The 15 Most Beautiful Places In North Carolina, According To Locals

When it comes to beauty, both natural and man-made, North Carolina can’t help but show off.

<p>Andy Anderson</p>

Andy Anderson

In a room full of Southerners, it would be nearly impossible to find two with the exact same definition of North Carolina. Some may credit the small towns and scenic stops within the Blue Ridge Mountains as the source of the state’s wonder; others grew up experiencing the wide beaches running parallel to the Atlantic, forever associating sand dunes, summer nights, and unforgettable sunsets with the Tar Heel State. There would probably also be several with special places in their hearts for the Piedmont’s rolling hills, pine trees, and roster of bustling cities.

So, while the idea that North Carolina has everything may be broad and a touch clichéd, it’s a statement that can be proved with an endless amount of evidence. In the words of Lon Bounsanga, chef and owner of SAAP in Cary, “Where else can you go in the South that two hours one way you can dip your toes in the sand and two hours the other way you can breathe in the mountain air?”

Across the Tar Heel State’s nearly 54,000 square miles, you’ll find an extensive number of places that can be labeled “beautiful.” To narrow down the list, though, we went straight to the source. As no one is more knowledgeable—or passionate—about the region than those who call the state home, we asked several North Carolinians to share the small towns, parks, hotels, and unexpected sights that continue to impress them with their beauty.

Read on to discover 15 of the most beautiful places in North Carolina, according to locals.

The Outer Banks

Peter Frank Edwards
Peter Frank Edwards

North Carolina may have impressive mountain scenery, but its 3,375 miles of coastline refuse to be outdone. Case in point: The Outer Banks. “The Outer Banks are, by far, the place to be when talking about the best beaches in North Carolina. This stretch offers calm waves, friendly people, and a wide-open beach,” says Zach Girgenti, the director of outdoor experiences at Snowbird Mountain Lodge in Robbinsville. Plus, he says, you can’t miss Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is home to the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast.

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Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate’s resplendence is legendary, and it’s one of Theresa Chiettini's—general manager of The Fearrington House Inn, Restaurant & Spa in Pittsboro—recommendations for travelers exploring Asheville. A combination of both manmade glamor and natural beauty, the 8,000-acre property is filled with inspiring architecture and expertly maintained gardens and grounds. No matter the season you visit, you’re guaranteed to leave feeling just a little bit more in love with Asheville—and North Carolina as a whole.

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Airlie Gardens

<p>LISA CORSON</p> The lush, naturalistic landscapes of Airlie Gardens have been open to the public since 1999.


The lush, naturalistic landscapes of Airlie Gardens have been open to the public since 1999.

Live oaks draped in Spanish moss, thousands of blooming azaleas and bright tulips, and lush foliage cover the grounds of Airlie Gardens, a 67-acre private garden in Wilmington that Mary Ann Fearing—a born and bred North Carolinian and senior publicist at J/PR—calls one of her “all-time favorites.” “It's whimsical and enchanting and reminds me just how beautiful Mother Nature truly is,” she says. Open daily, the garden can be accessed with tickets purchased online or on-site.; 300 Airlie Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403

Shackleford Banks

<p>Getty Images/Zach Frailey</p>

Getty Images/Zach Frailey

“‘Shack,’ as we like to call it, is a tiny island right off of Beaufort, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the state,” says Fearing. You’ll need to take the ferry, or a private boat, to reach the 8-mile-long island, but the effort is worth it. “To make it even more lovely, it's also home to some of the state's wild horses. Watching them gallop down the shore is pretty incredible, even after seeing it a million times,” she adds.

Cherohala Highway

JillLang/Getty Images
JillLang/Getty Images

A 43-mile stretch of scenic byway that Girgenti calls “breathtaking,” Cherohala Highway starts in Tennessee and ends in Robbinsville, North Carolina. The entire drive can take anywhere from two to three hours, depending on how often you stop to admire the overlooks and photo ops. Once you arrive in Robbinsville, you’re in for even more natural wonder. “Robbinsville is home to some of the darkest skies in the state, perfect for stargazing,” he adds.

Highlands’ Waterfalls

<p>CAMERON REYNOLDS</p> Silver Run Falls, which is located near Cashiers and can be reached via a short hike.


Silver Run Falls, which is located near Cashiers and can be reached via a short hike.

“By far one of the coolest mountain towns in North Carolina, Highlands brings some of the best hiking experiences and waterfall tours around,” says Girgenti. To see these natural water features up close, simply strap on your waterproof hiking shoes and jump in the car to begin checking off some of the area’s most impressive ones—including Dry Falls, Glen Falls, and Secret Falls. And if there’s time in your itinerary to hike nearby Whiteside Mountain, you won’t regret it. “The views are so worth it,” says Girgenti.

