35 Exciting North Carolina Bucket List Activities to Try

12 min read
A city skyline with orange and green trees and a lake in front of it on a clear day
Visiting Charlotte is one of many must-do things in North Carolina

Found on the East Coast of the United States, North Carolina is a charming and beautiful destination. The state boasts coastal towns, quaint villages, and larger cities, all of which offer a variety of fun things to do.

If you're planning a visit soon, this comprehensive North Carolina bucket list will help you decide exactly what you want to see and do. Experiences to try range from surfing in the Outer Banks to hiking scenic trails and visiting museums. There's really something for everyone in North Carolina!

  • 35 North Carolina activities

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35 NC Bucket List Activities

  1. Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway
  2. Go on a Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall tour
  3. Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  4. Admire the views at Blowing Rock
  5. Roam around the magnificent Biltmore Estate
  6. Appreciate the beauty of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  7. Find waterfalls in Chimney Rock State Park
  8. Discover the Lake Lure flowering bridge
  9. See the Wright Brothers National Memorial
  10. Step aboard the USS North Carolina
  11. Climb to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse
  12. Spot wildlife at Grandfather Mountain
  13. Enjoy amazing artworks at the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh
  14. View the East Coast's biggest dune at Jockey's Ridge State Park
  15. Hike to Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wilderness
  16. Interact with sea life at the North Carolina Aquarium
  17. Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  18. Follow the Rainbow and Turtleback Falls Trail in Gorges State Park
  19. Increase your NC knowledge at the North Carolina Museum of History
  20. Learn about science at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
  21. Spend the day at Pisgah National Forest
  22. Take your family to the North Carolina Zoo
  23. Experience a fascinating historical tour of Charlotte
  24. Hang out at North Topsail Beach
  25. Dare to go on an Asheville ghost tour
  26. Look for wild horses in Corolla
  27. Try some amazing beer on an Asheville brewery walking tour
  28. Let children explore the interactive Marbles Kids Museum
  29. Relax with a mountaintop yoga session
  30. Hop aboard a train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
  31. Search for alligators in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
  32. Treat yourself to a sunset sail
  33. Paddleboard on the French Broad River
  34. Kayak through Kitty Hawk's maritime forests
  35. Surf on the Outer Banks

Show all

North Carolina Activities Map

A map of North Carolina. Use the map to explore all the activities.

Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway must be added to your North Carolina bucket list
Driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway has to be on your North Carolina bucket list

Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway

North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway comprises 252 miles of scenic roads. You can find many attractions along the Parkway, including Craggy Gardens and Linville Falls.

The views along the road are beautiful too, with you driving through many forests and past lakes and quaint towns.

A waterfall flowing into water with greenery surrounding it
Grogan Creek Falls in Pisgah National Forest is one waterfall you may see on the tour

Go on a Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall tour

Along with driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, many opt to hike various routes in the area. A fun activity to try is a Blue Ridge Parkway waterfall tour.

On this excursion, you get to hike to various waterfalls, including those in Pisgah National Forest. As you follow the trails, you may also spot a range of wildlife, plants, and flowers.

A view over green hills under a blue sky with clouds
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the East Coasts most stunning parks

Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A little-known fact about North Carolina is that it's home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in Cherokee, the park features dense forest, beautiful waterfalls, and numerous hiking trails.

While exploring the park, you could also spot black bears along with a range of other animals. If you're an experienced hiker, going on an overnight backpacking tour of Smoky Mountains National Park is a must!

Admire the views at Blowing Rock

Blowing Rock is a rock formation that offers amazing views of surrounding mountains and the Johns River Gorge. Hiking to the viewing point is one of the best bucket list things to do in North Carolina! Having admired the vistas, you can hike other trails and discover waterfalls too.

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A large estate house with grass and a water fountain in front of it
Biltmore Estate is the largest residence in the US!

Roam around the magnificent Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Estate is a National Historic Landmark and the largest privately owned property in the US. It was previously owned by George Washington Vanderbilt II and was built in the 1890s.

While in NC, you can visit the Biltmore Estate and explore both the home and the beautiful surrounding gardens. There is also a winery, and the estate has multiple vacation accommodation options.

