A creek in North Carolina's gorgeous Pisgah National Forest. The forest is known for its rare mountain bogs too. (Shutterstock) Pisgah National Forest
A creek in North Carolina's gorgeous Pisgah National Forest. The forest is known for its rare mountain bogs too. (Shutterstock)

From mountain bogs to maritime forests, we’ll take you on a guide to some of North Carolina’s most enchanted landscapes.

With recent Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe v. Wade and limiting the EPA’s ability to…well…protect the environment, you might feel like heading into the wilderness and, while you’re there, visiting some endangered wildlife before it’s gone. 

We’ve got you covered.

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According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina boasts three main ecoregions: Mountain, Coastal Plain, and Piedmont in between. Each of these regions has experienced damage from human activity, including logging and land development, since the 1800s. 

However, if you know just where to look, you can still find pockets of wildlife in North Carolina that just don’t exist anywhere else. But they are very much in danger.

Just remember to stick to the trails, take only pictures, and leave only footprints (ON THE TRAIL). Let’s do our best to preserve these unique landscapes for the wildlife that lives there and all our fellow adventure-loving North Carolinians for as long as we can. 

Mountains

North Carolina Spruce Firs
North Carolina’s mountains are known for the beautiful spruce fir forests, but they’re in danger because of the invasive wooly adelgid insect. (Shutterstock)

Includes all parts of the Southern Appalachian Mountains west of the Blue Ridge Escarpment–a major drop in elevation between the Blue Ridge Mountains and land to the east. 

Spruce-Fir Forests

Imagine, in the middle of a Carolina summer, stepping into a cool, green cove of fern and conifers. As you wander silently through the mist, you can just hear the trickle of water dripping from trees and winding between rocks underfoot. 

The Spruce-Fir Forests are found on the highest peaks along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountains. You can distinguish the Spruce-Fir Forests by color. They’re dark green. The hardwood forests at lower elevations are yellow-green or winter gray. 

The post-logging remains of Spruce-Fir Forests have nearly been destroyed by the invasive woolly adelgid, a tiny but troublesome insect that causes a lethal allergic reaction in the trees. It is a race against time to see if saplings can repopulate the area before the woolly adelgid destroys this new food source. 

The best way to visit an old growth Spruce-Fir Forest is in the remote backcountry in the eastern half of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain Bogs

Leave it to North Carolina to even have swamps on mountains. 

Mountain bogs were much more common during the ice ages. The remaining few have become a refuge for plants that can only live in this specific habitat. 

If you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a mountain bog, you will encounter a treasure trove of rare botanical gems: Pink Lady Slipper orchids which can take up to 17 years to bloom, the bubblegum-pink flower clusters of swamp pink, or the dotted white blooms of bunched arrowhead that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. 

The best way to visit mountain bogs is via the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah National Forest, but expect a long hike. While no public trails cross mountain bogs–as protection for both hiker and bog–you can view them from the edge. 

Piedmont 

Falls Lake in Raleigh
Falls Lake (specifically the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area) in Raleigh is a great spot to find some of the state’s ultra-special granite flatrocks. (Shutterstock)

The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which today includes North Carolina’s largest cities: Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Durham.

Granite Flatrocks

Denizens of the Tech Triangle might not realize that they are less than an hour drive from a unique and fragile ecosystem. And a succulent lover’s paradise to boot. 

Granite flatrocks are the result of exfoliation, a process in which tectonic forces move vast layers of granite up through the crust of the earth. But rather than nature’s version of a parking lot, granite flatrocks are teeming with hard-earned plant life. 

Moss and lichen slowly collect sand and dirt in small mats. Then the rare succulent elf-orpine moves in. Over time, if enough dirt and organic matter collects, granite flatrocks can even grow small trees. But let’s be honest, have you really lived until you’ve seen the bright red elf-orpine bursting into light pink blooms?

Elf Orpine
The remarkably vibrant elf orpine, a highlight of the granite flatrocks in the NC Piedmont. (Photo via the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)

You can catch a glimpse of the granite flatrock at Mitchell Mill State Natural Area just off Highway NC 96, at GPS coordinates 35°55’08.5″N 78°23’20.9″W. For folks living near Charlotte, check out 40 Acre Rock Heritage Preserve just over the border in South Carolina. 

Coastal Plain

Bald Head Island in NC
Bald Head Island in North Carolina is one of the finest spots to traverse remnants of the state’s maritime forests, which have endangered by coastal development. (Shutterstock)

Everything east of the North Carolina Fall Line, where the hard rocks of the Piedmont change over to ​​softer, eastern rocks. 

Maritime Forests

If you love all things Ents, Weirwoods, and Whomping Willows, it’s time to visit one of North Carolina’s maritime forests. Sculpted by the harsh conditions of the coastal environment –storms, winds, overwash, and salt spray– the live oaks of the maritime forests appear to be raucously dancing. 

Maritime forests can only exist under very specific conditions–where wider barrier islands and dunes provide just the right balance of shelter from harsh conditions for larger shrubs and trees to grow. In addition to the wild live oaks, you can catch sight of tropical plants that don’t normally grow this far up north like the pokey Hercules’ Club Tree and Cabbage Palm

Huge tracts of maritime forests have already been destroyed by coastal development. However, you can still visit remnants of the maritime forest in Buxton Woods and Bald Head Island State Natural Area.