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The Swag

<p>Courtesy The Swag</p>

Courtesy The Swag

“Just outside of Asheville is a wonderful hotel called The Swag, a Relais & Chateaux property that offers an amazing view of the Appalachian mountains and fun hiking experiences,” says Chiettini. Its mountaintop setting, nearly a mile in elevation, is a large reason why guests are eager to book the property—and wind up never wanting to leave. On clear days, the sweeping vistas can extend for nearly 50 miles.; 2300 Swag Rd, Waynesville, NC 28785

The Brunswick Islands' Beaches

Robbie Caponetto
Robbie Caponetto

The beaches on the Brunswick Islands have their own brand of magic all year round, but there’s one season that’s particularly majestic. “Starting in late fall, you can watch both the sunrise and sunset over the ocean,” says Bounsanga, referencing the natural phenomena experienced on Oak Island, Holden Beach, Caswell Beach, Sunset Beach, and Ocean Isle Beach. Combined with the beaches’ unique orientation—they face south and run east to west—the sun’s placement this time of year results in an extraordinary double feature, one that’s best experienced via a comfortable beach chair.

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Linville Gorge

<p><a href="" data-component="link" data-source="inlineLink" data-type="externalLink" data-ordinal="1">Jillian Meyer Photo</a>/Getty Images</p>

Jillian Meyer Photo/Getty Images

“Often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the East,’ Linville Gorge is one of my favorite areas to hike on the East Coast,” says Girgenti. “With some of the cliffs in the gorge reaching over 1,000 feet, Linville offers some of the most beautiful and exhilarating hikes around.” While in the area, be sure to snap a photo of Linville Falls and complete the Table Rock Hike, a moderate journey that covers over 2 miles roundtrip.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

<p>Andy Anderson</p>

Andy Anderson

There are a few reasons the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country, but its overall beauty is certainly one of the most prominent. “The natural landscape changes with each season, from being coated with a beautiful snowfall in the winter to laced with colorful blooms in the spring,” says Angie Chan, the executive pastry chef at Cataloochee Ranch. For an elevated view of the region, stay at Cataloochee Ranch, which sits at 4,800 feet in elevation. “The sunrise and sunsets are particularly beautiful looking over the valley,” she shares.

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NC Highway 12

Peter Frank Edwards
Peter Frank Edwards

Sometimes, there’s beauty in both the journey and the destination—as evidenced by the 148-mile-long highway connecting the islands and peninsulas of the northern portion of the Outer Banks. “There's something about driving down Hatteras Island on Highway 12, with sand dunes encapsulating you on both sides of the road, that brings me so much joy,” says Fearing. “Its natural beauty brings a sense of calmness, and the memory it leaves you with as you make your way down the island will stay with you forever.”


<p>Cameron Reynolds</p> One of many photo-worthy mountain views in Boone.

Cameron Reynolds

One of many photo-worthy mountain views in Boone.

North Carolina has no shortage of picturesque mountain towns, but Boone tops the list for both Girgenti and Bounsanga. According to the latter, it’s all about “the greenery, the clean, crisp air, and the views.” Girgenti also notes its access to “three different ski mountains during the winter, Grandfather Mountain and a handful of epic hikes during the summer, the most stunning fall foliage during autumn, and some of the best weather in the country during the spring. “ In short, it’s “an outdoor paradise and one of the most unique small Appalachian towns,” he says. 

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Heights House Hotel

<p>Courtesy Heights House Hotel</p>

Courtesy Heights House Hotel

Take one look at the Heights House Hotel in Raleigh, and you’ll immediately begin dreaming of a cozy, picture-perfect getaway in the City of Oaks. “It's a restored 1858 Italianate mansion hotel and is beautiful, inside and out,” says Fearing. “The attention to detail that the owners put into this restoration is incredible, and I just love how effortlessly the design blends the old world with modern touches.”; 100 W Cavalcade St, Houston, TX 77009

Asheville’s River Arts District

<p>John Burke/Getty Images</p>

John Burke/Getty Images

While the Asheville area is known for its natural beauty, particularly when fall foliage is at its peak, there’s one part of the city that stands out to Chan: the River Arts District. Located along the French Broad River, the area is made up of various art studios, galleries, restaurants, and murals, each as interesting as the next. “Asheville is known for its creativity, and every stop throughout the River Arts District is a look into that spirit,” she says. “Even the buildings have been made into a unique piece of art—from a simple layer of bright, colorful paint to murals painted by local artists.”

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McIntyre’s Books

<p>Courtesy McIntyre’s Books</p>

Courtesy McIntyre’s Books

Ask any Southern bibliophile about the beauty of a well-stocked bookstore, and there’s a good chance they’ll launch into an extensive, impassioned narrative. There are quite a few must-shop bookstores across the region, but there’s one in Pittsboro’s Fearrington Village that Chiettini says is “one of the top independent bookstores in the South.” Inside McIntyre’s Books, you’ll find quiet corners, unexpected discoveries, and shelf after shelf of page-turning stories; new purchase in hand, grab a seat on one of the benches out front and settle in for a relaxing afternoon in the neighborhood.; 220 Market St, Pittsboro, NC 27312

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