Why North Carolina Is Perfect for an End-of-Summer Escape

Jul 20, 2017

If you're craving a last-minute summer getaway, look no further than North Carolina.

Just a four-hour drive from D.C., Atlanta and Nashville or a two-hour flight from New York and much of the eastern U.S., the Tar Heel State is packed with activities for every traveler.

If you hike:

The Cherokee Indians dubbed the Great Smoky Mountains "land of the blue mist" and it's easy to see why.

North Carolina offers hiking and mountain biking trails, spanning hundreds of miles of trails through pristine forests, past swimming holes and waterfalls. Trail lengths range from a 2-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to Wesser Bald to the heartier 37.7-mile Bartram Trail to Cheoah Bald. ("Bald" is a mountaintop that has no trees.)

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, also offers miles of trails for both novice and expert hikers.

If you climb:

North Carolina has tons of mountains and rock formations, making it a natural draw for climbers. Aside from personal satisfaction, you'll also be rewarded with some pretty sweet views at the top. Here are some places to bring your chalk:

Chimney Rock in Chimney Rock State Park:

Grandfather Mountain in Grandfather Mountain State Park:

Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest:

If you chase waterfalls:

There's a reason why Transylvania County in western North Carolina is known as the Land of Waterfalls – there are more than 250 here alone. Swim under the Looking Glass Falls or ride down Sliding Rock, a 60-foot natural waterslide, both in Pisgah National Forest.

Nantahala National Forest covers much of the southwestern portion of the state and is home to the 411-foot Whitewater Falls, one of the highest in the eastern U.S. Another spectacular sight is the nearly 200-foot Mingo Falls, about 5 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance near Cherokee.

If you love movies:

Affectionately known as "Wilmywood" or "Hollywood East," Wilmington gets the lion's share of filming in North Carolina for both the big screen ("Iron Man 3") and TV ("Dawson’s Creek"). This includes filming both on location as well as at the 50-acre EUE/Screen Gems Studios in the city.

More than 800 features have been filmed in North Carolina since the 1980s, including movies like "Dirty Dancing" (Lake Lure), "The Hunger Games" (Charlotte, Asheville), "The Last of the Mohicans" (Chimney Rock Park, Blue Ridge Mountains) and "Bull Durham" (Triangle area).

Guided tours are available for various movie locations, or you can take a self-guided tour around Wilmington.

The Wilmington Film Museum is a grassroots effort dedicated to the preservation, promotion and education of film and TV history in the Cape Fear area. This summer's exhibit includes a focus on crew stories and the work of Stephen King.

If you crave good eats:

North Carolina is serious about its barbecue, which tends to focus on pork. Two distinct styles have developed over the years: eastern, based on a whole hog cut, and western, which features pulled pork. Though the preparation and sauce also differ, both are usually served with coleslaw on a soft bun.

If your stomach is up to the challenge, the North Carolina Barbecue Society has carefully curated a trail that includes 24 historic barbecue pits stretching across the state from Ayden to Murphy.

It's not all barbecue in North Carolina, though. This year, the James Beard Foundation nominated 14 local restaurants, chefs and bakers in its annual awards. These include Durham's Scratch Bakery and tapas restaurant Mateo as well as Raleigh's Poole's Diner and Asian-fusion spot Garland.

Gourmet walking food tours are available in cities such as Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. On these, you can chat with chefs and owners and sample cuisine.

If you enjoy beaches:

One easy way to check out the towns and beaches on North Carolina's 300 miles of coastline is by ferry. There are seven routes crossing five bodies of water, including the Currituck and Pamlico sounds and the Neuse, Pamlico and Cape Fear rivers.

Arguably the most accessible coastal destination in the state, Wilmington offers visitors a choice of three family-friendly beaches: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Stroll along the scenic Riverwalk, which has the Cape Fear River on one side and restaurants and shops on the other.

The Outer Banks is a skinny chain of four barrier islands, but there are 17 different beaches to explore. In addition to sunning yourself, you can also check out America’s tallest lighthouse, Cape Hatteras, as well as Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers made history.

Brunswick Islands is often referred to as North Carolina's Golf Coast due to the 35 courses in the area. Activities here also include boating, surfing at Ocean Isle Beach, fishing off Oak Island Pier and dining on seafood in the fishing village of Calabash. Bald Head Island Lighthouse, or "Old Baldy," opened in 1817 and is the state's oldest standing lighthouse.

If you seek unique stories:

North Carolina is home to a number of treehouse resorts, which is exactly what the name implies. Places like River's Edge Treehouse Resort along the Cheoah River in Robbinsville or Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe give you a one-of-a-kind sleeping experience.

If your idea of roughing it in a treehouse includes a "treetop soaking cabana," you're in luck. At Lakeview at Fontana in Bryson City, you can take an open-air bath with the birds (curtain optional).

If it's history you're looking for, you've found it. While the name Edward Teach might mean nothing to you, Blackbeard probably rings a bell. He and other pirates made their home in North Carolina, particularly favoring the Outer Banks when it came time to plunder.

Blackbeard's ghost is said to still haunt Teach's Hole, his favorite hideway, in Ocracoke Island. Plenty of other spirits are reported to make their presence known in the state, such as the Vanderbilts at the Biltmore Estate. While ghost tours are available in many cities around the state, USA Today called the Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington one of the top five ghost walks in America.

If you need to get your kids off their phones:

Car rides can be boring with the monotony of highways, but a train ride through the Smoky Mountains is a scenic way to get from point A to point B. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad takes you from Bryson City through the countryside of western North Carolina.

The Outer Banks is home to one of the last remaining herds of wild Spanish Mustang horses. Hitch a ride on a tour from Corolla with companies like Wild Horse Adventure Tours or Corolla Jeep Adventures to try to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures.

If you seek adventure:

If hiking and biking isn't enough to get the blood pumping, explore the Great Smoky Mountains by ATV, solo or in a group. ATV tours are also available in the Outer Banks as well.

North Carolina has an abundance of zip lines at outdoor adventure centers dotting the state. Sky Valley Zip Tours in Blowing Rock offers mountain views. ZipQuest in Fayetteville gives the choice of zipping over waterfalls, through treetops or even under the stars at night.

The Nantahala River is a popular spot for white-water rafting, since it has a mixture of calm water for beginners as well as feistier spots for more experienced rafters. Bryson City has a number of outfitters like Rolling Thunder Rafting Center and Endless River Adventures, providing people with guides and equipment.

If chasing rapids in the wild scares you a bit, opt for the controlled setting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. The center is home to the world's largest man-made white-water river, featuring class II-IV rapids, for families or those seeking just the right amount of thrill.

Situated on over 1,000 acres of woodlands, this recreational complex also offers white-water kayaking, flat-water kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, rock climbing, zip lines and mountain biking on over 30 miles of trails.

If you want to earn Instagram likes:

North Carolina is blessed with natural beauty most everywhere you look. Just don't forget your camera.

Ready to go? Plan a getaway and start your summer now in North Carolina.

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