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Content: Edged by the highest mountains in the East, laced with pristine forests and raging rivers, and blessed with a massive coastline, North Carolina offers a full four seasons of outdoor adventure ranging from mild to wild. Pack your bags and get set for the experience of a lifetime!
North Carolina has dozens of mountains reaching higher than 6,000 feet and come winter they are draped in snow. Grab your skis or snowboard and a helmet and head for the slopes! Sugar Mountain has the region’s biggest vertical drop at 1,200 feet, plus some of the South’s toughest slopes. Appalachian, meanwhile, has a great learn-to-ski program and snowmaking that can crank out the white stuff even when the temperature rises above the freezing mark. Diehards head for Cataloochee, where the lifts spin all day and late into the night, while Beech Mountain has a magnificent mountaintop location with views for miles.
That same snow gets put to use at the state’s snow tubing hills, where outfitters offer tubes, snowmaking, and tows to tug you to the top of the run. Check out Jonas Ridge in Newland, Moonshine Mountain in Hendersonville, Zip N Slip in Mars Hill, Black Bear near Bat Cave, or Tube World in Maggie Valley. Probably the biggest tubing hill in the state is at Hawksnest – it’s open day and night and features more than 30 lanes of snowy fun.
Prefer your winter recreation at a slower pace? Wait for the snow to pile up and grab a pair of cross-country skis. Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway closes in the winter, offering miles and miles of smooth gliding terrain. You can also find kick and glide action in spots around Boone – try Moses Cone Memorial Park, which has picture postcard views.
Skiing’s alter ego is mountain biking, and the state has hundreds of miles of classic single track to shred. Near Bryson City, Tsali is famous for its technical loops and lake views. The area around Brevard has become a major bike destination, with miles of wilderness trails and dirt roads winding among mountains and along rivers. Nearby, DuPont State Forest and Bent Creek have trails weaving among hardwood forests and to waterfalls and overlooks. In the Piedmont, Lake Norman State Park has miles of beginner-friendly trails, while families dig the mellow trails in William B. Umstead State Park near Raleigh.
Those who prefer skinny tires will find quiet country roads and challenging mountain passes. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway has gentle grades and slow speed limits – plus fantastic scenery. If you are looking for a segment to start at, try the spectacular Linn Cove Viaduct. The New River Route is a mountain ride through Ashe County which is surprisingly flat since it follows a railroad. Hatteras Island offers a stunning 25-mile ride which ends at the historic Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Nearby, the ride from Duck to Sanderling is recommended, while the 30-mile Duke Forest route winds through woods between Raleigh and Durham.
Hikers have a lot of ground to cover in the Tar Heel state. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has more than 800 miles of trails, including the most famous of all – the Appalachian Trail, which traverses much of the western half of the state. Other notable trails include the 25-mile Nantahala Headwaters Loop and the long-distance Bartram Trail. Panthertown Valley near Cashiers is filled with wild trails leading to waterfalls and riverside beaches, and even the state’s big cities offer hikes – check out Crowders Mountain near Charlotte or the seven-mile Salem Lake Trail near Winston-Salem. And don’t forget one of the state’s most sought-after hikes – the five-mile climb to the summit of Cold Mountain in Haywood County.
North Carolina’s pristine rivers offer miles of whitewater, and there are plenty of guides and outfitters ready to take you to the waves. The Nantahala River near Bryson City is the region’s most famous river, while rafters and canoers flock to the French Broad near Asheville. Further north, you’ll find whitewater on the Nolichucky and Watauga rivers. In Charlotte and looking to get on the water? Check out the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which has an engineered whitewater loop system plus bars, restaurants, zip lines, mountain biking, and a dock to access flatwater on the Catawba River.
You’ll find more than 300 miles of coastline in North Carolina, and that means one thing – surfing! Top destination to head to with your board include Wrightsville Beach, the Outer Banks, Surf City, Carolina Beach, Hatteras Island, and beautiful Nags Head.
Steady winds brought the Wright Brothers to North Carolina to test their planes, and the same winds today draw wind surfers. The Outer Banks rank as one of the best wind surfing spots in the East, and you can find great conditions and helpful outfitters in places like Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Hatteras, and remote Ocracoke.
Anglers will find a lot of water to cast in North Carolina. Popular catches include smallmouth bass, whiterock bass, largemouth bass, white perch, and walleye. Those who like lakes will love casting into Lake James, Harris Lake, and Jordan Reservoir. Trout fans look forward to fly fishing in spots like Deep Creek, the Nantahala River, Lost Cove Creek, North Toe River, and Hazel Creek. Finally, those who prefer salt water will find opportunities offshore, inshore, and in the surf – cast about for flounder, red drum, spotted seatrout, cobia, and king mackerel.
Both residents and visitors can hunt on public lands in the state – goals range from black bears to mallards and include deer, wild turkeys, and squirrels. Hunting locales include Cold Mountain and Toxaway in the west, Alcoa and Linwood in the Piedmont, and Angola Bay and Holly Shelter closer to the coast. So, bring your skis, your board, your bike, and your hiking shoes – there’s an adventure destination waiting for you in North Carolina!