Turn Your Summer Pastime into a First Time in North Carolina

Summertime favorites deserve their notoriety, such as diving into a swimming pool when the weather’s hot or going on a road trip just for the fun of it. But in North Carolina, you can take these experiences up a notch with unique twists on traditional summer fun. 

Kids begging to go to a water park? We’ve got a natural waterslide in “The Land of Waterfalls.” Want to get the whole family excited to go camping? Reserve a spot at one of our paddle-to-your-destination campsites on the Roanoke River. Our state has plenty to keep the daredevils occupied too, like indoor skydiving and tandem zip lining. 

It’s summer and there's no better time to discover Firsts That Last in North Carolina. See why each of the eight attractions below would be the undisputed highlight of any summer trip.

Feel the Rush of Indoor Skydiving

Feel the Rush of Indoor Skydiving

Raeford (near Fayetteville)

How would you like to fly through the air without parachuting out of a plane? That’s the experience that awaits at Paraclete XP Indoor Skydiving, about 25 minutes outside of Fayetteville. Powered by the largest vertical wind tunnel in the country, it creates an atmosphere of free flying inside a large glass silo. The adventure is literally suitable for all ages, from ages 3 and up, and the intensity is tailored for the flyer. You’ll get the full effect of skydiving, complete with training on body flight techniques, before gearing up in a jumpsuit with helmet and goggles.

 

The Ultimate Water Slide

photo: Transylvania County TDA

The Ultimate Water Slide

Brevard

Sure, man-made waterslides are fun, but the ones Mother Nature comes up with are truly something special. Located in Pisgah National Forest in the Brevard area, a.k.a. The Land of Waterfalls, Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural cascade of water that ends in a seven-foot deep pool. It’s an adrenaline rush for all ages, and lifeguards are on duty during the summer season. If you want to turn up the thrill level a bit, check out Turtleback Falls for a bigger drop and stronger current, located near Lake Toxaway.

 

Paddle to Your Campsite

Paddle to Your Campsite

Halifax, Jamesville, Plymouth, Williamston

If you’re ready for an anything-but-typical camping trip, head to the Roanoke River. Your adventure starts with paddling – usually by kayak or canoe – your goods and gear to one of Roanoke River Partners’ 16 camping platforms along 140 miles of waterway. These platforms put you in the center of the East Coast’s largest intact bottomland hardwood ecosystem, meaning you’ll see plenty of tree roots, more than 200 bird species and plenty of other wildlife in this ancient forest. Beginner paddlers should hire a guide or consider sticking to the creek routes, while more advanced paddlers can opt to paddle upstream or reserve one of the camping platforms further downstream.

 

On the Road to Nowhere

On the Road to Nowhere

Bryson City

Bryson City makes for a great summer road trip because it sits at the mouth of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is home to Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. When friends ask where you’re headed, just tell them “nowhere.” The Road to Nowhere is a 6-mile drive that should've stretched 30 miles around Fontana Lake but infamously stops at a tunnel to nowhere. And while the tunnel is a popular photo opp, there are also scenic hikes along the 33 miles of nearby trails, many of which are creekside or lakeside.

 

Hang Out on the Zip Lines

Hang Out on the Zip Lines

Barnardsville (near Asheville)

North Carolina has a rich zip lining history dating back to 1998 when America’s first zip line canopy company opened here. A lot has changed since that first single-person zip line began, as the state is now home to about two-dozen zip line and aerial adventure parks. Just outside of Asheville, you and a friend can swing through the trees together at Navitat on its Blue Ridge Experience, where side-by-side zip lines lead you on a two-hour adventure, sometimes reaching high speeds and always offering incredible views. Navitat also offers guided RTV excursions, taking your group on a tour through the mountains on a rugged-terrain vehicle.

 

Wine Tasting with Furry Friends

Wine Tasting with Furry Friends

East Bend (near Winston-Salem)

With nearly 200 wineries spanning the state, booking a wine tasting and vineyard tour should be an inevitable part of your trip. If you’re coming to the Winston-Salem area, don’t miss the chance to visit Divine Llama Vineyards. The tasting room offers a selection of 10 wines – cabernet franc, merlot, chardonel and traminette – but the outdoor attractions steal the show. Llamas and miniature horses live on the property’s 77 acres, and you’re invited to pet them with one hand while you hold your wine glass in the other.

 

Dive into the Atlantic

Dive into the Atlantic

Morehead City

The summer heat will have you wanting to dive in a pool every chance you get, but it’s not often you get the opportunity to scuba dive. Founded by a pioneer of North Carolina wreck diving, Olympus Dive Center operates on the Crystal Coast, taking guests on dives exploring the Graveyard of the Atlantic. It’s named as such for the more than 2,000 shipwrecks that dot the coastline off of Morehead City dating back to 1526. This smorgasbord of boat remains has earned the area notoriety as one of the top-five diving destinations in the world. And even if you’ve never gone scuba diving before, Olympus is a five-star training facility.

 

Stargazing from a Lighthouse

Stargazing from a Lighthouse

Buxton, Harkers Island (Outer Banks)

For the perfect summer night, add a twist to typical stargazing by climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the U.S.’s tallest brick lighthouse. Tour guides will show you what light keepers would’ve experienced on their nightly watches and share stories while the moon beams across the Outer Banks and Atlantic Ocean. Full moon tours are offered once a month, May through September. Or, consider joining one of the dozen “Evening at the Cape” dates that allow visitors to enjoy Cape Lookout National Seashore and its lighthouse by only flashlights and moonlight after a ferry ride from Harkers Island.

 
Updated September 19, 2018
About the Author
Shawndra Russell

Shawndra Russell

Shawndra Russell, a travel writer and novelist based in Asheville, loves North Carolina for its craft beer and abundance of outdoor adventures. She's written for Forbes Travel Guide, BeerAdvocate and Travel + Leisure.

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