These are the highlights of North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway National Park, North Carolina
Credit: Getty Images/First Light

From the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the dunes of the Outer Banks, North Carolina offers visitors the best of both worlds, (with lots of vinegary barbecue in between). These eight can't-miss towns, regions, and attractions are some of the highlights of the Tar Heel State.

Outer Banks

Two hundred miles of barrier islands stretch from Corolla in the north to Portsmouth Island in the south, an idyllic and seemingly endless string of beach.


Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville’s nationally recognized food, beverage, and music scenes are made all the better for their bucolic setting. The quirky town (population: 88,000) also sustains a number of bookstores and artists' studios.


Home of the Durham Bulls (and Bull Durham), this tobacco town grew big on cigarettes. Duke University has been here since 1892 (it was renamed in 1924 after a tobacco millionaire), and it’s now one corner of the Research Triangle. Visitors should reserve a room at the 21c Museum Hotel and save plenty of room for dinner at M Sushi or Nanasteak.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway, at 469 miles, is America’s longest linear park (a category the High Line also belongs to). The mountaintop road connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south and Shenandoah National Park to the north.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

With more than 11.3 million visitors in 2016, it’s the United States’ most visited national park. Encompassing the ridgelines of both the Great Smoky Mountains as well as a section of the Blue Ridge, it is also split by the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Plan your trip between late May and early June to see thousands of fireflies descend on the park.


Just above Cape Fear, the river-bound town of Wilmington provides easy access to North Carolina’s southern-most barrier island beaches.


Chapel Hill’s funkier younger sibling was the first place in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor in 1995, and it also helped to pioneer the locavore movement: its famous Carrboro Farmers Market, founded in 1977, requires that everything sold there be produced within a 50-mile radius.

Mount Mitchell

North America’s highest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell’s 6,684-foot-peak makes it the tallest of the Appalachian Mountains. Hike or drive to the top (an access road conveniently connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway) for spectacular views of the surrounding region.