As full-time RV’ers, we travel and see a lot. This is part of our Opting Out of Normal series where we explore the “Off the Beaten Path” of every state. We love the big popular stuff like everyone else, but there is just something incredible about discovering something unique, different, and maybe a little “off the beaten path”. We certainly can’t explore them all, but we’d love you to include your favorites below too. Each series will include at least 1 epic boondocking area, some complete with pictures, and all with GPS coordinates.
North Carolina is home to the world’s largest chest of drawers, and of course the world’s largest hammock. But wait! There’s more!
I won’t lie! Driving the very small section of the Blue Ridge Parkway was absolutely stunning! We actually ended up between two closed ends of the Parkway. It was closed for the season, but we entered from a camping area that we were at and drove both ways until the barriers.
North Carolina has the most waterfalls we’ve ever seen. I’m a waterfall junkie. As I’ve mentioned in so many of my other blogs, two places make me feel the most me, and the most at peace. Waterfalls and slot canyons. Especially the ones that are less popular.
Our Favorite Waterfalls
This is a breathtaking double waterfall between Maggie Valley and Cherokee. Off Hwy 19, you’ll see a sign and a small parking area. A short walk takes you to an observation deck, or you can take a short walk down to the falls.
Juney Whank Falls
Located in Deep Creek, this is a lesser-known waterfall.
There is a footbridge to get up close and personal. It can be accessed from the Juney Whank loop trail at the Deep Creek Entrance. The 90-ft. fall is named after Mr. Junaluska “Juney” Whank, who’s rumored to be buried somewhere in the Deep Creek area, particularly near the fall.
Blue Ridge Parkway. Crabtree Falls, the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, is a popular attraction located in Nelson County, just six miles off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 27. Crabtree Falls features a series of five major cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet
There is nothing dry about Dry Falls. Dry Falls is also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls and is a 65-foot waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands, North Carolina.
Grassy Creek Falls
Many visitors to the DuPont State Recreational Forest have visited Wintergreen Falls on the Grassy Creek. However, most are not aware of another waterfall on the same stream, named Grassy Creek Falls. These falls are nearly 2 miles downstream of Wintergreen Falls, not far from High Falls Covered Bridge.
It’s an easy half-mile hike, but there are no signs to the parking area. So, this remote area is mostly visited by locals.
The trail is blazed with blue rectangles on trees and is easy to follow. There’s one lone stake in the small parking area at the start of the trail that says “Secret Falls.” The wooded hike is easy enough for the entire family. There are 2 easy creek crossings (one has a log bridge), a brief uphill section, and a series of stairs after you reach the falls area. Just 6.5 miles from busy downtown Highlands is this hidden oasis that is definitely a secret to many. Secret Falls (also known as Big Shoals Falls) is a gorgeous 50-ft. waterfall on Big Creek that cascades into a serene pool, deep in the Nantahala National Forest near the Georgia state line.
Located in Bryson City – A concrete tower with a spiraling walkway winding 375 feet to the top crowns the highest mountain in the Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s definitely sad to see what we think is Pine Beetle damage though. Still an amazing view.
Historic Fort Fisher
You can visit this awesome place without any sort of military ID. It’s open to everyone. And it’s free! We really enjoyed walking around the grounds, and on this particular day, the fog really started to roll in which was pretty cool to watch. Fort Fisher was a Confederate fort during the American Civil War. It protected the vital trading routes of the port at Wilmington, North Carolina, from 1861 until its capture by the Union in 1865. We really enjoy all the history we’ve learned as we travel.
There is a small little campground located on the actual military facility that we stayed on. It was very reasonably priced ($25 per night). Beautiful, large paved spots, and very clean.
Kindred Spirit Mailbox
Located in Bird Island – According to most stories, the Kindred Spirit Mailbox was first erected after the Kindred Spirit saw a mirage of a mailbox on the shore during low tide.
Although the vision wasn’t real, they were inspired to plant a mailbox with a communal notebook so that visitors could leave proof of their having been there. The use of the mailbox quickly caught on and visitors flocked to the island to sit on a nearby bench, look out over the water and write their own personal message inside the mailbox’s journal.
