North Carolina has four beautiful seasons that can be enjoyed in so many ways, thanks to mountains, beaches, cool cities and neat little towns. Are you an urban artist in search of beautiful scenery, or perhaps a minimalist who just wants to snuggle by a warm fire with a cup of cocoa? Maybe you’re secretly a mermaid and would like to let the salty seawater hit your toes, no matter how chilly it is outside. Whatever the reason, this state has it all, to accommodate a list of exciting winter vacations.
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Waynesville may be less spoken of than its nearby neighbors, but that just makes it even better. Downtown meets all the Smoky Mountain small town requirements, so you’ll find an abundance of shops lining the streets and plenty of quaintness. But the culinary scene is keeping pace, and even craft beer is digging its root in deeply. It doesn’t stop with painting worthy mountains in view from the streets—Waynesville is a budget-friendly city in North Carolina that houses a selection of retreats, from log cabin rentals, cozy inns to more high-end accommodations.
Robbinsville is another tucked away treat in the Smoky Mountains, and here it’s all about the great outdoors. A portion of the Appalachian Trail can be hiked for incredible views, and the powerful Cheoah River provides stunning winter scenery. There are many unforgettable walks to take, especially within the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest complete with towering trees and an assortment of native blooms.
Asheville is one of the more popular cities in North Carolina, and we aren’t going to lie, it’s a good pick that should always make the list. Downtown can easily be dubbed a foodie haven, with international, local or high-end small plate joints. It’s not uncommon to see a musician playing an instrument on the sidewalk, or within a gritty little venue. In Asheville, you can spend the day outside getting dirty, then enjoy a spa treatment before a fine dining experience. Unique lodging options like the historic Omni Grove Park Inn, and the famed Biltmore Estate, are more than just a place to lay your head—adventure lies beyond the glitzy surface.
Banner Elk is the perfect tiny town package, with its cafes, sandwich shops and a noteworthy family-run Italian joint. While a tight and snug place, the culinary scene is vibrant. From community theater shows to wildlife conservatories, the activities vary greatly. Banner Elk is gorgeous when the snow is falling, and the proximal Beech Mountain Resort offers both easy and difficult runs. Try a locally brewed beer at the warm yurt on top of the mountain.
Highlands, North Carolina benefits from both the rustic surroundings of mountains and a refined downtown area with boutiques and elegant eateries. This is a place to come pamper yourself, while still allowing the opportunity to explore nature at places like Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls. Not a fan of getting into the wild? Then the area’s scenic drives are perfect for you. Lodging is equally as jaw-dropping with a handful of swanky resorts, like the Old Edwards Inn, which has a phenomenal spa.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has it all, so that explains why it’s the most visited of all the U.S. parks. An old type of culture is preserved here, along with historic buildings and cabins. Wildlife equally thrives, with a variety of birds and even animals like black bears. While tent camping would probably get quite frigid, cabins and lodges can be found around surrounding areas.
Boone is indeed named after Daniel Boone, and this is celebrated yearly at the Horn in the West performance. The healthy town has solid places to grab breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it’s pretty fun to explore the local offerings. Access to the Blue Ridge Parkway from this town is a breeze, so a scenic trip is a stone’s throw away. Boone also gets an above-average amount of snow for a U.S. town, so if you’re looking for a winter wonderland, welcome!
Wilmington’s coast can get quite dreary come winter, but that grey, cold environment makes the riverside downtown really endearing. Cozy up at a local eatery or bundle up and bravely traverse the boardwalk and beach. Lodge riverside at Hotel Ballast or get a snowbird deal with an ocean view. Wilmington has been somewhat of a film hub over the years, and Dawson Creek fans should be particularly excited.
Blowing Rock is relatively close to Boone, so you could hit both up along the same road trip. The formation itself overlooks a vast gorge, which whips wind upward, so if you toss a piece of paper or something not too heavy over, it will float back to you. That’s pretty cool on its own, but the quaint village is a spectacular retreat. Shop, dine and stay at traditional inns such as the Alpine Village.
Wanting to visit a bigger city? Charlotte is far more developed than some of our smaller mentions and is also home to some super cool NASCAR stuff if you’re into that. As far as cuisine goes, barbecue stands front and center, with Bill Spoon’s coming in at the top of the ratings—expect saucy pork paired harmoniously with crispy hush puppies.
Raleigh is rapidly developing, so that means more to do. Hardly any snow falls, so if you’re hoping to get away from icy conditions, it’s likely a flurry won’t fall. The abundance of oak trees that weave through the town adds some serious beauty to the overall look. On average, Raleigh doesn’t get much colder than 29 degrees Fahrenheit in its most chilly month of January.