North Carolina is beloved for its captivating natural beauty, showcased by the state’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, scenic shoreline, expansive national forests, and picturesque lakes. Outdoor adventures abound in all corners of the state, particularly along the renowned Blue Ridge Parkway, aka “America’s Favorite Drive.”
Explore the lavish Biltmore estate in Asheville and sample renowned barbecue in Lexington, then lace up your hiking boots for outdoor recreation. Hiking, paddling, surfing, and stand-up paddleboarding allow you to see North Carolina’s stunning scenery up-close, while ski slopes offer adrenaline-filled fun in the winter months.
For a different perspective, hop aboard a historic battleship, ride a steam engine train, or climb atop one of the photogenic lighthouses. Beaches offer your own slice of paradise and a chance to witness a unique view of wild horses roaming the shoreline!
With so many things to see and do in the Tar Heel State, you might need help creating your vacation itinerary. We’ve narrowed down a list of the top things to do in North Carolina, including the best outdoor activities, family-friendly attractions, and charming cities to add to your route. Discover the best places to visit using our unique North Carolina bucket list.
- 25 Cool and Unique Things to do in North Carolina
- 1. Get Behind the Wheel at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
- 2. Try Gold Panning at the Reed Gold Mine
- 3. Cross the Suspension Bridge at Grandfather Mountain
- 4. Marvel at the Natural Beauty of Linville Gorge
- 5. Hike the Trails at Chimney Rock State Park
- 6. Sample the Best of Asheville
- 7. Visit the Historic Biltmore Estate
- 8. See Blue Ghost Fireflies for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
- 9. Visit Waterfalls in Hendersonville
- 10. Plunge Down a Natural Waterslide at Sliding Rock
- 11. Tour Western North Carolina By Train
- 12. Hike to a Waterfall in Smoky Mountains National Park
- 13. Paddle Around Picture-Perfect Fontana Lake
- 14. Enjoy Scenic Views Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
- 15. Go Skiing at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock
- 16. Enjoy Boating, Fishing, and Camping at Jordan Lake
- 17. Sample North Carolina’s Famous BBQ in Lexington
- 18. Get Educated at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum
- 19. See Dinosaur Fossils at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
- 20. Browse Artwork at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh
- 21. Plan a Beach Vacation to the Outer Banks
- 22. Go Horseback Riding Along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- 23. Learn About the History of Flight at the Wright Brothers National Monument
- 24. Stop and Smell the Roses at Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island
- 25. Take a Step Back in Time at the USS Battleship North Carolina
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
25 Cool and Unique Things to do in North Carolina
1. Get Behind the Wheel at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
If you’ve got a need for speed, head to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. You don’t even have to be a NASCAR fan to appreciate this interactive attraction, which honors the history and heritage of motorsports in the US.
With 150,000 square feet of space, this high-tech venue is more than just a museum. It features artifacts and more than 50 interactive exhibits. You can even get behind the wheel of an iRacing simulator on your favorite track!
Broadcast the action from the booth and give it your best play-by-play, then see if you have what it takes to be a part of the team in the Pit Crew Challenge. You can also sign up for a guided tour for a chance to hear stories behind the heroes that have shaped the sport.
If you prefer to experience the roar of the engines up close, plan your trip around a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. More than three dozen automotive and motorsports events take place at this venue, including two NASCAR Xfinity Series races and a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race each year.
2. Try Gold Panning at the Reed Gold Mine
If you’re looking for a unique thing to do in North Carolina, head to Reed Gold Mine. It’s the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. Today you can explore its fascinating exhibits and even try your hand at panning for gold!
Upon entering the State Historic Site, stop at the Visitor Center to see the impressive displays of gold and historic mining equipment. There’s also an orientation film covering North Carolina’s mining history and how it led the US in gold production until 1848, when the gold rush in California began.
Learn the famous story of how in 1779, a 12-year-old discovered a 17-pound gold nugget in Little Meadow Creek. Afterward, join a behind-the-scenes tour to see restored portions of the underground mine, which includes a visit to the historic stamp mill.
