From the desolate, windblown stretches of the Outer Banks to the serene, misty panoramas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina is a land of scenic contrasts.
The state's main lures for visitors are the mountains in the west, the beaches in the east, and the golf resorts in the Sandhills area around Pinehurst. While the climate is mild enough to attract visitors year-round, native Tar Heels know the special appeal of the colorful spring and fall. In the spring, the state is ablaze with azaleas, dogwood, and rhododendron. In the fall, especially mid-October, thousands drive through the mountains to see the foliage turn crimson and a dozen other colors.
One of the state's most beautiful drives is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which meanders 250 miles along mountain crests between the Virginia state line and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Cherokee. At every turn a new vista unfolds. Roadside overlooks provide opportunities for photography, and dozens of nature trails beckon motorists out of their cars for a short hike. For the serious hiker, 200 miles of the rugged Appalachian Trail wind through western North Carolina. There are also good roads through several national forests. Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak in the eastern United States, is easily accessible, and visitors can find mountain craftsmen plying their skills in Spruce Pine, Penland, and Asheville, among other places. In the winter, the mountains switch roles from cool respite to ski resort.
At the other end of the state, the long, flat coastline and the barrier islands of the Outer Banks are very busy during the summer and parts of the spring and fall. Manteo, on Roanoke Island and the site of the first English settlement in America, and the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the country, are two of the chief attractions. Farther south, there are dozens of beach communities where populations swell in the summer. Tar Heel fishermen, though, will tell you that the best time to come to the coast for fishing is in October.
Inland, the Sandhills area draws golfers almost year-round to dozens of courses in Pinehurst and nearby communities. There are more than 400 golf courses situated throughout the state.