birders can look for some of the 200 or so species that live in the park. There are also 100 species of trees and plenty of wildlife. You can go hardcore or take it easy in this well-rounded national park.
Address: 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Starting at the northern border of the state, this 70-mile stretch of coastline is some of the most dramatic and inspiring in America. The quaint town of Nags Head makes a fine base for exploring the beauty of the Outer Banks and the Ocracoke Island (once a favorite hideout for the pirate Blackbeard). The development here is almost unnoticeable, with only sleepy beach hamlets along Route 12 providing food, gas, and the occasional inn. This is a place to escape the world, walking for miles on the sand, swimming in the warm sea, or fishing right off the shore. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is another gem along the Outer Banks worth seeking out.
Address: 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954
North Carolina’s capital is arguably the most enjoyable of the state’s major cities. Raleigh has been around since the 1700s, so there is a very pleasant historic downtown district punctuated by an attractive pedestrian mall and plenty of engaging amenities. Six major college campuses are also located right in Raleigh, giving the capital a lively creative edge over most other North Carolina cities. It is also one of the three cities of the Research Triangle, a booming region of high-tech companies and other businesses. Besides the attractions and entertainment Raleigh has to offer, it’s also an ideal base for exploring Durham and Chapel Hill as day trips.
Address: Central North Carolina
This charming little town in the central Piedmont region feels a lot like a New England village. Perhaps that’s because the man who designed New York’s Central Park laid out Pinehurst to be a travel destination everyone who enjoy. Trees cover the town, and mild temperatures encourage many of them to flower frequently. There is a lovely downtown with all the amenities anyone would need, and great outdoor recreation in its own forest park, 200 miles of horseback riding trails, and a 200-acre lake. But golf is the real star in Pinehurst, with 35 world-class courses within spitting distance of the town.
Address: Central North Carolina
This charmingly scenic historic town is the coolest spot along North Carolina’s coast to kick back and enjoy the best of the sea and comfortable resort living. Wilmington has been around since the 16th century, and boasts one of America’s largest historic districts. The residents take serious pride in preserving their historic town, and visitors can’t get enough of the architecture and ambiance. Check out Orton Plantation Gardens for a look at the early days or charter a sailing boat for a trip around Cape Fear. You can lounge on the beach by day and feast at top-flight bistros in the evening in Wilmington.
Address: Southeastern North Carolina