North Carolina is a unique state since its westernmost region boasts towering Appalachian mountain peaks – the highest being Mount Mitchell at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level – while its eastern coastline dips down to sea level in magical places like the Crystal Coast and the Outer Banks. In between, the Piedmont region houses three of the top 30 universities in the country in Duke, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill, all with beautiful campuses as their prestige would indicate near city centers that are enjoying a cultural renaissance with a stronger emphasis on the arts, outdoors and strong local creative economies. With all these gifts, picking just 13 most beautiful spots in North Carolina was a challenge indeed, but here are the places you should put on your North Carolina bucket list.
This monolith, thought to be over 500 million years old, is certainly one of the most unique geological formations in the state. But it also offers a chance to view the sparkling Lake Lure (where the iconic Dirty Dancing lift scene was filmed) and features a hike that leads to one of the Tar Heel State’s tallest waterfalls, which just so happened to make its way into another iconic movie, The Last of the Mohicans.
When people hear the term Great Smoky Mountains, they typically associate this majestic part of the country with Tennessee, but in fact, the 522,000-acre park is divided almost equally between it and North Carolina. It’s the country’s most visited national park, so consider a spring or fall visit (avoid jam-packed October, though) for thinner crowds and to see the leaves drenched in color and potential elk sightings.
Like the Biltmore, the Mile High Bridge deserves a spot on a “Best of America” bucket list as it’s the highest suspension footbridge in the nation. Steel your nerves to walk across an 80-foot chasm via this 228-foot long walkway.
This 112,000-acre area has earned recognition as a National Natural Landmark and is considered by some experts to be “one of the best outdoor laboratories in the world for its rich natural ecosystem.” And a visit to this refuge warrants a stop at nearby Merchants Millpond State Park, where you can opt to kayak with alligators in this Southern swamp. Great for those that want to nab some amazing wildlife photos!
Now to venture off the mainland and onto the legendary Outer Banks. Keep your camera handy anytime you’re in the Outer Banks, but especially in remote Corolla, home to one of two locations where you can snap pictures of wild horses roaming free in the archipelago.
Along one of the state’s longest inland tidal rivers, Goose Creek is another National Natural Landmark in North Carolina. Its gnarly, sometimes haunting trees have created a bird sanctuary, and if you’re lucky, you might just see a bald eagle.
And last but not least, put Jones Lake State Park on your bucket list…unless you get freaked out by unexplained phenomena. Touted as one of the most unusual landforms in the state, this area is marked by more than 500,000 elliptically shaped depressions that range in size from hundreds of feet to as large as six miles. These strange landforms have launched all sorts of origination theories, from sinkholes to a meteor crash to alien intrusion.