North Carolina is a state that has some of the most jaw-dropping natural wonders in the country. From the majestic peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the serene beauty of barrier islands, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to explore. With 15 incredible natural wonders that defy explanation, you’ll be amazed by cascading waterfalls, pristine national parks, and recreation areas. The Great Smoky Mountains are a highlight, offering a unique story written by the forces of nature. So pack your bags and get ready to discover the treasure trove of
natural wonders in North Carolina.
Best Gorges & Canyons In North Carolina
Get ready to explore the best must-see nature in North Carolina! From the
rugged cliffs of Linville Gorge to the dynamic beauty of Hickory Nut Gorge, these natural wonders promise adventure and breathtaking scenery. Join me on a journey through the best that North Carolina’s landscapes have to offer, where every turn unveils a new marvel of nature.
Linville Gorge, North Carolina 28657, USA
Location: Burke County, NC Wow Factor: Enjoy breathtaking views from overlooks like Table Rock and Hawksbill. Another must-see is Linville Falls, the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina. You can find it along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Milepost 316.4. Cost: Free to enter the Wilderness Area. Are you planning to camp? Weekends and holidays from May to October require a free camping permit (free with a $6 transaction fee). Nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the Linville Gorge Wilderness is a gem within the Pisgah National Forest. The gorge, shaped by Jonas Ridge and Linville Mountain, features the Linville River cascading 2,000 feet into the valleys below. With its steep terrain, rock formations, and dense forests, it's a haven for outdoor lovers. Hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fishing, and hunting are just a few of the adventures waiting in this rugged wilderness.
Chimney Rock State Park, 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720, USA
Location: Gerton, Bat Cave, Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, and Bill’s Creek are the communities within the Gorge. Chimney Rock State Park is in Chimney Rock, Rutherford County. Wow Factor: Chimney Rock State Park is a standout attraction in the Gorge, visible from the highway. It boasts the remarkable 404-foot Hickory Nut Falls, twice the height of Niagara Falls, flowing over sheer cliffs. The distinctive geological formation, the Chimney, serves as a natural lookout over the Gorge and was featured in the movie "The Last of the Mohicans." Cost: Entry to Hickory Nut Gorge is free, but there is an admission fee for Chimney Rock State Park. Hickory Nut Gorge is a hit with hikers, leaf-peepers, and photo lovers, thanks to its rushing waters, huge waterfall, and pristine forests. The 14-mile gorge, carved by the Rocky Broad River over time, descends 1,800 feet from Gerton to Lake Lure. This ecological gem, stretching across four counties and 20,000 acres, is home to 37 rare plants and 14 rare animals. Best Caves In North Carolina
Discover the hidden wonders beneath North Carolina’s surface as we
explore the best caves, including Linville Caverns, Boone’s Cave, and Tory’s Den Cave. From ancient formations to historical hideaways, these caves promise an expedition into the geological and historical richness of the state.
Linville Caverns, Inc, 19929 US-221, Marion, NC 28752, USA
Location: Marion, NC Wow Factor: In winter and early spring, spot Eastern Pipistrelle Bats and Little Brown Bats hanging from the cave ceiling. Observe blind fish swimming in the underground stream. Cost: Linville Caverns are privately owned and welcome the public for guided tours year-round. $11-$13/ticket (children under 5 years old are free). Explore the hidden wonders beneath the North Carolina mountains at Linville Caverns near Marion. These incredible underground formations, carved over time by moving groundwater, create fascinating "rooms" and labyrinths. Tucked away beneath Humpback Mountain in the beautiful Linville Valley, the caverns have long been the stuff of legends. In the 1800s, curious explorers, drawn by stories of fish swimming out of the mountain, uncovered the extensive caverns and underground streams.
Boone's Cave Park, 3552 Boones Cave Rd, Lexington, NC 27295, USA
Location: Lexington, NC Wow Factor: Explore Boone’s Cave Park. Enjoy hiking trails, biking, river access, a picnic area, a cabin reminiscent of the 1700s, and behold the state's tallest cottonwood tree! Cost: Free. Honoring the iconic pioneer Daniel Boone, Boone’s Cave draws its name from the Boone family, pioneers who established roots on the scenic banks of the Yadkin River in 1730. In the adventurous days of his youth, it is said that Daniel utilized the cave as a secret hideout. Today, this historical cave has found a cherished place within the expansive 110-acre Boone’s Cave Park, where its storied past comes alive amid the natural beauty and rich heritage of the surroundings.
