Best of North Carolina: Explore mountains to coast, barbecue and beyond, all year round

Bald Head Island, North Carolina . Visit North Carolina

With the mercury dropping and the U.S.–Canada land border reopened to recreational travel, many Canadians are dreaming up their next getaway.

As travellers eye potential destinations to the south, there are plenty of reasons to keep North Carolina at the top of the list. From historic cities and scenic mountains to beaches and barbecue, opportunities abound in the Tar Heel State no matter what your vacation style.

In partnership with Visit North Carolina, we explore just some of the reasons you’ll want to make the state your next vacation destination.

READ MORE: Planning to travel? Be prepared to make a pandemic checklist, experts say

Barbecue, craft beer and more

When you think of North Carolina, it’s impossible not to conjure up images of succulent pulled pork, whether Eastern or Lexington style. And while the state is certainly renowned for its barbecue, food and drink lovers will find there are plenty of award-winning restaurants and eateries run by renowned chefs and famous food trails to check out as well.

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“Barbecue plays a huge part in our food scene, but it’s not the whole story,” says Wit Tuttell, director of Visit North Carolina. “There are all kinds of other Southern cuisines here too.”

Appalachian Brewery. Visit North Carolina

He reminds travellers that North Carolina also boasts several great craft beers, local wines and an even livelier spirit: moonshine. “You can get it just about anywhere,” Tuttell says, adding that more than 80 locally-owned distilleries across the state are serving up grain-to-glass spirits like gin, whiskey and vodka.

Top-ranked beaches and pirate lore

For those looking for fun in the sun, North Carolina is home to two beaches, Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach and Lighthouse Beach in Buxton, that were rated among the top 10 in America in 2021 by Dr. Beach, a beach expert who publishes a popular annual ranking.

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“The undeveloped beaches here are remarkable,” Tuttell says. “We’ve got a stretch of 50 miles of beach that doesn’t even have a road on it.”

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He adds that pirate lovers will enjoy North Carolina’s rich history with the famed pirate Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard. On the coast, visitors can walk the town Blackbeard called home, spot shipwrecks and see where the man was defeated back in 1718.

“It’s that unique history that makes this area so special,” Tuttell says. “There are more than 2,000 shipwrecks out in that area. So it’s amazing for diving trips as well.”

City escapes to Charlotte, Raleigh and beyond

If you love travelling to explore new cities, Tuttell jokes that North Carolina has you covered, because it’s an “urban escape with southern accents.”

Charlotte is a sprawling city with tons of hot spots and natural attractions, he notes, while Raleigh is loaded with historic sites, museums, filming locations and even ghost tours.

“You can come to our cities and get the big-city amenities that people want, but still have that sort of Southern, open feel,” he says.

Parkways and trails through the mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains cover most of North Carolina’s western border. There, visitors can participate in all kinds of outdoor activities and adventures, from hiking and mountain climbing to camping, zip-lining and whitewater rafting.

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Tuttell suggests renting a mountain cabin, wandering sections of the Appalachian Trail or getting close to bears, cougars and other animals at nature centres.

The scenery isn’t bad from the car, either. “Even just driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an incredible experience,” Tuttell says. “Most roads are built at the base of the mountains, but the Parkway is built sort of on the top of the Blue Ridge. So you get more than 200 overlooks and 25 tunnels that you go through, which makes it an amazing location for drivers.”

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Sports action from college to pro

Raleigh is what Tuttell describes as the “gateway” to many exciting professional sports, making it a dream destination for anyone looking to take in some basketball, college football or NASCAR.

He also reminds hockey-loving Canadians that the Carolina Hurricanes play out of Raleigh, and says going to an NHL game there may be unlike anything they’ve ever experienced back home.

“We tailgate for our hockey games,” he reveals. “It’s something we brought over from football: you go hang out in the stadium parking lots and have some of that famous barbecue. We play games and eat and drink and get ready for the game. It’s a really unique experience, so go early and plan to wander through the parking lot and check out some of the tailgating.”

Nearly 500 golf courses

Canadians looking for new courses to hit up — especially during the off season, when courses shut down at home — should consider the many beautiful spots available to play in North Carolina, Tuttell says.

Pinehurst is home to the second of the more than 50 courses created by famed designer Donald Ross, and the resort calls itself “the cradle of American golf.”

But that’s not the only spot to consider. “There are about 500 courses throughout the state,” Tuttell says, adding that many of them are open year-round. “You can play in the mountains, which is really fun. Or if you’d like to play a wide terrain, you can play out on the coast and even some places on the beach.”

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READ MORE: Canadian travellers flock across the U.S. border as land travel restrictions lifted

For more information or trip inspiration, head to Visit North Carolina and start planning your vacation today. 

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