If you had unlimited time and money, how would you show off North Carolina to a visitor?
Our state has unabashedly (and very successfully) promoted our beaches and our mountains as travel destinations for many years now.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, which stretches across North Carolina and Virginia, is the most visited place in the National Park System. It attracted more than 15 million visitors in 2015, according the National Park Service. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers parts of North Carolina and Tennessee was the single most visited national park in the country last year with 10.7 million visitors.
On the other end of the state, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore drew nearly 2.3 million visitors to what is the nation’s oldest national seashore.
Cool as those numbers are, I’m thinking there’s a lot to see and do in between the bookends, so to speak.
Each year in the greater Triangle, Rotarians host foreign exchange students and we are always looking for interesting places here in North Carolina to show off. The Biltmore House in Asheville usually makes the list. So, too, do some of the museums in downtown Raleigh and the Duke Gardens in Durham.
Panthers games at Bank of America Stadium and college football and basketball games throughout the Triangle generally make the list, too.
Over the past several years, our family has gathered over the Labor Day weekend and we’ve tried to visit different parts of the state. We’ve camped at a city-owned campsite in Charlotte and visited the National Whitewater Center, which has struggled with the bad PR associated with the death of a visitor who died after being attacked by a creepy brain-eating bacteria.
We’ve camped on the shore of Lake Jordan and we’ve spent time on Hyco Lake in Caswell County.
All those experiences were very different from each other, and each was enjoyable in its own way. In part, what makes an interesting place to visit has a lot to do with what interests you. Airlie Gardens in Wilmington and Tryon Palace in New Bern probably appeal to people with widely disparate interests. Old Salem probably appeals to people who would be interested in the history of the region, while the Reynolda House, also in Winston-Salem, offers a peek into the private lives of one of North Carolina’s most famous families.
The North Carolina Department of Travel and Tourism offers a lot of ideas for entertaining ourselves or that imaginary visitor without ever leaving the state. From lighthouse tours to panning for gems in places like Mitchell County, the Division of Travel and Tourism offers options on both ends of the state, but it doesn’t sell the Piedmont short, either.
Some of the lesser visited attractions include the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum at Fort Bragg and the furniture market in Hickory. It also recommends the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail in Johnston County and the ACC Hall of Champions in Greensboro.
It’s clear from my limited travel that there’s so much to see and do in this state that it would take non-stop touring to see it all in a year. Or, if you’re going to be here a while, it might be best to close your eyes, point your finger at a spot on the map and go there for a visit.
But I’m wondering what else is out there. Where’s that little place that oozes personality and North Carolina culture that you’d want to take a visitor? What’s the must-see attraction in the place where you live? If you think you’ve got a good suggestion, send me an email. I’ll visit and report back on what I find. And if it’s good, I’ll make sure to take a visitor there, too.