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Top 14 Things to Do Outdoors in North Carolina This Fall

From the white sandy beaches in the Outer Banks to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, there’s lots of gorgeous scenery in North Carolina. In the fall, the many outdoor adventures the state offers can often be enjoyed among spectacular autumn foliage too. Whether you’re looking for big thrills or more relaxed activities, you’ll find plenty of things to do outdoors here this fall.

Take a Hike to View the Brilliant Autumn Foliage, Blowing Rock Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina
Credit: Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina by Ptphotos via Dreamstime

Take a Hike to View the Brilliant Autumn Foliage, Blowing Rock

What Is It? There are endless opportunities for hikes that bring gorgeous views of the brilliant autumn foliage, and Grandfather Mountain has long been an icon of stunning scenery and ecological diversity.

Why Do It? Grandfather Mountain State Park boasts a 2,456-acre backcountry to explore, accessed from trailheads along the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as from the Profile Trailhead on NC 105. The Grandfather Trail is one of the most popular routes, complete with ladder climb up cliffs.

Good to Know: The high elevation results in especially vibrant colors, exploding with an intensity that continues throughout much of the season, though the best time is between late September and late October.

Summit Mount Mitchell, Asheville Mount Mitchell
Credit: Mount Mitchell by © Pierre Leclerc | Dreamstime.com

Summit Mount Mitchell, Asheville

What Is It? One of the best places to see fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mount Mitchell’s summit sits within the Black Mountain range.

Why Do It? The highest point east of the Mississippi River, it can be accessed just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Mount Mitchell State Park, only 35 miles northeast of downtown Asheville. At the top, there’s an observation point for taking in the breathtaking view from 6,684 feet above, and it won’t take much effort to get there, with about a 10-minute walk along a handicapped-accessible path.

Good to Know: You’ll also find picnic areas and a museum focused on the natural and cultural history of the mountain. And, if you want to get some actual exercise in, there are also plenty of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging.

Pick a Pumpkin, Throughout North Carolina Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch
Credit: Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch by Uncle Shuck's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch

Pick a Pumpkin, Throughout North Carolina

What Is It? One of the best things about fall is the chance to pick your own pumpkin. North Carolina offers many pumpkin patches at farms across the state, most of which offer a variety of activities, too.

Why Do It? Hayrides can get you out into the patch to choose your pumpkins, from small ones that are ideal for decor to massive-sized options perfect for transforming into an amazing Jack o’ lantern. Some bring opportunities to get up close to farm animals, enjoy homemade treats like apple cider doughnuts and buy pumpkin products like pumpkin pies and pumpkin butter.

Good to Know: Carrigan Farms in Mooresville is just one of the popular options, attracting families from near and far for more than 40 years.

Go Apple Picking, Throughout North Carolina Apple picking
Credit: Apple picking by © John Wollwerth - Dreamstime.com

Go Apple Picking, Throughout North Carolina

What Is It? Autumn also means apple picking and a fun day out for the whole family.

Why Do It? In Hendersonville, the heart of apple country, Grandad’s Apples n’ Such offers picking, a spectacular mountain view and a bakery selling amazing fried apple pies and other treats. If you’re closer to Asheville, the Orchard at Altapass is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway atop the Eastern Continental Divide. Here, you can enjoy apple picking, hayrides, mountain music, and more.

Good to Know: As the ripening season is a bit early here, you’ll need to go between mid-September and early October.

Run Through a Corn Maze, Monroe Aw Shucks Farms
Credit: Aw Shucks Farms by Aw Shucks Farms

Run Through a Corn Maze, Monroe

What Is It? Running through a corn maze is another one of the most popular outdoor fall activities.

Why Do It? While you’ll find corn mazes throughout North Carolina, Aw Shucks Farm in Monroe offers a corn maze that has a new design every year.

Good to Know: It also features other attractions like a petting zoo, corn hole game, old-fashioned general store, hayrides, and even a bonfire where you can enjoy s’mores.

Enjoy Peaceful Beach Strolls at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Credit: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse by © Moonborne | Dreamstime.com

Enjoy Peaceful Beach Strolls at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

What Is It? With the big tourist crowds of summer gone and the weather often ideal, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is even more enjoyable in the fall.

Why Do It? Locals often describe it as the very best time of the year to go. Located in the Outer Banks area, it boasts 72 miles of unspoiled coastline to enjoy, ideal for peaceful strolls and quiet contemplation, along with picturesque lighthouses and outstanding opportunities for surf fishing.

Good to Know: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is part of this area, spread along a 13-mile stretch of Highway 12, offering a birdwatchers’ paradise with some 365 different bird species.

See the Wild Horses, Corolla Corolla
Credit: Corolla by bigstock.com

See the Wild Horses, Corolla

What Is It? One of the most popular attractions in the Outer Banks, other than the beaches, are the wild horses of Corolla, descendants of the original colonial Spanish Mustangs.

Why Do It? Fall is a great time to enjoy beautiful beach weather without the crowds while watching these majestic creatures. You’ll need a 4X4 vehicle to do a self-guided tour, so if you don’t have one, book a guided tour instead.

