North Carolina, renowned for its varied landscapes that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean's sun-kissed beaches to the majestic peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, offers a collection of the most picturesque road trips in the United States. Whether you are drawn to the tranquility of coastal drives, the bustling excitement of vibrant city life, the peacefulness of mountain vistas, or the charming allure of historic small towns, North Carolina’s diverse routes cater to every traveler's taste. Here, we present thirteen of the most scenic road trips you can embark on in this beautiful state.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Often referred to as "America's Favorite Drive," the Blue Ridge Parkway offers stunning views of the Appalachian Highlands. Extending over 469 miles, primarily in North Carolina, this iconic route meanders through vibrant landscapes featuring dense forests, cascading waterfalls, and rolling meadows.
Along the way, travelers encounter a variety of wildlife, panoramic overlooks, and rich cultural history. Key highlights include the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering marvel seamlessly integrated into its natural surroundings, and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Historical sites like the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park add depth to the journey.
Outer Banks Scenic Byway
Outer Banks Scenic Byway stretches over 138 miles, offering breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound, and the quaint villages dotting the coastline. This journey takes travelers through the heart of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, renowned for its iconic lighthouses and a history steeped in maritime lore.
Along the way, visitors can immerse themselves in the area's unique culture, exploring local seafood eateries, engaging with friendly coastal communities, and witnessing the harmonious blend of nature and human history. The byway not only offers a chance to see the wild horses of Corolla but also leads to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, celebrating the birthplace of aviation.
Connecting Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, the Cherohala Skyway is a lesser-known gem that offers a tranquil and scenic drive. Spanning 43 miles, this route takes you through the Nantahala National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest, presenting panoramic views of untouched wilderness. Along the way, travelers can enjoy the diverse flora and fauna, winding roads that ascend to breathtaking elevations, and numerous overlooks offering stunning vistas.
The skyway’s high-altitude vistas and lush landscapes make it a perfect destination for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike. Ideal for a leisurely drive, the Cherohala Skyway also offers access to various hiking trails and picnic spots, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the serene beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
North Carolina’s Waterfall Byway, stretching for 98 miles, winds through the state's western landscape, an area boasting over 200 waterfalls. This scenic journey begins in Brevard, aptly nicknamed "The Land of Waterfalls," and traverses through lush forests and rugged terrain. Along this picturesque route, travelers encounter key attractions like the majestic Looking Glass Falls, the towering Whitewater Falls—one of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern United States, and the breathtaking vistas of Gorges State Park.
The byway, rich in natural beauty, also offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities. Enthusiasts can enjoy hiking along well-marked trails, fishing in pristine streams, and picnicking in serene spots surrounded by the tranquil beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
Sauratown Mountains Scenic Byway
The Sauratown Mountains Scenic Byway, stretching over 72 miles, offers a journey through a unique geological area in North Carolina, often referred to as "the mountains away from the mountains." This scenic route traverses through a landscape rich in natural beauty, cultural history, and agricultural heritage, winding past Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock State Park. Along the way, visitors can explore the historical town of Danbury, discover local art at the Piedmont Craftsmen's Gallery, and indulge in the region's wineries.
These iconic landmarks provide opportunities for hiking, bird watching, rock climbing, and enjoying panoramic views. The byway also features beautiful streams, old-growth forests, and a diverse range of flora and fauna. Whether seeking adventure or relaxation, the Sauratown Mountains Scenic Byway is a captivating destination for travelers wanting to experience the essence of North Carolina's picturesque countryside.
Uwharrie Scenic Road
The Uwharrie Scenic Road, spanning approximately 50 miles, meanders through the Uwharrie National Forest, one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America, dating back over 500 million years. This captivating road trip offers stunning views of ancient peaks and dense, lush forests. It's a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering myriad activities like hiking along well-marked trails, fishing in clear streams, and boating in the expansive Badin Lake area.
Along the route, travelers can find picnic spots and camping sites, making it ideal for a family adventure or a solitary retreat. The Uwharrie Mountains, with their rich biodiversity and tranquil settings, provide a serene escape into nature's beauty.
Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway
Travel through the heart of North Carolina’s timberland on the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway, a 79-mile route that offers a journey through rich forests and the history of American forestry. This scenic drive takes you past stunning waterfalls, such as Looking Glass and Sliding Rock, and the famous Cold Mountain immortalized in literature and film. The route also leads to the Cradle of Forestry, the birthplace of forest conservation in America, where visitors can learn about the pioneering work of George Vanderbilt and forester Carl Schenck.
