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Skylight Inn

Barbecue is as ingrained in the state's DNA as much as college basketball (or Dawson's Creek), and Skylight has been a shining beacon of the state's vinegar-doused 'cue for 50+ years. If whole-hog pork -- don't skimp on the skin -- is your thing, Skylight is the must-visit BBQ mecca in the state. Hell, it even calls itself "The Capital of Barbecue." We're not going to fight that.

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In a day's drive across North Carolina, you can go from mountaintop views to oceanside real estate. Here's how to make sense of the diverse and dynamic outdoor experiences the state has to offer.

Camping: One of the best things about camping in North Carolina is that you can choose from mountaintop vistas or Oceanside views. Take your pick at these camping spots.

Nothing beats camping right next to the ocean breeze. There are a limited number of campsitesHammocks Beach State Park –just 14 family campsites that accommodate two tents and six people each. In order to score one of these coveted spots near the beach and the inlet, you have to obtain a permit from the park office. Once that bit of housekeeping is out of the way, enjoy ferry transport to bear island, boating, fishing swimming – and of course, lots of playing in the sand.

Lake James State Park, a sprawling 6,812-acre reservoir, is tucked into the rolling hill country of North Carolina. With 150 miles of shoreline, Lake James State Park is the perfect camping destination for fishermen, swimmers, boaters, and those who just want to lounge by the water. The park houses more than 3,000 campsites, as well as cabins, picnic shelters, community buildings, and other facilities you can reserve. There's plenty of room for your next camping trip!

Away from the Atlantic shore of North Carolina lies an entirely different ecological environment to explore. At Hanging Rock State Park, campers can enjoy the views of sheer cliffs, rocky peaks, quiet forests, waterfalls, and seemingly endless views of the Piedmont Plateau. The park is home to a range of trails that will lead hikers past these incredible views. A cool mountain lake provides a place to relax and cool off after a day of climbing rocky trails. Hanging Rock State Park offers cabin rentals and campsites, depending on what type of experience you want.

State and National Parks: Thanks to protections from the National Park Service, mountains, beaches, historic battlefields are all preserved for adventurous visitors.

It can be difficult to find a beach that isn't overshadowed by giant oceanfront condos and neon signs advertising big box stores. Fortunately, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves the portion of the Outer Banks from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island. At the various beaches along Cape Hatteras, you'll find natural sand dunes, sea grass, and the abundance of wildlife attracted to these natural areas. Small beach cottages are available to rent, and there are a few campgrounds located in the Outer Banks as well. Cape Hatteras is the perfect vacation destination thanks to its diverse activities ranging from history education, to wildlife education, to kayaking, fishing, and swimming.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park, thanks, in part, to the incredible changing colors in the trees ever autumn. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also renowned for its diverse animal and plant life, and the mysterious beauty of its ancient mountains. This park is a paradise for hikers with more than 800 miles of foot trails. Those who aren't interested in a day in the woods can enjoy car camping, fishing, wildlife viewing, and auto tours.

The ancient landscapes in the Blue Ridge Mountains feel like magic. The combination of North Carolina mountains and rolling foothills create a unique natural view, and the ancient history and folklore associated with these peaks and valleys attract visitors from all over the world. Blue Ridge National Heritage Area works to preserve and promote the longstanding traditions of craft, folk music, agriculture, and Cherokee heritage that meld together in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A visit to this national heritage site provides a uniquely diverse experience of art galleries, craft museums, gift shops, hiking trails, American Indian history, and more.

Moores Creek National Battlefield Park, a Revolutionary War site, commemorates the 1776 Patriot victory over an army of 800 Loyalists at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge. The Loyalists expected to find a small Patriot Force at Moore's Creek Bridge, but the Patriots outsmarted them. First, they removed the planks of wood from the creek bridge and smeared the remaining beams with lard. This forced the Loyalist troops to cross the bridge one by one. As the made it to the other side, Patriot shots rang out and dozens of Loyalists fell into the creek below – including one commander. This cunning victory is memorialized at Moore's Creek National Battlefield Park, where visitors can walk remnants of the road that led the Loyalist forces to the bridge. A one-mile trail with educational exhibits leads through the battlefield across Moores Creek.

Outdoor Activities and Beaches: In North Carolina, the beaches aren't the only way to experience water sports. The state's Nantahala river is a popular destination for guided paddling trips or kayaking some serious rapids on your own. The Paddle Inn Rafting Company has been offering a range of river trips for 30 years. Book a seat on a raft, participate in a guided kayaking tour, or consult the guides on a "Be Your Own Boss" tour. There's no better way to experience the river.

Emerald Isle is a part of North Carolina's Crystal Coast – an 85-mile stretch of coastline that includes 56 miles of protected beaches. This quiet beach town has just over 3,300 residents in the off season, but that number spikes when as many as 50,000 visitors inhabit the area during the summer season. While Emerald Isle has plenty of vacation properties and beachfront houses available for rent, there are no oceanfront hotels blocking the view. This makes vacationing along the Crystal Coast a peaceful, family-friendly atmosphere.

The Outer Banks is one of the most unique beach destinations in the state. Equal parts natural beauty, adventurous activities, and maritime history, there's plenty to do during a visit to any of the small coastal villages in the Outer Banks. Don't miss your chance to visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or view Blackbeard's old stomping grounds at Ocracoke Island.

Scenic Drives: If you really want to see what North Carolina has to offer in the way of natural beauty, hop off the major thoroughfares and take the scenic route on these highways.

A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway truly allows you to take in the stunning vistas, gray-blue ridge-tops, and rich green valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This slow-paced, relaxing drive meanders for 469 miles, giving you ample time to see the rugged peaks and pastoral highlands of these special mountains.

The Outer Banks Scenic Byway waterside corridor traces the easternmost park of North Carolina's barrier islands. Experience the maritime culture that shaped this part of the country as you pass through 21 coastal villages that uphold the traditions of fishing, water sports, maritime history, and the sleepy lifestyle that often accompanies beachside towns. This byway is 142 miles in length, and it takes about 6.5 hours to drive the entire corridor. Give yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the food and shopping as you travel.

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