Looking for an exciting area to spend your college years? If you’re a fan of the outdoors, Raleigh is the ideal spot for you, with beautiful scenery ranging from mountains to beaches within short driving distances. For all you adventure-lovers, I curated a list of my favorite outdoorsy things to do.
In Raleigh and its surrounding area, you’ll find many trails and parks. One of the many perks of living in the City of Oaks is being able to take the breathtaking views in, every single day! Among my favorite parks is William B. Umstead State Park, where you can run, walk, hike, cycle, or even ride a horse. You can also head on some interesting tours: exploring the Yates Mill County Park, the Eno River, the American Tobacco Trail, and the Neuse River sunflower field should be on your NC bucket list.
And with the Blue Ridge Mountains in western N.C., it’d be a shame not to take a few trips to visit the wonders that this section of the Appalachian mountain range holds. For spectacular views and fun hikes, Hanging Rock State Park is just a couple of hours away. Of course, I also have to mention Mount Mitchell State Park, where you’ll find the highest summit east of the Mississippi, and, leading to the observation deck, hiking trails of varying difficulties. For the bravest ones, you’ll also find Grandfather Mountain and its mile-high swing bridge: a name that should be pretty self-explanatory and scare off the faintest of heart.
Since the weather is warm almost year-long, my favorite thing to do is to cool down near the water. Thankfully, when I get bored with pools, there are many rivers, lakes, quarries, and even secret swimming holes. I would recommend renting a canoe, sailboat, paddleboard, or going scuba-diving.
In the summer months, an annual tradition of mine is now to head to Sliding Rock. Natural 60-foot waterslide turned into a recreational area, it is the perfect summer day trip. Another fun thing to do: grab a bunch of friends, your floats, and go tubing down the Neuse River! It is a great spontaneous afternoon trip, or you can go on one of the many group events organized during the season.
With the coast just a few hours away from Raleigh, going to the beach is always an option. Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach are close by and stay popular among college students, tourists, and families alike. But if you’re willing to drive up a little bit longer (trust me, it’ll be worth it) there are many areas to explore along the coast. A lesser-known spot is Jockey’s Ridge: tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast, it offers the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. And what about going kite flying, sandboarding, or hang-gliding, too?
In case you’re looking for the isolated, pristine beach vibe, NC also has the thing. Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 55-mile barrier on the Outer Banks. The best part? Wild horses and ponies roaming around freely – seems like a scene taken straight from one of my dreams. For those who really want to get away from it all, go to Bald Head Island. Accessible by ferry only, it truly is the isolated vibe you’re looking for. It’s also home to NC’s oldest lighthouse, and to many little restaurants, cafes, shops, and spas.
Ever dreamt of visiting an abandoned theme park? The Land of Oz Theme Park will make all your wishes come true! If the thought of walking down the famous yellow brick road gets you as excited as it did me, you can get permission from the owners to visit. For even more fun, go during the fall: the park re-opens once a year for the Autumn at Oz, a three-day festival with vendors, characters, and activities.
In Hendersonville, the Blue Ghost fireflies are a sight to see as well. They appear once a year, from mid-may to mid-june, but they are not your typical twinkling bugs. Said to be the ghosts of Confederate soldiers according to legend, the fireflies glow blue. An eerie experience you have to see for yourself.
And if you head in the direction of Charlotte, you might stumble upon a treasure … Reed Gold Mine is the only underground gold mine open to the public, and rumor has it, it is also the first location of commercial gold in America. Go to Midland to explore the tunnels and who knows, maybe you’ll find some gold, too!
Read our other posts on Raleigh & RTP, or get in touch with current students to hear more about their experience in the area.