Places That Make North Carolina A Gem For Nature Lovers

April 29, 2024

North Carolina boasts many opportunities to get out into nature and experience some of the best natural wonders in the United States. From the untouched beaches of the Outer Banks to the sprawling mountain ranges across multiple national parks, nature lovers will be in awe of the gems waiting to be discovered. 

For visitors traveling with vape pods and other smoking products, it is essential to research any laws or restrictions surrounding smoking in public places. Additionally, for locations that permit the use of vape, ensure you discard all packaging and product waste safely and responsibly. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

With more than half of its sprawling grounds found in North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country. The biggest appeal of this location is that it boasts multiple ways to experience its natural beauty. 

If you prefer to take in mother nature from the safety of your car, Cataloochee Valley along the eastern edge is ideal for spotting herds of majestic elk while slowly driving through the park. Alternatively, hikers can enjoy a short trek through the Deep Creek along the southern border to reach three cascading waterfalls. 

Linville Caverns

Immerse yourself in the hidden wonders of Humpback Mountain with a visit to the Linville Caverns. These active caverns, nestled within the mountain, boast a unique geological spectacle- stalactite and stalagmite formations crafted over time by the minerals in dripping water. 

First discovered in the early 1800s by fishermen hunting for trout, the underground system has been open to the public since 1937. Thanks to its unique location, the caverns maintain a comfortable 52 degrees throughout the year, regardless of the season outside. Today, visitors can still see trout and other wildlife that call these caves home.

Grandfather Mountain State Park

With 2,456 acres of rugged and unspoiled backcountry, Grandfather Mountain State Park is the ideal playground for any experienced hiker. Not to be mistaken for the area of Grandfather Mountain operated by a foundation, the state park has wonderfully preserved an undeveloped area that is home to over 70 rare and endangered species. 

The Nuwati Trail, the only trail classified as ‘easy,’ leads to Storyteller’s Rock, which boasts unmatched views of Boone Bowl and Calloway Peak. Alternatively, the Sout Trail, reserved for only the most experienced hikers, climbs roughly 2,000 feet over three miles, peaking with panoramic views of Linn Cove Viaduct. 

Sarah P. Duke Garden

For over 80 years, Sarah P. Duke Gardens has been beloved by the Duke and Durham communities. This public garden, which owes its existence to the vision and enthusiasm of Dr. Frederic M. Hanes, a member of the original faculty at Duke Medical School, has a rich history that continues to captivate visitors. 

After receiving a $20,000 investment from Sarah P. Duke, a close friend and widow of one of the university’s founders, the garden came to life, with hundreds of flower beds adorned with thousands of blooming flowers. Today, the grounds feature four distinct areas, which showcase historic rose gardens and fountains, the flora of the southeastern United States, indigenous plants of eastern Asia, and an educational Discovery Garden, with five miles of walkways and paths to wonder and explore. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The barrier islands that separate the Pamlico Sound and Atlantic Ocean are considered a national treasure. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which spans from Bodie Island in the north to Ocracoke Island in the south, is one of the more beautiful stretches of beach. 

Here, you will find miles of sandy beaches, marshes brimming with wildlife, and multiple iconic architectural structures. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and a beacon of this location. 

Hammocks Beach State Park

If you are after unspoiled shores and pristine beaches, look no further than the Hammocks Beach State Park. With only 33 acres of the park located on the mainland, the most significant appeal of this park is Bear Island, which is only accessible by boat, ferry, canoe, or kayak. 

The island is four miles long, less than a mile wide, and considered a prime location for hunting shells. Furthermore, the beach is a popular destination for nesting loggerhead sea turtles, a protected species that must be undisturbed. 

Dry Falls

Dry Falls is a popular waterfall location just outside Highlands. The biggest appeal of this tumbling natural wonder is the ability to walk behind it safely. Located in the Nathanhala National Forest, the 75-foot waterfall cascades over a shelved cliff, allowing visitors to walk behind the falling water without getting wet. 

In mid-October, a magical autumnal color palette will take over the natural surroundings, while the peak winter months will see the creation of beautiful and intricate ice formations. However, the appearance of ice will lead to the walkway behind the waterfall being closed for safety. 

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

History buffs, bird lovers, beachgoers, and the environmentally conscious will be at home at Fort Fisher State Recreational Area. Situated five miles south of Carolina Beach, the fort was built in 1861 to defend the Confederacy. During WWII, it was used as a firing range to train hundreds of military personnel. 

Today, these grounds are far more peaceful, with sprawling marsh-lined boardwalks allowing you to wander and explore. Each season brings new experiences and natural wonders, from nesting loggerhead sea turtles to migrating hawks and falcons. 

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Andi Perullo de Ledesma

I am Andi Perullo de Ledesma, a Chinese Medicine Doctor and Travel Photojournalist in Charlotte, NC. I am also wife to Lucas and mother to Joaquín. Follow us as we explore life and the world one beautiful adventure at a time.

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