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Few states can rival North Carolina when it comes to the sheer diversity of attractions the state has to offer. The problem won’t be finding something to do – it will be finding time to do it all!
With a diverse landscape stretching from the high peaks of the Smokies to the windswept beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, the state’s wild geography presents numerous opportunities for fun and adventure.
Fans of serpentine mountain roads have riding the Tail of the Dragon on their bucket lists. Strung along Deals Gap, it’s been called America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road. Formally known as U.S. 129, the Tail of the Dragon features 318 curves in 11 miles. Hang on! Not far away is the Cherohala Skyway, which features 43 miles of breathtaking mountain scenery as NC 143 climbs up and over Stratton Gap. What’s that – you want more scenic mountain drives? Well none are more famous than the Blue Ridge Parkway! This 469-mile parkway starts in Cherokee and runs all the way to Virginia. Along the way it passes historic homesteads, intriguing museums, and jaw-dropping views.
Take the Asheville exit off the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the Biltmore Estate. Also known as the biggest home in America, the former home of George Vanderbilt is world-famous for its glamor and beauty. The grounds also are home to a historic farm, gardens, and a winery – there’s something here for everyone.
When you are in the mountains make sure to visit Boone. This eclectic college town has superb mountain scenery and tons to see and do. Look for treasures at Foggy Mountain Gem Mine or sample the suds at Appalachian Mountain Brewery. The Hickory Ridge Living History Museum offers a glimpse into what mountain living was like ages ago, while a stroll through the Daniel Boone Native Gardens lets you get an up-close look at the mountain’s spectacular flora.
Nearby Blowing Rock is famous for its cool summer days as well as the hiking and horse trails at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. Ready to treat the kids? Buy a ticket to ride the Tweetsie Railroad – it’s been a family favorite for generations. While you are in town you can also stroll through art galleries, visit Flat Top Manor, or hunt for valuable stones at Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine.
In the foothills of the Appalachians, Hickory offers a number of attractions. The Hickory Aviation Museum sports free entry and restored military aircraft – you can see planes spanning several decades of military action. The Harper House has exhibits and memorabilia explaining the region’s history and the downtown farmers market is bursting with fresh organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables.
Oenophiles will love North Carolina’s wine country. The Yadkin Valley is a former tobacco-growing region now home to more than 70 wineries and is the state’s first designated American Viticultural Area. Grab a map and plot out an afternoon of touring and sampling – top spots include Raffaldini, Baker Buffalo Creek, Childress Vineyards, RagApple Lassie, and Uwharrie Vineyards. Look for native varietals like muscadine and scuppernong or go traditional with European varieties like merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
You can’t talk about attractions in North Carolina without talking about food, and here talking about food really means talking about barbecue. North Carolina ‘cue is an important part of the state’s heritage, but what kind you get depends on where you are. “Western” North Carolina style uses pulled pork bathed in a ketchup-based sauce, while “Eastern” North Carolina style douses its pulled pork in a vinegar-based sauce. No matter what side of the state you are on, that ‘cue is being washed down with Cheerwine, a local cherry-flavored cola, or sweet tea. Lexington is the de facto capital of North Carolina barbecue – the cuisine’s icons include Lexington Barbecue, Speedy Lohr’s BBQ, Cook’s Barbecue, and Smokey Joe’s BBQ.
Fayetteville is perhaps best known as the location of Fort Bragg, which is the largest military installation in the world, but no matter what brings you here there’s a lot to see. The region’s top attraction is the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, which chronicles the history of airborne and special operations soldiers from 1940 to the present. The 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial explains the heritage of this storied military division and offers an outstanding perspective of past conflicts. Those in search of nature will find peace along the Cape Fear River Trail and at Gillis Hill Farms, where you can pick strawberries, buy fresh produce, tour the farm, and take wagon rides.
Close to the coast, Elizabeth City has plenty of diversions. Gaze at the stars at the Elizabeth City State University Planetarium or take in a race at the Dixieland Speedway, and don’t miss the Museum of the Albermarle, which has regional cultural collections and a great explanation of this part of the coastal plain.
Plan to spend a day in Wilmington, a graceful coastal town with a well-preserved historic downtown. Take a tour of the historic sites and enjoy a picnic at Airlie Gardens. Learn about the region’s ecology at Sea Turtle Camp, which has adventure programs and marine biology exhibits.
Pretty Jacksonville has sultry coastal breezes and the excellent Veterans Memorial. Visit Lynwood Park Zoo to see the monkeys then sample the moonshine and whiskey at Walton’s Distillery.
Beaufort is one of the most beautiful towns along the coast. Sign up for a tour of the historic district or rent a bike to pedal to the sites yourself. The North Carolina Maritime Museum has a large collection of boats, models, and decoys, while the Rachel Carson Reserve is accessible only by boat and is home to wild horses and a marine lab.
Pack your bags and your taste for adventure – no matter your passion or interest, there are scores of great attractions in North Carolina waiting to be discovered.
Gain historical insights on your next stay in Raleigh. The North Carolina State Capitol, completed in 1840 in downtown, was the primary location for the North Carolina state government until 1888. It is an enlarged version of the original capitol building, on the same site, and features a Greek Revival style of architecture.
The offices of the state governor and lieutenant governor are located on the first floor. Thirty minute guided tours of the Capitol are available. Be sure to stroll past the fourteen statutes and monuments on Union Square. History buffs enjoy touring the N.C. Museum of History, the Executive Mansion, the Raleigh City Museum and the Mordecai Historic Park. Rest comfortably while visiting the Capital city near the coast.
Found at the NC Granite Corp, the World's Largest Open-Face Granite Quarry is located in northwestern North Carolina in Mount Airy. Also known as the Mount Airy White Quarry, the site has been designated the Official State Rock of North Carolina. Open daily from sunrise to sunset, visitors are encouraged to check out the massive quarry from the observation deck.
Especially great during spring and summer, the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is located near Hendersonville. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge offers visitors an upstream look at Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and other North Carolina Mountains natural landmarks. Originally a vehicular bridge crossing Lake Lure, the bridge is now a pedestrian landmark ever since a new bridge was built in 2011. Now, enjoy this renovated bridge, which features blooming flowers that were planted and kept up by the local community.
Fans of classic hit The Andy Griffith Show need visit northwestern North Carolina for the city of Mount Airy. Set at the confluence of interstates 77 and 74, the quaint town is best known as the invitation for Mayberry – the fictitious setting in the Andy Griffith television program. Mt. Airy landmarks include some familiar Mayberry sites like the Andy Griffith Playhouse, Snappy Lunch, Floyd’s City Barber Shop, and Andy Griffith's Home Place – plus pretty much all of historic downtown Mount Airy.
Explore historic downtown Hendersonville on your next trip through the Mountain region of North Carolina. Enjoy your time in Hendersonville.