Summer is nearly here, and warm weather means spending time outdoors after a winter of indoor activity. From the coast to the mountains, North Carolina has everything from waterfalls to water bikes for a weekend getaway or a week-long stay. With so many options to choose from, we rounded up the top 5 places to visit in N.C. for a natural adventure.
Fontana Dam: Deep Waters
The tallest dam in the eastern United States is here in our own state. Towering at 480 feet, Fontana Dam is the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains and was the fourth tallest in the world when constructed in the 1940s. The dam holds Fontana Lake, creating a perfect location for outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, swimming, boating and fishing. Nearby Fontana Village started as temporary housing for dam construction workers and is now home to dining, campgrounds, and cabin rentals, as well as a marina for boat rentals and lake cruises. Round out the day with a scenic drive through the Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest.
Sliding Rock: Slip ‘n’ Slide
Skip the manmade water parks this year. Tucked away in the Pisgah National Forest north of Brevard, is Sliding Rock, a natural waterslide open to visitors. The 60-foot slide is a smooth, natural rock waterfall created by the cold, mountain-deep waters of Looking Glass Creek. The slide is gentle and ends in a 7- to 8-foot deep pool of water at the bottom. Observation platforms allow visitors to watch if you’re not in the mood for a dunk. During the summer season, Forest Service lifeguards and rangers are on hand, as well as open changing rooms and restrooms. There is a fee of $2 per person, a small price to pay for a cool dip on a hot day. Sliding Rock is popular, so expect to be among new friends. If the crowds are too much, don’t worry. Transylvania County and Pisgah National Forest have over 250 waterfalls to explore.
Carova: Wild Horses
A tiny 11-mile stretch of beach town, Carova is part of the Currituck Outer Banks and a remote choice for those looking for a true oceanside adventure. The area has no paved roads, and locals get around riding four-by-four vehicles on sand tracks. There are also no hotels, but cottages and homes available for rent. (Keep in mind that there are no grocery stores, restaurants or gas stations either; neighboring town Corolla provides beach bums with necessary supplies.) While the only vehicles you’ll see have four-wheel drive, you may be lucky and spot a mustang or two. Wild mustang horses roam the desert island and can be spotted galloping across the beach and grazing in backyards. Lucky photographers can catch the wild horses in their natural element.
Underwater Bike Race: Wet and Wild
Hop on a glass-bottom boat and what do you see? Fish, reefs, and … bikes? In Beaufort, that is exactly what you can see every 4th of July as divers swim, pedal, push or drag their bikes to an underwater finish line. Those who want to keep dry can watch the activities from chartered boats, and those who feel like a swim can hop in for a closer view. Earlier in the day, there is a Bike Decorating Bonanza for everyone to decorate their land and water cycles. The race takes place alongside the USS Indra, which was sunk in 1992 to create an artificial reef for the area. The city, located on the Crystal Coast of N.C., also offers bike rentals and historic tours for adventures on dry land.
Canyoneering: Multi-Sport Adventure
For those looking for more action than sleepy beaches, canyoneering trips provide plenty of adrenaline. Combining rock climbing, swimming, hiking and rappelling, canyoneering is a multi-sport adventure that takes visitors off the beaten track. Small tours are led to places like the little-known Garden of the Gods, a stretch of rocky whitewater that descends along the West Fork of the Pigeon River. Rappels can be anywhere from 15-feet to 75-feet drops down waterfalls, with tours for both beginners and expert climbers. Pura Vida Adventures offers tours around Brevard and Asheville, lasting from hours to days.
What's your favorite outdoor adventure in N.C.? Share in the comments or join the conversation on our Facebook page.