A highlight of your visit is the chance to pan for gold, which is available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from April 1 to October 31. The picturesque area also features beautiful walking trails where you can stretch your legs and plenty of places to have a picnic.
3. Cross the Suspension Bridge at Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, located about 70 miles from Asheville off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thrill-seekers flock here to cross the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, which offers 360-degree views and adrenaline-pumping action.
Off the Blue Ridge Parkway on US 221 you’ll find the park entrance, where you can drive to the ridge top and bridge. The 228-foot suspension bridge spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation.
The network of nature walks and trails at Grandfather Mountain takes you through picturesque forests and meadows, as well as rugged terrain accessed via ladders and cables. The are 11 trails varying in difficulty to choose from, from a leisurely walk in the woods to a rigorous trek. Hikers can also explore trails inside Grandfather Mountain State Park for free.
Grandfather Mountain also features environmental habitats and a nature museum. There are multiple viewing areas where you can observe black bears, cougars, bald eagles, and elk. A special aquarium allows you to watch playful otters above and below the water.
4. Marvel at the Natural Beauty of Linville Gorge
Quite possibly the most scenic gorge in the entire US, the Linville Gorge deserves a spot on your North Carolina bucket list. It’s carved deep into the Blue Ridge Mountains by the Linville River, which descends for more than 2,000 feet and stretches 12 miles.
Part of the Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Like the Grand Canyon, it offers opportunities for outdoor recreation and many miles of hiking trails. There are several short, well-trodden trails here to add to your itinerary.
One of the most popular hikes leads to Linville Falls. The moderate 1.6-mile trip features four overlooks and captivating vistas. Hawksbill Mountain is another favorite, featuring stunning mountaintop views overlooking Linville Gorge.
Avid hikers can follow the 4.5-mile strenuous Shortoff Mountain Trail, which is located near Lake James and also features picture-perfect Linville Gorge views. For a chance to see towering rock formations (called Chimneys), follow the Chimneys Hike starting at the Table Rock trailhead.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also capture Linville Gorge’s beauty from Wiseman’s View. Located on the western side of the gorge, it’s a few miles from the Linville Falls Pisgah National Forest parking area and an easy 2/10-mile paved trail to the overlook.
5. Hike the Trails at Chimney Rock State Park
Located just 25 miles from Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park is home to some of North Carolina’s most spectacular scenery. It’s so striking that for the last 100 years visitors have been flocking to see the park’s 500-million-year-old towering monolith called “the Rock.”
The trails in Chimney Rock State Park are some of the most diverse in the state. As a result, many hiking enthusiasts add this gorgeous destination to their North Carolina bucket list. Hickory Nut Falls Trail is a moderate 1.5-mile round trip route with a few uphill sections and ends with stunning views of the 404-foot-tall Hickory Nut Falls waterfall.
Skyline Trail passes the highest vantage point in the park, while Exclamation Point features popular geological formations, including Opera Box and Devil’s Head. Avid hikers can tackle the 400 feet of elevation gain along the Four Seasons Trail, but those with kids should try the Great Woodland Adventure Trail with its fun discovery stations.
If you want to reach the top of Chimney Rock quickly, drive up the three-mile road to the parking area. Climb the 500 steps to the chimney or ride the elevator to the top. On a clear day, you’ll be blessed with impressive views overlooking Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge.
6. Sample the Best of Asheville
One of the most underrated cities on the East Coast, Asheville is beloved for its relaxed vibes and easy access to top outdoor attractions such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains. Get acquainted with the trendy city by strolling its charming downtown area, which offers a collection of eclectic shops, cultural museums, top-rated breweries, and historical attractions.
While the Biltmore Estate is its most popular attraction, there’s plenty more to explore. Art lovers can admire street art or visit the River Arts District and browse works from local artists. The Folk Art Center is one of North Carolina’s top attractions and is home to regional handmade crafts.
