Home to Krispy Kremes, the Venus Fly Trap, tech startups, a good handful of hipsters, plenty of farmers, and more American Idol finalists than any other state in the country, the much loved southeastern gem is both an intriguing and captivating destination to explore. The landscapes here are pretty special too and range from stunning beaches, majestic mountains, endless forests, gorgeous towns to some truly spectacular national parks. Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in North Carolina…
1. Biltmore, Asheville – one of the most stunning places to explore in North Carolina
A majestic French Renaissance estate in the heart of Ashville, the Biltmore Estate preserves a legacy of the Vanderbilt family. Completed in 1895 in a sprawling 8,000 acres of land, the estate features expansive 250-rooms and century-old gardens.
In addition to the house, the estate has beautiful forested trails, a historic farm, an exotic winery, and a variety of recreational activities. Take a stroll in this artful landscape with stunning gardens or savor the charm of America’s largest estate, the Biltmore mansion is an enthralling architectural marvel.
2. Mingo Falls – a gorgeous beauty spot to explore in North Carolina
Nicknamed the Big Bear Falls, the Mingo Falls is located in the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near the town of Cherokee. Cascading nearly 200 ft. down the granite boulders, the Mingo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on the southern Appalachians.
Part of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, Mingo Falls is a magical place to visit on the tribal land. Take a beautiful hike to the waterfall along the rushing stream or camp around the falls, the beautiful Smoky Mountains and Cherokee culture will leave you mesmerized. Take an early morning hike to witness the Mingo Falls enveloped by fog.
3. Joyce Kilmer Forest – one of the oldest stands of old-growth forests
Preserving one of the oldest stands of old-growth forests, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest contains impressive hardwood forest unique to the Appalachian Mountains. Located near Robbinsville in Graham County, the forest is a dedicated memorial to the veteran author Joyce Kilmer.
Walk along the primitive forests featuring a grove of the largest hardwood trees more than 400 years old rising to a height of over 100 ft. The 3,800-acre tract of virgin forests also hosts a variety of shrubs, wildflowers, vines, ferns, mosses, and many other plants. Part of the Joyce-Slick Rock Wilderness, the John Kilmer Forest is a cherished landscape of western North Carolina.
4. Blue Ridge Parkway National Park – one of the most scenic places to visit in North Carolina
Meandering for 469 miles across the rugged mountains, pastoral landscapes and historic structures, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through North Carolina and Virginia. Linking the Shenandoah National park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Parkway encompasses some of the oldest pre-historic & early European settlements.
Whether you hike Mount Mitchell, explore the Craggy Gardens, visit the tiny village of Little Switzerland, or simply watch the beautiful Linville Falls and Caverns, there is so much to discover in this national park. Take a lazy drive or stargaze the clear skies, the pristine landscapes along the way makes it America’s favorite drive.
5. Historic Yates Mill – a popular, beautiful and historic attraction in North Carolina
The legendary Yates Mill is a perfect spot to indulge in some fresh air and tranquility. One of the oldest remaining buildings in Wake County, the water-powered Yates Mill produces lumber, milled corn and wheat.
Part of the Historic Yates Mill County Park, the 174-acre park features the region’s oldest running grist mill, the Mill Pond, and a museum on the natural history of the area. A quiet place to seek nature and hike, the Yates Mill is a favorite stop in the capital city of Raleigh.
6. Corolla Beach – a popular and pretty slow-
paced holiday destination in North Carolina
A quaint seaside destination bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound, Corolla is an ideal vacation destination for families. Providing more than 20 miles of unspoiled shorelines, remote seascapes, and quirky shops, Corolla is a sparkling paradise for beach-goers.
Along the shores, you’ll find the legendary wild Spanish mustangs bought by the early Spanish explorers. Climb the treasured Currituck Beach Lighthouse to get a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean or tour the beautifully restored Whalehead Club historic mansion with period furnishings, Corolla is a true maritime heritage in Currituck County.
7. Chimney Rock State Park – a nature lover’s paradise with spectacular views and great hiking trails
Witness the best of North Carolina Mountains just 25 miles from Ashville in the Chimney Rocks State Park. Located in the village of Chimney Rocks in Rutherford County, the iconic 500 million-year-old towering monolith provides stunning views of the park and the surrounding countryside.
The 8,014-acre park is known for dramatic scenery, lush forests, rare plants and the highest waterfalls. Explore the Hickory Nut Falls or hike the wooded trails, the park offers stunning views of the Devil’s Head balancing rock and the pristine Lake Lure for a perfect mountain adventure.
8. Fontana Lake – a tranquil mountain escape surrounded by stunning North Carolina landscapes
Enveloped by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest is located in Graham and Swain counties. The 480-ft. Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee River is the highest dam east of the Rockies. A popular spot for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, the Fontana Dam was constructed during World War II to provide electricity for the war effort.
With spectacular views of the adjoining mountains and woodlands, the 29-mile Fontana Lake is a popular spot for hiking, swimming, boating, camping, picnicking and much more in the pristine wilderness.
