With miles of mountains and coast, historical repositories like Winston-Salem and Charleston, and cultural hubs like Asheville and Greenville, the Carolinas are perfectly poised to offer a wide variety of ways to shake things up with a new experience or familiar but invigorating challenge. This summer, break from routine with one of these hidden gems in North Carolina.
Charleston Walking Tour
Experience the Holy City on foot by joining a Charleston Walking Tour. A Southern stroll allows visitors to absorb Charleston in a way that can’t be matched in a bus or car. From history tours to ghost tours to culinary tours, there’s something to appeal to every curiosity in this city rich in culture and steeped in history.
Myrtle Beach Dolphin Cruise
If you have ever been to Myrtle Beach and had the good fortune of staying in an oceanfront property, then you probably have had the pleasure of glancing at the horizon around dusk or dawn and spotting dolphins playing just past the breakers. Get closer to these underwater neighbors on a two-hour dolphin cruise, and make a memory you’ll never forget.
BMW Driving Experience
Greer, South Carolina is home to one of three BMW Performance Centers in the nation. Apart from being exceptionally cool, the Greer Performance Center also offers a Performance Driving Experience, where participants trail a professional driver on an off-road course. There’s also a Track Driving Experience, where participants can push borrowed BMWs to their speed and handling limits.
Paddle in the ACE Basin
The ACE Basin in the lowlands of South Carolina is a 1.6 million acre national wildlife refuge. In fact, it’s one of the largest undeveloped wetland ecosystems on the east coast. With the Asheporo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers acting as natural boundaries delineating the refuge’s borders, ACE Basin is a maze of tidal marshes, estuaries, and snaking waterways best explored in a kayak, on a paddleboard, or aboard a small skiff.
Revolutionary War Battlefield Tour
In the 18th century, America’s campaign for independence stretched beyond the chilly northeast down to the Palmetto State. Here, a number of key battles transpired, helping to seal America’s victory over the British empire. Nowadays, visitors can explore places like Fort Sullivan, Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, Fort Moultrie, Camden Historic Site, and Landsford Canal State Park to momentarily step back in time.
Camp at Edisto Beach State Park
South of Charleston and Folly Beach is a less crowded, less developed coastal destination: Edisto Island. Here, life is lived a little more slowly, especially when you camp at Edisto Beach State Park. The oceanfront location of the campground here means that the Atlantic is the last thing you see when you turn in for the night and the first to greet you when you rise in the morning. Without the density of development that you’ll find along many other parts of the coast, Edisto offers a sandier, saltier alternative that centers on the natural beauty of the sea.
Brown Mountain Lights
Since the 13th century, hikers in the Blue Ridge have wondered at the Brown Mountain lights – small, sometimes moving balls of light that dance and dazzle momentarily and unpredictably. Scientists, government officials, spiritualists, and accidental enthusiasts have long puzzled over these mysterious orbs, these hidden gems in North Carolina. Trek to a viewing area in Linville Gorge after night falls, and cross your fingers that you might experience a rare sighting.
Rock Climbing Guided Excursion
Outdoor rock climbing is not a casual endeavor. Without the right equipment and knowledge, a climb can quickly become a life-threatening catastrophe. However, with the right experience under your belt or a capable guide on hand, outdoor rock climbing can be a beautiful way to commune with the outdoors and a demanding personal challenge, both mentally and physically. Plus, North Carolina offers some of the best rock climbing in the US. Beginners can follow their guides to Rocky Face Park or Pilot Mountain State Park.
Davidson River Fly Fishing
Cast a line in the sparkling waters of the Davidson River as it snakes between the mountains of Pisgah Forest. Pick the right spot, and you can walk away with a cooler full of delicious brown trout. Pick the wrong spot, and spend a day ensconced in the majestic beauty of the mountains. Fly fishing newcomers will find plenty of outfitters willing to furnish both guides and gear. Experienced fly fishermen can make the Davidson River one stop on a longer journey along the WNC Fly Fishing Trail.
Strap into a life jacket, tighten your helmet, and hop aboard a raft for a whitewater adventure. Both the Nantahala River and French Broad River offer class II and III rapids that can be appropriate for families. On the other hand, the Nolichucky River is a bit more challenging, shooting rafters up, over, and around class III and IV rapids. There are ample outfitters along all three rivers to select from when booking a guided experience (recommended for most people).
Hot Air Balloon Ride
For a new perspective (both physically and mentally), climb aboard a hot air balloon. Glide over the farms of North Carolina’s Piedmont or the mountains of upstate South Carolina with the wind at your back and the ground far below. Although there are a number of hot air balloon companies based in the Carolinas, you’ll want to make reservations in advance. Moreover, plan to be flexible on liftoff day, as trip launches are contingent on appropriate weather conditions.
Wander Among the Roan Mountain Rhododendrons
At any time of the year, Roan Mountain is a worthy destination, offering sweeping views of rolling ridges from atop elevated ridges. However, in June, Roan Mountain presents a special, ephemeral delight. Acres of rhododendron burst into bloom with a magenta explosion. Hike the section of the Appalachian Trail that passes through here for a physically demanding adventure. Alternatively, wander through the designated rhododendron garden area, accessible via a short, paved walkway. This is one of the most spectacular hidden gems in North Carolina.