Are you looking for some interesting hidden gems in North Carolina? The Tarheel State is home to many off-the-beaten-path and secret places to explore. You can find charming and unique things to do throughout the diverse landscape of the state.
Most people have heard of Ashville, Boone, and the Outer Banks, but they may not have heard of these hidden gems. From an abandoned village nestled in the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway and a charming town that looks like Switzerland to hidden cloud chambers and a fountain that promises to keep you young and healthy, you will want to check out these sites for yourself!
15 Magical Secret Spots And hidden Gems In North Carolina
Emerald Hollow Mine
If you have been looking for exciting things to do in North Carolina, check out the Emerald Hollow Mine. This attraction in the town of Hiddenite is one of the most incredible hidden gems in NC. The mine is open seven days a week and is open for the public to try their hand at prospecting. There are more than sixty types of gems and minerals naturally occurring at the Emerald Hollow Mine.
There are a few different ways you can enjoy your time at the mine. First, you can go sluicing. This is the easiest and most popular type of prospecting. Y
ou can sit down in the covered seating area with a bucket of dirt and see what you find. Another option is to go creekin’. You will be along the edge of the sparkling clear mountain creek as you search for gems in the rushing water.
Lastly, you can go diggin’. When digging at the mine, you will be in an area that is a geological freak of nature thanks to five different tectonic plates that collided and ripped apart in the area. No matter which method you choose, this is an exciting attraction to visit in NC!
Little Switzerland began as a resort town in 1909, and ever since, it has been full of small-town charm. You can find this little slice of Switzerland in both McDowell and Mitchell counties, about an hour from the popular town of Boone. You will drive along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Little Switzerland Tunnel before arriving at one of the best hidden gems in North Carolina.
One of the best things to do in Little Switzerland is to eat at the Chalet Restaurant. You can also visit the general store, where you can find local crafts, craft beer, candies, fine cheeses, and even quick eats to grab for lunch.
Little Switzerland has everything a traveler on the hunt for a hidden gem would want. From the Swiss Sweet Shoppe and the excellent Book and Beans book store to driving the Diamondback 226A and visiting the little red church, you are sure to have a good time in Little Switzerland.
This is truly one of the best Mountain Towns In North Carolina!
Cloud Chamber For The Trees and Sky
The Cloud Chamber For The Trees and Sky has to be one of the most unique hidden gems in North Carolina. This work of art was commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The artist Chris Drury built a series of unique structures in the forest in 2003, and today you can check out these distinctive domes and get a glimpse of the sky from the forest floor.
Arguably one of the best secret places in North Carolina, the Cloud Chambers For The Trees and Sky act as walk-in camera obscuras. Basically, the cloud chambers are squatted dome huts that look like a natural part of the environment because the rock is native to the area, and the structures are decorated with sticks and moss. A small opening at the top of the structures acts as a pinhole camera, and if you step inside with the door shut, the viewer can see an inverted image of the sky on the floor of the chamber. This is a super unique experience that you don’t want to miss when you are in the Raleigh area!
Abandoned Henry River Mill Village
This little ghost town near Asheville is one of the best hidden gems in NC. If you plan on visiting Asheville, the Henry River Mill Village is just about an hour’s drive away. If you have ever watched Hunger Games, you may recognize this location as it plays the role of District 12, which is former Appalachia in the books and movies. Stars like Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz filmed at the mill for nine days during the making of the movie. You can see the Company Store, which served as Mellark’s bakery, and the paths and grassy areas where the movie was filmed during your visit.
Initially built in 1905, the village is a fantastic example of what a typical textile mill village looked like in the Carolinas. The village was abandoned in the 1970s and was added to eth National Register of Historic Places in 2019. The last native of the village didn’t move out until the early 2000s, which is quite interesting considering the village didn’t have running water or a sewer system. This ghost town represents a time long gone, yet not so distant at all. If you get a chance to listen to the stories of the village and see it for yourself, you are going to want to jump on the opportunity.
NC Fountain of Youth
A spring that promises that you could be forever young, or at least forever healthy? The NC Fountain of Youth is one of many North Carolina oddities. You may have heard of the famous fountain of youth that was founded by Ponce De Leon in St. Augustine, Florida, but did you know that there was a similar site in North Carolina? The spring was discovered in 1884 in Crumpler, and the area now serves as a bit of a retreat. Water from this spring was said to have cured everything from poison ivy and indigestion to ulcers and rheumatism.