Get out and enjoy the natural scenery of Asheville on the French Broad River, which is a popular spot for paddleboarding, tubing, and boating. You can also follow photogenic nature trails at the North Carolina Arboretum and Botanical Gardens of Asheville.
Sit down for a break at one of the city’s popular craft breweries. Green Man, Catawba, Wicked Weed, and Highland Brewing Company are some of the most popular, with each offering its own unique character and tasty beverages. Afterward, sign up for a food tour or discover Asheville’s renowned culinary offerings at local restaurants such as Cúrate and Chestnut.
7. Visit the Historic Biltmore Estate
The historic Biltmore Estate exudes elegance and grandeur and is at the top of most itineraries when exploring Asheville. America’s largest home at over 170,000 square feet, the French Renaissance castle sits on 8,000 acres in the heart of Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Take a guided tour to see the 250 rooms inside the architectural gem, which houses an impressive collection of artwork, antiques, and original furnishings. Don’t miss the Library, which houses over 10,000 books. The outside is just as impressive, offering beautiful forest trails and gardens that boast one of the most complete collections of azaleas in the US.
Built in the 1890s by George W. Vanderbilt, you will learn all about its rich history. Afterward, visit America’s most-visited winery, the Biltmore Winery and sample wines in the tasting room. In addition to the winery is Antler Hill Village, a family-friendly area featuring a farmyard with cuddly farm animals, craft demonstrations, and a playground.
If you want to get the full experience, consider booking a stay at the Inn on Biltmore Estate. It’s one of the top resorts in Asheville and offers luxury accommodations, a spa, and a fine dining restaurant.
8. See Blue Ghost Fireflies for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
Ranking high on most traveler’s bucket lists, the summer season brings the opportunity to see the state’s famous blue ghost fireflies. Unique to the Southern Appalachians, experiencing this phenomenon is one of the coolest things to do in North Carolina for nature lovers.
Unlike common fireflies that flicker in a yellow or white-ish hue, the blue ghost fireflies in North Carolina are rare and only appear for about a month each summer. Difficult to capture on camera, they are unique in that they flash a blue-white hue and can stay lit for up to a minute at a time.
The impressive display is worth the effort to see, but you’ll only find them in specific destinations throughout the state in mid-May to mid-June after sunset. In addition to several valleys near Asheville, the Dupont State Forest and its surrounding stretches of land are the best places to view them.
If you want to experience the synchronous fireflies, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park also hosts an annual firefly viewing opportunity in the Element area. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is another popular viewing spot.
9. Visit Waterfalls in Hendersonville
Hendersonville, North Carolina is a charming mountain town with a pedestrian-friendly downtown, interesting museums, and historic sites. It’s also known for its beautiful natural areas and easy access to DuPont State Recreational Forest, which boasts some of the state’s most stunning waterfalls.
Used as a film location for The Hunger Games, DuPont Forest stretches for more than 10,000 acres and features photogenic lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. It’s here you’ll find one of the most popular hikes in North Carolina, a three-mile-roundtrip route to three picturesque waterfalls (Hooker, Triple, and High falls).
The 150-foot-tall High Falls is one of North Carolina’s most popular waterfalls, while Triple Falls is a unique three-tier cascade. Even though Hooker Falls is only 12-feet-tall, it impresses with its wide cascades and inviting swimming area. If you’re up for a challenge, follow the seven-mile roundtrip hike to High Falls, Triple Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, which towers at 120-feet-tall!
If seeing waterfalls is on your North Carolina bucket list, you can also add a few other favorites to your itinerary. Take a day trip from Asheville to Cashiers to see Whitewater Falls (811 feet tall), or drive to Highlands to walk behind the powerful cascades at Dry Falls.
10. Plunge Down a Natural Waterslide at Sliding Rock
Located north of Brevard in Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is the place to take the ultimate plunge in North Carolina. In warmer months, this iconic natural wonder is where thousands come to cool off and slip and slide down the mountain waterfall.