The House of Mugs
I’m not sure I’d go out of my way for this, but if you decide to go, bring a coffee mug!! A cabin completely covered in coffee mugs, where visitors are welcome to leave one of their own—if they can find an empty nail. There’s no charge to see the Sisk’s collection, but donations are welcome. To see the Cup House, follow NC Route 90 north/west out of Collettsville for about half a mile and turn left onto Old Johns River Road.
Clyde’s Critter Crossing
If you happen to be in or near Pittsboro, you might not want to miss Clyde’s Critter Crossing. It’s a bit eclectic and bizarre but definitely check it out if you’re in the area, or passing through. I won’t spoil it for you. But the kids will love it.
Yes, I realize this is a very popular place – in the summer! But we visited in December, and as you can see from our picture, it was pretty warm still and the beach was virtually empty. Though we know this isn’t much of an “out of the way” place, we highly recommend visiting off season. It was amazing!
Chimney Rock State Park
State Parks are really under-rated. We love them! This is a beautiful state park, and you just gotta see the views from Chimney Rock. Wow! There are a lot of steps to the top but you won’t regret the view once you make it to the top!
Pilot Mountain has two distinctive features, named Big and Little Pinnacle. Big Pinnacle (also called “The Knob”) has high and colorful bare rock walls, with a rounded top covered by vegetation, reaching approximately 1,400 feet above the surrounding terrain. Visitors can take a paved road to the park visitor center and campgrounds, then up to a parking lot on the ridge.
This is also a state park. Another really awesome part of our history. I have to say, as soon as I sent the first picture to my daughter (who is spiritually sensitive) she immediately felt lots of death. Without even knowing where we were. The Battle of Fort Macon was fought there during March and April 1862. Fort Macon is made up of 2,379,546 bricks – more than any other U.S. fort. Five-sided Fort Macon is constructed of brick and stone. Twenty-six vaulted rooms (also called casements) are enclosed by outer walls that are 4.5 feet thick. This is open year-round, but again, we tend to travel off-season to many places that would typically be crowded. We saw one person coming in as we were leaving in early December.
Located in Asheville – Legends have it that the mansion was once home to Helen, a woman who lived here with her daughter.
A tragic fire claimed the daughter’s life and when Helen couldn’t bear the misfortune, she committed suicide by hanging herself from the bridge. To date, the bridge is known to be haunted by her spirit. Personally, we just think it’s a really scenic bridge.
Great Flat Water Kayaking
Merchants Millpond State Park
Southern swamp and hardwood forest mingle at Merchants Millpond State Park, adorning the landscape with massive bald cypress trees, beech groves, Spanish moss, and exotic wildlife. Please be forewarned, there are gators and snakes and … and … and … Ha! The cypress trees and quiet and frogs croaking and birds singing is just one of the most peaceful flatwater floats.
Here are a few more blogs we think you’ll love!
- Off the Beaten Path in Florida. Our Top Hidden Gems!
- The Best RV Modification We Made – And it Was Under $25
- Boondocking ~ How We Spent $48 on Camping Fees For The Whole Year
- The Best Tips for Organizing Your RV Stuff
- The Best 30+ RV Hacks!
Our first pick isn’t technically FREE boondocking. But it is dry camping none the less. It cost us $2.50 a night, we were backed up to a beautiful stream we could listen to, and it was really epic!! Here is our video with some more information. In fact, there are several places in the Pisgah National Forest to boondock.
- We are very fond of horse camps. All the ones we’ve been in have had plenty of room for us. Hence the horse trailers must be able to fit too! Badin Horse Camp is also located in Troy, NC. GPS: 35.442526, -80.04055. This area can get a little crowded on weekends due to horse owners wanting to ride the trails.
- Yates Place – Troy NC National Forest campground – GPS: 35.364606, -79.989031 – Open all year, great Verizon and ATT service. Beautiful forest views.
- 2020 Update! We boondocked at Oyster Point Campground. It is true boondocking with no hookups, but it is a managed campground with a camp host, water on site, and pit toilets. It does cost $10 a night, but we really liked the location. The sites are huge! Here’s a picture of our site from the front and then once we backed in. Awesome Verizon and ATT signal.
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3 thoughts on “17 Hidden Gems in North Carolina”
Correction. It’s Badin Horse Camp in Troy, N.C.
Thank you!! I appreciate the spelling correction!