A black and white lighthouse standing on the grass with a red hut beside it
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the attractions to see on the seashore

Appreciate the beauty of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is found near the Outer Banks. The seashore features sandy beaches and stretches for 70 miles from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island.

On Cape Hatteras National Seashore, there are many things to do, including relaxing on the beach and enjoying coastal walks. You can see a range of wildlife too, like seals and sea turtles.

Water flowing down a black rock wall with trees
You can discover spectacular waterfalls in Chimney Rock State Park

Find waterfalls in Chimney Rock State Park

Exploring Chimney Rock State Park is another of the North Carolina activities that will please outdoor activity enthusiasts. The park is located in Western North Carolina within the Blue Ridge Mountains.

One of the most breathtaking attractions to see here is a 404-foot waterfall that flows into Lake Lure. You can hike to the fall or view it from various lookouts in the park.

Discover the Lake Lure flowering bridge

Lake Lure is a charming area of Rutherford County that is home to a unique flowering bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1925 but was closed to traffic in 2011, when it became a public garden.

The bridge is covered with colorful plants and you can also spot lots of wildlife when visiting.

© actionsports via Depositphotos
An old-fashioned plane replica with a statue of a person beside it
When in Kill Devil Hills, a trip to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is a must

See the Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers took the first-powered flight in the Outer Banks town of Kill Devil Hills. To commemorate this incredible event, there is a memorial to the brothers in the OBX town.

At the Wright Brothers National Memorial, you can see a replica of the plane used in the first flight. You can also learn more about the brothers and their accomplishments.

A grey military boat with flags and water in front of it
Battleship North Carolina is one of the state's most notable landmarks

Step aboard the USS North Carolina

The USS North Carolina, also known as Battleship North Carolina, is the first vessel built for use in the United States Navy. Seeing the battleship is one of the most unique experiences in North Carolina.

When visiting the USS North Carolina in Wilmington, you can go abroad and walk around the ship. Areas to see include the decks, crew quarters, and more. You'll also learn a lot about the use of these ships in battle, including during WWII.

A black and white striped lighthouse with grass and a path around it
Climbing to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse provides incredible views

Climb to the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Bodie Island Lighthouse has stood in the Outer Banks town of Nags Head since 1872. The lighthouse features classic nautical black and white stripes and is surrounded by coastal scenery.

When in the area, you can climb the lighthouse's 214 steps to the top, where you can take in breathtaking views of Bodie Island. A trip to Bodie Island Lighthouse has to be on your Outer Banks itinerary!

A suspension bridge over a mountain with green trees on it
The Mile High Swinging Bridge is one of many things to see at Grandfather Mountain

Spot wildlife at Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak within the Blue Ridge Mountain range. The Linville, NC, outdoor attraction stands at 5,946 feet tall and is home to an array of wildlife.

Animals that call the mountain park home include black bears, cougars, elk, and more. You can also discover the Mile High Swinging Bridge as you wander around the park.

Enjoy amazing artworks at the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh

The Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, or CAM Raleigh, is one of the state's most outstanding art galleries. It houses an array of multimedia pieces by contemporary artists.

Exhibits rotate frequently, so you can always see new works when you visit. If you're an art lover, a trip to CAM Raleigh is one of the bucket list activities in North Carolina that you can't miss.

A sandy landscape with green bushes under a cloudy sky
Sand-boarding at Jockey's Ridge State Park is a fun activity to try

View the East Coast's biggest dune at Jockey's Ridge State Park

The Outer Banks, found in Eastern North Carolina, is one of the most popular places in the state. An interesting OBX fact is that the area is home to the largest sand dune on the East Coast. This sand dune is found in beautiful Jockey's Ridge State Park.

You can reach the park's dunes, which have peaks of 90 feet, by hiking along various paths. While at Jockey's Ridge State Park, you can also try sand-boarding.

A small waterfall flowing into a pool of water with rocks surrounding it
Linville Falls is a beautiful waterfall found in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area

Hike to Linville Falls in the Linville Gorge Wilderness

North Carolina has many waterfalls, and Linville Falls is one of the most spectacular. The falls are found in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area and can be reached via an easy hiking trail.

Along the way, you also get to see the gorge, which has been referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians."