Good to Know: While seeing the horses is never guaranteed, the chances are very good that you’ll spot at least one. Even if you don’t, it’s worth going to enjoy the area’s incredible natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

Bike William B. Umstead State Park, Raleigh William B. Umstead State Park
Credit: William B. Umstead State Park by Willliam B. Umstead Park

Bike William B. Umstead State Park, Raleigh

What Is It? There are many scenic recreational activities that can be enjoyed right within the hearts of North Carolina’s cities, including Raleigh, the capital.

Why Do It? Nestled within is Umstead State Park, a nearly 6,000-acre park filled with biking and hiking trails and lakes. Pedal the 13 miles of trails that travel through some of the park’s most scenic and secluded areas, most of which are smooth enough to cruise in any style of bike.

Good to Know: The more adventurous can ride over bumpy terrain and through creeks on a mountain bike.

Surf Hatteras, Rodanthe surfing in North Carolina
Credit: surfing in North Carolina by pikist.com

Surf Hatteras, Rodanthe

What Is It? Autumn is one of the best times for surfing along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks.

Why Do It? With the tourists thinning out and the weather pleasant, the north swells, south swells, east swells, wind swells, hurricane swells and light westerlies result in outstanding waves. In fact, avid surfers say there’s no place better than Hatteras in the fall along the entire east coast.

Good to Know: Just north of Rodanthe is the S-Surves, one of the most popular spots, and slightly south, the Rodanthe Pier brings locals and visitors alike to paddle out on a regular basis when the surf is good.

Go Paddleboarding, Duck Paddleboarding in the Outer Banks, North Carolina
Credit: Paddleboarding in the Outer Banks, North Carolina by © Cvandyke - Dreamstime.com

Go Paddleboarding, Duck

What Is It? From the Appalachians to the Crystal Coast, the waterways in North Carolina offer everything from beginner-friendly flatwater paddleboarding on smaller lakes and reservoirs as well as more challenging rivers and larger lakes for the more experienced.

Why Do It? Coastal standup paddleboarding is possible, too, and fall is the ideal time without the need to battle the crowds while providing a much more tranquil experience. You can paddle the oceanfront or soundfront water, meandering across the gentle ripples or along fast-moving waves.

Good to Know: You’ll find rentals available throughout the Outerbanks in places like Duck.

Fly Over the Canopy of Fall Color on a Zipline, Asheville Navitat Canopy Adventures
Credit: Navitat Canopy Adventures by navitat.com

Fly Over the Canopy of Fall Color on a Zipline, Asheville

What Is It? If you’re looking for more of a heart-pounding adventure, you can fly over the canopy of brilliant fall colors on a zipline near Asheville.

Why Do It? Navitat Canopy Adventures, touted as one of the best by many publications like Outside magazine and Lonely Planet, offers zip lines that travel through a secluded 242-acre mountain cove with 1,200 feet of elevation change. It will feel like you’re flying above the treetops with the zip lines as high as 350 feet off the ground, ranging from 360 feet to 3,600 feet in length, with speeds of up to 65 miles per hour.

Good to Know: Rappelling and walking across suspended sky bridges are possible, too, all while enjoying spectacular long-range views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Paddle Through Dismal Swamp State Park, South Mills Welcome Center at Dismal Swamp Stat Park
Credit: Welcome Center at Dismal Swamp Stat Park by dismalswampwelcomecenter.com

Paddle Through Dismal Swamp State Park, South Mills

What Is It? One of the best places to enjoy some tranquil paddling in the fall is Dismal Swamp State Park, a wetland forest on the state’s northern border.

Why Do It? You can bring your own kayak or canoe or rent one from the visitor center. There are also ranger-led group paddling tours throughout the fall – most are free but may require pre-registration.

Good to Know: Visit the official park site for more details here.

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville Asheville Balloon Company
Credit: Asheville Balloon Company by Asheville Balloon Company

Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville

What Is It? A hot air balloon ride brings the opportunity to see all that fall color from above, a breathtaking sight with the Blue Ridge Mountains blanketed in a kaleidoscope of beautiful hues, typically around the last two weeks of October.

Why Do It? The sunny days of September lead to the trees creating more red pigments that result in even more brilliant shades.

Good to Know: During the hour-long excursion, you gaze down at the foliage, winding country roads and Asheville’s skyline in the distance, offered by Asheville Hot Air Balloons and Asheville Balloon Company.

Watch Wildlife at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, East Lake Red Wolf at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Red Wolf at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge by FWS.gov

Watch Wildlife at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, East Lake

What Is It? One of the best times of the year to visit the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is in the fall.

Why Do It? Visitors can stroll two universally accessible wildlife trails, a half-mile each, enjoying the seclusion while watching for more than 200 different birds, a booming black bear population, and a small population of endangered red wolves, which were reintroduced from captivity three decades ago.

Good to Know: During the spring, summer, and fall, guided tours are available too. Fall highlights include the Saturday Red Wolf Howling events, bird walks, and tram tours.

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