From the white sand beaches of North Carolina’s outer banks to the Appalachian Mountains to the east, the natural wonders of North Carolina draw over 19 million visitors annually. The list of parks in North Carolina includes 10 national parks, 2 national heritage areas, 2 wild and scenic rivers, 3 national trails, and a multitude of state parks. As one of the original 132 colonies, history buffs will enjoy seeking out historic sites and parks from colonial times through today. Drive down Blue Ridge Parkway or view the lighthouses along the coast, still shining their beacons for distant ships.
Note: Due to recent flooding (September 2018), check the park’s website for closings before heading out. Some have already re-opened but do have warning notes for visitors. The southeastern part of the state was hit the hardest, but along the northern coast and up into the Great Smoky Mountains, many of popular tourist attractions are still open. For more information on closings, go to Visit North Carolina.
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National Parks & Historic Sites
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Maine to Georgia, CT, GA, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, TN, VA, VT, WV; one site is Appalachian Trail Conservancy Regional Office, 160-A Zillicoa Street, Asheville, NC 28801
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.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, NC,VA; one site is Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, 364 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Black Mountain, NC 28711
A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals, and providing opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area
195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC 28803
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is a place unlike any other on Earth, where ancient landscapes enchant the eye and age-old traditions warm the heart. The distinctive landscape of the North Carolina mountains and foothills combined with the region’s living traditions of craft, music, agriculture and Cherokee heritage create a wealth of natural and cultural treasures unmatched in our country.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Nags Head, Buxton, Ocracoke, NC
The sound of ocean waves, the starry night sky, or the calm of the salt marshes, you can experience it all. Shaped by the forces of water, wind, and storms these islands are ever changing. The plants, wildlife, and people who live here adapt continually. Whether you are enjoying the beach, kayaking the sound, or climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse there is something for everyone to explore!
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Cape Lookout Rd, Harkers Island, NC 28531
A boat ride three miles off-shore brings you 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. Be sure to bring all the food, water, and supplies you need (and carry your trash out of the park) when visiting these remote beaches.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
1800 Little River Rd, Flat Rock, NC 28731
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the park, 1968-2018. Carl Sandburg provided a popular voice for the American people of the twentieth century and still speaks to us through his words, activism, music and the beauty and serenity of Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Explore Sandburg’s legacy and Experience Your America!
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
1401 National Park Dr, Manteo, NC 27954
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects and preserves known portions of England’s first New World settlements from 1584 to 1590. This site also preserves the cultural heritage of the Native Americans, European Americans and African Americans who have lived on Roanoke Island.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
the states of NC, TN; one site is Icewater Shelter Spring, Appalachian Trail, Cherokee, NC 28719
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park
2332 New Garden Rd, Greensboro, NC 27410
“I never saw such fighting since God made me. The Americans fought like demons.” -Lt. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis The largest battle of the Revolutionary War’s Southern Campaign was fought at the small North Carolina backcountry hamlet of Guilford Courthouse. The battle proved to be a turning point for British military operations in the Revolutionary War.
Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor
FL, GA, NC, SC; 2817 Maybank Hwy, Johns Island, SC 29455
Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida in the south. It is home to one of America’s most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendants.
Moores Creek National Battlefield
40 Patriots Hall Dr, Currie, NC 28435
In the early morning hours of February 27, 1776 Loyalist forces charged across a partially dismantled Moores Creek Bridge. Beyond the bridge, nearly 1,000 North Carolina Patriots waited quietly with cannons and muskets poised to fire. This battle marked the last broadsword charge by Scottish Highlanders and the first significant victory for the Patriots in the American Revolution.
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
NC, SC, TN, VA; one location is Overmountain Victory Trail, Rutherfordton, NC 28139
Stretching 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina) the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. Follow the campaign by utilizing a Commemorative Motor Route which uses existing state highways marked with the distinctive trail logo, or 87 miles of walkable pathways.
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
AL, AR, GA, IL, KY, MO, NC, OK, TN; one site is 589 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719
Remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They traveled by foot, horse, wagon, or steamboat in 1838-1839.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903. With courage and perseverance, these self-taught engineers relied on teamwork and application of the scientific process. What they achieved changed our world forever.
For more attractions, go to Visit North Carolina.
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