It’s easy to enjoy a fun-filled day out in nature at this 60-foot slippery waterfall cascade, which features 11,000 gallons of water running over Sliding Rock. You’ll be met by chilly waters (around 50-60 degrees) that fill up the eight-foot-deep pool.
Once you make a splash, you’re only a few swim strokes away from the shore, where you can get up and do it all over again! After you’re done sliding down the sloping boulder, there are plenty of areas to relax on the rocks and bask in the sunshine. You can also watch as sliders make their way down the rock from the observation decks.
The recreation area tends to fill to capacity (particularly between 12 pm and 4 pm), so it’s best to arrive early. While the area is open seven days a week, the lifeguards are only on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Sliding Rock is deemed an “enjoy at your own risk” area during the off-season.
11. Tour Western North Carolina By Train
Fun for the whole family, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad allows you to explore Western North Carolina by train. It’s one of the top things to do in North Carolina for families and adventure-seekers alike, with a chance to see the state’s beautiful scenery from a scenic train excursion.
Make memories while you pass tunnels and journey across rivers and lakes. It’s a comfortable ride through mountain valleys and into deep river gorges, with trips available to the Tuckasegee River via the steam engine train and the Nantahala Gorge on the diesel engine. All train rides depart from the depot in downtown Bryson City.
Along the way, you can take in the scenery from one of the vintage, open-air cars. For a more luxurious experience, you can also book one of the first-class dining options. Most excursions have a full-service concession car with snacks, drinks, and lunch options.
It also offers unique programs throughout the year, including a Wine and Rails experience with wine samples. Alternately, opt for a Shine and Dine event where handcrafted, triple-stilled moonshine is paired with the beautiful views. Seasonal events like the Great Pumpkin Patch Express and The Polar Express are a hit with families with kids.
12. Hike to a Waterfall in Smoky Mountains National Park
North Carolina’s ultimate outdoor mecca, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. Known for its wildlife, waterfalls, and wooded hiking trails, this park is a must for nature lovers.
Covering over 500,000 acres, the park extends from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee. Asheville makes a great base for exploring the park and is located a short drive away from five entrances.
Some of the top Smoky Mountain highlights (in North Carolina) include the park’s best hiking trails and scenic drives. Oconaluftee Visitor Center/Cherokee offers access to the Oconoaluftee River Trail – a popular wildflower hike in the spring – as well as the historic Mingus Mill.
Wildlife watching is best in Cataloochee Valley, where beautiful elk roam the picturesque valley, while Little Cataloochee Trail is a popular hike. Follow the loop trail at Deep Creek for photogenic views of three cascading waterfalls, or hop in a tube and enjoy floating in the summer!
13. Paddle Around Picture-Perfect Fontana Lake
Surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, Fontana Lake is located in Western North Carolina. Not only is it home to the 480-foot-tall Fontana Dam (the highest dam east of the Rockies), but this emerald green natural wonder is also a popular spot for paddling adventures.
Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are some of the most popular activities. There are plenty of local vendors dotted around the lake. Discover the lake at your own pace while watching for wildlife such as osprey, turtles, ducks, and river otters.
Dotted with houseboats bobbing in the water, Fontana Lake is a favorite with boaters who want to explore its hidden nooks and crannies. You’ll also find multiple public places for swimming in the lake, many with boat access and picnic tables.
Fontana Lake is also a popular spot for avid fishermen and offers some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the United States. Hikers and campers also come to this area to appreciate its natural beauty.
The drive to Fontana Lake via the Indian Lakes Scenic Byway offers several overlooks along the way. You can also drive or walk across the dam for beautiful panoramic views.
14. Enjoy Scenic Views Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Most travelers add the Blue Ridge Parkway to their list of must-do things in North Carolina for a reason. Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” it boasts beautiful mountain views, plenty of pullover spots, and easy access to the state’s most scenic hiking trails.
