Category Archives: North Carolina

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Overview

The Outer Banks of North Carolina have sparked the imaginations of travelers ever since British colonists landed here in 1585.  If you are seeking undeveloped beaches that have changed little over the centuries then this is the place to go.  The 70 miles of barrier islands protected as Cape Hatteras National Seashore are interrupted only by small seaside villages and one long section by Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Bodie Island and Hatteras Island are connected by bridges, but Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry.

Highlights

1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke Island Campground, beaches

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located at iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse where you can learn about shipwrecks, pirates, and the monumental effort to move the 208-foot tall brick structure in 1999.  Further down Highway 12, pick up a free ferry to Ocracoke Island, a renowned vacation destination.  Several campgrounds are found along the seashore, including one on Ocracoke.  Since this remote strip of sand is not easy to get to, you will want to spend at least a night or two.

Best Trail

Walking the beach and collecting seashells is the most popular diversion, but there are also the Hammock Hills Nature Trail on Ocracoke Island and Buxton Woods Nature Trail on Hatteras Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, dating back to 1823, but it is not open to enter inside.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except a fee is charged to climb Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved and there are designated access points to drive on the beach.

Camping

There are four NPS campgrounds and they all take reservations.

Related Sites

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Wright Brothers National Memorial (North Carolina)

Explore More – The Outer Banks are known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” so how many shipwrecks have been recorded in this area?

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Overview

The Wright Brothers hailed from Dayton, Ohio but they came to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the sustained winds they needed to get their winged contraptions off the ground.  They glided from the top of Kill Devil Hill more than a thousand times between 1900 and 1902.  Then on December 17, 1903 they finally made history: twelve-seconds of motor-powered, man-carrying flight in a heavier-than-air airplane.  After the fourth and longest flight (59 seconds) that day the flying machine was irreparably crashed and the brothers headed back to Ohio. 

Highlights

Museum, replica flyer and glider, monument, sculpture

Must-Do Activity

Since 1932, a massive granite monument has stood atop the 90-foot tall hill, which is actually a sand dune stabilized with planted grass.  Visitors to Kitty Hawk will also find a replica flyer and glider, reconstructed hangar, boulders marking the landing spot of each of the four flights, and a life-size bronze sculpture added on the first flight centennial in 2003. 

Best Trail

A paved walkway connects the Wright Brothers Monument atop Kill Devil Hill with the five boulders marking the lift-off point and four landings that occurred on December 17, 1903.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A full-scale replica of the 1903 flyer is located inside the museum run by the National Park Service (NPS).  Rangers give lectures in that room throughout the day, also explaining details of the replica 1902 glider.

Peak Season

Summer and every December 17

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are NPS campgrounds located south of the memorial in Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Related Sites

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Ohio)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – The 1903 flyer on display here is a replica, so where is the original exhibited?

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Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Overview

In Manteo, North Carolina, the Outer Banks islands protect Albemarle Sound, where Roanoke Island can be found.  If that name sounds familiar, it is because it was here that Fort Raleigh became the first English settlement in North America.  First scoped out in 1584, its original inhabitants all left with Sir Francis Drake after supply ships failed to arrive.  The 117 colonists that came in 1587 actually wanted to settle further north on Chesapeake Bay, but their captain left them here instead.  John White soon sailed back to England to get aid, but an ongoing war with the Spanish Armada kept him away until 1590.  Upon his return he found the fort deserted, the buildings stripped, and a fencepost marked “CROATOAN” (the name of nearby island).  White was thwarted in his attempt to land on Croatoan Island by a hurricane, so to-this-day nobody knows the true fate of the colonists.

Highlights

Museum, site of first British colony in America, Lost Colony Outdoor Drama

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service museum has excellent displays, including the videos of Sir Walter Raleigh (the fort’s namesake) in the Elizabethan Room.  It offers all the theories on happened to the settlers so visitors can decide what they believe.  “The Lost Colony” did lend its name to an outdoor musical performed most nights throughout the summer within the boundaries of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. 

