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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
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.

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Bridge
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Mile High Swinging Bridge, Grandfather Mountain | Mile High Swinging Bridge, Grandfather Mountain

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.

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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Architectural Landmark, Scenic, Instagrammable

Stone Mountain State Park

Natural Feature
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Rock climbers at Stone Mountain State Park | Rock climbers at Stone Mountain State Park

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.

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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable, Photo Opportunity, Scenic
Mon - Sun:
7:00 am - 6:00 pm

Jockey's Ridge State Park

Natural Feature
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Massive sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park | Massive sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park

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.

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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable, Photo Opportunity, Scenic, Peaceful

NASCAR Hall of Fame

History Museum, Sports Center
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NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, North Carolina | NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, North Carolina
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).
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U.S. National Whitewater Center

Sports Center
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Running the rapids at the US National Whitewater Center | Running the rapids at the US National Whitewater Center
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.
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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable

Moore’s Springs Trails

Natural Feature, Sports Center
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Hanging Rock State Park | Hanging Rock State Park

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.

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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable, Scenic

Appalachian Trail, North Carolina

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
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Trailhead at Max Patch | Trailhead at Max Patch

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.

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Accessibility & Audience:

Dog Friendly, Kid Friendly, Family Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable, Photo Opportunity, Scenic, Peaceful

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Natural Feature
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Surfs up in the Outer Banks | Surfs up in the Outer Banks

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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Accessibility & Audience:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly

Atmosphere:

Outdoors, Instagrammable, Peaceful
These recommendations were updated on July 27, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.