With a number of excellent beaches to the east, a gorgeous stretch of the wild and untamed Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and a wide variety of cities, towns and other attractions in between, North Carolina is a wonderful place to visit. As one of the original 13 colonies, the Tar Heel State is especially appealing if you’re a history buff. The state is littered with fascinating museums, memorials and other historic sites, but if you find yourself in North Carolina, here are the ten sites that should be highest on your list.
1. Wright Brothers National Memorial
Located: 1000 N. Croatan Hwy in Kill Devil Hills
In the earliest years of the 20th century, famed inventors and aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright were drawn to the northern stretches of the Outer Banks to conduct the first sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. Today, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the brothers’ historic achievement with a variety of fascinating memorials and exhibitions. You can walk the paths of the very first flights, explore the many displays and even check out a faithful recreation of the world’s first airplane hangar.
2. International Civil Rights Center and Museum
Located: 134 S. Elm St. in Greensboro
In 1960, a series of nonviolent protests beginning at the Woolworth department store in Greensboro became a catalyst to the national civil rights movement. Today, the former Woolworth building stands as a monument to the Greensboro sit-ins and the larger civil rights movement that it helped to inspire. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is an archival center, collecting museum and teaching facility where you’ll be treated to an engaging journey through the long and complex history of the international struggle for all peoples to be treated with respect and equality.
3. USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial
Located: 1 Battleship Rd. in Wilmington
Having taken part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater, the USS North Carolina was one of the most important battleships to serve during the Second World War. The warship earned 15 battle stars over the course of the war, making the North Carolina the most decorated vessel in its class. Today, the great battleship is anchored just across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington, where it serves as a captivating museum and memorial. Walk along its decks, check out the massive 16-inch gun turrets and hear the unforgettable stories of the brave sailors who served during the greatest war the world has ever known.
4. Hickory Ridge Living History Museum
Located: 591 Horn In The West Dr. in Boone
Have you ever wondered what life was like for the earliest settlers who called the great state of North Carolina home? If so, the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum has you covered. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this museum features a homestead authentic to the 18th century and a full staff of interpreters in period dress. Hickory Ridge brings to vivid life the reality of daily existence in a small backwoods settlement in the Revolutionary War period. For children and adults alike, it’s a memorable, educational and uplifting experience.
5. Reed Gold Mine
9621 Reed Mine Rd. in Midland
There’s gold in them thar hills! Well, okay, you probably won’t strike it rich, but Reed Gold Mine in Midland nonetheless offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the first documented commercial gold find in America. Inside, you’ll find 450 feet of restored, honest-to-goodness gold mine tunnels that were first scratched out of the ground in the 18th and early 19th centuries. There’s also an entertaining and educational museum and a functional 120-year-old stamp mill. Of course, the main attraction is a chance to pan the soil for real gold, which can be done during a panning season that runs from April through October.
6. Fort Fisher State Historic Site
Located: 1610 Fort Fisher Blvd. in Kure Beach
Originally built in 1861 and 1862, Fort Fisher played a critical role in Confederate efforts throughout the American Civil War. The site of several key battles, the fort proved essential in protecting the city of Wilmington and the Cape Fear Inlet, allowing the Confederate armies to remain well-supplied to carry on the war effort. The fort now serves as a national historic site, complete with compelling memorials, a variety of educational exhibits, beautiful oceanfront walking trails, underwater diving opportunities and much more.
7. Chimney Rock State Park
Located: 431 Main St. in Chimney Rock
The Blue Ridge Mountains are packed full of stunning vistas, but you won’t find many places more beautiful than Chimney Rock State Park. With a rugged 315-foot granite spire, a spectacular 404-foot waterfall, mesmerizing 75-mile panoramic views and more, Chimney Rock is simply a must-see destination. In fact, the park is so beautiful that it served as the backdrop for scenes in movies such as “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Dirty Dancing,” and a variety of hiking trails, rock climbing routes and picnic spots provide plenty of opportunities to explore the area.
8. Bodie Island Lighthouse
Located: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd. in Nags Head
Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover or you’re just in search of a new experience, Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head is well worth a visit. Originally built in 1871, this distinctive lighthouse with its black and white banding rises a dizzying 156 feet above its surroundings. It offers a stunning view from the top, and thanks to its close proximity to the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, it also presents a great opportunity to view an assortment of birds and wildlife. There’s also a visitor’s center and museum where you can explore the history of the lighthouse and the surrounding area.
9. Historic Bath
Located: 207 Carteret St. in Bath
Incorporated in 1705, the small settlement of Bath is officially the first and oldest town in the Tar Heel State. Though a great deal has changed in the 300-plus years since its founding, the Bath Historic District preserves a number of buildings and sites that date back to the early 18th and 19th centuries. From the Palmer-Marsh House – one of the oldest existing residences in the state – to the nearly 300-year-old St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Historic Bath offers a memorable and educational glimpse into life in North Carolina during its founding period. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can also enjoy wakeboarding and other watersports on the nearby waterways.
10. Town Creek Indian Mound
Located: 509 Town Creek Mound Rd. in Mt. Gilead
North Carolina has a rich and fascinating Native American history, and few existing historic sites better exemplify that fact than Town Creek Indian Mound. Established more than 600 years ago by the Pee Dee people, Town Creek Indian Mound is a broad, flat-topped hill that once served as a ceremonial site at which the local peoples would perform purification rituals, host religious ceremonies and meet to settle differences and discuss politics. Today, the site hosts a variety of fascinating exhibits, valuable archaeological excavations, monthly astronomy events and more. It’s one of the most popular historic sites in North Carolina, and it’s a destination that’s certainly worth the visit.