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Though I’ll be sharing a huge variety of activities for you to enjoy in my beautiful state, I am an outdoor lover, so I’ll start with one of the best budget-friendly and family-friendly activities you can enjoy anywhere in North Carolina – our state parks! This year, NC State Parks has continued its NC 100 mile challenge where the goal is to log 100 miles of outdoor activity over the course of the year.
This can be hiking, walking, running, biking, swimming, or kayaking and you can earn badges and prizes along the way. This is a wonderful initiative to encourage physical activity with the whole family (including furry friends) while exploring the 27 state parks. Fun fact – ask for a passport at any of the state parks and you can request a stamp at each park you visit. Once you have visited all 27 parks you will earn a reward, so it’s a fun challenge for those who are ambitious and want to hike portions of the Appalachian Trail and/or Mountains To Sea Trail.
One of my favorite parks is Hanging Rock State Park which is up near the Virginia border and offers a nice variety of trails as well as places to camp. We love bringing our Cattle Dog Mix (Sasha) along for our outdoor adventures.
Now that you’ve seen some of what the state parks have to offer, let’s delve into the major regions of North Carolina and what each is known for.
The Piedmont Triad
First, we’ll start with the Piedmont Triad, which is the north-central region where I live. The Triad is made up of Greensboro, High Point, and Winston Salem and has a lot of kid-friendly activities. Just north of us, you can visit the home of Andy Griffith in Mayberry!
-Along with Charlotte and Raleigh, Greensboro was a resettlement city for Montagnards so you will notice many Lao and Vietnamese restaurants and markets due to this population. I love the ethnic diversity in Greensboro!
-Take your pooch to Crafted where they can join you in the outdoor seating area for some delicious tacos, and even grab a mason jar of bacon! Grab some refreshing bubble tea for dessert at one of these gems!
-Nearby is Kersey Valley Adventure Park which is enjoyable year-round with both indoor and outdoor activities for all ages.
-High Point University is here and has a beautiful campus you will want to check out. Make sure to take a picture in the humongous chair!
-Visit the newly built frisbee golf course in nearby Triad Park
-Stop for a picture at The Last Shell Oil Clamshell Station
-Visit Wake Forest University and the Innovation Quarter
-Old Salem has a tasty Moravian influence (try the cookies!) and is a nice stop for an afternoon of history.
-Enjoy a hike or bike ride at Salem Lake’s 7-mile loop trail. Lots of interesting things to see along the way.
Next up is the Triangle which consists of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. You may be most familiar with this area of the state because it is basketball central.
-The beautiful State Capitol building is definitely worth a visit
-Log some miles while soaking up nature in William B Umstead State Park
-The train station was recently revamped and is quite modern and clean. We love traveling via train here for New Year’s Eve and other holidays.
-Be sure to stop at The Cowfish for some burgushi!
–The Eno River State Park is lovely and a great place to bring the family
-Visit the campus of Duke – stunning architecture, basketball history, gardens and they have a Lemur Center!
-Have fun cuddling with goats at an exercise class at Hux Family Farm.
-Visit the UNC campus and check out the free to enter NC Botanical Garden
-Stop by for a tour of The Carolina Basketball Museum
Any beach lovers out there? If so, North Carolina has some gems for you in that category. When we were first married, my husband and I lived in Wilmington for a few months, which is right on the coast. Thankfully, it has recovered from the recent hurricane damage and is starting to flourish once again. There are so many nice coastal cities, it was hard to narrow it down!
-Take the ferry to Bald Head Island, where cars aren’t allowed! They have a neat lighthouse you can climb and explore.
-Walk the beach until you find the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, mentioned in Nicholas Sparks’s Novel!
Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach, along with Topsail are all wonderful places to enjoy the sun and sand, as well as fishing. You can even stay in a pet-friendly shipping container for a unique accommodation just 2 blocks from the beach in Carolina Beach! Here is a list of the rest of the hidden gems in Wilmington.
-Visit Fort Fisher’s Aquarium.
-Check out the Venus Flytrap Trail to see some carnivorous plants.
