The East Coast may be full of famous big cities, but don’t miss out on small towns in North Carolina and other states. Whether you’re looking for scenic beaches, stunning mountains, or restored historical sites, these small towns don’t disappoint. North Carolina is a gorgeous state, perfect for road trips and savoring the journey. Let’s take a look.
What Is North Carolina Best Known For?
North Carolina may be popular for its beautiful beaches, but it also has some exciting history. The Wright Brothers National Memorial marks the first-ever flight. The Cape Hatteras Light Station is a popular stop, as well as the Biltmore Gardens & Grounds. You can hike on the beach or in the mountains and enjoy moderate weather in the winter while avoiding the snowy north. These small southern towns have preserved their history, with architecture from the past three centuries and no shortage of historical sites.
7 Best Small Towns in North Carolina
Small towns can be so rich in history and culture, carefully preserving century-old architecture and heritage. This gorgeous southern state has it all: mountains, beaches, forests, and lakes. Whether you’re a history buff, artist, wine connoisseur, sailor, or just a traveler with a love for new views, there’s something for everyone.
1. Hillsborough, N.C.
Hillsborough sits in the northern part of the state, and while it’s too far inland for beach views, it has some beautiful mountain trails in the Occoneechee Mountain State National Area. You can also find some good picnic spots on the Poet’s Walk in Ayr Mount. Or explore the famous Riverwalk.
And since this is North Carolina, there are several historical sites worth a visit, including the Burwell School for Elizabeth Keckly, author of the memoir, “Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.” Whether you’re looking for a garden picnic, historical monument, or cute shops and a nice dinner, Hillsborough is a memorable stop.
2. Saluda, N.C.
This tiny mountain town only has one street in its downtown area, which hasn’t changed much in the past century and a half. This artsy town is full of galleries, antique shops, and gorgeous trails. You can go kayaking, fishing, or tubing down the river. People with a little extra daring can even rappel down the waterfall at the Green River Gorge. It earned its fame as the home of the steepest American mainline standard-gauge railroad track in the eastern states.
3. Hot Springs, N.C.
The mineral springs in this mountain resort town are known for their healing properties, hence the name Hot Springs. The Native Americans first discovered this hot spot, and you can see remnants of their petroglyphs at Paint Rock. This charming town is the only place in North Carolina where the Appalachian Trail connects with the downtown, making it an attractive stop for nature lovers as well as artists. The art and river festivals also bring in crowds for competitions, social justice events, and music.
4. Edenton, N.C.
Edenton was North Carolina’s first colonial capital until 1743 and the location of multiple Civil War battles. This historic city is home to the 1767 Chowan County Courthouse, 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, and Iredell House Homesite, among other sites. There are trolley rides around town that offer a historical tour. You can also go sailing, golfing, and bird watching. This ideal location has access to both the Chowan and Pasquotank river basins, offering many water activities. You can also see plays, historical reenactments, and museums highlighting the town’s memorable heritage.
5. Nags Head, N.C.
Nags Head is a beach town with clear views of the tallest dunes in the eastern United States, located in Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The Nags Head Woods Preserve offers access to the Roanoke Trail and the beach, where there’s surfing, sailing, and dolphin watching. You can also spot the Cape Hatteras National Seashore from the Bodie Island Light Station. Jennette’s Pier got a recent remodel after years of hurricane damage and has plenty of kid-friendly activities for vacationing families. This quaint town was one of the first popular vacation spots in North Carolina, known for its beautiful beaches and landscape.
6. Blowing Rock, N.C.
Blowing Rock is named after an ancient Native American legend based on the strong winds in Johns River Gorge. This windy mountain town works hard to preserve its history and culture, showcasing museums and historical sites that focus on the area’s Native American heritage. There are also outdoor concerts, trout derbies, and a park for local artists to share their work. If that’s not enough to entice you, the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show is a must-see. This century-long tradition is a staple of the area and the longest-running horse show in the country.
7. Southport, N.C.
This small town near Cape Fear River is known for being a film spot, most notably for the 2012 romance “Safe Haven” and Steven King’s “Under the Dome.” However, its biggest focus is historic preservation, whether through museums, churches, or cemeteries. Their most unique museum is the Old Brunswick County Jail Museum, where they filmed the 1986 classic “Crimes of the Heart.” It stands as an iconic part of the downtown area. Southport offers skydiving, kayaking, and fishing for nature lovers, along with a ferry, pier, and lighthouse. For artists and creative souls, there’s wine tasting, antique shops, and art galleries. When you have so many options available, there’s no need for compromise.
Big cities may be iconic, but when you have such enriching small towns as these, it’s impossible to feel like you missed out. There’s something so charming about small towns, especially ones with views like these. Additionally, the famous American history and Native American sites only add to the appeal and create a priceless learning experience. Have you visited any of these charming small towns in North Carolina?