From the mountains to the beach: Explore the state of North Carolina this summer

Topsail Island is one of Teens & 20s writer Lily Pope's favorite N.C. vacation destinations. / Lily Pope, Times-News correspondent

By Lily Pope
Times-News correspondent

   North Carolina is among the best states in the country for multiple reasons, whether it is our food, our basketball or our landmarks. It is a favorite destination of many. Another great thing about North Carolina is that we have both the mountains and the beach, which equals lots of travel options.

Cape Hatteras, Dare County

   With enormous historic significance, Cape Hatteras is a quiet, natural beach and home to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. In the winter, the shores occasionally freeze, producing a slushy, frozen layer of ice on top of the water, causing a gorgeous swirled effect. Driving to Hatteras, on either side of the road you can see both the ocean on one side and the sound on the other. Riding the ferry to or from Hatteras is a treat as you travel over the open ocean. The fishing is big attraction and the quaint village is a fun place to shop. The sunsets over the sound are stunning. And, if you are lucky, you may be able to spot one of the Outer Banks’ secluded residents, the wild horses.

Nantahala Gorge, Bryson City

   Nantahala is an amazing place for the adventurous and outdoorsy type. By far, one of the biggest attractions is the whitewater rafting and kayaking. When camping right on the river, you can watch as boaters paddle towards the falls; travel farther downstream and you can watch as rafters navigate down the challenging rapids. You can enjoy meals on the water, in the small village that consists of two restaurants and the Nantahala Outdoor Center, named the best outfitter on earth by National Geographic; all are a short walk from the closest campground. However you choose to spend your time, I would say Nantahala is a great place for a venturesome vacation.

Fearrington Village, Chatham County

   Fearrington Village is a great place to take a short day trip, or an overnight at the village’s hotel, The Fearrington House. This gorgeous inn was even featured in Our State magazine’s Top 10 Best Hotels in North Carolina. When vacationing, you can enjoy farm-to-fork cuisine at The Fearrington House or The Granary restaurants, buy fresh ingredients at the seasonal farmers market, browse the shops, indulge with gelato made from local ingredients, and watch as the cows graze over the many miles of green pasture. You can wander through the many isles of books at my most beloved bookstore and meander through the many passages and gardens. Around Halloween, they hold an enormous Pumpkin Fest, which is my favorite time to visit Fearrington. The many walkways and paths are lined with dozens of intricately carved pumpkins, fires blaze in every hearth and all the seasonal foods are for sale; the best are the pistachio dark chocolate macaroons decorated with edible glitter. Fearrington is a beautiful escape that I love, without even having to drive an hour.

Asheville, Buncombe County

   Quite possibly my favorite place to vacation, with a progressive downtown and the Biltmore Estate, Asheville has a lot to offer. The North Carolina Arboretum is a highlight of Asheville, the extensive gardens and greenery are stunning, and the mountain setting is the icing on the cake. While staying in Asheville, you can visit Biltmore, the main draw to the area, taking in more than 1 million visitors each year. The restaurant variety is wide; whether you’re vegetarian, gluten-free or a chocolate fanatic, there will be something that suits your taste. Whatever you come to Asheville for, it is guaranteed to be a pleasant getaway.

Topsail Island, Onslow County

   A very peaceful island, Topsail is home of one of only 94 remaining swing bridges in the United States. I have grown up going to Topsail and have many fond memories of family trips. Topsail hosts amazing sunrises, sunsets and ocean views. The area has two conveniently located aquariums in Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll Shores, which both provide learning opportunities and fun for children and adults. Wilmington is only 30 minutes away if you are looking for the offerings of a larger city with its generous selection of restaurants, shopping areas and the historic river district. Trips to Topsail always include freshly caught seafood. You are sure to find sharks’ teeth, sea glass, shells and remnants of sea creatures.

Lily Pope is a rising eighth-grade home-schooler and a Teens & 20 writer.

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