An Adventure Traveler's Guide to North Carolina

Running the rapids at the US National Whitewater Center
Running the rapids at the US National Whitewater Center | © Jeremy Thompson / Flickr
Shawndra Russell

North Carolina has adventures in spades: zipping down America’s fastest, steepest zipline, Class V whitewater rapids and sand-boarding across the tallest sand dunes in the East. Whatever your preferred method of riding an adrenaline rush, a North Carolina vacation can provide the setting, whether it requires steep mountains, ocean access, or miles of track. Here are ten awesome destinations for adventure travelers.

1. Mile High Swinging Bridge


© Elizabeth Albert / Flickr

For those that want to experience epic heights without having to swing between platforms, the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain gives you 228 feet (69.5 meters) of dizzying heights. This area is also home to Linville Gorge, Linville Falls, and Linville Caverns to make for a fabulous day of exploring.

2. Stone Mountain State Park

Natural Feature

© Alex Ford / Flickr

Not quite the high you’re looking for? Well, rock climbers (or those that want to try the sport) should check out Stone Mountain. Accessible with a permit only, Stone Mountain has climbers facing some of the most exposed friction climbing available.

3. Jockey's Ridge State Park

Natural Feature

For athletic adventurers, it’s always fun to try a new sport, so if you’ve never attempted, or heard of, sandboarding, head to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Here, you’ll ride along the tallest living sand dune in the eastern United States. Snowboarders will be naturals at sandboarding, which is permitted October through March, but sand sledding—yep, it’s a thing—happens year-round and does not require a permit.

4. NASCAR Hall of Fame

Museum, Sports Center

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© Nick Ledford / Flickr
Sure, North Carolina has tons of natural outdoor adventures to be had, but it also has a proud racing history based out of Charlotte, where the NASCAR Hall of Fame resides. Sit shotgun and be spun around the track by a professional instructor, or opt for the half-day experience that ends with you taking the racecar for a spin in the driver’s seat at speeds over 100 mph (161 km per hour).

5. U.S. National Whitewater Center

Sports Center

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© Jeremy Thompson / Flickr
Charlotte isn’t known only for its auto racing. In fact, this facility, an official Olympic Training Center, is considered the world’s premier outdoor facility. It serves as training grounds for expert rafters, kayakers, canoers, and rock climbers, but beginners can have fun here as well.

6. Moore’s Springs Trails

Natural Feature, Sports Center

© Sergey Galyonkin / Flickr

Mountain bikers have a plethora of awesome places to choose from throughout North Carolina, including the singletrack, 8-mile (12.9-km) trail near Hanging Rock State Park. Bikers note that this area boasts a variety of terrain, including tight switchbacks, creek crossings, berms, and some wooden bridges. Bonus: more trails, including more advanced runs, are being added.

7. Appalachian Trail, North Carolina

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature

© Jim R Rogers / Flickr

Not every adventure has to be high-octane—sometimes a stunning view alone can take your breath away, too. Hiking along the iconic Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, certainly is a bucket-list-worthy endeavor. Day hike at places like Max Patch or Carvers Gap, or take on the entire 95-mile (153-km) stretch of the trail that weaves through the state. Another 224 miles (360.5 km) of trail snaking along the North Carolina and Tennessee border can be added as well.

8. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Natural Feature

Waterfront Beach houses, Nags Head, OBX, Outer Banks, North Carolina, USA
© Mira / Alamy Stock Photo

While so much of North Carolina’s awesome adventure destinations reside in the mountains, its coastal region also offers tons of fun adventures like surfing and paddling. However, scuba divers shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to dive at what many consider one of the best shipwreck dives anywhere in the USA: the U-352, a nearly-intact German U-boat that went down in 1942.

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