10 Outdoor Must-Dos in North Carolina
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast or want a more relaxed approach to enjoying nature's beauty, discover our favorite activities to explore western North Carolina.
Photo By: Chris Council and Emily Chaplin
Western Carolina is known as the Land of Waterfalls with over 200 in the area, so a trip to The Tar Heel State simply isn't complete without discovering nature's favorite water feature. At the north fork of the French Broad River and Shoal Creek are the twin waterfalls of French Broad Falls and Mill Shoals. After taking in the 15-foot-high waterfalls, walk a fourth of a mile downstream to see another beauty — the Cathedral Falls. Though located on Living Waters Ministry's private property, they allow the public to enjoy the trails and waterfalls, so please be respectful.
Slide Down Sliding Rock
Make a splash with kids of all ages, including grown-ups! This natural water slide (a 60-foot-long flat boulder) has 11,000 gallons of water flowing over it to send you and your friends into an eight-foot-deep pool. You can visit Sliding Rock year-round, but from Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are on-duty lifeguards and open restrooms from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm with a cost of $2 per person. Children under 3 are free.
Visit Nantahala National Forest
With over a half-million acres, Nantahala National Forest is the largest of the four national forests in North Carolina. Explore the Whitewater Falls, the highest falls east of the Mississippi River, hike part of the Appalachian Trail to see spectacular views of the gorge or whitewater raft down the Nantahala River. You can even appreciate the mountains from your car on the two highways, the Waterfall Byway and Cherohala Skyway, that weave throughout the gorges and ridges.
Hike Gorges State Park
For the casual and advanced hiker, Gorges State Park's 7,500 acres have rugged terrain and tons of trails that are waiting to be explored. Don't miss Rainbow Falls, the 150-foot-tall waterfall that gets its name from the rainbows you often see in the mist. Continue to follow the trail upstream to Turtleback Falls, another popular natural water slide, while downstream is Hidden Falls, a relaxing swimming pool.
Mountain Bike Pisgah National Forest
There's tons to explore by foot or by water in Pisgah National Forest. However, the forest is also known as one of the top mountain bike destinations in the southeast. If you're an avid mountain biker, you do not want to miss out on the hundreds of miles of trails that Pisgah has to offer, from Bent Creek and Kitsuma to Black Mountain and Avery Creek.
Ride Horses at Cataloochee Ranch
Hop on a horse for a morning or afternoon ride to the highest point of Cataloochee Ranch where you'll encounter stunning views of the mountains or slip through the rhododendron tunnels across mountain streams following the Cataloochee Divide. Experience the Ranch and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in a memorable way with half-day rides start at $65.
Kayak Green River
With three runnable sections, the river offers paddling for all levels of kayakers. The Lower Green is ideal for beginners and runs along the road for seven miles, so it's easy to access, while the Upper Green takes it up a few notches with some vertical drops. But the most famous is the Narrows where elite kayakers tackle 2.9 miles of advanced boulder garden and bedrock rapids.
Fly Fish at Tom Branch Falls
Located along the Deep Creek Trail of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tom Branch Falls is a favorite spot for fishermen and women. The Deep Creek area has some of the best small stream fishing to catch native brook trout. And if relaxing is more of your thing, it's also a popular spot to float in a tube down the water.
Rappel Down Big Bradley Falls
Take your tour of the Land of Waterfalls to a thrilling level. Rappel down a 200-foot waterfall for a splash-worthy adventure. And don't worry, if you're a beginner, you can practice on a 30-foot vertical rock face before tackling the amazing waterfall.
Plan a winter getaway from early November until late March to ski or snowboard Cataloochee Mountain. With 18 slopes and trails in a mix of beginner, intermediate and expert levels, skiers and boarders of all backgrounds are able to have a ball in the snow. Lessons are available for adults and kids, starting at age four, as well as an adaptive program that teach adults and children with disabilities how to ski. Don't forget to check out the snow tubing, too.