15 Epic Outdoor Adventures for Maximum Fun in North Carolina
Our state has every terrain: the tallest peaks in the East, miles of bustling and vibrant cities in the central region, and 300 miles of barrier-island beaches. Find your adventure – we have a lot of it.
1 Rappel a Waterfall with Green River Adventures
1 Rappel a Waterfall with Green River AdventuresSaludaSee on map
Leave your comfort zone in the car. This outfitter offers plenty of chances to stretch yourself on the likes of zipline canopy tours, hiking adventures and whitewater trips. But the gig none of your friends will match is the waterfall rappel. Take a guided hike to Little or Big Bradley falls (35 or 75 feet), slip on a harness, learn some rope handling from the pros, back out over the plunging water, and go. At the bottom, celebrate with a swim in the waterfall’s pool.
Please use caution and obey all rules and warnings. The rocks around waterfalls are often slippery, and the currents can be strong.
2 Cast Epic Streams Along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail
2 Cast Epic Streams Along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing TrailJackson County
Designated by the legislature as the N.C. Trout Capital (and the first and only fly-fishing trail of its kind), this trout mecca offers anglers 15 mountain streams and whitewater rivers loaded with brown, rainbow, brook and even Donaldson species. You might catch your trophy here – some reach 20–30 inches long. For a trip with an Orvis-endorsed guide, head to the Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, where you can reel in brook, golden, brown, or rainbow trout on float or wading trips.
3 Play in Nirvana at Nantahala Outdoor Center
3 Play in Nirvana at Nantahala Outdoor CenterBryson CitySee on map
The Nantahala River and Appalachian Trail both wind through here, so you’ll find Olympic-grade kayakers surfing the whitewater course and AT thru-hikers resting in Adirondack chairs. The NOC has serious outdoor cred – guides operate on eight rivers in four states – but it’s not just for hard-cores. First-timers can tackle the Nantahala in a raft, kayak or ducky (inflatable kayak); go high on the zipline canopy tour or high-ropes course; or stand-up paddle on Fontana Lake.
4 Climb Sheer Cliffs at Hanging Rock State Park
4 Climb Sheer Cliffs at Hanging Rock State ParkDanburySee on map
Ditch the rise-and-grind routine for a rise-and-climb instead. A short drive from Winston-Salem, the Sauratown Mountains’ gnarled gray peaks tower over the Piedmont flatlands, beckoning you to make like Spider-Man on the quartzite. The 300-foot cliff at Moore’s Wall is world-class rock with sheer vertical lines, bucketlike handholds and big route variety. If you’re a climbing newbie, call the experts at Blue Ridge Mountain Guides to take you up.
5 Hike the Peak of Grandfather Mountain
5 Hike the Peak of Grandfather MountainLinvilleSee on map
Expect 360-degree views on Grandfather Mountain, one of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ loftiest peaks (5,946 feet). Choose your challenge: Hike a steep 4 miles in Grandfather Mountain State Park with the help of ladders and cables, or drive to the Mile High Swinging Bridge – America’s highest suspension footbridge – and walk across an 80-foot chasm between two of Grandfather’s pinnacles.
6 Motor Off-Road in Uwharrie National Forest
6 Motor Off-Road in Uwharrie National ForestTroySee on map
Fans of 4x4s, four-wheelers, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles find bone-jarring bliss on 16 miles of rugged trails in the Uwharrie National Forest. Expect steep climbs, deep ruts, mud and rocky terrain. Start your rough ride at the Dutch John Trailhead, Falls Dam Trailhead or Art Lilley Campground. Avoid the daunting Daniel Trail – it’s for pros. Overland Experts offers driving classes.
7 Take a Rollercoaster Bike Ride Along Kerr Scott Trails
7 Take a Rollercoaster Bike Ride Along Kerr Scott TrailsWilkesboroSee on map
Find good climbs, fast descents and numerous bermed turns on the ribbons of singletrack looping through the hardwood forest. Designated as an IMBA Epic trail by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the 30-plus miles of trails are revered for their banked turns.
8 Plunge Into Rapids at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
8 Plunge Into Rapids at the U.S. National Whitewater CenterCharlotteSee on map
Raft the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, or kayak or standup paddleboard on the vast Catawba River. Prefer to stay dry? Find ziplines, rock climbing, ropes courses and mountain biking across 1,300 acres, plus yoga classes and live tunes.
9 Hike Quiet Paths Along Wood Run Trails
9 Hike Quiet Paths Along Wood Run TrailsMount GileadSee on map
Explore wilderness just an hour from Charlotte. The family-friendly trail system offers moderate grades, prolific wildflowers and trickling creeks. Hike or bike the 5-mile Supertree Trail past loblolly pines. Add the Keyauwee Trail for a 13-mile day of rollercoaster hills and creek crossings.
10 Shoot to Score at the Fork Farm & Stables
10 Shoot to Score at the Fork Farm & StablesNorwoodSee on map
Test eye-hand coordination with some sporting clay shooting – it’s known as golf with shotguns – in Norwood’s rolling hills. If you’re new to the sport, guides will teach you then send you to practice on two multi-station courses.
11 Surf a Sure Thing at Wrightsville Beach
11 Surf a Sure Thing at Wrightsville BeachWrightsville BeachSee on map
Wrightsville Beach’s sleepy vibe got a wake-up call when Coastal Living named it among the "10 Best Little Surf Towns in America." Protected by sandy barrier islands and salt marshes, this gentle-wave mecca boasts a consistent shore break that’s ideal for surfers of all levels. A dozen surf shops rent longboards and offer camps and lessons. With practice, you’ll ride the nose like a pro – or at least master the pop-up.
12 Spot Black Bears with Dare to Hyde Adventures
12 Spot Black Bears with Dare to Hyde AdventuresFairfieldSee on map
Prepare to max out your Instagram account in Hyde County, where thousands of black bears roam. On a driving tour with a local wildlife expert, you’ll see bears as large as 350 pounds fattening up in the wheat and corn fields. “Bears outnumber people three to one in Hyde County,” guide Chase Luker says. “I’ve seen as many as 60 in one field.”
13 Paddle Past Gators on an Alligator River Kayak Tour
13 Paddle Past Gators on an Alligator River Kayak TourNags HeadSee on map
Some people run with the bulls; others paddle with alligators. Join the latter at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, where toothy reptiles float in shady blackwater canals. See the shy gators – plus egrets, herons, river otters and black bears – on a paddle trip from Buffalo City with Outer Banks Kayak Adventures. Your guide will also share stories about this region’s whiskey-soaked Prohibition past.
14 Fish the Deep with Deep-Sea Fishing
14 Fish the Deep with Deep-Sea FishingBald Head IslandSee on map
A 20-minute ferry ride from Southport brings you to Bald Head Island, a car-free sanctuary where loggerhead turtles lay eggs on the beach. Cruise out to sea with Captain Paul of Impulsive Charters and drop a line in the water. In a half-day, you might land a mackerel, bluefish, tuna or mahi-mahi. Join a day trip for a bigger-catch opportunity, such as sailfish and marlin.
15 Free Fall the Coast with Skydive Coastal Carolinas
15 Free Fall the Coast with Skydive Coastal CarolinasSouthportSee on map
Release your endorphins by free falling at 120 mph. In this tandem skydive, you’re strapped to a certified instructor as you jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 11,000 to 14,000 feet. Your only tasks are to manage your fear and keep your eyes open for the view – an eagle’s perspective on the Atlantic’s bays and lighthouses. First-timers, take heart: The scariest part is before you jump.