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10 Places to Explore in North Carolina in 2021

Original Photos from Places Featured in Explore NC

Although travel remains limited to when and where it is safe to do so, our hope is that we will all be able to get back to traveling normally again in 2021. With the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine now being administered across the state and country, there is hope!

The hospitality and travel and tourism industries are two industries that have suffered the most due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we all need to do our part to help prevent and reduce the spread of the virus, so that businesses affected the most by the pandemic can fully recover.

One way we can show support here in North Carolina is through the Count On Me NC initiative. Count On Me NC is a public health initiative that empowers visitors, guests and businesses to help keep everyone safe from COVID-19. Businesses can register for training and become certified to help keep customers safe, while individuals can sign the pledge.

As we remain optimistic about 2021 and traveling normally again, the following are a list of ten places across North Carolina that we’ve enjoyed in years past and recommend exploring when it is safe to do so.

1. North Carolina High Country

View of Grandfather Mountain

Facts & Figures

Counties: Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, Yancey

Cities: Banner Elk, Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, Boone, Burnsville, Jefferson, Linville, Sparta, Spruce Pine, Sugar Mountain, West Jefferson, Wilkesboro



North Carolina’s scenic High Country encompasses some of the highest elevations in the state and includes areas like Blowing Rock, Boone, Linville, and others. There are many attractions in High Country including The Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Linville Falls, to name a few. This area offers spectacular hiking and sightseeing. With many tourist attractions, there is enough to see and do to spend an extended weekend or an entire week.

2. Pilot Mountain State Park

View from Top of Pilot Mountain State Park

Facts & Figures

Address: 1792 Pilot Knob Park Rd., Pinnacle, NC 27043

County: Surry and Yadkin

Size: 3,872 acres

Hours: Open daily from 7:00am to 6:00pm

Phone: (336) 325-2355


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Paddling
  • Picnic Shelters/Tables
  • Rock Climbing/Rappelling
  • Sightseeing


Pilot Mountain has been a prominent landmark of North Carolina, with the summit rising more than 2,000 feet. Its rock outcroppings that appear as a “dome” rising out of the mountains create a unique feature that can be seen from miles away. Pilot Mountain State Park offers an array of activities, including camping, hiking, padding, rock climbing, and sightseeing. With a park access switchback road that makes its way to the summit, it provides a spectacular experience for all abilities and ages. Whether you’re stopping briefly for the scenic overlook, spending a few hours hiking loop trails around the top, or camping out for the weekend, Pilot Mountain State Park will not disappoint.

3. Pinehurst Resort

View of Pinehurst #2 Course

Facts & Figures

Address: 80 Carolina Vista Drive, Pinehurst, NC 28374

County: Moore

Phone: (855) 235-8507



  • Boating
  • Croquet
  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Swimming


  • Carolina Hotel
  • Holly Inn
  • The Manor
  • Carolina Villas
  • Condos at Pinehurst


Opened in 1895, Pinehurst Resort is known as “The Cradle of American Golf.” Located in the Village of Pinehurst in North Carolina’s Sandhills region in the South Central part of the state, it is less than a 2-hour drive from Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, making it an easily accessible retreat. Known for hosting the US Open golf championship many times, golf is the primary activity at Pinehurst. However, it also offers swimming in the pools, tennis on the tennis courts, fine dining and shopping in town, a spa for relaxation, and boating at the marina, a short drive from the main resort. It features luxurious overnight accommodations, offering a comfortable retreat away from busy life.

4. North Carolina Zoo

Elephants at North Carolina Zoo

Facts & Figures

Address: 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC 27205

County: Randolph

Size: 2.142 square miles = 2,600 acres

Hours: Open Daily from 9:00am to 4:00pm

Phone: (800) 488-0444


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources


  • Antelope
  • Baboon
  • Black Bear
  • Bobcat
  • Bison
  • Cheetah
  • Chimpanzee
  • Elephant
  • Elk
  • Flamingo
  • Giraff
  • Gray Wolf
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Lemur
  • Lion
  • Ocelot
  • Ostrich
  • Polar Bear
  • Seal
  • Zebra


  • African Pavilion
  • Africa Bushlands
  • North American Sonoran Desert
  • North America Marsh
  • North America Rocky Coast
  • R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary
  • Africa Lemur Island
  • Africa Patas Monkey Exhibit
  • Africa Forest Glade
  • North America Streamside
  • North America Honeybee Garden
  • Africa Watani Grasslands
  • North America Northwoods
  • North America Prairie
  • Africa Kitera Forest
  • Africa Forest Edge
  • North America Cypress Swamp


Located centrally in the geographic center of the state in Asheboro in Randolph County, the North Carolina Zoo is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo at 2,600 acres in size. The North Carolina Zoo offers daily admission, group pricing, and annual memberships, offering a variety of options to explore all the zoo has to offer. With dozens of exhibits and over 1,800 animals, the North Carolina Zoo provides educational opportunities time and time again, even for repeat visits with an annual membership. From the smallest of insects to the largest of mammals, there is fun for everyone!

