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  • Rafting through the rapids in North Carolina
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    Bryson City: Small Town, Big Attractions

  • Swimmers sliding down the smooth-surfaced Sliding Rock boulder in Pisgah National Forest
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    Enter the Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County

  • Children leap off a dock at Lake Lure
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    Rutherford County: Water Adventures and Mountain Views

  • Mile High Swinging Bridge gives breathtaking views of Grandfather Mountain
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    Up in the High Country in Boone

Mountain sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway
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Iconic Beauty, Epic Adventure in North Carolina’s Mountains

  • Route distance:
    768.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Calling all wanderers, outdoor lovers and active families to the mountains of North Carolina

There’s something about the soft peaks and valleys of North Carolina’s mountains that beckon to those seeking outdoor adventure and beauty. From the dense greenery of summer, to the blazing colors of autumn leaves, the landscape here is a year-round display of Mother Nature’s majesty. But this place isn’t just a pretty face – you can get up close with nature around every curve of winding road. Hike through remote wilderness, drive along scenic byways, cool your feet in the rushing mountain waters or take in the natural splendor from countless vistas. A visit to North Carolina’s mountain region is an open invitation to participate in nature’s greatest attractions.

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Rafting through the rapids in North Carolina
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Bryson City: Small Town, Big Attractions

As you make the three-hour drive due west from Charlotte Douglas International Airport, you’ll notice a transition from relatively flat terrain to the increasingly windy mountain roads as you enter Western North Carolina. Your first stop, Bryson City, was named one of the top 20 mountain towns to visit in 2016 by Smithsonian Magazine. Head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just north of Bryson City, for a hike up to Clingman’s Dome. The views from the top of the highest point on the Appalachian Trail are sublime. Thrill seekers, hook up with Nantahala Outdoor Center, recognized as one of the best outfitters on earth by National Geographic Adventure and the nation’s premiere paddling school by the New York Times. Go whitewater rafting, ziplining, mountain biking and stand-up paddle boarding. Make a quick visit to the so-called Road to Nowhere, a scenic road that was never completed. You can walk through the dark, eerie tunnel if you dare. After a thrill-filled day, enjoy a cold Noon Day IPA or Bryson City Brown at Nantahala Brewing Company before settling down for the evening.

145 km
2 hours by car
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Swimmers sliding down the smooth-surfaced Sliding Rock boulder in Pisgah National Forest
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Enter the Land of Waterfalls in Transylvania County

The charming town of Brevard is about two hours from Bryson City on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, a beautiful drive through pastoral farmland, tiny mountain outposts and tranquil forest scenery. As you approach Brevard, throw on a bathing suit and stop at Sliding Rock. On a hot day, you’ll find throngs of enthusiastic swimmers slipping and sliding down a weather-worn, 18-meter boulder and splashing into the refreshing mountain water below. Spectacular waterfalls are the star of the show in Transylvania County. Top photo opportunities include Looking Glass Falls, accessible right from the roadside; Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont National Forest; Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park; and Upper Whitewater Falls, the highest falls east of the Rocky Mountains. Wind down with a guided walking tour around downtown Brevard (available through the Transylvania Heritage Museum); look for Brevard’s famous white squirrels and grab a beer at Brevard Brewing Company – their specialty lagers are divine.

66 km
1 hour by car
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Children leap off a dock at Lake Lure
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Rutherford County: Water Adventures and Mountain Views

Rested up after your day of waterfall explorations, stop for lunch in historic downtown Hendersonville on your way to Lake Lure, where the 1980s classic “Dirty Dancing” was filmed. In the warm months, Lake Lure is a hive of activity. Families congregate near the water park features and sunbathers take in the rays on the wide, sandy shore. Lake Lure Adventure Company rents boats, kayaks and paddleboards and offers water ski trips on the lake. Take it easy with a guided boat tour to learn about the natural history of the Hickory Nut Gorge, and see popular “Dirty Dancing” filming sites. Look up on a clear day and you’ll see a rock outcropping with an American flag flying in the breeze. That’s the show-stopping Chimney Rock State Park, just down the road from Lake Lure, where you can hike and take gorgeous photos of the lake and gorge – it’s particularly beautiful during the fall season, when the leafs are changing colors. If the dam is open, the waters of the Broad River that runs through town are super for kayaking. Afterward, browse the quaint shops in the town of Chimney Rock, and toast to another adventurous day over a pint at the family-friendly Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery.

129 km
2 hours by car
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Mile High Swinging Bridge gives breathtaking views of Grandfather Mountain
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Up in the High Country in Boone

Home to Appalachian State University, Boone is an interesting blend of college town and remote mountain outpost. For a low-key experience, you can shop at the original, old-time Mast General Store, ride a steam train on the Tweetsie Railroad, sift for minerals and gems at a gem mine or enjoy an ale at one of the local breweries. Of course, you’ll be spending time outdoors here, so take the winding, two-lane road of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway (check for seasonal closures) to Grandfather Mountain, the area’s biggest attraction. Admission to the park gets you a CD tour for your car that directs you to hiking trails, wildlife habitats, the nature museum and scenic outlooks along the way. Cross the mile-high swinging bridge, which sways over a rocky gorge some 1,600 meters in the air, offering a thrilling experience and can’t-miss views. Nearby, the town of Blowing Rock attracts visitors with zip lining, aerial ropes courses and skiing in the winter. It’s about two hours back to Charlotte Douglas International Airport – enjoy the scenic descent back down to the flat lands.

Official North Carolina Travel Site