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North Carolina National Parks

Straddling the line between the old South and antebellum mid-Atlantic coastline, America’s 12th state, North Carolina, is itself a bit of a contradiction. From the Smoky Mountains to the west, spilling into Tennessee to the bare flatlands of the southern part of the state bordering its sister South Carolina to the roaring Atlantic coast, North Carolina is a territory always changing and expanding with every hundred miles or so. Indeed, North Carolina is a wonderland of different adventures for the outdoors lover at heart. Perhaps not immediately jumping to the top of mind for adventure seekers, the state actually boasts ten National Parks, all differing in size and variety.

Below are some of the highlights and must-visits:


One of the crown jewels that runs through this Southeastern state, the Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies, and thousands of volunteers.

Starting in Northern Georgia and continuing through NC, the Appalachian Trail is a magnet for long-haul and day-hikers for years and some of its most beautiful trails run through the Tar Heel State.

Photo Courtesy Josiah Gascho


For those looking for a little more leisurely activity, look no further than North Carolina’s world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, a slow-paced and relaxing drive with stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands, is an experience in itself from the comfort and ease of one’s own vehicle. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and is a must-see for your next road trip through the coastal South.

Photo Courtesy Ashley Knedler


For the wanderer with salt in their blood this attraction, while a bit more effort to reach, should be at the top of the list when visiting North Carolina. A quick boat ride three miles offshore brings the visitor to the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Horse watching, shelling, fishing, birding, camping, lighthouse climbing, and touring historic villages–there’s something for everyone at Cape Lookout.

Photo Courtesy NPS


Perhaps the South’s most famous of all-natural attractions, the Great Smoky Mountains never fail to live up to their billing. Garnering their name from the pillows of early morning cloud and mist cover, the ‘Smokies’ are truly a sight to behold. Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World-renowned across the globe for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its majestic mountains, and its remnants of Southern Appalachian Mountain culture, this is one of America’s most visited national parks.

Photo Courtesy Chris Ried


For those fascinated with the feeling of freedom in flight, the magic of dreaming big and far and wide and high, look no further than the memorial in Kill Devil Hills, NC commemorating the first successful man piloted flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Over a century ago, wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought the Wright brothers to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903. With courage and perseverance, not to mention prodigious intestinal fortitude, these self-taught engineers relied on teamwork and application of the scientific process to put man among the clouds for the first time ever. 

What they achieved changed our world forever.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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