21 Must-Do Outdoor Summer Activities In North Carolina For 2024!

It’s summer time in North Carolina!  Which means it’s time to get out and explore the great outdoors.

Here are 21 awesome outdoor activities you should consider for this summer in the Tarheel State!

Visit The Quarry at Carrigan Farms

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The Quarry at Carrigan Farms in Mooresville is a stunning, natural oasis that transforms a historic quarry into a swimming and event destination.

Crystal-clear waters surrounded by sheer granite cliffs create a picturesque setting perfect for a summer day swim.

The farm also offers a variety of other activities like apple picking and hayrides during the fall, making it a versatile venue for families looking for a unique outing.

Safety is a priority here, with lifeguards on duty and swimming tests required for all guests, ensuring a fun and safe experience for everyone.

Ride The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

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Take a journey back in time aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, one of the best scenic train rides in the US.

This scenic train ride offers a unique perspective of the rich landscapes and history of Western North Carolina.

With various excursions, including themed rides and dinner trains, passengers can enjoy the lush scenery of the Smokies, river gorges, and historic tunnels in the comfort of a restored vintage railcar.

Slide Down The Iconic Sliding Rock

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You have to check out Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest! A natural water slide that attracts both the young and young at heart, the water is cold but rush of adrenaline will keep you warm.

This 60-foot smooth boulder chute ends in a cold, refreshing 8-foot deep pool.

Managed by the US Forest Service, the site offers lifeguards and facilities during the busy summer months, ensuring a fun and safe experience for everyone who takes the plunge.

Go Camping Right On The Beach

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North Carolina’s coastline offers numerous opportunities for beach camping, providing a unique overnight experience.

Campgrounds like Cape Lookout National Seashore allow you to pitch your tent right on the beach, under the stars.

Listen to the waves crash as you fall asleep and wake up to a stunning sunrise over the Atlantic.

This is a perfect summer adventure for families, couples, and solo travelers seeking tranquility by the sea.

Whitewater Rafting on the Nantahala River

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For a splash of adventure, whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River provides an exhilarating ride through stunning landscapes.

Companies like Nantahala Outdoor Center offer guided rafting trips that cater to both beginners and seasoned rafters.

Tackle the playful rapids and perhaps even spot some local wildlife on the riverbanks. This activity is perfect for cooling off and adding a dose of excitement to your summer.

Hot Air Balloon Rides over Statesville

Experience a magical hot air balloon ride with Carolina BalloonFest or Statesville-based companies, soaring over the picturesque landscapes of North Carolina at sunrise or sunset.

These rides provide stunning views of the rolling hills, lush forests, and farmlands below, offering a serene and unforgettable aerial adventure.

Celebrate a special occasion or simply embrace the tranquility of floating above the earth with a champagne toast upon landing.

Nighttime Sea Turtle Walks

Join guided nighttime sea turtle walks on Topsail Island to witness the awe-inspiring sight of sea turtles making their way to the shore to lay eggs.

Local conservation groups like the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center organize these walks, aiming to educate participants about sea turtle conservation while offering a chance to see these ancient creatures up close.

It’s a unique, educational experience suitable for all ages.

Horseback Riding in the Appalachian Mountains

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Explore the rugged terrain of the Appalachian Mountains on horseback with guided tours from companies like Smokemont Riding Stables.

These tours offer a unique way to traverse the mountainous landscapes, providing a serene and intimate encounter with nature.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, horseback riding in these mountains can be a peaceful retreat or an adventurous exploration.

Mountain Biking in Dupont State Recreational Forest

Dupont State Recreational Forest offers some of the most stunning mountain biking trails in North Carolina.

With over 100 miles of trails, riders of all skill levels can enjoy the diverse landscapes, from dense forests to open ridgelines.

The area is particularly famous for its waterfalls, so don’t miss riding the Triple Falls Trail, which features a breathtaking view of three sequential waterfalls.

The forest’s well-maintained trails make it a favorite for both casual rides and challenging adventures.

Go Tubing in Deep Creek Area of Smoky Mountains National Park

Deep Creek, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, offers a delightful tubing experience through its serene and scenic landscapes.

Rent a tube from one of the local outfitters like Deep Creek Tube Center & Campground and enjoy floating past beautiful waterfalls and through vibrant mountain flora.

