Fun Across NC
Fall Experiences You Gotta Have In NC
Who are we kidding? Adventures abound in North Carolina, whether on the water, in the mountains, or up in the sky. Here are some you shouldn’t miss, especially when the skies are so blue, the leaves golden and the air fresh and crisp.
- Whitewater Rafting/Kayaking/Canoeing
The water is running quick and cool on the Nantahala River, one of the state’s signature waterways, and you can feel the breeze coming off its surface. Just raucous enough to hold your attention, the river’s pace allows you time to drink in the beauty of the cliffs rising up on either side. Check in with the Nantahala Outdoor Center just outside of Bryson City to find the perfect guide. Other outfitters do a nice job, too.
- Hot-Air Balloon Tours
The ground falls away in a slow ‘whoosh’ as super-heated air rushes into the balloon above your head. Your stomach seems to lurch upward, but soon enough you are in awe, scanning the horizon. Central North Carolina’s green fields and pastures, cut by streams and rivers, are a lush diorama below. You can even plan to land at a Yadkin Valley vineyard, where you can drink a toast to your aerial adventure with a glass of one of our locally produced wines. If you want to keep your feet on the ground, you can still experience a nationally recognized hot air balloon rally in Statesville and watch a mass ascension at the Carolina Balloonfest.
- Rock Climbing
One of the best, and most famous climbs in the country is the 500-foot-high Looking Glass Rock, located north of Brevard. The bulbous arc of exposed granite, known as “the Nose,” is Looking Glass’ signature feature, with routes that challenge recreational to experienced climbers. It offers incredible views of the Pisgah National Forest … when you have a moment to relax, that is.
- Dude Ranches
Sitting astride a horse near the crest of Fie Top Mountain, you know exactly how Tom and Judy Alexander felt 75 years ago when they founded the 1,000-acre Cataloochee Ranch. At 5,000 feet, there is still a pleasant morning nip in the air as you gaze across neighboring peaks and valleys partially submerged in a gray mist that makes the name, the Great Smoky Mountains, perfectly appropriate. Later, you’ll sit in a rocker on the lodge’s wide porch until the smell of grilled New York strip steaks reminds you this day is real, not a dream.
- Fall Fishing
Thanks to an annual shift in the Gulf Stream, the autumn blesses North Carolina’s coast with an abundance of fish, from mackerel and mahi-mahi to sea trout and grouper. Take a deep sea fishing charter, or stand on a seaside pier and challenge yourself to bring in the catch of the day. If you consider yourself an expert, sign up for the U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament in Southport.
- Kiteboarding on the Coast
This is way beyond what the Wright Brothers could have imagined and one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Kiteboarding is the experience of surfing while tethered to a wind-driven kite 50 feet up in the air. You can either slalom the water’s surface indefinitely or, with some training, use waves to help launch your body 20 to 40 feet in the air for several seconds. Relax. You will come back down.
- Hiking/Biking Trails
Much of the Linville Gorge is so rugged that loggers bypassed it a century ago. What remains is some of the best stands of remnant uncut forest in the southern Appalachians. But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring your mountain bike to tackle the lung-burning, thigh-cramping 49-mile Linville Gorge Loop. Or you can opt for the more moderate 8.2-mile Wiseman’s View Ride. Linville Gorge is truly stunning when fall color is at its peak.
- Blue Ridge Parkway
At milepost 238 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in the northwest part of the state, the Brinegar cabin and farmstead are preserved as it was in 1880. A plot containing tomatoes, squash and flax is still cultivated there. Standing near the garden, peering into a seemingly endless valley below, you don’t want to leave. Eventually, you do move on, comforted by the fact that there are 250 more gorgeous parkway miles in the state – and each one comes with a story and a view. Be sure to visit the new environmentally friendly Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center near Asheville – a 12,800-square-foot facility, built to the latest energy-saving standards.
- Red Wolf Howling Safari
Smaller than a timber wolf but larger than a coyote, the endangered red wolf is rarely seen. But during regular Red Wolf Howling Safaris at the 152,000-acre Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, visitors often hear them. The safari’s leader tilts her head to the sky and lets out a long “ah-roooooo.” We wait for what seems like minutes, then a clear, similar but very much more wild-sounding howl comes back to us. In North Carolina, the red wolf is still with us.
- Hang Gliding at Kitty Hawk
You are standing atop a sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, not far from the historic Kitty Hawk site. A 65-pound-plus set of sheer wings that feels remarkably light is harnessed to support points on your chest and lower back. With lots of excitement and some trepidation, you start to motor, and within 20 yards, you find that your legs are churning in nothing but air. The wind is in your face, and the sea is in the distance. Between exhilarated gasps, you ask if another turn is possible.
