No matter where you live in North Carolina, you dont have to go far to find a scenic spot in the great outdoors. These are some places that offer unique ways to experience the natural beauty that makes our state great.
Spans state west to east
The grand vision of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, administered by the N.C. State Trails Program, is to link the mountains to the sea. The route starts at Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends in Jockeys Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks. Only trouble is, its not done yet. Only about half of the planned 1,000-mile route is officially open. But plenty of people are making their own way along the trail. The Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail website ( ncmst.org) can help you use back roads to fill in the gaps.
Carolina Beach State Park
People all over the world are fascinated with the Venus flytrap, but theres only one place in the world the carnivorous plants call home: a small area around Wilmington. The plant, whose bright red jaws beckon insects in and then snap shut to seal their doom, is endangered. Its a crime to pick them or harm them, but theres no quarrel with taking a look. And Carolina Beach State Park offers an easy way to do it. While youre there, check out other carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant, as well as longleaf pines and live oaks.
Info: Carolina Beach State Park, 1010 State Park Road, Carolina Beach. 910-458-8206 or ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/cabe/main.php
Merchants Millpond State Park
The best way to see Merchants Millpond State Park is by canoe. In fact, a canoe is the only way to reach some of the campsites, if you stay overnight. The park has an ancient feel to it, with giant bald cypress trunks emerging from still waters and Spanish moss hanging from the branches. The best time to visit is in early March, Will Hooker of Raleigh suggested, when the tiny wild roses in the decaying stumps are blooming and the red maples are budding out. Jim Bass of Raleigh added: It is magical!
Info: 176 Millpond Road, Gatesville. 252-357-1191 or ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/memi/main.php
Jockeys Ridge State Park
Ever wondered what its like to wander in a desert landscape, but dont want to die of thirst in the Sahara or Mojave? You can get a feel for the landscape (but not the suffering) here, home of the tallest natural sand dune in the Eastern U.S. Its height ranges from 80 to 100 feet, and winds average about 10 to15 miles per hour year-round, making it an ideal spot for hang-gliding. (Its not far from where Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the skies themselves.) Sandboarding (like snowboarding, but a tad warmer) and kiteboarding are also popular activities in the park.
Info: Carolista Drive, Nags Head. 252-441-7132 or ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/jori/main.php
Kersey Valley Zip Line
Youve seen nature from the ground, and maybe even from the air, but swooshing through the treetops themselves is likely a whole new vantage point. Dozens of zip- line courses have sprouted in the state in recent years, but Kersey Valley is one of the largest. Visitors wearing gloves, a helmet and full-body harness hook up to a pulley and zoom down a series of thick cables strung between landing platforms. The course varies from 40 to 100 feet off the ground. For yet another point of view, grab a glow stick and book a night flight, held once a month or by appointment for groups.
Info: $89 for a 10-line flight, $104 for the full 14-line course. Must be 10 or older and between 70 and 250 pounds (weigh-ins required). 1615 Kersey Valley Road, High Point. 336-802-1962 or kerseyvalleyzipline.com