It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the park and cool off on a hot summer day.

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

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The Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the prettiest mountain drives in the US, offers an extraordinary driving and cycling experience along 469 miles of scenic vistas stretching through North Carolina and Virginia.

As you journey along this famed route, enjoy numerous overlooks, hiking trails, and picnic spots where you can soak in panoramic views of the Appalachian Highlands.

Stop at the Linn Cove Viaduct, a marvel of engineering, for a breathtaking perspective, or take a hike up to Humpback Rocks for a memorable sunrise.

Surfing at Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is a prime spot for surfing in North Carolina, attracting surfers from all over due to its consistent waves and vibrant surf culture.

Beginners can take lessons from local surf schools like WB Surf Camp, which offer professional guidance and equipment rentals.

The beach’s friendly atmosphere and good wave conditions make it a perfect place for surfers of all levels to catch waves and enjoy the coastal vibes.

Bird Watching at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks is a haven for bird watchers, especially during the migration seasons in spring and fall.

This 13-mile long island provides habitats for a diverse array of bird species, including terns, pelicans, and migratory shorebirds.

The refuge offers guided bird-watching tours and has several observation platforms that provide optimal viewing opportunities to see these birds in their natural setting.

Fishing in the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is renowned for its excellent deep-sea fishing opportunities. Charter services like Pirate’s Cove Marina offer excursions where anglers can fish for marlin, tuna, and other deep-sea species.

These charters provide all the necessary equipment and are guided by experienced captains who know the best fishing spots.

It’s an exciting way to experience the thrill of the catch and enjoy the stunning oceanic surroundings.

Camping at Hanging Rock State Park

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Hanging Rock State Park provides a picturesque camping experience with facilities that include everything from basic tent sites to cabins.

The park is famous for its scenic views and offers a range of activities including over 20 miles of hiking trails, rock climbing, and swimming.

With its cascading waterfalls and panoramic views from atop the iconic Hanging Rock, this destination is perfect for an immersive nature getaway.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise with over 800 miles of trails.

Whether you’re seeking a strenuous trek to the top of Clingmans Dome or a peaceful walk through Cades Cove, the park offers lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife.

Early summer mornings are ideal for spotting deer, black bears, and wild turkeys. Don’t miss the chance to see the synchronized fireflies display in early June, a rare and enchanting sight.

Kayaking and Canoeing on the French Broad River

The French Broad River near Asheville provides a perfect backdrop for kayaking and canoeing. With companies like French Broad Outfitters offering rentals and guided tours, adventurers can paddle through tranquil waters and lush landscapes.

This activity isn’t just a workout; it’s a chance to connect with nature, observe local wildlife, and even fish in peaceful river bends.

Beginners and families will find plenty of calm sections suitable for a leisurely day on the water.

Zip Lining in the Forests

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For thrill-seekers, zip lining through the verdant forests of the North Carolina mountains provides an exhilarating perspective of the natural beauty.

Adventure centers like Navitat Asheville offer a range of zip line experiences that cater to all ages and adrenaline levels.

Glide above the tree canopies and across valleys and streams, experiencing the landscape with a bird’s-eye view, all while securely harnessed and guided by professional instructors.

Attending a Summer Festival

North Carolina’s summer is packed with festivals, including the vibrant North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington, celebrating local art, gardens, and culture in April.

Later in the summer, Folkmoot USA in Waynesville showcases folk music and dance from around the world.

These festivals not only offer entertainment but also a chance to indulge in local cuisine and crafts, making them a highlight for both residents and visitors seeking a taste of North Carolina’s diverse cultural tapestry.

Waterfall Tours in Transylvania County

Transylvania County, the “Land of Waterfalls,” hosts over 250 waterfalls, making it an exceptional destination for guided waterfall tours.

Companies like Pura Vida Adventures offer personalized tours that take you to hidden gems and popular cascades alike.

Don’t miss Looking Glass Falls and Triple Falls, where you can witness the majestic power of nature and even take a dip in the cool, refreshing pools below.

Exploring the Biltmore Estate Gardens

Visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville to wander through the meticulously maintained gardens designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Spanning over 8,000 acres, the estate features a variety of gardens including the Italian Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Spring Garden, which are especially vibrant during the summer months.

The estate also offers guided garden tours, providing insights into the history and botanical aspects of the grounds.