Tag Archives: North Carolina

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 61 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?

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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?

Moores Creek National Battlefield

Overview

A little known Revolutionary War battle took place northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina on February 27, 1776.  It pitted American rebels with cannons against Loyalists primarily armed with broadswords.  In its aftermath, North Carolina became the first state to pre-approve its delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence, hence the “First in Freedom” motto on their license plates.  It is well worth the detour for a short history lesson on your way to the beautiful beaches of southeast North Carolina.

Highlights

Film, History Trail, Women’s Monument, Tarheel Trail

Must-Do Activity

After watching the film in the National Park Service visitor center, walk to the reconstructed bridge.  At this site, a British force of 1,600 soldiers marching towards the Atlantic Ocean was halted at a narrow bridge that had its planks removed and girders greased.  After the difficult crossing, British troops were met by entrenched patriot forces that killed 30 and wounded 40 while suffering only one casualty.  It would prove a pivotal victory in dissuading British military efforts in the Carolinas for the next two years. 

Best Trail

The 0.7-mile History Trail leads past the major points of interest, as well as reconstructed earthworks and cannons, in a beautiful forest setting.  The 0.3-mile Tarheel Trail describes the production of naval stores (tar, pitch, and turpentine).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Women’s Monument is one of several statues at Moores Creek National Battlefield.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can get muggy and buggy.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Carolina Beach State Park in Wilmington, North Carolina has a nice, forested campground a short drive inland from the beach; plus it is home to unique carnivorous plants.

Explore More – Why are North Carolinians called Tarheels?

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Overview

There are no roads in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, but vehicles can drive the beach nearly the entire 56-mile length of these Outer Banks barrier islands.  A passenger ferry leaves from Beaufort, North Carolina to access the Shackleford Banks where feral horses reside.  Cape Lookout is on the South Core Banks, a great spot for camping, surf fishing, kite flying, and beachcombing.  This island is accessible aboard a passenger ferry from Harkers Island and a vehicle ferry from Davis.

Lookout.JPG

Highlights

Historic lighthouse, undeveloped beaches, seashells, beach camping

Must-Do Activity

If you enjoy beach camping, then you must spend at least one night on the islands.  Go beachcombing in the morning after watching the sunrise light up Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Best Trail

There are boardwalks around the ferry landing and lighthouse, otherwise just walk the beaches.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The majestic 163-foot tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse (wearing argyle) is the icon of this national seashore and looks best at sunset and sunrise.

The lighthouse sticking out of the low fog
Find this photo and many others for sale on Imagekind.

Peak Season

Summer (if there is not a hurricane forecast)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/calo/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Free to visit and camp, $16 roundtrip per adult for passenger ferry, sometimes a charge to climb to the top of the lighthouse

Road Conditions

Paved to the ferry docks in Beaufort and Harkers Island, sandy on outer islands (4×4 required)

Camping

Camping is free on the beaches, but unless you have your own boat you will need to pay for a ferry ride out there.  The oceanfront section of beach near Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to vehicles, making it perfect for backpackers.

Our campsite

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Pelican at sunrise

Tiff with her collection of shells she found
Seashell hunting out here is great; and yes, the National Park Service allows you to take a reasonable amount home.

Short billed dowitchers

Lighthouse reflection

Explore More – When was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse built?

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