Whether you're in search of a lazy beach vacation, a grueling but rewarding mountain adventure or a fun-filled family trip, North Carolina has something for everyone. The Appalachian Mountains provide stunning natural vistas, while the pristine beaches offer swimming, snorkeling, and surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. Cities like Charlotte and Asheville also provide plenty of dining, shopping and entertainment options for all ages to enjoy. However, some things are uniquely North Carolina as well, such as these must-see attractions.
Take a step back into the Gilded Age by visiting this sprawling historic estate. The 8,000-acre grounds include gorgeously maintained gardens and miles of hiking trails to explore, and the 250-room chateau is maintained as a living museum open for self-guided tours. Stop in for a wine tasting at the vineyard on the grounds, and enjoy gourmet field-to-table dining at one of the restaurants in the small village located on the grounds.
Sliding Rock offers the fun of a water park in a picturesque natural setting. It gets its name from the main attraction, a 60-foot waterfall over smooth rock that visitors can ride down like a natural waterslide. The water is around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's best for warm days, and it is popular enough that sometimes it gets full so be sure to head out early if you want a chance to ride this natural wonder.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to serve on a battleship, a visit to the Battleship North Carolina is in order. This historic ship was the most decorated battleship in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Today it is moored outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, and is open to visitors. Keep an eye out for the exhibits describing what life was like for the crew of the North Carolina as you tour the decks and turrets.
Grandfather Mountain has miles of hiking and nature trails to explore, but the highlight of any visit is a trek across the Mile High Swinging Bridge. This bridge gets its name because it is exactly one mile above sea level, and it offers some of the best panoramic views of Grandfather Mountain available. If you're afraid of heights, though, be prepared. This suspension bridge is 228 feet long and crosses an 80-foot chasm.
North Carolina was the site of mankind's first successful attempts at flight, courtesy of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Wright Brothers National Memorial honors these pioneers. Stroll down the path they used for their first flights, where landing spots are marked with informational signs. Visit the reconstructed camp buildings to see what conditions the brothers were working in back in 1903, and be sure to stop in at the visitor center for more information and exhibits.
For a change of pace, head over to the Charlotte Motor Speedway to catch some thrilling NASCAR races. This track has the distinction of having held the first World 600 NASCAR, and it still regularly hosts both large and small races. There's also a quarter-mile drag racing strip and a dirt track for some variety.
Dig up your own beautiful stones at the Elijah Mountain Gem Mine. This all-ages attraction lets you use the same techniques as 1800s prospectors to discover your own natural wonders. Stones found in these mines include quartz, citrine, amethyst, opals, sapphires and more. The covered outdoor flumes are great for hot weather mining, but there are indoor options available so you can enjoy it in any weather. There is even a petting zoo with baby goats for younger kids to enjoy.
Visiting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is another source of recreational opportunity. Miles of pristine beaches let you swim, surf and fish, while picturesque nature trails allow plenty of room to roam. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse may be the highlight of your visit, though. This historic lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. If you're up to the climb, the view from the top is spectacular. Be sure you come prepared, however, as it involved a strenuous 257-step climb.
The natural beauty of North Carolina is second to none, but it's hard to see it all during the average vacation. The Blue Ridge Parkway lets you explore by car. It spans 469 miles, reaching from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pick up a map at the Asheville visitor center to plan your trip, or hit the road and explore. Be sure to keep an eye out for overlooks and historic markers along the way.
If you prefer to explore by foot, the Mountains-To-Sea Trail has endless hiking adventures. Long-distance hikers often make the entire 1,175-mile trek over the course of three to four months, but there are plenty of options for day hikes or shorter overnight camping excursions as well. Expect to see everything from soaring peaks to picturesque farms and small villages on your hike, depending on which of the 18 segments of the trail you choose to explore.