Tory's Den Cave, 1287-1299 Charlie Young Rd, Walnut Cove, NC 27052, USA
Location: Walnut Cove, NC Wow Factor: You can easily reach the cave and four spectacular waterfalls nearby by taking the 2.7-mile Tory's Den Trail. Cost: Entrance to Hanging Rock State Park for day use is free, with the exception of boat rentals and swim passes, which may incur fees. Have you heard about Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina? It's a must-visit spot for anyone who loves the mountains and nature. What makes it even more special is Tory's Den, a cave that was apparently used by the Tories as a hideout during the American Revolution. If you're planning a trip there, don't forget to bring a flashlight because the cave can be quite dark, with very little light filtering through. It's definitely an experience you won't want to miss! Best Waterfalls In North Carolina
Get set for a
waterfall adventure in North Carolina! I’ve got the best spots lined up, from the graceful Crabtree Falls to the immersive Dry Falls, the majestic High Falls, and the enchanting Rainbow Falls. Come along as we explore the scenic landscapes of the Tar Heel State, where these water wonders guarantee a refreshing and awe-inspiring experience!
Crabtree Falls, North Carolina 28777, USA
Location: Near the boundary of McDowell County and Yancey County, NC Wow Factor: Be sure to catch the falls from the wooden bridge crossing over the creek for the best view. Cost: Free. Nestled along the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 339, Crabtree Falls stands out as one of North Carolina's most picturesque waterfalls. It's a 70-foot waterfall that flows into a clear pool at the base. The best time to visit is in the spring when the trail is surrounded by an array of wildflowers, including four species of trillium.
Dry Falls, North Carolina 28741, USA
Location: Located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands, NC Wow Factor: For a closer view, take the stairs down and follow the short path. The peak fall colors usually occur in the second week of October, and during the coldest winters, you can marvel at the captivating ice formations. Cost: $3/vehicle fee, $15/annual pass. Dry Falls near Highlands is a must-visit in North Carolina! A unique 75-foot waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest, you can walk safely behind it, staying dry even during rainy spells. Found alongside US Highway 64, the fully accessible observation area near the parking lot provides an easy view, and a short walk down the trail offers a breathtaking perspective from the end of the path.
High Falls, North Carolina 28739, USA
Location: Located in the DuPont State Recreational Forest, NC Wow Factor: Three waterfalls for the price of one! High Falls is a mere half-mile away from Triple Falls, while Bridal Veil Falls is a 2.2-mile hike. Cost: Free. Dupont State Recreational Forest has some of the best waterfalls in North Carolina, and High Falls is the real showstopper. This 150-foot beauty sits smack in the middle of a massive 10,000-acre nature sanctuary. The hike from the parking area is a breeze, just 1.2 miles roundtrip, offering killer views from both the top and bottom of the falls. You've got options, too - hit up High Falls on its own or spice things up by adding extra falls like Triple Falls for a bit more adventure and distance.
Rainbow Falls, North Carolina 28747, USA
Location: Located near Brevard, NC Wow Factor: Just a quick stroll upstream is Turtleback Falls, a popular natural water slide, and a little downstream is Hidden Falls, a peaceful swimming spot. Cost: Free. Rainbow Falls, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is a spectacular 150-foot waterfall that boasts a unique rock face that propels water, forming a plunge pool below. The abundant water creates winds and mist, and in the right sunlight, a captivating rainbow appears, giving the falls its name. What sets it apart is that visitors can enjoy the falls from the front, bottom, side, and top. Located in Pisgah National Forest near Gorges State Park, Rainbow Falls is part of a stunning two-mile stretch of cascades along the Horsepasture River. Best Overlooks & Scenic Vistas In North Carolina
Are you ready for an adventure that will leave you in awe? Look no further than North Carolina’s most
epic overlooks and scenic vistas. From the treeless peak of Black Balsam Knob to the rhododendrons of Craggy Gardens, each spot promises a one-of-a-kind view of the state’s natural wonders.
Black Balsam Knob, North Carolina 28716, USA
Location: Located in the Pisgah National Forest, near milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wow Factor: Take a hike up to the awesome summit of Black Balsam Knob on the Art Loeb Trail. You'll stroll through a wildflower-covered mountain with killer 360-degree views that'll blow your mind! Cost: Free. Have you ever heard of Black Balsam Knob? It's this grassy mountain top standing tall at 6214 feet. With Black Balsam Knob's killer views of the surrounding mountains, it's a hit with families, day hikers, photographers, and picnickers alike. You can hop on several trails right from Black Balsam and explore the area - you can dive into some of the Southern Appalachians' most stunning spots, including Sam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and, of course, Black Balsam Knob itself.
Craggy Gardens, North Carolina 28778, USA
Location: The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center is located at Milepost 364.4, with the spur to Craggy Gardens trails and picnic area at 367.6. Wow Factor: In June, the Craggies draw visitors with vibrant Catawba rhododendron blooms. Even if you miss the peak, the area bursts with color from violets, blackberry, May-apple, and Turkscap lily. Cost: Free. Step into a unique world at Craggy Gardens, where gnarled trees, fog, and wind create a distinctive atmosphere. Named for its twisted "crags," this area features a spectacular floral display, especially rhododendrons. In just a 20-minute walk, reach the summit of Craggy Pinnacle for breathtaking 360-degree views, completing the immersive journey through this remarkable mountain environment along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Best Rock Formations in North Carolina
Let’s explore North Carolina’s spectacular rock formations. From the rugged cliffs of
Grandfather Mountain to the 600-foot granite dome at Stone Mountain State Park, let’s dive into the best natural attractions in North Carolina for some out-of-this-world views and outdoor fun!
