3 Must-visit regions in North Carolina

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

North Carolina is an incredible state for hiking, camping, and outdoor recreation. We sent three awesome writers on road trips through the mountains and to the sea to show us their favorite places to eat and drink, hiking trails, awesome outdoor learning opportunities, and more while following Outdoor NC Leave No Trace principles. Read on for snippets from their trips and links to their full stories!

A person with shorts, a t-shirt, and a backwards baseball hat is scratching a scruffy dog's chin outdoors.
Hiking Hawksbill Mountain Trail in Western North Carolina

Western NC - The Mountains

Our friends Erin and Caroline (and Maggie the dog!) headed to the mountains of Western North Carolina in search of views, food, and brews! They discovered several queer-friendly restaurants and cafes, hiked memorable trails, and camped near a very cool river! Here are a few highlights from their trip.

Bearwallow Mountain is a 2-mile out-and-back hike  with 583 feet of elevation change. This beautiful trail in Hendersonville ends at a bald and offers views of the French Broad Valley. During your walk, stop at the overlook to see Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. 

Eat + Drink
Hillman Beer in Old Fort is the perfect place to stop for a juicy burger, fries, and fresh-brews. Erin and Caroline recommend the kale salad, "perfect" fried chicken sandwich, and a flight of beer.

South Mountain State Park in Connolly Springs offers hiking, equestrian, and biking trails plus camping near the Jacob Fork River. Erin and Caroline shared that the bathrooms are really well-maintained, and offer an excellent plus for people who aren't interested in roughing it and like to have running water and amenities when spending the night outdoors. 

Leave No Trace
Pick up your dog waste and be mindful of walking. This trio bags every dog poop, making sure to place the waste in designated trash cans to avoid contaminating the environment with non-native waste. Erin and Caroline were mindful of keeping Maggie leashed and on the path to reduce her imprint on the area.

Read the full Western North Carolina - The Mountains itinerary here, including several additional spots to hike and grab grub.

A family trip to Topsail Island, North Carolina

Victoria, her husband, and three kids spent a couple days exploring on and around Topsail Island in Southwest NC. The self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs and outdoor adventurers were in search of hikes, tasty food, and sweet treats! Here are some highlights from their adventure.

Abbey Nature Preserve Trail in Wilmington is a 2-mile stroll through forest and over a bridge across a lake. The family visited around 8 a.m. and loved this quiet, peaceful start to the day! It's a perfect spot for picnicking and taking in the scenery.

Eat + Drink
Shaka Tacos in Surf City was a hit with this crew, thanks to the menu with everything from chili-lime dry rub wings to fish quesadillas. While they liked the tacos (fish, carne asada, and shrimp), they recommend the wings!

Ecological Marine Adventure Touch Tank Aquarium in Surf City offers hands-on learning experiences for people of all ages! The kids (and parents!) loved interacting with turtles, lizards, sharks, stingrays, and horseshoe crabs here while learning about how to observe wildlife in ways that won't harm animals or humans.

Leave No Trace
Plan ahead and prepare by bring water bottles or bladders to stay hydrated during a hike. The family values the environment and is very aware of limiting their impact on the planet by disposing of items like granola bar wrappers in trash cans and not tossing them aside on the trail.

Follow the rest of the White family's Topsail Island road trip here for an incredible candy store and more marine wildlife learning opportunities!

A photography road trip in Western North Carolina

Mallory is an avid photographer who loves capturing sunsets, sunrises, and the night sky. She drove through the mountains in Western NC in search of places to aim her lens. Here are a few of her favorite spots!

Water Rock Knob is the perfect place to catch the sunrise. It's not well-known for the view at this time, so you might just have the whole place to yourself! The out-and-back trail is one mile long with around 407 feet of elevation.

Eat +Drink
Wedge Studios 
is a brewery and tasting room in the River Arts District in Asheville. Stop here if you're interested in sipping a citrus IPA at an outdoor patio. Food trucks park here regularly. Mallory recommends nomming on a pie from Smokee's Pizza or trying anything from The Scarlet Bee's delicious Lebanese menu.

Black Balsam Knob
in Haywood County has a 1.56-mile trail out-and-back trail with 305 feet of elevation gain. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can have 360-degree views of the incredible mountains and stargazing unlike anywhere else.

Leave No Trace
Follow fire safety procedures
to prevent starting a wildfire. That means only having a fire in an existing fire ring and adhering to the seasonal rules on when it's safe to have a fire. Always thoroughly extinguish flames and coals before going to bed or leaving a campsite so the fire won't reignite. 

Follow the rest of Mallory's Western North Carolina road trip here for more incredible places to take photos of mountain views and local wildlife.

Check out Outdoor NC Leave No Trace principles to learn how to be a good steward when you visit the Old North state.

Cover image by Erin McGrady.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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