10 Beautiful Places to Visit Across North Carolina

10 Beautiful Places to Visit Across North Carolina

The High Country region features some of the best views of the North Carolina mountains, including Linville Gorge

Celebrate the beauty of North Carolina at our state parks and national parks, by getting outside and exploring the natural wonders these organizations protect. Our parks are as diverse as they are widespread, allowing you to do everything from hike to the summit of Eastern America’s tallest peak to relax on the undeveloped beaches of the Outer Banks.

Whether your travels take you east, west or to the middle of the state, add a park visit to your plans.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Buxton
The barrier islands that separate the Pamlico Sound and Atlantic Ocean are a state and national treasure. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches from Bodie Island on the north end southward to Ocracoke Island. In between, you’ll find miles of pristine beaches, marshes teeming with wildlife and iconic structures. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States – is a stunning sight. Climb its 257 steps for a 360-degree view. Catch one of the ferries that service the islands and enjoy the views from the water.

Cape Lookout National Seashore
Harkers Island
Cape Lookout National Seashore might be comprised of remote barrier islands, but it has plenty of options once you arrive. You can swim, kayak, fish, camp or simply soak in the sun. On this portion of the southern Outer Banks and in its surrounding waters, you can find four species of sea turtles, more than 250 species of birds and a herd of wild horses. Ascend 207 steps to the top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse and take in the sweeping coastal landscape from above.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse on the Crystal Coast

Cape Lookout Lighthouse is open for climbing May through September

Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock
An icon in Western North Carolina, Chimney Rock Mountain is the centerpiece of this state park about an hour southeast of Asheville. Climb the 26 stories of stairs that make up the Outcroppings Trail to reach the top and enjoy views of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure and the Piedmont region to the east. The Skyline Trail brings you to Exclamation Point, the highest peak in the park at 2,480 feet. The views from this route might look familiar; several scenes from The Last of the Mohicans movie were shot here.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
Kure Beach
Fort Fisher interests history buffs, birders, beachgoers and the environmentally conscious. Five miles south of Carolina Beach, in the Wilmington area, the fort was built in 1861 to defend the Confederacy. Then during World War II, the fort was used as a firing range for training military personnel. The grounds are more peaceful these days as visitors stroll along the marsh-lined boardwalks. Each season brings different natural wonders, from nesting loggerhead sea turtles to migrating warblers, hawks and peregrine falcons. Five miles of undeveloped shoreline make for a relaxing day at the beach.

Fort Fisher Beach

Stroll along undeveloped stretches of shoreline at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Goose Creek State Park
Washington
One of the most appreciated features of Goose Creek State Park – located in rural eastern North Carolina outside of Washington – is the quiet. Come to this park to unwind, have a leisurely paddle along the creek and spend quality time camping with family and friends. Bordered by Goose Creek, Mallard Creek and the Pamlico River, the park’s picturesque banks have trees with Spanish-moss-laden branches that reach out over the water. Eight miles of trails lead to marshes and swamps that earned the site a National Natural Landmark designation.

Grandfather Mountain State Park
Banner Elk
With 2,456 acres of rugged backcountry, Grandfather Mountain State Park is ideal for the experienced hiker who enjoys a challenge. Not to be confused with the area of Grandfather Mountain that’s operated by a foundation (and known for the Mile High Swinging Bridge), the state park preserves an undeveloped area that’s home to more than 70 rare and endangered species. The Nuwati Trail, the only one rated “easy,” will take you to Storyteller’s Rock with views of Boone Bowl and Calloway Peak. For adventure-seekers, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail (rated strenuous) ascends about 2,000 feet across three miles, with the upper half offering incredible sights of the Linn Cove Viaduct. Additionally, hiking Black Rock Trail (accessible from the foundation attraction's parking lot) will earn you views of the famous swinging bridge.

Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge and take in the beauty of Grandfather Mountain

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Cherokee
With more than half of its vast acreage in North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country. If you prefer a rolling view, i.e., from the car, Cataloochee Valley at the park’s eastern edge is a popular destination for spotting elk. For hikers, a short journey through the Deep Creek area along the southern border brings you to three waterfalls: Juney Whank, Indian Creek and Tom Branch. This area is also filled with flowering plants, such as sweet shrub and rhododendron.

Hammocks Beach State Park
Swansboro
For those who enjoy unspoiled shores, Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro is your sanctuary. Only 33 acres of the park are located on the mainland. The premier feature here is Bear Island, accessible by ferry, boat, canoe or kayak. The 892-acre island is 3.5 miles long and less than a mile wide with more than 3 miles of beach. The island is a prime location for hunting shells. The beach is also a popular destination for nesting loggerhead sea turtles.

Mount Mitchell State Park
Burnsville
As the highest point in the East, Mount Mitchell’s 6,684-foot summit overlook platform affords some of the longest mountain views in North Carolina. On clear days, you can see as far as 85 miles. The elevation also contributes to chilly or cool temperatures year-round. The mountain’s spruce-fir ecosystem is home to flora and fauna, more closely resembling that of New England and Canada than the surrounding Southeast. One of the best ways to experience Mount Mitchell’s ecological diversity is hiking one or more of the mountain’s seven trails.

Mount Mitchell State Park

Established a century ago, Mount Mitchell is North Carolina's first state park

Raven Rock State Park
Lillington
Located at the intersection of the central and coastal regions, Raven Rock State Park boasts varied topography and ecosystems. A 2.5-mile loop trail leads to the namesake Raven Rock. Carved by wind and water, the 150-foot cliff was once a navigational landmark for river pilots. Getting to the top requires scaling 135 stairs, but the journey is worth it when you reach the overlook with a view of the Cape Fear River. In early spring, Raven Rock is a favorite spot to see wildflowers in bloom.

North Carolina State Parks offer a variety of fun, leisure and adventurous activities in nature, but this also includes potential hazards. Take care, be safe and enjoy.

Leah Hughes, a freelance journalist in Denton and native of Randolph County, enjoys writing stories about treasured places. See more of her work at leahchughes.com.

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