North Carolina Road Trips

Travel tips for the best North Carolina road trips.
North Carolina Road Trips

North Carolina Road Trips

Photo by: Getty


In a state known for its barbecue, historic lighthouses and NASCAR, North Carolina is a great place for a road trip. The western part of North Carolina offers a great getaway for nature lovers thanks to the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Drive east, and the North Carolina coast beckons with small fishing villages that dot the Atlantic Ocean. No matter where your interests lie, North Carolina has a road that will take you there.

Here are 4 of our favorite road trips for enthusiasts.

Go Coastal
North Carolina is known for its Outer Banks, and there’s no better way to take it in than by jumping on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway (Route 12), which stretches through 137 miles of marshes, dunes, beautiful beaches and thriving wildlife. With the Atlantic on one side and the Intercoastal Waterway on the other, you will feel you've escaped to a simpler maritime life. This route will take you through Bodie Island, Hatteras, Ocracoke and many other village beach towns. Don't miss the famous lighthouses, especially in Hatteras, home to the tallest lighthouse in the US. Visitors can now find a brand new lighthouse climb on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: The Bodie Island Lighthouse, which dates back to the 1870s, opened in April 2013 for climbs for the first time in its history, and stands 156 feet tall and has 214 steps.

Rev Up for NASCAR
Start your engine and head to Charlotte, NC, the home of NASCAR. Make your first stop at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. May is the best time to go if you're hoping to take in a race, but the track is open year-round for visitors. Next, head north along Highway 29 to Kannapolis, NC, the hometown of racing legend Dale Earnhardt. Take the Dale Trail, which meanders through his childhood neighborhood and where Earnhardt first began racing. After a roll through memory lane, head just 17 miles north to Mooresville, NC, where you can practically smell the motor oil as you roll into town. Mooresville is home to numerous racing teams' garages, including Penske and DEI. Most garages allow visitors to stop in and watch the techs work, and many have huge showrooms where fans can view winning cars and other exhibits. After a day of racing around NASCAR country, stop into Lancaster's BBQ for some of North Carolina's famous pulled pork.

Take the Back Road
Go west on the Nantahala Scenic Byway (US 74) to escape into North Carolina's best backcountry. This byway stretches 43 miles and will take travelers through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest, which is home to hundreds of plant species, wildlife and unspoiled views. The best time to take this trip is during the fall when the foliage is striking, but this drive will beckon you to roll the windows down year-round. After passing through Bryson City, NC, you will begin to enter the Nantahala River Gorge, a world-class whitewater rafting spot that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Canoeing and kayaking are also favorite activities, but if you aren't planning a dip in the Nantahala River, this little bend in the road is worth a stop for the quaint antique shops and Native American goods that line the riverbank.

Drive Back in Time
If you're a history buff, North Carolina's Piedmont region is an excellent area to explore. The Piedmont Triad consists of 3 large cities -- Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point -- but it's the small, rural towns surrounding the metro area that are the real attraction. Start in Mount Airy, Andy Griffith's childhood home, to experience an area where history still has a foothold. Visit Snappy Lunch for their famous pork chop sandwich before continuing on US 52 to Old Salem. Founded by the Moravians in 1766, this colonial village just south of Winston-Salem is a living history to the era. Don't miss Winkler Bakery for Moravian sugar cookies and more treats before you get back on the road. Finally, head to Durham for 2 significant sites: Bennett Place, which saw the largest troop surrender in the American Civil War, and the Duke Homestead, where Washington Duke, Duke University's namesake, grew up and helped create the largest tobacco company in the world.

Regardless of where you go, you are sure to find adventure and fun in North Carolina. Get your motor running, follow the signs and enjoy the view!

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