Editors' Picks: 20 of the Best Things to Do in North Carolina!

North Carolina has been the site of some of America's most intriguing moments: from the appearance (then disappearance) of the Lost Colony in the 16th century, to pirates running aground at Cape Hatteras (the Graveyard of the Atlantic), the Wright Brothers successfully launching the first airplane at Kitty Hawk and the lunch-counter sit-in that started the Civil Rights movement.

Throw in the birthplace of NASCAR, amazing natural landmarks, and a whole lot of spots that might look familiar from movies, and you have one really interesting place to explore. Here's our list of 20 things you must do and see in the Tar Heel State.

1. The Elizabethan Gardens

The Lost Colony is one of the great mysteries of our history. Thirty years before the Pilgrims, a group of settlers landed on Roanoke Island - then vanished a few years later. These gardens, located in Manteo, are a tribute to both the settlers, and their queen at the time, Elizabeth I - and is like stepping back in time.

2. Visit an authentic Cherokee Village

Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee is a piece of living history, where you can experience tribal life as it was in the 1760s. Watch as canoes are hulled out, beadwork is made and cultural dances are performed.

3. See the Grand Canyon of the East

Linville Gorge in Marion is the deepest gorge in the eastern part of the country, and features a stunning 90-foot waterfall that's one of the most photographed anywhere. There are also many trails that give you views from many angles.

4. Movie set tours

North Carolina has been the filming location for hundreds of movies, with the areas around Wilmington a particular favorite. In fact, it's known as "Hollywood East." From Dirty Dancing to The Hunger Games, pick up a tour to explore some of your favorites.

5. Remember the Underground Railroad

It wasn't an actual railroad, more a loose collection of people and places that helped slaves escape. Dismal Swamp, in the northeastern part of the state, was one popular point along the railroad, a rugged area filled with snakes, bears and bugs. Dismal Swamp State Park in South Mills provides a glimpse into what it was like for those slaves, trudging through deep wilderness in an effort to fight for their freedom.

6. The Outer Banks

This magnificent 200-mile stretch of barrier islands is suffering from erosion, so you'll want to visit sooner than later. There's plenty to do, from kayaking to sightseeing - but shipwreck diving is perhaps the coolest activity of them all.

7. The NASCAR Hall of Fame

NASCAR's roots lie in moonshine runners from North Carolina - and this museum in Charlotte pays tribute to the history and drivers of this popular sport. There are plenty of interactive exhibits and displays, perfect as a backdrop for selfies.

8. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

This iconic lighthouse (the tallest brick lighthouse in the country) offers pretty amazing views from the top of its 257 steps.

9. Take a ride on a rock

Sliding Rock, in the Pisgah National Forest, is a smooth 60-footer covered by a waterfall…that makes for a fun ride. You slip-slide your way into a cool mountain pool.

10. Visit a giant sand dune

Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head is the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern part of America, and its ever-changing beauty is pretty amazing. In the early morning, you can spot the tracks from the nocturnal animals who paid a visit the night before.

11. Test your nerves on a mile-high bridge

Take in the views of Grandfather Mountain in Linville, as you cross the Mile-High Swinging Bridge that extends 228-feet…. over an 80-foot chasm.

12. Wright Brothers National Memorial

When it came to testing their primitive flying machine, the Wright Brothers picked this location for its steady winds - and privacy (didn't want anyone stealing their design). This fascinating memorial in Kill Devil Hill honors the big payoff: a sustained, powered flight in 1903.

13. Be a miner…in Caroliner

The Elijah Mountain Gem Mine in Hendersonville gets you prospect for gems including rubies, emeralds, garnets and more. And don't worry about weather: there's both indoor and covered mining.

14. The Blue Ridge Parkway

The 120-mile section that weaves through North Carolina makes for one of the most beautiful drives in America, and is a must-see during the fall.

15. Battleship North Carolina

During World War II, she was part of every major naval battle in the Pacific theater, and took a torpedo hit in 1942. Now, she serves as both a museum in Wilmington and a memorial to the 10,000 North Carolinians who died in that conflict.

16. Try your hand at ice climbing

It may seem counterintuitive, but the western part of North Carolina, with its many waterfalls and giant rock slabs, makes it the top ice climbing destination in the South. Grab an axe, strap the crampons on your boots and get going.

17. The Biltmore Estate

Home to the Vanderbilts, this 8,000 acre compound in Ashville is the No. 1 destination in the state. It's amazing at any time of year, but really dazzles at holidays. There are more than 70 Christmas trees, fireplaces loaded with amazing decorations and 250 rooms filled with antiques.

18. Revisit pirate history

The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort features sunken treasures from Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground in 1718.

19. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum

A 1960 "sit-in" at a "whites only" lunch counter at Woolworth's launched a movement - and this museum in Greensboro is housed in that very building, and includes the lunch counter where it all began.

20. Tube the biggest park in the East

Hawksnest Tubing Park in Seven Devils is the largest snow tubing facility on the whole East Coast. Ride down 30 different lanes, that run up to 1,000 feet long.

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