In the Triangle we’re lucky enough to be right between the beach and the mountains. In just a few hours one can swap the hills of the Piedmont and stress of the city for beautiful mountain vistas or laid-back beach towns. Of course there’s a lot more to do than just relax; the Appalachian mountains offer some of the best hiking east of the Mississippi and more trails than one could explore in a lifetime while the puzzle-piece shaped coast is filled with all sorts of activities like surfing, kayaking, fishing and more.
Boone and Blowing Rock
Boone is a mountain town with something for everyone. Great restaurants, friendly people and natural attractions give the city tons of personality and a lot to do. In the coming months people will flock to the area to enjoy the mild summers and pleasant atmosphere. Nearby Blowing Rock is even more laid back and into nature. Both are great places to stay while enjoying the surrounding mountains.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The BRP runs through Virginia and North Carolina and is one of the most scenic roads in the country. There are faster ways to get around in the mountains but that’s not what the Parkway is about; it exists to take in the beautiful geography and enjoy the moment. All sorts of campgrounds, lodges, hiking trails, little restaurants and more can be found along the Parkway as well as several mountain destinations like Asheville, Boone, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns and Little Switzerland.
Grayson Highlands is right across the state line in Virginia and less than an hour and a half drive from Boone and even closer to popular mountain getaway West Jefferson. Ponies roam wild through the picturesque balds, blueberries and blackberries grow along the trails providing a welcome snack and rocky outcroppings make for great viewpoints of the scrappy open highlands. The Appalachian Trail cuts through Grayson and the park is considered by many veteran hikers to be one of the prettiest places on the 2,000+ mile trail. There are also campsites nearby and camping is allowed in the park.
Asheville is one of the most unique towns in the United States. It is widely acclaimed for its art scene, food scene and beer scene. Downtown Asheville’s historic architecture takes center stage with green mountains as a backdrop. During summertime the streets are filled with performers and characters of all sorts. The city is a great home base for exploring nature in the surrounding Appalachian mountain. Don’t forget to check out one of America’s most spectacular homes, the Biltmore Estate.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The nation’s most visited national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Smoky Mountains National Park saddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border and encompasses over 500,000 acres. The park is home to over 10,000 species of plants and animals, notably a large black bear population (don’t worry, they’re much more scared of you than you are of them). The Appalachian Trail runs through the park and there are plenty of areas for wilderness camping for those that want to go on a multi-day adventure. The park is also great for a day trips or even a drive up to Clingman’s Dome for a stunning 360 degree view of the Appalachians.
Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach
Wilmington sits on the Cape Fear River and its downtown area was ranked as “Best American Riverfront” by USA Today in 2014. The city’s energetic downtown is full of great restaurants, shops, breweries and more. A short drive out of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach is one of the state’s most popular beaches. The area has all sorts of great restaurants and beach bars as well as rentals and vacation homes to fit a variety of needs. Check out legendary hot dog spot, Trolley Stop, for a delicious and cheap meal.
Ranked “America’s Coolest Small Town” by readers of Budget Travel Magazine in 2012, Beaufort is a historic town with a nice coastal vibe. Fishing is very popular in the area and there are several delicious seafood restaurants that take advantage of all the fresh fare. Check out Morehead City right across the channel bridge or popular beach getaways like Emerald Isle, Fort Macon State Park and Shackleford Banks.
Historic Bath, North Carolina’s oldest town, served as its first capital and was also shortly home to infamous pirate Blackbeard. The town has changed little since its early days giving it a very charming and authentic feel. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are popular in the river and marshes around town.
The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks, or OBX as it it often abbreviated, is a thin strip of barrier islands along the coast of NC and part of Virginia. There are beautiful beaches throughout the area and tons of odd and interesting things to stumble upon. History has been made multiple times on the Outer Banks, most notably with the mysterious “Lost Colony” and the first every airplane flight by the Wright Brothers. Kill Devil Hills, where the momentous flight took place, is an extraordinary sea of sand dunes popular for hang gliding and great for rolling down. Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras and Duck are all other interesting places. A road trip is always a good idea and will involve a few ferry rides and some beautiful scenery. Several places such as Cape Hatteras and Kill Devil Hills are consistently ranked as some of the top surf spots in the continental US.
Bald Head Island
Bald Head Island is a place like no other. The island can only be reached by ferry and cars are left behind on the mainland. Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation leading to a slower and more enjoyable way of life. The semi-tropical island has just enough infrastructure to provide everything you’d ever need while giving off the feeling that you’ve escaped to another world. Activities include all things beach related, cruising through the coastal forest on bicycle, kayaking in the marsh, golfing, tennis, fishing, poolside lounging and more.