When you finish touring the previous ten, we have 40 more fun ideas for the fall season!
- Canoe or kayak the Roanoke River Paddle Trail amid 30,000 acres of protected lands.
- Ride a motorcycle on “The Tail of the Dragon” (US Highway 129) near Robbinsville… 318 turns in 11 miles!
- Step back in time to the days when life was in black and white and the Sheriff didn’t carry a gun at Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, NC. Get your picture taken with TV Land’s statue of Andy and Opie.
- Tell people you actually climbed Pilot Mountain (Mount Pilot of Mayberry fame) near Winston-Salem.
- Kayak or raft the Nolichucky River near Asheville, which cuts through the deepest gorge in the southeastern United States.
- Visit Qualla Boundary, the ancestral home of the Cherokee Indians in Cherokee.
- Marvel at the multiple species of carnivorous plants at the 50,000-acre Holly Shelter Game Lands near Wrightsville Beach.
- Participate in the annual Cycle North Carolina Bike Ride that crosses the state each fall.
- Hike, bike or paddle the Great Dismal Swamp, a 107,000-acre wildlife refuge in northeastern North Carolina.
- Climb the 257 stairs of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, perhaps the most famous in the United States.
- Walk the beach near the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on South Core Banks Island.
- Shell-hunt on Ocracoke Island. There’s a good chance you’ll come across the prized Scotch Bonnet, the state’s official seashell, especially if you explore around North Point.
- Take a dreamy canoe, kayak or inner-tube trip down the Dan River in Rockingham County (north of Greensboro, on the state line in central NC).
- Feel the need for speed at NASCAR’s Bank Of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, under the lights on Saturday night.
- See some of the best fall color around in the Uwharrie National Forest in the south central part of the state. These mountains are believed to be the oldest in North America.
- Fish for trout in the streams of Stone Mountain State Park near North Wilkesboro.
- Have a bratwurst, a beer, and some sauerkraut while enjoying brilliant fall color and listening to an oompah band at the Oktoberfest on Sugar Mountain.
- Kayak, raft, climb, run or bike at the U.S. National Whitewater Center just outside Charlotte.
- Go to the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh. Bring your sunscreen and plenty of cash for the midway. Then plan to stay for some of the top-name entertainment in the evening at the Dorton Arena.
- Take a trip to the tropics at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont just west of Charlotte. The amazing new Orchid Conservatory an 8,000 square foot glass house dedicated to the display of orchids and tropical plants.
- Visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to learn more about the Freedman’s Colony that was established on Roanoke Island. Former slaves lived free here prior to emancipation.
- Canoe the New River, the oldest river in the United States, in northwestern NC.
- Cheer a worm to victory at the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, a celebration of mountain music, craft, and food. You can even pick out your own worm and compete to win $1,000!
- Golf in the shadow of legends at Pinehurst.
- Bird-watch along one of our trails.
- Go fly a kite at the Outer Banks Stunt Kite Competition in Nags Head October 18-19. Then watch the pros take part in a graceful ‘kite ballet’ set to music and fast paced team kite flying events that require both speed and control.
- Hike to the top of Chimney Rock where stunning 75-miles views overlooking Lake Lure and the Blue Ridge Foothills await. Or, take a shortcut and ride an elevator inside the mountain to the top.
- Cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain near Boone.
- Enjoy a delicious barbecue sandwich at the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival. And while you’re at it, take in one of the pig races.
- Climb to the state’s highest point (or take some neat trails just below it) at Mount Mitchell State Park (northeast of Asheville).
- Take your RV to Jordan Lake, where RVs go to meet (south of Chapel Hill).
- Rent a pontoon boat at Lake Norman with friends (about 30 miles north of Charlotte).
- Be brave and take a ride in a jet boat on scenic Lake Fontana, west of Cherokee.
- Get lost in a corn maze. NC has many mazes to choose from.
- Dive the state’s interesting shipwrecks off the Outer Banks.
- Take your lawn chair or a blanket to one of the outdoor concerts at one of the state’s 70-plus wineries. Most concerts happen in fall, but there are Christmas activities, too.
- Visit the North Carolina Zoo at Asheboro (south of Greensboro), one of the first natural habitat zoos in the country and still one of the best.
- Hike and camp on the North Carolina section of the Appalachian Trail.
- Dine on blue crabs or go after some yourself in Washington (southeast of Greenville), the state’s leading commercial fishing port and home of the North Carolina Estuarium.
- Play hide-and-seek in the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Durham (The Nasher Art Museum).
By Des Keller
By Des Keller
added: January 12, 2009
updated: November 14, 2012