Along the way, explore the Pisgah National Forest, known for its lush landscapes and diverse wildlife. This byway is especially breathtaking in the fall when the leaves of oak, maple, and hickory trees turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, creating a mesmerizing display of autumn beauty.
Newfound Gap Road
Newfound Gap Road, stretching 31 miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is renowned for its spectacular mountain views. This includes the breathtaking scenery at the Newfound Gap overlook, which stands as the lowest drivable pass in the park. Along this route, history intertwines with natural beauty, offering glimpses into the park's past.
Visitors can access numerous hiking trails, including a segment of the famed Appalachian Trail, which traverses the Eastern United States. The road ascends to over 5,000 feet, showcasing diverse ecosystems from cove hardwoods to spruce-fir forests. It's also a prime spot for witnessing the park's diverse wildlife and experiencing the changing seasons, each offering a unique perspective of the Smokies.
Cape Fear Coastal Byway
The Cape Fear Coastal Byway, stretching approximately 10.5 urban miles, showcases the historic southeastern coast of North Carolina. Winding through a region steeped in history, this byway offers a journey that is a harmonious blend of natural beauty and rich history. It features the meandering Cape Fear River, which is integral to the area's ecosystem and history and leads to the charming city of Wilmington, known for its well-preserved historic district and lively arts scene.
Along the way, picturesque beaches provide breathtaking views and opportunities for relaxation and recreation. Visitors can delve into the area's rich maritime heritage at the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, where exhibits highlight the local nautical history. Alternatively, they can take a leisurely stroll along the scenic Riverwalk in Wilmington, which offers stunning riverfront views and a chance to explore unique shops and local dining.
Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive
This 52-mile drive offers a breathtaking ascent to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,684 feet. The journey provides awe-inspiring views of the Appalachian landscape, with lush forests, vibrant wildflowers, and diverse wildlife, culminating in the stunning panorama from the summit.
Along the way, explorers can stop at Mount Mitchell State Park, offering a range of hiking trails, including a trek to the summit, picnic areas, and educational exhibits at the park's museum. The highlight is the Mount Mitchell Observation Deck, providing an unrivaled view of the Appalachian Mountains. This route is not only a journey through stunning scenery but also a voyage through diverse ecosystems and rich American history.
Yadkin Valley Scenic Byway
Spanning 78 miles, the Yadkin Valley Scenic Byway is a delightful journey through North Carolina's burgeoning wine region, renowned for its unique microclimate and fertile soils ideal for vineyards. This route takes travelers through the heart of the Yadkin Valley, home to numerous vineyards and wineries that have garnered national acclaim for their fine wines.
Along this picturesque route, stops include the historic town of Elkin, where visitors can explore its rich history and local artisans, and the charming village of Rockford, offering a glimpse into the area's rich heritage and culture. Visitors can also enjoy the stunning natural landscapes, with opportunities for picnicking and photography, making the Yadkin Valley Scenic Byway a perfect blend of scenic beauty, culinary delight, and cultural exploration, all within the serene backdrop of North Carolina's rolling hills.
Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap
For a more adventurous drive, the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, with its 318 curves within a short but significant 11 miles, is a must-visit for thrill-seekers. This route, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, is prevalent among motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. The road offers an exhilarating driving experience surrounded by stunning forested scenery, with each curve presenting a new challenge.
The route's fame is also bolstered by its proximity to other notable roads like the Cherohala Skyway, making it a centerpiece in a region rich with scenic drives. The Tail of the Dragon is not just a road; it's a destination, offering a unique combination of natural beauty and driving excitement that's hard to find elsewhere.
Green Swamp Byway
The Green Swamp Byway, covering 52 miles, offers an intimate look into one of North Carolina's ecological treasures. This route winds through the Green Swamp Preserve, a unique coastal area known for its rare and diverse plant life, including several species of carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap. The byway provides an exceptional opportunity for nature enthusiasts to explore a distinctive landscape made up of savannas, pocosins, and longleaf pine forests. Along the way, visitors may spot various wildlife, including rare butterflies and birds, and witness the preserve's role in preserving the state's natural history. The area is also a vital habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and provides essential fire-dependent ecosystems.
Discover North Carolina's Scenic Splendor
North Carolina's diverse landscapes offer a rich tapestry of scenic road trips, each with its unique charm and allure. From the windswept beaches of the Outer Banks, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the shore, to the soaring peaks of the Appalachian Mountains with their breathtaking vistas, these routes provide an unparalleled opportunity to explore the state's natural beauty, cultural heritage, and historical significance. Have you embarked on any of these scenic North Carolina road trips, and if so, which was your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments!