From east to west, North Carolina has an adventure in store for everyone, no matter your vacation style. The state has long been known for its diverse landscape—Smoky, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountain ranges, as well as a sparkling Atlantic shoreline to the east—and its welcoming residents, who are grounded in the wild nature they call home. While the views are unbeatable, each region gleams with exciting family-friendly outdoor activities, from carving through snowy slopes to catching your first wave. With such a varied list of vacation spots in North Carolina, where should you start?
Find a getaway that suits your style, whether teeming with adrenaline, easing into quality time with loved ones, or seeking a quiet corner to relax. Come together and make the most of your vacation with a mountain cabin, a riverfront home, a family lake house, or a beach bungalow. Discover a new favorite place in the state that has it all.
Gear up for year-round fun with a North Carolina mountain vacation. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this ski town is the place to embrace adventure spanning three peaks—Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain—all within an hour of each other. In the winter, local and traveling winter sports enthusiasts set Beech Mountain as their go-to for skiing, as it is not only the highest ski area in North Carolina but the whole of the eastern United States. Come summer, celebrate the warm weather by hiking and biking through Emerald Outback’s numerous trails or daring a paddle through white water rapids.
Stretching 175 miles along stunning Atlantic Ocean waters, the Outer Banks is a chain of barrier islands just off of mainland North Carolina. Each coastal village offers something different, from Corolla’s wild mustangs to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hill’s rich history in aviation with the Wright Brothers’ first completed flight. The one thing that ties them all together? Pristine shorelines that make the perfect setting for surfing, fishing, diving, or strolling the soft sands. The Outer Banks is one of the most popular North Carolina beach vacation spots, and given a week away, you’ll see why. Save your spot near Hatteras Island’s National Seashore or Duck’s waterfront shops with a beach house and amenities like outdoor pools or direct beach access for the whole family to enjoy.
Take to the trees—whether ziplining through the canopy or hiking and horseback riding on the trails below. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between Tennessee and Western North Carolina, culminating in two states’ worth of thrills. In the national park’s surrounding area, you’ll find a trove of family-friendly activities, including watching for wildlife at Cades Cove, hiking the paved trail to Laurel Falls, or admiring the view from high adventure parks or zipline courses like Highlands Aerial Park. Stop at a visitors center for more information and recommendations, like the best viewing spots for the summer’s synchronous fireflies. Begin and end your days relaxing on the porch together, watching the namesake Smoky Mountain mist snake over the treetops.
Beautiful mountain views, an eclectic downtown, and quick access to adventure—what more could you ask for in a North Carolina getaway? Just beyond the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the city of Asheville makes for a fantastic trip any time, as there is no shortage of events or things to do along its art-filled streets. Grab a coffee and stroll the River Arts District’s glass-blowing warehouses, pottery studios, and art galleries for a day of sightseeing. After exploring the endless grounds at Biltmore or hiking along waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest, be sure to chow down on a few of the city’s famous duck tacos.
Further south, find a city escape with Wilmington’s rich history and panoramic river views. North Carolina’s historic port city is located on the banks of Cape Fear River, about a two-hour drive from both Emerald Isle and Fayetteville. This North Carolina vacation destination is popular amongst beachgoers, families, and history buffs, though the city offers something for everyone to enjoy. Tour through must-see attractions like Battleship North Carolina and the Arlie Gardens. If you’re traveling with kids, plan a day of fun and exploration at the award-winning North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and a jaunt across the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, with plenty of games, amusement park rides, and tasty pier treats. Wrightsville Beach, just 10 minutes away, is another favorite go-to spot for swimming, parasailing, sunbathing, and surfing. Don’t forget to pack your sunglasses and flip-flops.
With unspoiled ocean views, abundant wildlife, and coastal attractions for all ages, it’s no wonder Atlantic Beach is one of the most popular family vacation spots in North Carolina. Situated on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Bogue Sound, Atlantic Beach is an easy getaway for those seeking a little seaside sunshine. Kids will love to spend countless hours by the sparkling ocean waves, whether building sand castles or taking on surf lessons at The Circle (or as locals call it, “Town Beach.”) Between beach trips, there are good times to be had at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, as well as mini-golf and Fort Macon State Park’s family-friendly nature trails. Parents can look forward to downtown’s nightlife and fresh seafood, or reeling in a catch of your own on a sportfishing charter tour or the Oceanana Pier. Stay close to the action in a beachfront resort condo with more amenities to add to the fun.
Sit back and relax in the slower pace and natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Covering most of Western North Carolina, this 550-mile-long mountain range is a segment of the Appalachian Mountains that runs from Maryland through Georgia. The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway (part of the National Park Service) winds through the range’s ridges and crests for 497 miles and is one of the best ways to sightsee, leaf-peep, and explore the area. Break up the drive with a waterfall hike, mountain bike ride, or wildlife viewing at stops like Pisgah National Forest, Blowing Rock, and Nantahala National Forest. Need to cool off? Find plenty of spots for river tubing, white water rafting, fishing, and paddle boarding along mountain towns like Boone, Brevard, or Sylva. Enjoy doing as much or as little as you like, with stunning views around each corner.
If a quiet vacation spot in North Carolina is what you’re after, look no further than Topsail Island. The 26-mile barrier island is known for its natural beauty and uncrowded shoreline, removed from chain restaurants and tourist traps. Here, you can savor the soothing rhythm of the tide with little between you and the water. Serenity Point has some of the most breathtaking ocean views, and the Intercoastal Waterway makes a great place for fishing and boating. Rent jet skis, book a dolphin tour, or kick your feet up for a nap in a hammock. When you’re ready for a little more excitement, nearby Surf City offers a few more oyster bars, breweries, and parks. For more of a day trip, the city of Wilmington is only an hour away.
Don’t let the name fool you—this small mountain town is a great place to soak up quiet reverie and scenic splendor while offering a few charms downtown when you’re feeling up for an adventure. Nestled into the Great Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is an ideal North Carolina vacation spot for those looking to enjoy a bit of everything. Step out in the morning to enjoy your coffee and breathtaking mountain views, traverse the trails at Smoky Mountain National Park, then treat yourself to a soak in the treetop cabanas at Lakeview at Fontana. Switch things up and sightsee by way of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s scenic train ride or paddle along the Tuckasegee River for a more action-packed experience.
Not only is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the number one attraction in North Carolina, but it is also the most-visited national park in the United States. In 2021 alone, the park welcomed over 14 million visitors.