Interact with sea life at the North Carolina Aquarium

One of the most fun bucket list activities in North Carolina for families is going to the North Carolina Aquarium. The aquarium has four locations, with the Roanoke Island location being a popular one to visit.

At the aquarium, you can discover a range of sea creatures. These include sharks, jellyfish, and sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center.

© zimmytws via Depositphotos
A large globe structure next to a building with glass windows
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is a family-friendly Raleigh attraction

Visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh is the oldest museum in NC. It's also the largest natural science museum in the Southeast US.

When visiting, you can learn about animals, nature sciences, dinosaurs, and more. The Museum of Natural Sciences hosts various events too that both kids and adults will enjoy.

A waterfall flowing into a pool with rocks and trees surrounding it
Turtleback Falls are one of numerous stunning waterfalls in Gorges State Park

Follow the Rainbow and Turtleback Falls Trail in Gorges State Park

The Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls Trail is a 6.3-kilometer-long hiking trail in Gorges State Park. The route takes you past four waterfalls and is perfect for both hikers and mountain bikers. This scenic trail is moderate in difficulty and will be suitable for most activity levels.

© zimmytws via Depositphotos
A museum building with a unique structure under a clear sky
You can discover interesting facts about NC at the North Carolina Museum of History

Increase your NC knowledge at the North Carolina Museum of History

If you want to increase your knowledge on North Carolina, one of the bucket list activities in NC that you can't miss is a trip to the North Carolina Museum of History. Located in Raleigh, the attraction houses a multitude of exhibits on the history and culture of the state.

You can learn about a range of topics, from early settlement to present-day events and history. The museum also hosts exciting events that will teach you even more about North Carolina.

Learn about science at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

Another of the fun educational attractions in North Carolina is the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The planetarium is notable as one of the largest and oldest in the US.

While visiting, you can view many fascinating exhibits covering topics like space exploration, astronomy, and much more. You can also see shows at the planetarium about outer space and nearby galaxies.

A waterfall with a path leading to it and orange and green trees surrounding
Pisgah National Forest is an amazing place to explore

Spend the day at Pisgah National Forest

Another of the amazing outdoor locations in NC is Pisgah National Forest. As one of the best national parks on the East Coast, this vast attraction is a must-visit location.

The park covers 500,000 acres and features greenery-covered hills, magical waterfalls, and trails through dense forest. Things to do in Pisgah National Forest include hiking, biking, and nature viewing. You can also camp here and boat or swim in the lakes.

Four giraffes standing on the grass with orange trees surrounding them
Giraffes are one of multiple species to see at the North Carolina Zoo

Take your family to the North Carolina Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo is the world's largest natural habitat zoo and is home to 1,800 animals from 250 species. This conservation-focused zoo houses animals like zebras, lions, giraffes, and many more.

During your visit, you can also enjoy outdoor activity experiences, like ziplining and a treehouse trek.

A water feature in a park with a city skyline behind it
There's a lot to learn about the city of Charlotte!

Experience a fascinating historical tour of Charlotte

Located in central North Carolina, Charlotte is one of the state's biggest cities. If visiting, one of the best bucket list activities in NC to try is a historical tour of Charlotte.

You'll get to visit an array of famous landmarks in North Carolina and learn more about the city. Places to see include the Mint Museum and the Historic 4th Ward.

Hang out at North Topsail Beach

Found on Topsail Island, North Topsail Beach is a pretty beach with miles of sandy shores. Spending a day here is a great idea, and there are lots of activities to enjoy.

From sunbathing to swimming in the ocean, partaking in watersports, and playing beach games, there's something for everyone to do under the sun!

A city skyline at sunset with an orange sky
An after-dark ghost tour is a spooky way to get to know Asheville

Dare to go on an Asheville ghost tour

If you're looking for some unique experiences in North Carolina, going on a ghost tour is a must! The Asheville nighttime ghost walking tour is a popular one to try.

On this tour, you get the chance to go to the most haunted spots in the city and hear lots of spooky tales. Spooky sites to visit include Pritchard Park and the Grove Arcade.