5. Eno River State Park

View of Eno River at Eno River State Park

Facts & Figures

Address: 6101 Cole Mill Rd, Durham, NC 27705

Counties: Durham, Orange

Size: 4,312 acres

Hours: Open daily from 7:30am to 9:30pm

Phone: (919) 383-1686


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Paddling
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking


Located in Durham, North Carolina, Eno River State Park is a quick drive from Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, as well as other parts of the Triangle. At 4,312 acres, the state park offers five access areas along a 12-mile stretch of the Eno River. The park has a rich history with the river flowing through mature forests and historic mill and home sites. Nearly 30 miles of trails along the river provide a variety of activities including backcountry camping by permit, fishing, hiking, and paddling, and is a popular spot for photography and sightseeing.

6. Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area

Trail Map Sign at Oconeechee Mountain State Natural Area

Facts & Figures

Address: 625 Virginia Cates Rd, Hillsborough, NC 27278

County: Orange

Size: 206 acres

Hours: Open daily from 8:00am to 9:00pm

Phone: (919) 383-1686


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking


Located in Hillsborough, North Carolina in Orange County, Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area is 206 acres and features Occoneechee Mountain, the highest point in Orange County, rising more than 350 feet above the Eno River below. It is a spectacular place for hiking and sightseeing. The area offers several hiking trails, including the 2.2-mile Occoneechee Mountain Loop Trail around the mountain. It also offers access to the Eno River below for fishing, as well as picnic tables in a grassy knoll near the main parking lot. The Occoneechee name comes from Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. With its central location to the Triangle area of North Carolina, it is easily accessible from Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, just off of Interstate-40.

7. Raven Rock State Park

View from Scenic Overlook at Raven Rock State Park

Facts & Figures

Address: 3009 Raven Rock Road, Lillington, NC 27546

County: Harnett

Size: 4,810 acres

Hours: Open daily from 7:00am to 7:00pm

Phone: (910) 893-4888


Management: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Division of Parks & Recreation


  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Paddling
  • Picnicking


Located along the Cape Fear River Valley in Lillington, NC in Harnett County, Raven Rock State Park offers a variety of outdoor recreational activities including camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, paddling, and picnicking. Less than an hour drive from Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Pinehurst, it is a popular place for family hiking. It is especially beautiful in the fall season when the leaves begin to change color. Hiking terrain varies from easy to difficult, with a variety of loops and trails for all ages. The Cape Fear River is also a popular spot for paddling. Although there is no river access to launch or land boats, the park does offer a canoe camping spot along the river. Check with the State Park Office for information. Nearby Cape Fear River Adventuresoffers tubing and paddling trips.

8. Oak Island

Sunset Over the Beach in Oak Island

Facts & Figures

County: Brunswick




Oak Island, North Carolina is a small beach town located in Brunswick County, about 45 minutes south of Wilmington. Oak Island is unique in that the beach runs East to West, rather than North to South, due to North Carolina’s coastal geography. Unlike many of the other numerous beach towns along the coast, Oak Island is not commercialized like other beach towns in the Outer Banks and nearby Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This makes for a very laid back atmosphere. However, the town is much quieter during the off-season, with some restaurants and stores closing down until the peak summer beach season. Oak Island offers a wide variety of attractions, including golf courses, recreation, restaurants, stores, and multiple beach access points, as well as a salt marsh inlet in between the beach and mainland.

9. The Outer Banks

Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills

Facts & Figures

County: Dare

Areas: Kill Devil Hills, Manteo, Nags Head, Roanoke Island, Hatteras Island



North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX) are barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, separating the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. They are a popular tourist and travel destination offering a wide variety of attractions, including an aquarium, beaches, state parks, national wildlife refuges, and more. Roanoke Island, known for “The Lost Colony,” was the site of England’s first settlement in the New World, an expedition by Sir Walter Raleigh. The area is also known for pirate history, including the famous “Blackbeard.”

10. Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Island Light Station Sign

Facts & Figures

County: Hyde

Population: 948

Zip Code: 27960

Area: 9.6 square miles (8.6 square miles of land, 640 acres of water)



Ocracoke Island is a remote barrier island off the coast of North Carolina and is part of the Outer Banks region. It is accessible by ferry only, which makes it a very remote and special place. It was the location where the famous pirate Blackbeard died in 1718. It has a rich history dating back to the Algonquian-speaking Indians. The main economies are fishing and tourism. The island was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, but NC-12 has since reopened to the general public.

Published by Dave Herpy

I am a father of four, a camp and outdoor recreation professional, and a freelance writer. I have over twenty years of experience in the outdoor industry and over a decade of experience as a freelance writer. I enjoy camping, cycling, golfing, hiking, kayaking, running, swimming, and triathlons, as well as traveling, volunteering, and writing. I live in Clayton, North Carolina.

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