-Try to locate all the Bear statues in nearby New Bern.
-Enjoy fresh sushi and home-made sake at Genki.
This area has a less touristy and more untouched feel than most beach areas since it’s a little harder to get to, but it’s definitely worth the trip!
-Make sure to see the lighthouses – Hatteras, Bodie Island, and Ocracoke are my favorites.
-Ocracoke Island is just a short ferry ride away from the mainland and is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway with your significant other. They have plenty of Inns and B&B’s on the island.
-Visit the original Duck Donuts. Maple Bacon flavor is legit.
Maybe the beach isn’t really your thing and you’d rather spend time in a big city with plenty of options for shopping, professional sports, the arts, fine dining, etc. Charlotte has a lot of options for you if so!
Charlotte Area Attractions
-Pro sports – go watch NASCAR or see the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte Knights or Charlotte Checkers play.
-IKEA – even if you don’t need to buy anything, it’s a fun activity to just walk through. Be sure to try the Swedish meatballs and chocolate cake.
-Indoor Skydiving at iFLY
-US National Whitewater Center – this place has EVERYTHING! Rafting, music festivals, SUP, ropes courses, mountain biking, trail races, rock climbing, kayaking and much more. It’s also pet-friendly and you can bring your own hammock to chill in.
-Enjoy a night out in NODA enjoying some shopping, music, and the arts.
-South Park Mall – if you just want to shop at a posh mall that has all the luxury stores, this is your place. Another location of the previously mentioned Cowfish is located here!
As you can tell, Charlotte isn’t lacking for things to do, but it can get rather hectic and congested with traffic. For a more relaxed setting, head to the mountains! I must admit, growing up I was a total beach lover, hated the cold, and didn’t appreciate the mountains. Then, I married a mountain man who went to school in Boone, and he has slowly won me over and showed me just how much there is to love about the colder temperatures and stunning scenery. Some of our favorite mountain towns are below, but you can’t go wrong with any of them in NC!
-Named after the famous pioneer Daniel Boone, it is home to Appalachian State University, the above pictured Appalachian Mountain Brewery and countless outdoor activities for both winter sports and water sports in the warmer months.
-Not far from Boone is Blowing Rock where kids will love the Tweetsie Railroad.
-Nearby Banner Elk is a fun stop and is famous for the Wooly Worm Festival.
-Probably most famous for The Biltmore Estate and the Blue Ridge Parkway, this eclectic hippie town is home to countless breweries and a huge selection of restaurants.
-Our favorite restaurant/brewery is Bhramari Brewing! Just around the corner from Wicked Weed and much less crowded. They also have amazing cake and pretzels!
-If you visit in warmer months, be sure to check out Sliding Rock and the many swimming holes and waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest.
-You can save money by camping at Lake Powhatan which is a short drive to downtown Asheville or by staying at Airbnb’s just outside the city.
Chimney Rock, Pilot Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain
These all deserve a visit as well, but beware of the crowds – it’s best to visit very early in the day or in the off-season in order to find parking and not be grouchy.
Other Unique Sites in NC
-Deal’s Gap – Tail of the Dragon for motorcycle and car enthusiasts
-Hendersonville has a little-known Fairy Trail
-Visit the Hunger Games Filming Locations
-Visit Davidson College – Both Woodrow Wilson and basketball star Steph Curry attended school here. The city of Davidson has a charming downtown area and several good restaurants, including the original Famous Toastery.
Lastly, don’t you dare leave North Carolina before trying our vinegar-based BBQ. You can find this in many cities, but my absolute favorite place for this is located between Charlotte and Greensboro in a famous restaurant called Lexington BBQ. No frills, just amazing flavor, and friendly service. After having mustard-based BBQ while living in South Carolina and tomato-based BBQ while living near Kansas City, I can confidently say vinegar-based has won my heart, forever and always.
Thank you so much for reading about all there is to enjoy in North Carolina, and please let me know if you have any questions or need any more information on any of the places I’ve mentioned. I’ll be glad to help if I can!
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