Best Trail

The Thomas Hariot Nature Trail provides views of the reconstructed earthen fort, musical theater, and Albemarle Sound.  Hariot was a scientist who searched Roanoke Island in 1585 for precious metals and made drawings of the local flora and fauna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Waterside Theatre has hosted the outdoor symphonic play “The Lost Colony” every summer since 1937.

Peak Season

Summer beach season when the musical theater has performances

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fora/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for tickets to the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama.  Admission is also charged at the adjacent Elizabethan Gardens.

Road Conditions

All roads paved.

Camping

There is a private campground nearby, but we recommend you reserve a campsite near the beach within beautiful Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Related Sites

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Wright Brothers National Memorial (North Carolina)

Colonial National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More – What was the name of the baby girl born at Fort Raleigh, famous as the first child born of English parents in the Americas?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Overview

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, with both sides offering incredible views.  The park is similar to Shenandoah National Park in that it was mostly purchased from private landowners before its establishment by the federal government in 1934.  With around 11-million visitors annually, it is easily the most visited of the 62 National Parks in the National Park Service system, perhaps because it has no entrance fee.

Highlights

Clingman’s Dome, Cades Cove, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Foothills Parkway, Oconaluftee, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Many interesting sections of Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserve the human history of the region, like the popular Cades Cove with its iconic old grist mill.  To learn more about the Cherokee indigenous to this region, visit Oconaluftee Visitor Center on the North Carolina side.  While there you might also spot a herd of reintroduced elk.

Best Trail

Even on the bumper to bumper Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, all you have to do is park and take a hike to find some solitude.  Grotto Falls Trail passes through old-growth hemlock forest, an area very popular with black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you can imagine, this park is incredibly popular in October and November because of the beautiful fall foliage.  Early in the season, head to 6,643-foot Clingman’s Dome, then drop in elevation as the autumn progresses.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Newfound Gap Road is the major thoroughfare connecting the two sides of the park and it is plowed throughout the winter.  The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove is open year round, but the 7-mile spur road up to Clingman’s Dome and the 6-mile one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail are seasonal.

Camping

There are 10 campgrounds within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but if you need RV hookups you will have to find a private campground outside the park.

Related Sites

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

This design we created to celebrate Great Smoky Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – While most National Parks do not allow dogs on trails, what are the two trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that do?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Overview

Even in the wake of Patriot victories at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, the British army was not giving up their southern colonies without a fight.  Major General Nathanael Greene was in charge of the Continental Army in the southern theater and his troops were aggressively pursued by British General Charles Cornwallis.  Although he lost the battle on March 15, 1781, Greene’s name was later applied to the nearby town of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Highlights

Museum, film, Hoskins Farm, Major General Nathanael Greene statue

Must-Do Activity

Start at the National Park Service visitor center, watch the short film, then make stops along the 2.25-mile auto tour.  You will learn the story of what took place on March 15, 1781, when Greene’s defensive position at Guilford Courthouse was attacked by British forces.  While the Patriots withdrew they only suffered 7% casualties, compared to the British who lost 28% of their army, leading them to eventually retreat to Yorktown, Virginia.  After the battle, Greene continued to fight, leading his men against overmatched backcountry outposts of British troops such as the one at Ninety Six, South Carolina. 

Best Trail

In addition to the auto tour route, a paved bicycle path wends through the battlefield.  The lovely 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is heavily utilized for recreation by the local people of Greensboro.  As such, you are allowed to walk your dog in the park. In the summer, you can also walk around Hoskins Farm, though its buildings are closed, as is the old Colonial Heritage Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Many monuments line the pathways that cut through 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, with the equestrian statue of Major General Nathanael Greene being the most prominent.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/guco/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The city of Greensboro operates a campground with showers south of town.

Explore More – Which British politician remarked, “Another such victory would destroy the British Army” following the battle at Guilford Courthouse?