For gorgeous outdoor spaces and a trail of travel treasures, it’s hard to beat North Carolina.
With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Tarheel State enjoys more than its fair share of natural beauty. And among those scenic places are numerous off-the-beaten-path spots where groups can have great travel experiences away from the crowds.
This itinerary travels from the mountains to the coast and highlights many of those out-of-the-way destinations and attractions that will appeal to travelers in the coming months. It begins in Asheville, then proceeds to Blowing Rock, Charlotte, Raleigh and New Bern. From there, your group can continue to another coastal destination or begin the return journey westward toward home.
There’s a fair amount of driving time along this route, so you should plan a minimum of five days for this tour. A full week would give your travelers plenty of time to soak in the beauty of these North Carolina treasures.
A Spiritual Retreat in Asheville
Surrounded by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has long been one of North Carolina’s most popular travel destinations. And while there’s plenty to do in and around the city, church groups can find a unique opportunity for peace, beauty and spiritual connection at The Cove.
Founded in 1988 by Billy Graham, The Cove is a retreat and training center set on more than 1,200 acres of Blue Ridge wilderness, just a short drive from downtown Asheville. The property has two inns with rustic-yet-comfortable accommodations and a variety of meeting venues. Groups can use the meeting space for their own services or take advantage of the spiritual programming offered by the staff on-site.
After gatherings, groups can enjoy the outdoor activities offered on the acreage or explore some of the sites on the grounds, including the Chatlos Memorial Chapel in the woods and Ruth’s Prayer Garden.
While you’re there: No group visit to Asheville would be complete without spending some time at Biltmore Estate. One of the largest and most ornate historic homes in the country, Biltmore offers a wide array of tours, as well as dining, accommodations and other guest experiences.
A Mountain’s Majesty in Blowing Rock
About 90 miles northeast of Asheville, Blowing Rock and the surrounding area also enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Groups that visit the area can take in the scenery at numerous attractions, including the popular Grandfather Mountain.
Perched at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, Grandfather Mountain is a place where visitors can discover the beauty and biodiversity of North Carolina. Many groups enjoy scenic drives up the mountain, and intrepid guests can walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which connects two peaks at one mile above sea level. Groups can also engage a staff naturalist to lead them on tours through the mountain habitat to view the area’s flora and fauna.
There are plenty of other activity options available on the mountain, including native wildlife exhibitions, a museum, a theater and a restaurant. Hikers can venture out on several miles of alpine trails at adjacent Grandfather Mountain State Park.
While you’re there: Take some time to see the Blowing Rock, the natural attraction that gives the area its name. First opened to the public in 1933, this scenic mountain outcropping is said to be North Carolina’s oldest tourist attraction.
A Whitewater Adventure in Charlotte
Charlotte is not only the largest city in North Carolina, but also one of the largest urban centers in the South and a nationwide leader in the financial industry. And though it offers all the museums and other amenities you would expect from a destination of this size, Charlotte also has an attraction that sets it apart from other cities: the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
Since it opened in 2006, the U.S. National Whitewater Center has been dedicated to promoting a love of the outdoors and an active lifestyle. The center sits on 1,400 acres along the Catawba River just outside the city. Visiting groups can choose from more than 30 land- and water-based activities. In addition to whitewater rafting, the staff offers guided kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and other excursions. Other highlights include rock climbing, zip lining and a 50-mile-long trails system.
In addition to its adventure activities, the center hosts various events throughout the year, such as a film series and a number of culinary festivals.
While you’re there: Take a lap at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR fans can experience the famous racetrack on a variety of tours that highlight behind-the-scenes areas rarely seen by the public. The experience includes a trip around the track in a tour vehicle.
A Heritage Farm Experience in Raleigh
Driving east from Charlotte for about two and a half hours will take travelers to Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital. Raleigh is known for its highly educated population and proliferation of high-tech businesses, but groups can also learn about one of the area’s enduring industries at the Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum.
Operated by North Carolina State University, the Randleigh Dairy Heritage Museum is an agritourism experience that teaches visitors how milk makes its way from North Carolina dairy farms to their breakfast tables. Staff at the working dairy farm demonstrate how farmers raise cattle, milk them and use the milk to create dairy products. The on-site museum has additional information about dairy cows and the history of the dairy industry in the state.
Groups can arrange guided tours at the farm. Each tour ends with a sample of Howling Cow ice cream, which is produced on campus with milk from the dairy.
While you’re there: Raleigh has been called the Smithsonian of the South because of its concentration of high-quality museums. Groups should plan some time to visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Museum of History and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
A Historic Capitol in New Bern
There are plenty of destinations for a beach vacation on North Carolina’s Atlantic coast. But in its spot at the mouth of the Neuse River, New Bern offers an attractive alternative for groups that enjoy waterfront views and historic attractions.
On the history front, New Bern is home to Tryon Palace, the official residence and administrative headquarters of the British governors of North Carolina from 1770 to 1775. After the American Revolution, it served as the North Carolina Capitol for several years. Today, the palace is operated as a living-history site to educate visitors about life in coastal North Carolina during the Colonial and post-Colonial periods.
Groups visiting Tryon Palace can choose from several experiences. First-person costumed interpreters provide interaction and highlight details of the various historic buildings at the complex. There is also a museum on-site for additional education and interpretation.
While you’re there: With its waterfront location on North Carolina’s coast, New Bern offers numerous opportunities to get your groups out on the water. The local tourism office can help arrange boat tours, paddle excursions and other aquatic activities.