Along the Blue Ridge to the Smokies
- 1 week
Above all – literally – it’s the magnificent mountains that make North Carolina special. To savor their full splendor, spend a week driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, hiking and biking and staying in cool college towns such as Asheville and Boone.
Start your road trip with two nights in funky Boone, a couple of hours’ drive from either Charlotte or the Virginia state line. While in the area, hike up to the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain, and out to Linville Falls, breaking for lunch in Blowing Rock. Now cruise on west, and in under half a day you’ll reach the mountains’ 'capital,' Asheville. Allow a (very) good three nights to do Beer City’s breweries justice, slurp up some barbecue, and swoon at the opulent Biltmore Estate, plus take a day-trip south to Chimney Rock. Then follow the Parkway west again, pausing to learn about the Trail of Tears in Cherokee, and a morning’s drive will bring you to your final two-night stop, Bryson City. While there, be sure to bike the lakeshore in the nearby Tsali Recreation Area, or raft at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and venture into Great Smoky Mountains National Park before you head home.
Crossing North Carolina
- 2 weeks
To explore North Carolina from top to bottom – well, side to side – you’ll need to drive the whole way from the Atlantic to the Smokies. Give yourself two weeks to see everything, and you won’t have to drive more than a few hours each day.
Start in the middle, flying into Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and staying three nights in state capital Raleigh or the revitalized tobacco town of Durham. Besides some fine eating and drinking, you can explore Raleigh’s superb museums, get a grip on slavery at Stagville, and, with luck, catch a basketball game in sports-mad Chapel Hill.
Now find out where the story began, on the far-flung seashore. Three hours’ drive east of Raleigh, on Roanoke Island, Fort Raleigh preserves intriguing traces of Sir Walter Raleigh’s mysterious 'Lost Colony.' Less than half an hour on, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the epochal origin of the state’s signature boast, 'First in Flight.' Spend two nights on the Outer Banks to make the most of the dunes, marshes and wildlife refuges along 70-mile Cape Hatteras National Seashore, then hop the free ferry to Ocracoke Island and soak up the sun on its breathtaking beach.
Back on the mainland, a 40-mile drive from the Cedar Island ferry terminal, the ravishing 18th-century pirates’ lair of Beaufort abounds in cozy B&Bs. Two hours’ driving on the next morning brings you to buzzy, historic Wilmington. Allow two nights to enjoy its bars and restaurants, and inspect the mighty Battleship North Carolina WWII megaship, before the 200-mile trek west to North Carolina’s largest city, Charlotte. An overnight stop here lets you eat and drink well once again, and take in top-class museums and attractions.
Another 120 miles west, the dynamic college community, activities hub and brewing boomtown of Asheville makes a great base for mountain adventures. Treat yourself to four nights, heading out by day to hike and bike in wilderness wonderlands like the Smokies and Pisgah and Nantahala forests, and spending your evenings weighing up whether beer or barbecue is your chief priority. For your final bonus, we present the Blue Ridge Parkway. Set aside a day to surf its luscious curves, pausing for the odd hike, and spend your last night in the lively college town of Boone.