North Carolina’s topography may run on a downward slope, but its residents have a knack for positive thinking. This might be due to the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them at all times, starting with the scenic mountain ranges on the western side of the oblong state. Here lie some of the state’s most famed natural attractions. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park proffers many high points, though none quite as high as the state’s tallest peak, Mount Mitchell, located to the immediate east. Its lows are also notable. The Newfound Gap is the lowest pass through the park, and drivers ascending from Cherokee will meander through lush cove hardwood forests to a wonderland of evergreens.

A similarly scenic trail runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Workers scraping their way out of the Great Depression paved the parkway’s roads, which take their cues from the Appalachians’ natural contours. Campsites and hiking trails abound along the way, but those disinterested in the outdoors may prefer a stop at the Biltmore House, a 250-room chateau built by the Vanderbilt family in 1895. It sits just outside of the eclectic city of Asheville, a must-see stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway route.

The elevation lowers as you head east, yet the number of things to do never dips commensurately. A far cry from the mountainous lands to the west, the long string of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks holds some of the state’s most pristine beaches. In Corolla, for example, wild horses continue to call the sand dunes home. Further south along the narrow strip of land, history buffs can check out Kill Devil Hills, where replicas of the Wright Brothers’ flying gliders reside. The coast along the way is littered with old-time lighthouses, which are ideal vantage points for scoping out the shallow waters that surround the islands.

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