10 Dark-Sky Adventures in North Carolina

There's much to love about sunny days, but many great adventures also occur in the absence of daylight. Whether it's springtime and you want to linger outside after a sunset, during summer when the heat compels you to come out after dark, or in fall when nighttime arrives early, several “dark-sky” activities can be found at popular attractions across North Carolina.

From exploring an underground gem mine at night to climbing to the top of a lighthouse during a full moon, here are 10 experiences that are sure to eclipse your expectations.

Experience Total Darkness at Linville Caverns

Experience Total Darkness at Linville Caverns

Marion

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest, natural water has been carving passageways deep into Humpback Mountain, creating North Carolina’s only caverns: Linville Caverns. Since 1937, visitors have been able to glimpse at the grand work of nature below the surface and learn the history of the mountain. The caverns stay a cool 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Before a trip, check the caverns website as it’s open at different times each season.

 

Find Gems That Glow in the Dark

Find Gems That Glow in the Dark

Little Switzerland

Unlock hidden colors and have an “out of this world” experience by heading out after dark for a Black Light Mine Tour of Emerald Village. Here, visitors will find some of the world’s largest deposits of Hyalite Opal, a true form of opal that glows a vivid lime green under ultraviolet light, and it’s the only known underground Hyalite Opal deposit open to the public. There are 10 of these special tours throughout the year, so it’s a truly rare and unique encounter.

 

Take a Closer Look at the Dark Sky

Take a Closer Look at the Dark Sky

Burnsville

At the Bare Dark Sky Observatory in the Appalachian Mountains, stargazing is taken to another level. The Sam Scope at the observatory is the largest telescope in the Southeast dedicated for public use. Visitors are able to experience the wonders of the night sky with a 360-degree view at an elevation of 2,736 feet. Lighting is kept to a minimum at night to preserve the dark sky for viewing, so remember to bring a flashlight for your sky-watching visit.

 

Zip Across the Sky at Night

photo: ZipQuest

Zip Across the Sky at Night

Archdale, Fayetteville

There are more than 20 zip line attractions across our state, including some of the top-ranked in the country. And what's even cooler is a few of the adventure parks allow you to zip across the sky after dark. Go on a Night Flight with Kersey Valley Zipline, where you leap off a 60-foot, solar-powered sky deck with a glow stick in hand. Or embark on a NightQuest with ZipQuest Waterfall and Treetop Adventure, as the light on your helmet leads the way.

 

Search for the Blue Ghost Fireflies

Search for the Blue Ghost Fireflies

Brevard, Hendersonville

Similar to the small window of totality during a solar eclipse, the elusive Blue Ghost Firefly can only be found for a short time each summer in the woods of two of our largest forests. These secretive insects hover just above the ground on humid nights and can stay lit for as long as 1 minute, creating the appearance of an eerie blue mist moving through the DuPont State Recreational Forest and Pisgah National Forest floors. Search for the Blue Ghosts when tours are available through the Cradle of Forestry and Pisgah Field School.

 

Solve the Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights

Solve the Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights

Morganton

Some say the strange lights that appear in the Brown Mountains are just natural gas formations. Others insist the pale lights that move through the trees – sometimes slowly, sometimes whirling and darting – are alien spacecraft, ghostly lanterns or even a government conspiracy. Create your own theory by looking for the Brown Mountain Lights on clear nights from vantage points along North Carolina Highway 181 and Wiseman’s View in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area.

 

Climb a Lighthouse Under a Full Moon

Climb a Lighthouse Under a Full Moon

Buxton

During the day, the sweeping views from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse make a picture-worthy backdrop, but from May through September, visitors can climb the tallest brick lighthouse in North America the way the keepers would have on their nightly watches. Held on select nights, the hour-long tour also includes a peek into the lantern room and a view of the full moon reflected in the Atlantic Ocean from the lighthouse balcony. Tickets are required and go on sale three days prior to the tour date.

 

Howl with a Red Wolf

Howl with a Red Wolf

Manteo

In the case of the red wolf, it’s night owls, not early birds, that get the reward. The nocturnal animal still exists in only one untamed place on the entire planet – the 152,000-acre Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks. On select evenings in the fall, winter and spring, visitors can participate in a 2-hour educational Red Wolf Howling Safari that allows them to hear the “music” of the wolves.

 

Hunt for Ghost Crabs

Hunt for Ghost Crabs

Corolla, Currituck, Wilmington

When day turns to night, some North Carolina beaches trade bright towels and umbrellas for pale and stealthy ghost crabs. The notoriously shy creatures emerge to feed, forage and mate when the crowds head home for the day. Ghost crab hunting is an excellent excuse for a late-night walk and a free way to enjoy the beaches. Grab a flashlight and see how many you can spot scurrying across the sand. As a reminder, “hunters” shouldn’t hurt the crabs; this is strictly a chasing activity.

 

Stroll Through Haunted History

Stroll Through Haunted History

Statewide

North Carolina has a rich and diverse history, and it’s even rumored that a few past-life characters are still hanging around. A tour through the streets of Bryson City, Charlotte, Beaufort and Wilmington after sunset will uncover myths and legends as well as unexplainable encounters in our historical cities and towns. Pack your walking shoes and a camera to see if you can capture ghostly evidence of your own.

 

 

Updated July 9, 2018
Top of Page