Defined by its formidable Appalachian border in the west and its subtle barrier islands on its eastern coast, as well as by its undeniable southern roots, North Carolina offers much to the traveler seeking an authentic American South experience.
The state has seen great wealth and the depravities of slavery, as well as the glory of scientific innovation and the shame of racial ignorance throughout its colorful history; people here celebrate the good aspects of their past, all while not hiding from the darker parts of it.
When it comes to natural highlights, North Carolina delivers on a large scale, with some of Appalachians most beautiful and most visited peaks, and with sandy shores on its Atlantic coast that are less crowded than the ones of its neighbor to the south, a coastal vacation will yield similar dividends here as well.
When you plan your itinerary through the American South, don’t leave this state off the list, for those who do will be missing out on a lot.
What To Do – Culture & History
Ever wondered what it was like to be filthy rich during the heady days of the Gilded Age? If you have, a stroll on the grounds of and inside the Biltmore Estate will give an accurate glimpse into what life was like for the 0.1% back in the early 20th century.
With English and French style gardens on the exterior of the mansion, and a bevy of luxuries indoors like a pool, bowling alley, two storey library, uber expensive artwork and antique furniture, it’s all enough to make you feel like a dirty scrub, no matter how smart you dress before taking the tour here.
Of all the things that occurred during North Carolina’s history, the event that state residents are most proud is undoubted the first heavier than air fixed wing aircraft flight in the world, an event that took place at Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the brother’s landmark achievement, one which ranks as one of the bigger technological advances in the history of humanity. The site consists of the hangars, the flight paths of the successful flights that were carried out here, a visitor’s centre containing tools used by the Wright Brothers to craft the machine that won the flight race, and a 60 foot tall granite memorial that remembers these two men for their monumental contribution to the modern society we enjoy today.
A time in history that many here would rather forget is brought back in painful detail at the recently opened International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Located at the former infamous Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, this was the site where four black men from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat at the white’s only portion of the restaurant every day for six months in protest of segregation.
Opened in time for the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins, this museum details the injustices of that period, as well as similar segregationist policies elsewhere in the world.
One of the most famous ships to fight in the Second World War can be found at anchor in Wilmington, as the USS North Carolina was relocated here in 1961 to start its new life as a museum ship.
One of the most feared battleships in the US Navy at the time, it took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater, notching 15 battle stars along the way. Today, the main decks, most of the interior compartments, and the gun turrets are open for exploration, making for a self-guided adventure that will take up two well-spent hours of your day.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
If the kids are starting to tire of the former historical attractions, or if you just happen to be a big roller coaster junkie, a day spent at Carowinds Amusement Park will satiate your or your little one’s desires.
Situated on the border with South Carolina, this fun distraction will get your adrenal glands pumping with countless coasters, drop towers, giant swings, and flume rides, among others. If the heat has got you beat, then Boomerang Bay, a water park contained within its grounds, will cool you off with its many slides, wave pool and a lengthy lazy river.
Those that are into ticking off national parks on their travel checklist simply cannot miss Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is a place that ranks as the most visited park in the country.
This honor is partially due to its proximity to the large population centers of the Eastern Seaboard, but it is the highest mountains east of the Mississippi that draw in the crowds, along with all the opportunities for outdoor recreation that go along with this rare fragment of eastern wilderness. Backcountry camping is popular deep within the reaches of this park, and for the hardcore adventurers out there, access to the Appalachian Trail can be had from other trails in this park.
While it is not located within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grandfather Mountain is a former private possession that has been recently opened for the enjoyment of the general public.
Standing at 5,900 feet, it is the tallest peak of the front ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and while hiking this peak and taking in the splendor of nature will prove to be reason enough to visit this mount, the mile high swinging bridge attracts the most notoriety.
While it is well-constructed, its dramatic height and tenuous constitution tends to make even the most self-assured a bit nervous when crossing.
Finally, if you seek a relaxing beach vacation, the Outer Banks has a beach that matches your preferences. Stretching over 200 miles from north to south, these barrier islands have everything from endless wild sand dunes at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, to the beaches of places like Nags Head and Kitty Hawk that have all the conveniences you need, without the largess of major resort cities and towns further north.