9. Appalachian Trail – the most famous and beautiful hiking trail in the world
Winding 96.4 miles through North Carolina’s mountains, the beloved Appalachian Trail rises to spectacular summits and drops into the steep walls of the Nantahala River Gorge. Laden with sun-drenched ridges, angular peaks, winding rivers, wildflower-covered mountain balds and historic fire-towers, the Appalachian Trail offers plenty of options for day, weekend, or week-long hikes.
Traversing through Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak on the trail, the Appalachian Trail passes through Pisgah and Nantahala National Forest and enters the Great Smoky Mountains, National Park. Hike across the grassy summit of the Max Patch or explore the Roan Mountain filled with blooming rhododendron, this national treasure is a slice of heaven on the earth.
10. Wilmington – North Carolina’s iconic Port City which has an interesting history
North Carolina’s most accessible coastal destination, Wilmington is located in New Hanover County. From beautiful historic buildings to brick-lined streets, Wilmington sets a perfect blend of the past and present. A National Historic District, Wilmington has varieties of fine antebellum and Victorian-era homes including Bellamy House and Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens.
Sheltered on Wilmington’s port is the majestic Battleship North Carolina, a WWII-era warship on Cape Fear River. Soak up the sun at Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach, or explore the vibrant downtown, Wilmington has a bounty of vacation experiences to enthrall visitors.
11. Bodie Island – a quaint and tranquil spot which home to an attractive seashore
Bodie Island is a narrow peninsula connected to the Nags Head area of the Outer Banks. Once an island in the 1700s, the island was separated from the Currituck Banks by Roanoke Inlet. Stretching from Oregon Inlet into Virginia Beach, the peninsula offers 72-miles of adventures along with the scenic barrier islands.
Explore the historic Bodie Island Lighthouse or take an elevated wooden pathway on the marshes and shores, Bodie Island makes for a perfect day-trip for family.
12. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad – a gorgeous heritage railroad offering breathtaking views
A charming train excursion through the North Carolina Mountains, The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a memorable rail adventure on the steam-powered engine. Based at the heart of Bryson City near Cherokee, the vintage train travels through tunnels, a gorgeous river, lakes, mountain valleys and a deep river gorge.
Functioning since 1988, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a variety of trips and special event trains for an unforgettable railroad experience. Ride in the vintage open-air cars or the climate-controlled cars, the railroad is magical time-travel in Western North Carolina.
13. Kill Devil Hills – a popular and stunning coastal vacation spot
Featuring a long stretch of Atlantic Ocean and silky sands, the barrier island township of Kill Devil Hills is located in Dare County. Indulge in swimming, robust surfing, parasailing, kayaking, or peaceful seaside cycling, Kill Devil Hills offers endless water sports activities.
A site where the first controlled powered flight took off, the Wright Brothers National Memorial sits atop the Big Kill Devil Hills. Savor the panoramic sunsets by the sea, miles of historic attractions and antique shops, Kill Devil Hills offers vacationers a perfect balance of coastal life with rich Native American cultural history.
14. Hot Springs – a charming historic town which is also home to hot natural mineral springs
A quaint village in the Madison County, Hot Springs is located just 40 miles north of Asheville. Best known for its therapeutic hot mineral springs, Hot Springs also offers whitewater rafting on the French Broad River. Encompassed by the Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs is a bubbling haven for those seeking a peaceful and healing getaway.
Running through the town is the iconic Appalachian Trail that offers a picturesque hike through the river valley. Take a hike to Lover’s Leap and Max Patch or drive to the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower, this lovely little town is truly a shining recreational hub.
15. Currituck Sound – a beautiful nature lover’s playground offering gorgeous vistas
Miles of shorelines, dense maritime forests, and small marshy islands comprise the Currituck Sound of the Outer Banks. A protected inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, Currituck Sound forms the northeastern part of North Carolina.
Currituck Sound provides a temporary home to thousands of migrating birds in the nearby refuges of the Currituck Wildlife Refuge, the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Currituck Banks Reserve. Grab a kayak, canoe, or a pair of flip flops, Currituck Sound beaches provide a peaceful retreat to get your feet wet in the vast acres of undisturbed landscape.
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Gary is an award winning full time professional photographer and videographer with too much wanderlust for his own good. Fuelled by strong coffee, you’ll often find him wandering well off hiking trails in search of interesting photographic subjects or scenery to video. Self taught and with the use of pioneering digital techniques, he quickly built up a strong client base and has worked with many prestigious organisations, including GQ, BBC, London Fashion Week, Grazia, Sky, Metro, Vogue Italia. He specialising in evocative images of people, places and cinematic videography and his goal is to make the viewer look twice and engage. As well as a penchant for good design, the ketogenic diet and Hungarian Vizslas, he also has a huge affection for Chicago, Bucharest, Scandinavia, Croatia and absolutely everywhere in Italy. Find him on Instagram @garynansome, Twitter @garynansome and his website https://garynunn.co.uk/