Top 20 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in North Carolina

Updated on May 1, 2015
Hikers enjoying the view from Hanging Rock, one of North Carolina's many beautiful parks and destinations.
Hikers enjoying the view from Hanging Rock, one of North Carolina's many beautiful parks and destinations. | Source

North Carolina has one of the most diverse landscapes in the country. The Atlantic Ocean shore offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Mount Mitchell, in the Appalachian Mountains, is the highest eastern peak in North America. From swimming, skiiing, and hiking there are many ways to enjoy the state’s natural beauty.

The Tar Heel state also offers rich and varied culture. From the colorful musical history on the Blue Ridge Mountains to the universities in Research Triangle, North Carolina has cuisine, arts, and entertainment to keep a visitor busy for as long as they like.

These are my top 20 best places to visit. I list a variety of sights, including shopping areas, local communities, museums, and beautiful natural places. For the most part, these sites are very affordable—if not free—places to visit. They are all great for the entire family, and no matter what type of interests or activities you enjoy, there is sure to be something here that you love.

Read on for my top favorite destinations and some ways to enjoy North Carolina depending upon your interests.

Top 20 Most Interesting Places to Visit in North Carolina

20. Concord Mills
massive shopping center
19. Old Salem
historic architecture, living museum
18. Stone Mountain State Park
Allegheny and Wilkes counties
four-mile loop trail, views, historic homestead
17. Black Mountain, Swannanoa, and Montreat
Interstate 40 near Asheville
mountain village shopping and dining, music festivals
16. NASCAR Hall of Fame
exhibits, historic films, Glory Road
15. Pisgah National Forest
accommodations, mountainous terrain
14. Natural Science Center
live animal exhibits, aquarium
13. Lake Jame State Park
swimming, boating, camping, fishing
12. Discovery Place Science Museum
hands-on exhibit, IMAX screen
11. Kitty Hawk
Outer Banks
Wright Brothers' flight site
10. State Capitol
historic neighborhoods, architecture
9. Carowinds Theme Park
13 roller coasters
8. Chimney Rock State Park
Rutherford County
hiking trails, waterfalls
7. North Carolina Museum of History
state history exhibits
6. USS North Carolina
WWII battleship
5. Hanging Rock State Park
Stokes County
camping, hiking, swimming
4. Biltmore Estate
historical mansion and grounds
3. Craggy Gardens
off Blueridge Parkway
hiking trails, views
2. Clingmans Dome
Great Smoky Mountains
views, hiking
1. Cape Hatteras Light
Outer Banks
historic lighthouse and museum
show route and directions
A markerAsheville -
Asheville, NC, USA
get directions

B markerCharlotte -
Charlotte, NC, USA
get directions

C markerWinston-Salem -
Winston-Salem, NC, USA
get directions

D markerraleigh -
Raleigh, NC, USA
get directions

E markerWilmington -
Wilmington, NC, USA
get directions

F markerOuter Banks -
Outer Banks, Kinnakeet, NC, USA
get directions

G markerKitty Hawk -
Kitty Hawk, NC, USA
get directions

H markerKitty Hawk -
Kitty Hawk, NC, USA
get directions

Historic Places to Visit in the Tar Heel State

Old Salem


If you love history, you will enjoy a visit to Old Salem. This is a quiet community that was settled by the Moravian community in the 1750s. It is the historic district of Winston-Salem and features a living history museum where interpreters demonstrate aspects of early life in North Carolina in a restored blacksmith, baking, apothecary, and other trade shops.

Old Salem visitors information

USS North Carolina

The USS North Carolina
The USS North Carolina

This massive battleship is fascinating for anyone, not just those with a special interest in military history. Nicknamed the “showboat,” it was the most highly decorated American battleship of World War II.

USS North Carolina visitors information

Downtown Raleigh

The NC State Capital Building
The NC State Capital Building | Source

The Greek Revival state capitol was completed in 1840 and once housed the state legislature. Today it is home to the governor’s offices. Located on Raleigh’s Union Square, the Capitol Building is just one of many sites worth visiting while in the state capitol. Raleigh is an early example of a planned city. Incorporated in 1792, the downtown is home to historic sites including the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel and restored City Market.

North Carolina historic sites information

North Carolina History Museum visitors' information

Cape Hatteras Light


The most amazing place in North Carolina and a North Carolina icon, the Light is a lighthouse in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Situated in the Outer Banks, the Light is just next to the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea, operated by the National Park Service. The Light was actually moved in 1999 due to erosion of the shore. The move, 2,900 feet inland, made the Light the tallest masonry structure ever moved.

Cape Hatteras Light visitors' information

Kitty Hawk

The Wright Brothers tower located at the site where they conducted the first airplane flight.
The Wright Brothers tower located at the site where they conducted the first airplane flight.

Kitty Hawk is a beautiful coastal town in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands off the state’s eastern coast. The town became famous as the place where the Wright brothers conducted the first controlled powered airplane flight. A unique and relaxing village, Kitty Hawk has lots of pleasant beaches and a unique park called Kitty Hawk Forest. Located in the center of the village, Kitty Hawk Woods is nearly 2,000 acres of maritime deciduous swamp, forest, and marsh. It is accessible by walking trails from which visitors may see a variety of wildlife including otters, fox, woodpeckers, and hawks.

Town of Kitty Hawk information

Kitty Hawk historic site information

North Carolina's Beautiful Outdoors

Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Craggy Gardens, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway

A subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these mountains feature a look-out spot, visitor’s center, and hiking trails. Here are some of the most picturesque mountain views in the country. Forests include rhododendron, blueberry, ash, and beech.

Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock is accessible by elevator as well as by walking trail.
Chimney Rock is accessible by elevator as well as by walking trail. | Source

Look for miles and miles from one of the most awesome rock formations on the east coast. The park features hiking trails and waterfalls but the most notable feature is Chimney Rock itself, which is accessible by elevator as well as footpath.

Chimney Rock State Park information

North Carolina parks information

Lake James State Park

Lake James sits in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Lake James sits in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. | Source

On the southern shore of Lake James, this park is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a popular lake for swimming, boating, camping, and fishing large and smallmouth bass, among other varieties. Hiking trails, warm showers, and an amphitheater make this park a pleasant place for a family camping trip.

Lake James State Park information

Stone Mountain State Park

Stone Mountain offers great rock climbing opportunities.
Stone Mountain offers great rock climbing opportunities. | Source

The massive granite face of Stone Mountain can be seen for miles from where it rises in the park. Stone Mountain offers some of the best rock climbing in the state and offers a spectacular view from the top. A four-mile loop hike will allow visitors to climb up the mountain and enjoy a waterfall and the historic Hutchinson Homestead is open year-round for visitors.

North Carolina Parks Information

Pisgah National Forest

Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest.
Linville Gorge in the Pisgah National Forest. | Source

More than 500,000 acres of mountainous terrain in western North Carolina, the Pisgah National Forest offers views that cannot be beat. Visitors can stay the night or explore for a day of hiking and picnicking. Three beautiful long-distance trails through different terrain (meadow or mountainous) offer unique and exhilarating experiences.

Top Museums, Entertainment, and Fun in North Carolina

NASCAR Hall of Fame


Visit the official NASCAR Hall of Fame in its new facility. Here is the place for any fan of NASCAR racing. North Carolina has a long, proud history with stock car racing. The Hall of Fame has a screening room that shows historic videos, plus there's a 33 degree banked ramp called Glory Road saluting eighteen different cars and tracks, a Great Hall of rotating exhibits, and Studio 43 (named for NASCAR winner Richard Petty’s number) which served as home for the Inside NASCAR show.

Hall of Fame visitors' information

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville. | Source

Built by George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1880s, the Biltmore is the largest private estate in the U.S. It is surrounded by gardens and forests. Built in French Renaissance style, the building’s construction absorbed most of Vanderbilt’s inheritance. It is still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants.

Biltmore Estate information


The lift hill for the Intimidator roller coaster at Carowinds.
The lift hill for the Intimidator roller coaster at Carowinds. | Source

Carowinds is one of the biggest theme parks in the southeast with 13 roller coasters, a variety of thrill rides, children's rides, and a water park. There are a total of 64 rides in the 398-acre park. The tallest ride, Intimidator, is over 230 feet tall and reaches a speed of 80 MPH.

Carolwinds information

Discovery Place

The Discovery Place is a hands-on technology and science museum with activities for all ages.
The Discovery Place is a hands-on technology and science museum with activities for all ages. | Source

Located in uptown Charlotte, the Discovery Place is science and technology museum featuring hands-on activities and an IMAX dome theater. Recently renovated, the museum has special exhibits on frogs, aliens, androids, and dinosaurs. The museum shows films on the IMAX screen and curates rotating exhibits related to science subjects, including perception, microscopic organisms, animals, and space.

Discovery Place information

North Carolina Tourism Promo Video

Your Favorite Spot in North Carolina?

What is the most beautiful place you've been in North Carolina?

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    • profile image

      cMoHr2c 2 years ago

      How about Grandfather Mtn. ?

    • profile image

      Rachel Payne 2 years ago

      Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest - the big trees :)

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Efficient Admin 3 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      This is a great list and I have been to all of them except numbers 19, 16, 15, 14, 10, 7, 4, and 2. Those can now be on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing this information.

    • profile image

      Jason Higgins 4 years ago

      Why is the NC Zoo in Asheboro NC not listed. It is the worlds largest natural habitat zoo. Not many things on this list can fall in the "World's largest" list.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      I have been to the Biltmore House twice - once in the spring and once at Christmas, and it's definitely worth the trip. I'm not familiar with these other sites and found this very informative. And I didn't realize there was another Stone Mountain - we also have one in Georiga. Voting up and more.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent hub with the top notch sites to visit. Well done.

    • profile image

      Dani 4 years ago

      This is very nice info but those pictures on the video are not very clear.

    • Linden Mazurka profile image

      Linden Mazurka 4 years ago from Greensboro

      Some great ideas about places to visit here- I am new to North Carolina and I've made it my mission to explore this state (and then blog and hub about it.) Many of these places are on my list now. Thanks!

    • profile image

      catty 5 years ago

      North Carolina is a great state, and although it isn't the biggest state in America, it's pretty awesome.

    • samtenabray profile image

      samtenabray 6 years ago from uk

      Hadn't thought of visiting North Carolina but after reading this hub it looks like a fantastic place! Will definitely try and visit soon!

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Asheville is very beautiful city and it features a number of wonderful attractions and a unique environment.

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 7 years ago from North Carolina

      The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is certainly a NC landmark. It's hard to really say what it number one though because so many places in NC offer incredible sights. And yes, the mountains here are amazing.

    • Don Simkovich profile image

      Don Simkovich 7 years ago from Pasadena, CA

      I was at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse many years ago. It's a great place to visit. I'd love to make it to the mountains there sometime.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great Hub - there are some beautiful areas in North Carolina.