Two wild horses running on the beach with the ocean behind them
Spotting wild horses in Corolla is a very memorable thing to do in NC

Look for wild horses in Corolla

Corolla in the Outer Banks is home to numerous wild horses. A fun and safe way to see these beautiful creatures is on a guided OBX wild horses tour.

This experience will take you over sand dunes and past the coast while you search for the horses in their natural habitat. You can also access the Wild Horse Conservation Area.

A view of a city with greenery and mountains surrounding it
Discover more of Asheville on an exciting brewery tour

Try some amazing beer on an Asheville brewery walking tour

Asheville is one of the best cities to visit in the Southeast if looking for great breweries. An exciting way to see the best spots in the city is on a brewery walking tour.

At each brewery, you'll learn about the brewing process, the company's history, and of course, will get to try some samples. If you enjoyed the experience and are visiting the Outer Banks, be sure to also stop by some top OBX breweries!

Let children explore the interactive Marbles Kids Museum

Going to the Marbles Kids Museum is another of the great North Carolina activities for families to enjoy. This family-friendly attraction is designed with children in mind and features numerous interactive exhibits.

Things for kids to do include planting fruit and veg in a garden, creating building block structures, and exploring a pretend town.

Trees and other greenery with mountains in the background
You can look out across the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachians during a yoga session

Relax with a mountaintop yoga session

An amazing way to relax while in North Carolina is on a mountain yoga and hiking tour. On this excursion, you'll hike a trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains up to a peak where you get to take a memorable yoga class. As you enjoy the class, you also have the opportunity to take in your breathtaking surroundings.

© digidream via Depositphotos
A steam train coming into the station and people waiting for it
A ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is a very memorable thing to do in NC

Hop aboard a train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad begins in Bryson City and stretches for 52 miles. Taking a steam train ride along the railroad is highly recommended.

Once aboard, you can enjoy incredible views, and snacks and beverages are provided. There are themed rides throughout the year, such as a Christmas train journey.

An alligator lying in a river near the bank
You can find alligators, similar to this one, in the Outer Banks

Search for alligators in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

North Carolina is home to many alligators, with many of them living in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. This 152,000-acre reserve is intended to protect alligators and preserve their habitat.

A memorable way to explore the refuge is on an Alligator River kayak tour. This excursion allows you to kayak through the gator-infested waters in hope of spotting these creatures, plus other wild animals.

Treat yourself to a sunset sail

Hopping aboard a yacht to sail through Wrightsville Beach at sunset is an ideal way to treat yourself in NC! You'll get to sail past the stunning Masonboro Inlet and Masonboro Island while enjoying light refreshments and beverages. Of course, you also get to admire the colorful sunset!

A tree branch hanging over a river with trees on the opposite banks
The French Broad River is a peaceful place to paddleboard

Paddleboard on the French Broad River

While in Asheville, trying some water sports on the French Broad River is a fun thing to do. A recommended activity to partake in is paddle boarding on the French Broad River.

As you make your way down the river, your guide will teach you about Ashville's history, and wildlife sightings are guaranteed. This is also a great thing to do with kids in Asheville, NC.

Kayak through Kitty Hawk's maritime forests

You'll be spoiled for choice if looking for outdoor activities in NC! Another of the unique experiences in North Carolina that gets you outside is kayaking through the maritime forests of Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks.

As you sail through the forests, you'll spot a range of wildlife like osprey, turtles, and otters.

Waves crashing in the ocean with a clear sky above
Outer Banks beaches have the ideal conditions for surfing lessons

Surf on the Outer Banks

Make the most of being near the Atlantic Ocean with a surf lesson in the Outer Banks! Lessons take place in Kitty Hawk and are ideal for all levels, from beginners to advanced surfers.

For those that love water sports, surfing in the Outer Banks is one of the bucket list activities in NC that you can't miss.

In Summary

North Carolina is an outstanding vacation destination. Whether you want to explore a city, relax on the coast, or enjoy outdoor excursions, it's all possible in NC! If you do visit, hopefully, this guide of can't-miss bucket list activities has given you some ideas of what to see and do.

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Written by Alli Sewell

allisewell WRITER Currently based in Canada, I've also lived and worked in the UK and Brazil and travelled in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. I love finding the best photo-ops and food and drink locations wherever I go!


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