Exploring Natural Heritage
Visit the Great Outdoors of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina
Visitors seeking outdoor adventure, communion with nature, breathtaking vistas on Blue Ridge scenic byways, wilderness solitude, or simply a relaxed drive in the country will find it in spades in the North Carolina mountains and foothills.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, scenic byways, and state parks and state forests offer hundreds of square miles of majestic scenery, hiking trails, bike trails, waterfalls, whitewater, and rare and unusual ecosystems.
2016 Centennials Celebrate Three Reasons Why the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area has such a great outdoors!
A century ago, some far-sighted people with a vision for the future of this region and for the preservation of public lands as national parks and forests created three organizations that will be celebrating a 100-year anniversary in 2016. Read more.
National Parks - A Piece of Blue Ridge and Appalachian History
The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is home to the two most-visited National Park lands in the country:
- Blue Ridge Parkway - 252 miles of scenic roadway winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park - a half million+ acre park renowned for its biodiversity, old growth forests, historic farm sites, and abundant recreation opportunities.
- Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site - a 264-acre farm in Flat Rock which was home to the esteemed author and poet.
- Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail - a 330-mile driving trail which commemorates the marching route of citizen militia to the pivotal Battle of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War.
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail - a 2,185 mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains.
National Forests - An Integral Part of NC Natural Heritage
The North Carolina mountains are also home to two National Forests that were some of the earliest forests to be protected by the federal government and which are among the most biodiverse. The National Forests are a part of North Carolina natural heritage and and Appalachian history.
- The Pisgah National Forest - the country's first National Forest - was the site of the first forestry school and the early history of forest conservation in the United States.
- The Nantahala National Forest - is distinguished by its spectacular whitewater, waterfalls, old growth, and the scenic byways that pass through it.
Together, the two National Forests offer visitors over a million acres of protected landscape for an abundance of recreational pursuits - hiking, camping, picnicking, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, birding, mountain biking, horseback riding, and much more.
Other Federal Lands
- W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir (near Wilkesboro, NC)
State Parks and Forests Preserve NC Natural Heritage
Nine State Parks, two State Forests and the Green River Game Lands in Western North Carolina protect spectacular natural landmarks and provide outstanding recreational opportunities. These state lands are popular destinations for hiking, camping, picnicking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, boating, and swimming.
Many offer special events, including educational and interpretive programs, organized hikes, concerts, fishing lessons, and environmental workshops.
- Chimney Rock State Park (Chimney Rock, NC)
- Gorges State Park (between Brevard and Cashiers, NC)
- Grandfather Mountain State Park (near Blowing Rock, NC)
- Lake James State Park (near Marion, NC)
- Mount Jefferson State Park (between Jefferson and West Jefferson, NC)
- Mount Mitchell State Park (off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Burnsville, NC)
- New River State Park (near West Jefferson, NC)
- Pilot Mountain State Park (Pinnacle, NC)
- South Mountains State Park (Connelly Springs, NC)
- Stone Mountain State Park (Roaring Gap, NC)
- DuPont State Forest (between Hendersonville and Brevard, NC)
- Holmes Educational State Forest (Hendersonville, NC)
- Tuttle Educational State Forest (Lenoir, NC)
Other State Lands
- Green River Game Lands (near Hendersonville, NC)
Visit our Outdoor Activities page where you will discover hundreds of ways to enjoy the natural beauty and heritage of the North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains.
Click on the link below to hear more about whitewater adventures in Western North Carolina