The 469-mile trail is part of the US National Park System, following the ridge of the iconic Blue Ridge Mountains. It actually connects Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to create one of the best drives in the US.
There are a lot of highlights along the way, starting with Craggy Gardens at Milepost 364.4, which sits at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. Mount Mitchell is another sky-high attraction and the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River at Milepost 355.4. Other popular spots include Mount Pisgah at Milepost 407.6 and the 360-degree views atop Devil’s Courthouse at Milepost 422.4.
Get out and stretch your legs on some of the scenic hikes. Craggy Gardens Pinnacle is an easy 1.2-mile trip close to Asheville, while the 4.8-mile Mountains-To-Sea Trail at Craven Gap offers beautiful mountain scenery at Milepost 377.4. Families will love the waterfall views on the Graveyard Fields trail at Milepost 418.8.
15. Go Skiing at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock
The most popular destination in North Carolina for skiing, Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock offers endless winter fun. It’s ideal for both expert and novice skiers, including families with kids who are just learning to navigate the slopes.
Located between Blowing Rock and Boone, this resort dates back to 1962. You’re spoiled for choice with skiing opportunities, offering 12 exciting slopes that will appeal to everyone in the family. You’ll also find terrain parks set aside for freestyle, night skiing, and music playing on the slopes.
There are trails for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, as well as exciting on-site amenities such as a ski shop and an ice skating rink. Thanks to the high elevation and terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains and deep snow base, the ski season typically runs from mid-November to late March.
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, consider taking a lesson from a pro at the ski resort. You can also stay overnight at one of the chalets for easy access to the trails. Alternative ski destinations in North Carolina include Beech Mountain Ski Resort in Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk.
16. Enjoy Boating, Fishing, and Camping at Jordan Lake
Outdoor lovers who want to appreciate North Carolina’s natural beauty can visit Jordan Lake State Recreation Area. The almost 14,000-acre reservoir offers a wealth of outdoor recreation for all ages, including boating, camping, fishing, swimming, and a full-service marina.
There are nine recreational areas located across various spots around the lake, including seven swimming beaches where you can take a dip and cool off. You’ll also find 14 miles of hiking trails winding around the picturesque lakeshore, with most offering easy, short routes for kids and beginners.
Boating is a popular pastime at Jordan Lake, with each recreation area offering a boat-launching ramp for easy access to the water. Sailing enthusiasts can test their skills in Vista Point, while windsurfers typically flock to Ebenezer Church. The lake’s underwater stumps, logs, and rocks make the perfect environment for reeling in bass, crappie, catfish, and panfish.
Birdwatchers should bring their binoculars, as this area is one of the largest summertime homes of the bald eagle in the eastern US. Campers can pitch their tent at one of the 1,000 family-friendly campsites, which offer a range of outdoor experiences from RV hookups to primitive tent camping. Many of them include water and electricity.
17. Sample North Carolina’s Famous BBQ in Lexington
Foodies with a taste for barbecue should definitely pay a visit to Lexington, an area that has become synonymous with North Carolina barbecue joints. Serving tasty food with a side of Southern hospitality, this region has a decades-long tradition of producing the state’s top barbecue eats.
Known for its hickory-smoked pit-cooked barbecue pork, Lexington’s barbecue scene dates back to the early 1900s. The pork isn’t pulled here. Instead, it’s served up finely or coarsely chopped or as slices. It’s also usually served with a side of “red” or “white” coleslaw, hush puppies, and a sauce made with ketchup, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
There are more than a dozen popular restaurants to choose from in the Lexington area, including The Barbecue Center, Lexington Barbecue, Smokey Joe’s Barbecue, and Speedy’s Barbecue. Backcountry Barbecue is known for its pit-cooked barbecue “skin” sandwiches and Cook’s Barbecue serves legendary beef brisket.
When not eating barbecue, you can explore the charming downtown area or enjoy outdoor activities like paddling, hiking, and fishing. If you’re a vino lover, make sure to add Childress Vineyards, Junius Lindsay Vineyard, Weathervane Winery, and Native Vines Winery to your list.
