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.
Due to COVID-19, please check local tourism offices' and attractions' websites for the most up-to-date visitor information. Additionally, please visit Count On Me NC to see participating businesses and for tips on how to stay safe when visiting North Carolina.
1 Experience Total Darkness at Linville Caverns
1 Experience Total Darkness at Linville CavernsMarionSee on map
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 public 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.
2 Find Gems That Glow in the Dark
2 Find Gems That Glow in the DarkLittle SwitzerlandSee on map
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.
3 Take a Closer Look at the Dark Sky
3 Take a Closer Look at the Dark SkyBurnsvilleSee on map
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.
4 Zip Across the Sky at Night
4 Zip Across the Sky at NightFayettevilleSee on map
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 when an adventure park allows you to zip across the sky after dark. Embark on a NightQuest with ZipQuest Waterfall and Treetop Adventure, as the light on your helmet leads the way.
5 Search for the Blue Ghost Fireflies
5 Search for the Blue Ghost FirefliesBrevard, HendersonvilleSee on map
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.
6 Solve the Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights
6 Solve the Mystery of the Brown Mountain LightsMorgantonSee on map
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.
7 Climb a Lighthouse Under a Full Moon
7 Climb a Lighthouse Under a Full MoonBuxtonSee on map
During the day, the sweeping views from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse make a picture-worthy backdrop, but from June 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 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.
8 Howl with a Red Wolf
8 Howl with a Red WolfManteoSee on map
In the case of the red wolf, it’s night owls, not early birds, who 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.
9 Hunt for Ghost Crabs
9 Hunt for Ghost CrabsCorolla, 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.
10 Stroll Through Haunted History
10 Stroll Through Haunted HistoryStatewide
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.