North Carolina was made for summer fun. Whether you and the family want it wild or tame, in the city or deep in the mountains, you’ll find that summer holds the key to fun for all.
Here are some of the highlights that await when you find a corner of our state to call your own.
1 Wild Horse Tours
1 Wild Horse ToursCorollaSee on map
When you decide to hit the beach on the Outer Banks, head to Corolla for a once-in-a-lifetime experience and to hang with some of North Carolina’s oldest residents: wild horses believed to have called our shores home for more than 500 years. Rumor has it they’re descended from shipwrecked Spanish Mustangs, and seeing them swimming, prancing and playing in the surf can make your summer, no matter if you’re young or old. In the Currituck Wildlife Refuge, you can have your own self-guided wild horse adventure if you’re an experienced off-road driver and your vehicle can tackle a long beach drive (Jeep rentals are available from a handful of outfitters). Or you can let someone else – like Corolla Wild Horse Tours or Wild Horse Adventure Tours – do the driving for you; all you have to do is sit back, relax and keep your eyes peeled for the horses. Bring your binoculars and your zoom lens – you’re going to need both.
2 Outdoor Fun in the Great Smoky Mountains
2 Outdoor Fun in the Great Smoky MountainsHaywood CountySee on map
A Great Smoky Mountain vacation in Haywood County is prime for a variety of summertime activities in a wooded paradise. Plenty of hiking trails in the area lead to waterfalls (and won’t challenge young or novice hikers too much), such as Skinny Dip Falls at milepost 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Graveyard Fields’ two waterfalls at milepost 418. If you want to dedicate your whole day to swimming, head to Sunburst Swimming Hole, where kids and adults alike can enjoy the cool water that originates from the surrounding mountains. If you’d rather stay on the dry side, have fun horseback riding at Cataloochee Ranch or Panther Creek Outfitters, or try your luck fishing in the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters. Time your stay well enough and you can find even more mountain fun at one of many summer festivals: Folkmoot Festival (July 16-26, 2020), Smoky Mountain Elk Fest (Aug. 22-23) or Smoky Mountain Folk Festival (Sept. 4-5).
3 Stargazing at the Beach
3 Stargazing at the BeachSunset BeachSee on map
The Ingram Planetarium, just a few miles from the shore at Sunset Beach, has more than 80 seats of star-watching goodness in store. Open Monday through Saturday from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the planetarium holds live star shows; show programs related to the moon, sun and constellations; and it even has laser light shows and project images of the universe that you won’t believe are real. Afterward, swing by the gift shop for a star map and plan your own outing to the beach later that night to study the constellations, hunt for satellites, check out our planetary neighbors through binoculars or simply see how many stars you can count.
4 Top-Notch Science and Treetop Adventures
4 Top-Notch Science and Treetop AdventuresGreensboroSee on map
In Greensboro, adventure awaits at a one-stop shop: the Greensboro Science Center. Here you’ll find plenty of learning hidden inside a fun day at the aquarium, the zoo, an interactive museum, and a challenging set of aerial obstacles, ziplines and treetop activities. Take your time as you study the monkeys, meerkats, crocodiles and more at the Zoo Trek, then make your way to the Wiseman Aquarium and check out the aquatic life and animals such as the Asian fishing cat. After that, you can see what it’s like to roam through the human body, get busy with interactive science exhibits in SciPlay Bay and finally attempt the challenges that await at SKYWILD. There, you’ll shimmy into a harness and climb through obstacles that will take you a few feet off the ground all the way up into the treetops. There are kid-friendly courses and ones that will challenge even the most agile adults, so no matter your ability, you can find the right way to go wild.
5 New River Tubing
5 New River TubingToddSee on map
When you’re deep in the mountains on a hot summer day, there’s no better way to cool off than to take a dip in the river. In Todd, River Girl Fishing Co. can get you out on the New River for a lazy float that’ll have you cooling off in no time. Grab an innertube and drift downstream on the current, stopping to swim in the deeper holes, seeing if you can skip a few rocks across the river and splashing the afternoon away. The New River is neither deep nor swift here, so tubing’s easy – just remember to pack plenty of sunscreen, slip on your water shoes and bring a few cans of your favorite beverage along for the ride.
6 Tracing Blackbeard’s Footsteps
6 Tracing Blackbeard’s FootstepsCrystal CoastSee on map
Blackbeard and his pirate band prowled the waters of North Carolina hundreds of years ago, but we can retrace his footsteps today. Start at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort where you’ll find treasures and artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, mixed in with displays and relics that tell North Carolina’s maritime history. Once you learn Blackbeard’s background, head to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for a look at the creatures that once swam beneath Queen Anne’s Revenge, but more recently swam through the sunken ship. End the day at Fort Macon State Park and check out the Civil War fort and gun emplacements, then make your way to the swimming beach for some time in the waves.
7 Fast Flying Thrills at Carowinds
7 Fast Flying Thrills at CarowindsCharlotteSee on map
Carowinds delivers big thrills and family fun in one spot. In 2019, the 400-acre theme park added Copperhead Strike, a double-launch coaster that sets riders off on a course that flies through loops, turns, twists, and hair-raising moves that’ll have you either wanting to get back in line or racing to the next ride to see what else is in store. One of those other things in store is a set of classic rides that gives kids a day of fun on rides better-suited to their stature. Think dodge cars, the Scrambler and a sky-high swing. If that doesn’t do it, try Carolina Harbor Water Park, where racing waterslides, the wave pool at Tidal Wave Bay, and a splash pad are among the rides that’ll have kids wanting to come back again tomorrow.
8 Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
8 Drive the Blue Ridge ParkwayNorth Carolina mountains
Take a mini road trip on your vacation and cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping for a picnic lunch at places such as Craggy Gardens, where the rhododendrons and mountain laurel will be in bloom in June, turning this mountaintop spot into a flower-filled wonder. Or you can hike on Grandfather Mountain and visit the wildlife center where you’ll find deer, bear, otters and even mountain lions; walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge to a bird’s eye view of the valley below. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway runs from Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park all the way through North Carolina’s High Country and beyond, you’ll find plenty of stops that are fun for the whole family. Hike to Linville Falls, stop at the emerald mines in Little Switzerland or even climb to the highest peak in the East, Mount Mitchell, just a few minutes off the parkway.
9 Minor League Baseball
9 Minor League Baseball11 locations statewide
Everyone loves a day in the ballpark, and in North Carolina, there are Minor League Baseball teams galore. When the schedules align, you can put together a baseball-filled road trip, or you can drop in for a game or two as a little something extra on your summer trip. The Durham Bulls (Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) play in a downtown stadium surrounded by restaurants and shops, and they even have an in-stadium brewery, but the highlight is watching the giant bull billboard in the outfield light up and blow smoke when someone hits a home run. Or see the Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Class A advanced affiliate of the Houston Astros) play in a new stadium that opened in spring 2019. In Charlotte’s Uptown, the Triple-A Chicago White Sox affiliate Charlotte Knights play in the most-visited ballpark in Minor League Baseball; the Friday Night Fireworks over the ballpark are a highlight of the week.
As you’re planning these fun outings, we want you to also plan to be safe. Check out some helpful tips on how to stay safe hiking, camping and exploring waterfalls, and for daily information on beach conditions and beach safety, check with the destination you plan to visit.