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina 28646, USA
Location: Near Linville, NC Wow Factor: A must-see at Grandfather Mountain Nature Park is the iconic Mile High Swinging Bridge. Since 1952, visitors have marveled at its 360-degree panoramic views. This suspension footbridge, America's highest, offers easy access to the stunning vistas atop Grandfather Mountain's Linville Peak, sitting at an elevation of 5,305 feet. Cost: $9-$28/ticket. Grandfather Mountain, standing at 5,946 feet in northwest North Carolina, boasts remarkable biodiversity and stunning beauty. As part of the United Nations' Southern Appalachian Biosphere Reserve, this ancient mountain, dating back 300 million years with some rock formations at 1.2 billion years old, is a testament to nature's wonders. One-third of the mountain serves as a scenic attraction, where visitor contributions aid in preservation, and the remaining two-thirds remain wild. The attraction offers various activities, including wildlife exhibits, the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, hiking trails, and the famed Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Stone Mountain State Park, 3042 Frank Pkwy, Roaring Gap, NC 28668, USA
Location: Roaring Gap, NC Wow Factor: Hike the Stone Mountain Loop Trail to see the 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls and reach the Stone Mountain summit at 2,305' elevation. Cost: There are no fees required to access Stone Mountain State Park for day use. Have you heard of Stone Mountain in North Carolina? It's a massive granite dome located in Stone Mountain State Park that rises over 600 feet above the surrounding terrain. The mountain is quite unique with its barren sides and distinctive brown-gray color, and it can be seen for miles around. It's actually the best example of a monadnock in massive granite in North Carolina, and as such, it was designated a National Natural Landmark in May 1974. Stone Mountain is a popular destination for rock climbers, attracting climbers from all over the country. The park offers some of the best rock climbing opportunities in North Carolina, and the views from the top are simply breathtaking. If you're not into rock climbing, don't worry - the park's creeks and streams feature excellent brook trout fishing, and there are plenty of hiking trails to explore as well. Unique Natural Wonders in North Carolina
Embark on a voyage through North Carolina’s
unique natural wonders, where the towering sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge and the majestic heights of Mount Mitchell reveal the state’s unparalleled charm.
Jockey's Ridge State Park, 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959, USA
Location: Nags Head, NC Wow Factor: Be sure to catch the sunset and watch it sink below the horizon from atop the dunes. Cost: The park is open year-round, except Christmas Day, and does not charge an admission, parking, or program fee. Jockey's Ridge State Park is a gem in Nags Head, covering 427 acres and boasting the tallest sand dunes in the eastern United States. The most-visited park in the NC system, Jockey's Ridge is a unique blend of ecosystems: the Roanoke Sound, the expansive dune system, and the maritime forest. After rainfall, temporary ponds, or vernal pools, form near the dunes, offering a glimpse of life in this shifting landscape. Scientists believe the dunes, a product of the last ice age 12,000 years ago, started forming around 7,000 years ago as minerals washed down from the state mountains. With winds constantly shaping the dunes, the park holds an estimated 30 million tons of sand, creating a challenging environment for flora and fauna yet showcasing the resilience of life in the Outer Banks.
Mount Mitchell, Mt Mitchell, North Carolina 28714, USA
Location: Near Burnsville, NC Wow Factor: On a clear day, you can enjoy awe-inspiring mountain views from the observation deck. Cost: It is free to visit Mount Mitchell State Park. Just a scenic 30-mile drive northeast of Asheville lies Mount Mitchell State Park, marking the birthplace of North Carolina's state parks system. Towering at 6,684 feet, it proudly claims the title of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Take a stroll through easy trails amidst the Fraser fir forest at the peak or venture into the extensive trail network, including the challenging Mountains-to-Sea State Trail. These trails extend into the adjacent wilderness areas, offering backpacking opportunities within the expansive Pisgah National Forest. Whether you're after stunning panoramas or backcountry adventures, Mount Mitchell State Park invites you to explore the beauty of the Black Mountain subrange of the Appalachians.
And there you have it – the incredible natural wonders of North Carolina! Have you checked out any of these spots? Which are your faves? I’ve seen Grandfather Mountain up close and personal – it is a sight to behold! You have got to check it out if you’re in Western North Carolina.
If you’re planning to hit the road to check out some of these nature places in North Carolina, be sure to write a
handy packing list!
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