North Carolina is known for its beautiful coastline, sandy beaches, and picturesque mountains. What many visiting the Tar Heel State don’t realize is they don’t need to flock to the popular tourist destinations to have a good time.
NC visitors can enjoy their vacations or weekend trips visiting a number of lesser-known attractions. Check out these nine hidden gems visitors should consider adding to their North Carolina trip itineraries.
Yates Water Mill in Raleigh
Discover the historic Yates Water Mill in Raleigh, a charming glimpse into the past. This picturesque mill, set in the heart of nature, tells the story of bygone days when milling was a vital community activity. Explore its rustic beauty, surrounded by tranquil waters and lush surroundings. The Yates Water Mill stands as a reminder of simpler times, offering visitors a chance to connect with history and appreciate the timeless rhythm of rural life.
Roanoke Island Festival Park
Taking a vacation with the little ones? The Roanoke Island Festival Park offers the perfect outing for families. Filled with interactive exhibits, this museum provides both fun and education.
See a Native American town. Dress up in 16th-century garb. Watch a period blacksmith demonstrate their craft. Don’t forget to climb aboard the Elizabeth II, a 16th-century replica ship.
Abandoned Henry River Mill Village
Situated in western North Carolina is a great little ghost town called Henry River Mill Village.
Take a step back in history and experience firsthand what a typical textile mill village looked like in the early 20th century. Fans of The Hunger Games may recognize this quaint community for its portrayal of District 12. Walk in the footsteps of favorite scenes from the films.
Henry River Mill Village began its decline in 1973 when the one-thriving mill shuttered its doors. Today it’s a tourist destination where visitors can also opt to spend a night in a renovated 1905 cabin.
Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, Raleigh
Housed in Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art is an outdoor exhibit by British artist Chris Drury. Often likened to a “hobbit house,” The Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky was constructed in 2003 out of wood, stone, and turf.
Visitors enter through a single-entry wooden door. When closed, the only light is a tiny hole in the roof. This hole serves as a “camera obscura,” empowering visitors to experience the sensation of walking among virtual treetops, blue sky, and clouds.
Land of Oz Theme Park, Beech Mountain
Named after L. Frank Baum’s original book, The Land of Oz Theme Park opened in 1970, but today the park is largely abandoned. During its heyday, visitors could watch actors in costumes depicting delightful characters from the book, walk down the Yellow Brick Road, and experience the tornado that swept Dorothy to Oz.
The park permanently closed in 1980 but opens once a year for an Autumn of Oz event. During the rest of the year, visitors obtaining owners’ permission can explore this once popular destination in its quiet eeriness.
Castle Mont Rouge
Tucked away in Rougemont NC, about 40 minutes south of the Virginia border is Castle Mont Rouge. Originally built by local artist Robert Mihaly as a part-time studio and home, the castle today stands largely in ruins.
Built of marble and cinder blocks, this architectural marvel is abandoned, but privately owned. It is a photographer, history buff, or explorer’s dream.
Often overshadowed by more popular destinations, Linville Gorge is a nature lover’s dream. What’s great about this gorgeous area of North Carolina is it typically falls under the average visitor’s radar.
Located in the Pisgah National Forest, visitors can get a taste of the “Grand Canyon of the Eastern USA” and gaze upon its picturesque views or take adventurous hikes or rock-climbing excursions.
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park
Visitors who want a truly unique North Carolina experience should add Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park to their itinerary. Built by a farm machinery repairman who was ready to retire, Vollis Simpson used his skills to build this fun attraction.
Powered by wind, these massive kinetic sculptures opened to the public in 2017. Come see and experience what a “whirligig” is in Wilson, NC.
Gem Mining in Little Switzerland
This underrated destination in North Carolina is a European-inspired town once known for its flourishing gem mining industry.
Visitors can see real mines. After learning about the town’s history, they can test their mining skills at the Emerald Village and North Carolina Mining Museum. If lucky, maybe even go home with a gem or two!
Metalmorphosis, an artistic marvel created by the Czech sculptor David Černý, stands as a mesmerizing mirrored water fountain that graces the landscape of the Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. This remarkable sculpture is not merely a static piece, but an interactive work of art that captivates viewers with its fluid motion and intriguing design.
BONUS: Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
At the Stanley Rehder Plant Garden in Wilmington, visitors can see what a real flesh-eating plant looks like. Rehder spent his life cultivating flesh-eating plants.
After his death, a three-acre parcel was marked off in his memory and his collection was preserved. Check out the only carnivorous plant garden in the world. Experience what a Venus Fly Trap, pitcher plant, or sundew looks like up close and personal.
North Carolina is an amazing state. Come visit its most popular locations, but be sure to mix in a few of The Tarheel State’s hidden gems as well!