"But What Is There To Do Around Here?" A Carolinas Overview

My husband and I gaped when the NC native asked the question I placed in the title of this post. Okay, so we have an unusually high interest in the Carolinas for plain ol' residents, but this gal lives on the edge of the Albemarle Sound, just an hour from Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks, and about an hour from Pettigrew State Park and Phelps Lake. How could she miss those things?

So I decided to do a quick overview of the Carolinas in the event someone finds their way to this blog harboring the same question.

DISCLAIMER: Please use this as a guide. Always, always do your own research before going to a destination, including checking for safety issues.

Note: while some of these destinations may offer one or more of the following activities, I didn't target recreation such as antiquing, biking, birding, boating (including kayak and canoeing), camping, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, hunting, mining for gems, sports, and white water rafting. Nor did I provide information on the dozens of festivals held around the states celebrating everything from bluegrass to seafood. Why? A) This post would be so long you'd never read the entire thing, and B) We've yet to indulge in all these activities. If we live here for the rest of our lives, we won't have time to do them all.

There seriously is that much to do. I'm sure to miss something, so check out my label list, my Carolina Travel Guides post, my Links to Carolina Destinations page, and for more.

So, as of this writing, here's a few things I found to do:

North Carolina:

  • North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, and Roanoke Island.
There are far too many trails to list here. NC offers easy hikes on the flatlands, strenuous mountain hikes, hikes to view solitary mountain vistas, waterfall hikes, wildflower hikes, hikes I refuse to take because they're too strenuous, and more, including a Mountain to the Sea Trail and the AT. I'm constantly learning about trails from blogs I read, and from fellow CA members' trip reports (Jack and Andy, there's a place called Daffodil Flats, and you have to do what to get there???") Check out my Carolina Travel Guides post for more information, though I need to find a good resource to cover the extensive trail system in the far western portion of the state.
And dear readers, please beware while on the trail. I don't want to beat this to death, but I've posted several warnings begging people to be careful while in the great outdoors. Be prepared, and hike smart.
National Forests

From east to west:
  • Croatan
  • Uhwarries
  • Pisgah
  • Nantahala, though don't ask me to pronounce it. I can't.
What's the big whoo about national forests? They offer a lot of outdoor recreation. They're mighty pretty, too. Just wear orange during hunting season.

National Parks

To begin with...
  • A portion of the Appalachian Trail
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway (didn't know it was a national park, did you)
  • Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores
  • Great Smoky Mountains
Check out the NPS's NC page for more.

National Wildlife Refuges

Outer Banks
  • Currituck
  • Mackay Island
  • Pea Island
Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula
  • Alligator River
  • Pocosin Lakes
  • Mattamuskeet
  • Swan Quarter
Coastal Plains
  • Great Dismal Swamp
  • Cedar Island
  • Roanoke River
  • Pee Dee
State Parks

NC has around forty State Parks (I didn't see the new Grandfather Mountain State Park listed on the site.) To find them on a map, check out the state's Park Site.
And because I'm not sure where to put it, Dupont State Forest near Flat Rock and Brevard.
  • North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
  • While I'm not sure if it's considered to be an official zoo, Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck.

- Arboretums
- Battlefields
- Beaches. Lots and lots of beaches
- Biltmore House
- Botanical Gardens
- Carriage tours of historical cities
- Historical sites including plantations
- Lighthouses
- Museums
- Tours of historic towns

South Carolina:
  • South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston
  • Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach
  • Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner also houses an aquarium
Pretty much the same as what I said for NC. Oconee County has a lot of trails, but you'll find trails throughout the state, including longer systems such as the Foothills Trail, and the Palmetto Trail, which, as I understand it, is still under construction.
National Forests
  • Francis Marion National Forest
  • Sumpter National Forest
  • Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm fairly sure the Nantahala Forest bleeds into South Carolina from the north
National Parks
Besides Congaree National Swamp, I wasn't sure about others, so I checked the National Park Site. From it, I see the following are national monument or historic sites:
  • Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumpter
  • Charles Pinckney and Ninety Six (historic sites)
  • Kings Mountain Military Park and Cowpens Battlefield
  • And one I've never heard of, but it looks interesting, Overmountain Victory Historic Trail, which extends into NC, VA and TN. Cool.
National Wildlife Refuges
  • ACE Basin
  • Cape Romain
  • Carolina Sandhills
  • Pinckney Island
  • Santee
  • Savannah
  • Tybee (according to NPWRC)
  • Waccamaw
State Parks
In the WYFF interview, I said there are forty-five state parks and natural areas in SC. As it turns out, I was incorrect. There are forty-six. Check the map on the South Carolina Parks site to find one near you.

- Architecture tours
- Beaches. Lots of beaches
- Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet
- Carriage rides of historic towns
- Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner
- Francis Beidler Forest
- Historic sites
- Historic towns (Abbeville, Columbia, Charleston, etc)
- Lighthouses
- Museums
- Plantations (including Boone Hall and Magnolia Plantation)
- Towns we tend to avoid because of crowds (Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head)
- Towns we love to visit because they're great (Greenville, Charleston, Beaufort, Abbeville, Edisto, Columbia, Murrells Inlet, and more)

That should be enough to get you started. Again, please use this and all my posts as a guide. I can only share what we see and experience at a destination at the time of our visit. Research all destinations before you go.

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Julie said...

What a question!

But I'm glad you have listed a great response here. Maybe the person you spoke with will drop by and get some ideas. I know you've given me many great destination ideas.

My only problem now is I hope I can live long enough to see it all (meaning there is so, so much to see and do). Seriously, it could take years, which is exciting. The information you have is wonderful. As always, thank you!

Kimberli said...

We're also wondering how we can fit it all in. With only one day off a week, it's hard to see it all, and we're determined to attempt kayaking this year.

Just yesterday, another woman I chatted with while waiting for a friend also made a "nothing to do around here" comment. As with the first gal, I launched into a list. She seemed surprised.

Don't they realize there's a reason people travel to the Carolinas for their vacation??