The Historic Healing Spring was thought to be a fountain of youth for years, and people traveled to the small NC town for the water that they deemed to be the best tonic around. In fact, for years, a US Captain shipped water from the springs all across the country so that people who couldn’t travel to the springs could still try the water for themselves. Today, you can stay at one of the cabins near the spring and enjoy the stunning mountain surrounding.
Jones Lake State Park
If you are looking for things off the beaten path in North Carolina, consider visiting Jones Lake State Park. There are many gorgeous lakes in North Carolina; however, most of the lakes are pretty heavily visited. If you find yourself in southern North Carolina, Jones Lake State Park offers you all of the typical fun and beauty of a lake in NC without all of the crowds.
If you love to hike, you have great options at Jones Lake. The Bay Trail is a four-mile, moderate loop around the lake that shows the habitats of Carolina Bay and takes you around the beautiful and moody Cypress trees that reach their roots down into the water. If you prefer something short and easy, the Cedar Loop Trail is a one-mile, easy hike that starts and ends at the picnic area around the lake. Like with most lakes in the state, you can enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, and more during your visit.
The Museum of The Alphabet
The Museum of The Alphabet is one of the most unique things to do in North Carolina. It’s located in Waxhaw and is full of everything related to languages. You can check out a replica of the Rosetta Stone, see what your name looks like in Klingon, learn the chronological history of written language, and explore twelve galleries that are each devoted to a language or category of languages.
The Alphabet Museum has to be one of the most genuinely intriguing and educational hidden gems in North Carolina. You will learn so much from your visit to the museum. Did you know that of the almost 7,000 languages in the world, nearly a third of them still lack written alphabets? This museum and its parent organizations are constantly working to preserve these languages. Most of their motivation behind this is to educate people and to translate the Holy Bible into as many languages as possible.
Helen’s Haunted Bridge
When looking for North Carolina hidden gems near Asheville, you can’t overlook Helen’s Bridge. This bridge crosses over College Road, nearly fifty feet west of Vance Gap Road. The legend of the bridge says that a woman named Helen lost her daughter in a fire. She was so distraught that she hung herself off of this very bridge. To this day, people claim that her anguished soul lingers and even appears when her name is called. There have even been reports of people stopping their cars to try to call on her spirit, and then when they try to leave, their vehicles won’t start.
What makes the bridge one of the best hidden gems in North Carolina is that it is truly off the beaten path. When you research the bridge, you will be given the address 201 Beaucatcher Road. If you put this address into your GPS, you will not reach the bridge. The bridge is located at the corner of Vance Gap Road and College Street in Asheville. If you end up visiting the bridge, you will have great views of the city as the bridge overlooks downtown Asheville.
Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary
If you are looking for hidden gems in Charlotte, the Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary is a gorgeous one! This lovely little sanctuary was founded in the 1920s by the Clarkson Family. A combination of two gardens, the sanctuary is a beautiful little corner of Charlotte. The Tarheel State is known for its abundance of natural beauty, so it’s no surprise that most of the hidden gems in North Carolina are places where you can appreciate nature.
Visitors to the sanctuary can enjoy quaint sitting areas, bird watching, bountiful gardens, and more. Plus, you will want to be sure to check their website as you can find many exciting seasonal happening. From plant sales and seasonal events to children and family education and adult events, you can find a lot of fun and educational experiences on-site, depending on the time of year you plan on visiting.
The Kindred Spirit Mailbox
If you find yourself in coastal North Carolina, you will want to check out the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. Located in the Brunswick Islands, this mailbox is something special. On a secluded beach from the nearest public beach access, you can find the mailbox nestled in between two sand dunes. There’s a little bench where you can sit and journal your thoughts. Then, you place your paper in the mailbox. Of course, while you are there, you will want to read some of the goodies inside as well.
