From the stunning beaches to mountain vistas, North Carolina is home to unparalleled natural beauty and extraordinary adventures. Whether you want to sky dive without a parachute, check out a petrified cat, or explore an abandoned ghost town, look no further than North Carolina. As for accommodations, there are plenty of vacation rentals in North Carolina to choose from. Venture off the beaten path to explore these exciting hidden gems.

1. Craggy Gardens Trail, Asheville

Craggy Gardens is beautiful in all seasons, but especially so in late spring and early summer when wild flowers bloom. The short half-mile trail up to Craggy Pinnacle gives you an easy way to see the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains without spending the day hiking. The trail terminates with a 360 degree view of surrounding mountains, and a lower overlook of Craggy Gap. It’s a stunning place to enjoy a picnic and enjoy solitude off the beaten path. From spring through autumn, you get access to a small visitor center that includes restrooms and running water.

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2. Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, Raleigh

When you come across the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, it looks more like a hobbit dwelling than an artistic piece. It is a rustic camera obscura, created by British artist Christ Drury for the North Carolina Museum of Art. This low, squat hut, made of large stone blocks features green turf on the top and a single wooden door leading into the inner chamber, which becomes completely dark when sealed. The only light in the 14-foot diameter chamber comes from a small hole in the ceiling, creating an optical effect that projects mirror images on the white walls. You see trees, clouds, and blue skies projected inside, using only sunshine.

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3. Henry River Mill Village, Hildebran

The abandoned Henry River Mill Village doubled as a post-apocalyptic wasteland in “The Hunger Games.” This former mill town experienced a financial boom in the early 20th century, but the last remaining families moved away in 1987. In 1905, the town grew to more than 20 buildings, with a population that worked at the mill, producing yarn. A couple of stories say that ghostly beings stir at night, creating scary mischief. One occurrence prompted several calls to the local police. Apparently, if you walk all the way to the end of the path leading down to the dam, there arise indistinct voices of several men talking. Stay long enough, and those men materialize, grinning at you.

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4. Devil’s Tramping Ground, Bear Creek

Way back on an old dirt road lies an empty patch in the woods. It’s a dusty circle that measures about 15 feet across where, since about 1882, the devil comes to dance at night. The Devil’s Tramping Ground–as it’s known–grows no grass, and locals report that animals won’t cross the spot. The most prevalent legend says that if people place an object in the center, no matter how heavy, they find the object outside the circle the next day. Supposedly, the devil needs room to dance, and thus throws objects out of his way. Test the legend to put a different spin on vacation adventure.

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5. Sliding Rock, Brevard

Nature’s own water park in the Pisgah National Forest features Sliding Rock, thanks to erosion, slippery rocks, and a gentle grade. This place tallies up as much fun as a hidden water slide can muster out in the woods. This 60-foot slide, awash with 11,000 gallons of water from Looking Glass Creek every minute, swooshes giggling sliders down to the natural pool at its base. This natural creek water feels really cold, even during the heat of summer. Bring towels and dry duds to help you warm up after you finish playing in the water.

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6. Bob’s Sinkhole, Newport

About 50 feet west of the trail head of Patsy Pond Nature Trail you find Bob’s Sinkhole. It looks like an inviting swimming hole, but that is a dangerous assumption. In 2003, a thin layer of clay fell into a hidden water table so small that it escaped charting. Bob Kaylor, a wildfire technician, stumbled upon the sinkhole while working in the Croatan National Forest, and named it after himself. It’s a noteworthy hike and an interesting place to get some good photos.

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7. Town Creek Indian Mound, Mount Gilead

History buffs enjoy Town Creek Indian Mound, which features a replica of a Native American village along with historic artifacts. North Carolina’s only officially recognized Native American historic site, this flat ceremonial mound includes a replica temple. The Pee Dee tribe created this mound around 1,000 A.D. as a ceremonial site where locals ritually purified themselves. Mount Gilead shows you what country roads are all about, with the charming rural landscapes and lush forests. The town lies within three miles of national forest woodlands, rivers, and lakes and access to hiking trails, swimming, fishing, and biking.

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8. Paraclete XP Skyventure, Raeford

Get your vacation off the ground with an exhilarating flight at Paraclete XP Skyventure, the world’s largest vertical wind tunnel. It’s a chance to experience the adventure of skydiving without jumping out of an airplane. Standing over 100 feet tall, the building uses powerful fans to circulate the air through the 16.5-foot diameter flying chamber. A trained guide accompanies each flier through the experience. Kids ages three and over fly with parental consent.

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9. Pisgah Covered Bridge, Asheboro

Pisgah Covered Bridge cost about $40 to build in 1911. The 54-foot bridge crosses the West Fork Branch of the Little River inside the boundary of the Uwharrie National Forest. Just 14 miles outside the city limits of Asheboro, it’s on the map, but off the beaten path. Take a picnic lunch and your camera for a lovely afternoon exploring around this scenic, historic covered bridge. Your vacation rental in Asheboro gives you easy access to the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Aviation Museum, the American Classic Motorcycle Museum, and Richland Creek Canopy Tours to round out your vacation.

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10. American Museum of the House Cat, Sylva

From Egyptian cat mummies to Andy Warhol cat art, American Museum of the House Cat displays a fascinating history of the relationship between humans and felines. The hundreds of exhibits dedicated to the species include a prized bronze cat statue that dates back to 600 B.C. The museum centers on the beloved domesticated house cat, featuring cat memorabilia collected by the founder over a period of several decades. The personal collection includes a petrified cat, antique cat toys, cat beer steins, and a hand-carved carousel. This quirky, fun homage to cats occupies a spot inside an old school building that houses a huge antique store.

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