North Carolina is a playground for nature-lovers. So we’ve pulled together a guide to some of our finest natural wonders to get you started.
North Carolina really has it all when it comes to the great outdoors.
Amazing beaches, foothills, and mountains. The coast has more than just ghost stories and pirate tales. It has glowing sunsets, huge dunes, and plenty of sand to bury your toes in, or slide down on.
Heck, Brevard, a city in rural Transylvania County, is home to 250 waterfalls alone.
We weren’t kidding when we said that our state really has it all. So to help you sort through it all, we’ve pulled together our top 5 picks for the state’s natural wonders. There’s more than five, of course, but this will get any budding nature lover started.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
US 441, Cherokee
If you have ever driven from North Carolina to Tennessee, you already know that this is one of the most stunning parts of our state. In some parts of the Great Smoky Mountains, you can see as many as 100 miles away if the conditions are just right.
The park, like the mountain range, is in both North Carolina and Tennessee. There are three main entrances into the park, only one is in North Carolina. Cherokee to be exact. This area offers more than just spectacular views, it has waterfalls, and it has elk. That’s right elk. The elk were reintroduced into the area. The park also offers fishing and biking and hiking.
And the mountains include an entrance to the Appalachian Trail if you are so inclined.
To get there: From Interstate 40, take Exit 27 to US 74 West toward Waynesville. Turn onto US 19, go through Maggie Valley into Cherokee. Turn onto US 441 North at Cherokee and follow the road and the signs into the park.
431 Main St. Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is a 315-foot natural-forming, freestanding rock tower that overlooks Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. The views from this high up are breath-taking and well worth the 25-mile drive from Asheville.
This spot has intrigued visitors for more than 100 years. It has also attracted filmmakers over the years. “The Last of the Mohicans” and Stephen King’s “Firestarter,” starring a very young Drew Barrymore, were both filmed inside Chimney Rock State Park.
Pack a picnic, bring shoes with good tread on them and prepare to be awed. An adult one-day pass is $17, and a youth one-day pass is $8.
300 W. Carolista Drive, Nags Head
If you have ever wanted to feel like you are in a desert without leaving the state, your search is over. Jockey’s Ridge in Dare County, with its 60-foot sand dunes, will leave you feeling like you are not in North Carolina anymore.
The dunes, located on the Outer Banks, are the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast. Scientists believe that they were formed 3,000 to 4,000 ago. The natural beauty of the quartz-rock sand dunes draws the curious and adventure-seekers alike.
This spot is perfect for hand-gliding and sandboarding, and if you go you are bound to find a lot of visitors doing both. You can even take lessons if you are the brave sort. The sand’s temperatures can get very hot in the summer months, so be prepared to feel the heat.
Looking Glass Falls
US-276, Brevard, NC
This 60-foot waterfall is perhaps the most popular, and most photographed, in North Carolina. The name “Looking Glass” comes from Looking Glass Rock. When the sunlight hits it, Looking Glass can look like a mirror.
The falls are in the Cradle Forest section of Pisgah National Forest and they’re easily accessible from U.S. 276 near Brevard.
If you have trouble hiking or have someone with you who has mobility issues, this is the perfect outdoor experience. The fact that the falls are visible from the road and parking areas makes it easy to take in the beauty without even leaving your car. But if you want to get up close to the falls, you can park and use the stairs.
19929 US Hwy. 221 N. Marion
Linville Caverns are a must-see destination if you are an explorer at heart. It could be 100 degrees outside, but inside these subterranean caverns, it’s always 52 degrees.
The caverns were discovered in the 1800s by Henry E. Colton, a famed geologist and author from Fayetteville, who noticed what appeared to be fish swimming out from the mountain.
The tours are seasonal so visitors should check before going whether the caverns are open to visitors. If you do go, bring a jacket or a hoodie. It can get chilly in the caverns. Sensible shoes are also suggested.
Tours to this natural wonder cost $12 for adults, $11 for seniors and $10 for children.
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