This is one of the most beautiful and unique hidden gems in NC, and it is sure to put you in a good mood. The Brunswick Islands are a super beautiful part of North Carolina and well worth a visit. Bird Island, the island that the mailbox calls home, is heavily featured in the Nicholas Sparks novel Every Breath. If you are willing to walk the thirty minutes to the mailbox, you will be greeted with thoughts, prayers, and well wishes from others who took the time to find the mailbox and write to future visitors. Don’t forget to check out our list of the Best Islands In North Carolina if you want to explore!
Robertson Millpond Preserve
The Robertson Millpond Preserve is one of the best hidden gems in Raleigh. The unique ecosystem of central North Carolina allows for tons of exciting outdoor experiences. One of the best ways to enjoy central NC is by checking out the Cypress forests. There are many places in the state where you can walk or paddle through Cypress forests, and one of the best is at Robertson Millpond Preserve.
Raleigh is a bustling city with busy streets, sweet shops, coffee houses, museums, and a wide variety of restaurants. If you find yourself exploring Raleigh and want to step away from the more popular location to find something more unique and relaxing, the millpond is the way to go. This 85-acre preserve is home to a 1.15-mile long paddling trail that takes approximately an hour to paddle.
Hominy River Park
If you’re looking for hidden gems in Asheville, check out the Hominy Creek River Park. This park on the outskirts of Asheville is one of the best hidden gems in North Carolina. It’s an excellent location for boating, grilling and picnicking, playing corn hole, and other outdoor activities. There simply isn’t a better way to enjoy the beauty of Asheville than to get outside in the great outdoors.
The Hominy Creek River Park is arguably the best out of the seven river parks maintained by Buncombe County. In the park, you will have access to the French Broad River Greenway. The section of the greenway in Hominy Creek River Park was recently extended and is now almost a mile long. This is wonderful as you can take a walk with your dog or a loved one along a paved and maintained path by the water. The park is ideal for those looking for a place to launch a stand-up paddleboard, canoe, or kayak.
Bunker Hill Covered Bridge
There are only two covered bridges remaining in North Carolina, and the bridge at Bunker Hill is one of them. The bridge has actually been honored with the designation of a National Civil Engineering Landmark. This is an honor that the bridge shares with other North Carolina sites on this prestigious list. Other sites include the Blue Ridge Parkway, Dorton Arena, and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
You can find the bridge in Claremont, where it spans across Lyle Creek. This beautiful eighty-five-foot bridge was built in 1895 by a famous Civil War engineer, and today it is a stunning piece of the state’s history. You can take a short and easy half-mile trail to reach the bridge. Then, after exploring the area, you can enjoy the other attractions around Claremont, like the Murray’s Mill Historic Site and Lookout Shoals Lake. Claremont is an off-the-beaten-path town, and visiting the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge is one of the must-see hidden gems in North Carolina!
Gillis Hill Farm
With domestic travel increasing in popularity, it can seem as though there aren’t many hidden places in North Carolina left to discover. One of the best hidden gems in North Carolina that you should visit is located on the outskirts of Fayetteville. Gillis Hill Farm has been owned by the same family for nine generations, is a bit of a historical treasure trove.
You can find old buildings and equipment, an old mill, a pond, and more at the farm. When animals are old or injured, and their owners can’t take care of them anymore, Gillis Hill Farm gladly takes them in. So, if you are traveling with children, visiting these animals is one of the best free things to do in the area. Also on site is a little ice cream stand in the old farmhouse. All of the sweet treats are made with local ingredients and are simply heavenly. If you fall in love with their flavors the way most people do, you can order a container to go!
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden
Did you know that the Venus Flytrap is only native to the subtropical wetlands on the east coast of the United States? More specifically, the wetlands in North Carolina and South Carolina. One of the best places to see these beautiful plants is at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden in Wilmington. The land is a part of the Piney Ridge Nature Reserve, which is conserved by the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. It is truly one of the best things to do in Wilmington!
The garden is ADA accessible and has concrete walking trails and a wooden observation decks where you can genuinely enjoy the wetlands and the plants in the area. You can visit the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden seven days awake during daylight hours. While you are searching for Venus Flytraps in the garden, make sure to keep your eyes open for Pitcher Plants as well, which are also carnivorous natives of coastal NC.
As you can see, stepping off the well-worn tourist trail in North Carolina is totally worth it. From oddities and unique sites to educational and historical wonders, you can find amazing hidden gems in North Carolina. So which will you visit first?