7 North Carolina-Inspired Books to Read on Vacation

7 North Carolina-Inspired Books to Read on Vacation

North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains have inspired numerous book storylines

When you’re winding along a quiet road in the Blue Ridge Mountains or walking down the boardwalk of a serene coastal town, you might feel as if you’ve fallen into a novel. And you’re not alone. North Carolina is often the setting for books of all genres, including several that have topped bestseller lists over the years. Many of them have also been adapted for the big screen (but the book is always better than the movie, right?).

One of the best ways to make the most of a North Carolina trip is to carry along a book with a similar setting. Wherever you find yourself on your next getaway – strolling on a beach where the only sounds are from the ocean, relaxing in a hammock in the backyard of a rental cabin or curled up in front of a fireplace at a bed-and-breakfast – these titles are ideal companions.

A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson
Plot: Bryson, who’s not exactly your trail-hiking outdoorsman, sets off on one of the world’s longest footpaths for this New York Times bestseller, released in 1998. The middle-aged, out-of-shape author chooses an overweight school friend for a hiking companion. The humorous first-person account follows the two unlikely hikers on their misadventures as they trek up the Appalachian Trail. Bryson also gives interesting asides on such topics as the U.S. Forest Service and local factoids.
Local Setting: One hundred and thirty-one miles of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,190 miles run through North Carolina. Located on the North Carolina-Tennessee line in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Clingmans Dome is the highest point on the trail. The trail passes across Fontana Dam, the tallest dam in the East.
Hollywood Effect: The movie, A Walk in the Woods, was released in September 2015 and stars Robert Redford as Bryson.

Max Patch with snow along Appalachian Trail

Max Patch is one of the most popular mountains to hike along the Appalachian Trail

Outlander Series

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Plot: The first book in the series begins the story of Claire, a young English woman in the 1940s who is transported back to the 1740s where she meets her husband’s six-times-great-grandfather. But she ends up falling in love with – and marrying – another man, Jamie Fraser. The first three books are set in Scotland, and with book four, Drums of Autumn, the author moves the storyline to North Carolina, with Jamie and Claire stopping in Wilmington before settling in the mountains. North Carolina - and our Scots-Irish heritage - plays a major role on through the eighth and most recent book in the series (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, 2014).
Local Setting: Book five, The Fiery Cross, is set in the 1770s during the War of the Regulation in North Carolina, a precursor to the Revolutionary War. Claire foretells of the coming conflict, and Jamie prepares to protect his family and his land. The Battle of Alamance is a prominent event in the book, and, today, Alamance Battleground in Burlington is an historic site, featuring a visitor center with exhibits and a three-quarter-mile nature trail.
Hollywood Effect: In summer 2014, the Starz network premiered the Outlander television series, with 16 one-hour episodes in the first season, sparking a surge in readership of the first book and prompting it to hit number one on The New York Times bestseller list 23 years after it was published.

Cold Mountain

Author: Charles Frazier
Plot: Inman, a Confederate soldier, walks away from the Civil War to make his way back to Ada, his true love, in the mountains of North Carolina. The book, which spent 61 weeks atop The New York Times bestseller list after its release in 1997, is based on local history and family stories passed down through Frazier’s family. Along his journey home, Inman encounters kind souls and mean-spirited characters. Meanwhile, Ada struggles to keep her father’s farm running.
Local Setting: The book’s mountain setting was inspired by Frazier’s upbringing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His grandparents lived near Cold Mountain, a peak reaching more than 6,000 feet tall in the Pisgah National Forest.
Hollywood Effect:Cold Mountain was made into a major motion picture in 2003, starring Jude Law, Renée Zellweger and Nicole Kidman. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won one – Zellweger took home Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest with snow

Located in Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass Rock becomes even more majestic in winter

Let It Snow

Authors: John Green, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson
Plot: This young-adult book, published in 2008, is made up of three separate yet intertwined stories, each written by a different author. It opens on Christmas Eve with Jubilee Dougal on a train to Florida. A snowstorm stops the train in the small, fictional town in Western North Carolina called Gracetown. The local Waffle House becomes a central location for the unexpected romantic events that unfold.
Local Setting: Although the book is set is a fictional town, the western region of the state is the real deal when it comes to Christmas trees. North Carolina is second in the nation in Christmas trees harvested. Approximately 400 choose-and-cut farms across the state invite customers into the fields to pick out their trees.
Hollywood Effect: Universal Studios is adapting Let It Snow into a movie, with a yet-to-be-determined release date.

A Land More Kind Than Home

Author: Wiley Cash
Plot: In a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, Jess Hall is facing challenges no 9 year-old should ever encounter. After Jess’ mute brother, whom everyone calls Stump, witnesses something he shouldn’t, Stump is called into the local church by its pastor for “healing.” The events that follow are told in the voices of three narrators: Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife; and Clem Barefield, the local sheriff. The book, published in 2012, tackles tough themes of courage and morality.
Local Setting: The book takes place in Madison County, just north of Asheville. Cash, a Western North Carolina native, completed his undergraduate studies at UNC-Asheville and now resides in Wilmington.
Fun Fact: This novel, Cash’s first, was published as part of a two-book deal. His second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, came out in early 2014 and is also set in Western North Carolina.

A Long and Happy Life

Author: Reynolds Price
Plot: Rosacoke Mustian is pretty and headstrong. Wesley Beavers is a wily young man with a motorcycle. The book revolves around Wesley’s visits from the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, to the rural North Carolina community in Warren County where Rosacoke lives. When Rosacoke ends up pregnant, the two are forced to confront parenthood, their place in the community and their responsibility to each other.
Local Setting: The book is set in the real-life small town of Afton in Warren County. Rosacoke mentions 4-H camp at White Lake, which is in the inner coastal region. Established in 1926, the camp was one of the first 4-H camps in the state.
Fun Fact: Published in 1962, A Long and Happy Life is the first novel by Price, garnering him the William Faulkner Award for a first novel. He went on to publish 37 volumes before his death in 2011.

White Lake during sunrise

White Lake is a small town in which more than half the town is covered by the lake

Down River

Author: John Hart
Plot: Adam Chase left Rowan County, N.C., for New York City to escape a scarred, turbulent past. When he returns, no one is certain why he’s back, but they don’t hesitate to blame him for a slew of unexplained troubles. Filled with complex characters, mystery and drama, Down River is an emotional thriller.
Local Setting: The Yadkin River is a central character in the book. It borders Rowan County to the east, and a dam on the river creates High Rock Lake. Released in 2007, although the book is fiction, its conflicts between landowners and the power company hit close to home.
Fun Fact: In 2013, John Hart won the North Carolina Award for literature. The award is the highest civilian honor the State of North Carolina can bestow.

More Page-Turners

You could fill your bookshelf - or Kindle - with books in which authors have drawn inspiration from our state. So the aforementioned titles should whet your palate, but there’s much more North Carolina-inspired reading to be enjoyed.

Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks has called New Bern home for more than 25 years. And he’s based the story lines of several of his most popular novels in North Carolina, including many that have been adapted as films: A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Safe Haven, The Longest Ride, The Choice and more.

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


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

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