18. Get Educated at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum
One of North Carolina’s most moving and educational attractions, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum is a top attraction in Greensboro. This fascinating museum brings history to life with its eye-opening exhibits that highlight Civil Rights history in the US.
Located in the former F.W. Woolworth retail store, the site where the museum is located is a must-see piece of history. It was here over 50 years ago that four teenage NC A&T State University students sat down at the “Whites Only” lunch counter in Greensboro and began America’s sit-in movement.
Learn how these events sparked a nationwide push for equality and justice in America. Within the 35,000 square foot facility, you’ll find an array of moving exhibits that explore the story of the civil rights struggle in the US.
Take the time to browse the permanent collection, which features an array of historic photographs and artifacts. The engaging displays immerse you in the powerful narratives, which are portrayed through video reenactments and interactive galleries.
19. See Dinosaur Fossils at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Located in Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the Southeast’s largest natural history museums. It’s easily one of the top things to do in North Carolina if you’re a history lover. The museum is home to fascinating dinosaur fossils and interactive displays.
Step inside and discover four floors filled with family-friendly exhibits. Some of the highlights of the museum include a complete Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur, a juvenile T. rex, and six great whales. The Nature Center offers real-life labs, weather centers, and space exhibits, as well as a 10,000-gallon aquarium.
Browse the living collections of fish, butterflies, and reptiles, and then see exhibits showcasing coastal and prehistoric North Carolina in the Nature Exploration Center. Kids will love saying hello to the sloth in the Living Conservatory, experiencing life as a bug in the Anthropod Zoo, and engaging in hands-on activities in the Discovery Room.
After exploring the museum, step inside the 70-foot-diameter globe in the museum’s wing centerpiece. It’s home to a three-story theater and plays movies on the giant screen.
20. Browse Artwork at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh
Raleigh is one of the best destinations in North Carolina for museum hopping. The city is also home to the renowned North Carolina Museum of Art. It’s considered by many to be one of the best museums in the US and an absolute must-see for art enthusiasts.
The museum boasts two buildings, one that holds the permanent collection and the other offering rotating exhibitions and educational programs. Discover incredible pieces from across the globe, including European, American, African, Egyptian, and Jewish art.
You’ll see everything from Greek sculptures to Renaissance paintings, as well as a range of contemporary paintings. Some of the highlights include Judith and Holofernes by Kehinde Wiley, The Garden Parasol by Frederick Carl Frieseke, and Winter 1946 by Andrew Newell Wyeth. Step outside and marvel at the impressive outdoor collection of Rodin sculptures in the garden.
You can also enjoy the outdoors next door at the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, which is the country’s largest museum art park. Not only does it boast scenic trails and art installations but it’s the perfect spot for a leisurely walk or a family picnic.
21. Plan a Beach Vacation to the Outer Banks
A trip to the Outer Banks is a must when planning a trip to North Carolina. Featuring a long stretch of sand, the barrier islands here stretch for more than 100 miles along the Atlantic Coast.
There are several towns in the Outer Banks that are popular with sun-seekers, including Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, and Hatteras. North Carolina Highway 12 is dotted with shops, museums, and impressive coastal scenery making it the perfect place to plan an epic road trip.
Check out the beach scene along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, then drive to Corolla to see wild horses on the beaches. The town of Duck is bike-friendly and boasts a popular boardwalk, while Jenette’s Pier in Nags Head is an iconic fishing and sunset viewing spot.
Visiting historic lighthouses in the Outer Banks is a popular activity, as is seeing local wildlife such as marsh girds and white-tailed deer in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. If basking in the sunshine and water sports are at the top of your itinerary, include Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills to your route.
22. Go Horseback Riding Along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
One of the most picturesque beach scenes in the Outer Banks, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches for more than 70 miles along the coast. Scenic drives along the beach include various lookout points, where you can stop at swimming areas and see wild horses roaming the shoreline.
For a unique Cape Hatteras National Seashore experience, sign up for a horseback riding excursion along the shore with one of the local vendors. Equine Adventures is a popular choice and offers two-hour rides.
Combing the shore for seashells is a popular pastime in the morning, while water sports, like kitesurfing, is a favorite with active beachgoers. After a beach stroll, explore beyond the coastline on one of the three designated hiking trails. The less than one-mile Buxton Woods Trail traverses some of the highest points on the island, while Open Ponds Trail is 4.5 miles in one direction and explores the maritime forests.
Opt for a leisurely paddle in the Pamlico Sound or try windsurfing in the Salvo and Haulover day-use areas. Ocracoke and Bodie Islands are a hotspot for surfers, while Pamlico Sound offers snorkeling opportunities.
23. Learn About the History of Flight at the Wright Brothers National Monument
One of the coolest things to do in North Carolina for aviation fans, the Wright Brothers National Memorial is located in the heart of the Outer Banks. Honoring the first successful airplane flight conducted by Wilbur and Orville Wright, the 60-foot granite monument is a must-see.
Dedicated in 1932, the iconic monument is perched atop the 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill. It commemorates the incredible achievement of these two men after four years of scientific experimentation. It was on December 17, 1903, that they achieved the first successful airplane flight.
History lovers can also combine their trip to the Wright Brothers National Memorial with the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Less than 20 miles away, it is the site of England’s unsuccessful first attempt to colonize North America.
Known as Freedom’s Fortress, the Fort Monroe National Monument is also nearby. Dating back nearly four centuries, it is considered a site of African American cultural significance during the Civil War. You can also visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, only 10 miles south of the memorial, where you’ll find a long list of recreational opportunities.
24. Stop and Smell the Roses at Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island
Located in the Outer Banks, the Elizabethan Gardens is a peaceful sanctuary on Roanoke Island. With over 500 varieties of flora decorating its grounds, the 10-acre expanse offers a wonderful retreat.
Learn about the history of the manicured gardens, which were created to please Queen Elizabeth I during her reign. It’s also a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists lived here over 400 years ago.
Browse the gardens and see the 85 species of camellias in the Great Lawn or admire the royal rose garden in Windsor. The Sunken Garden is formal with symmetrical designs, while azaleas, dogwoods, and rhododendrons bloom in the spring.
If you’re a history buff, don’t miss the ancient oak tree that dates back to 1585. There’s also a bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth I and the beautiful Overlook Terrace that boasts beautiful water views.
The year-round attraction offers a long list of seasonal events and programs you can attend, including dog-friendly days, summer programs, and art events. Plus, kids will love the beautiful winged creatures fluttering about in the John White Butterfly Center!
25. Take a Step Back in Time at the USS Battleship North Carolina
If you’re a history buff, a visit to the iconic USS Battleship North Carolina is a must. It’s a unique adventure for the whole family, offering a chance to take a self-guided tour of the refurbished World War II Battleship.
There are nine levels of living spaces, as well as mess decks, gun turrets, powder storage, and more to explore. Along the way, you’ll learn how the ship earned its 15 battle stars and serves as a memorial for the 11,000 North Carolinians who died during the war.
Located across the river from downtown Wilmington, the over 700-foot-long ship offers insight into the daily life and fierce combat the crew faced in the war. You’ll come face to face with real-life stories through exhibits that highlight their life through oral histories, photographs, and mementos.
Watch as history comes to life at one of the world’s greatest sea weapons, where you can imagine yourself steering the ship or firing the guns. Walk the decks of the battleship and pretend you’re at sea searching for enemy aircraft. There are also special programs that allow you to join behind-the-scenes tours that go more in-depth regarding the ship’s inner workings.
There you have it! 25 of the best things to do in North Carolina. What’s your favorite thing to do in The Tar Heel State?
Planning a trip to North Carolina? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!