North Carolina vacation advice

North Carolina vacation advice


Tips from our friends in North Carolina

Note: Most people wishing to visit the US for up to 90 days as a tourist will need to apply online via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for a visa waiver. This lasts four years – and can be used as many times as you like. The cost is $14 and the application only takes a couple of minutes. Keep a copy of your authorisation number.

Visit the coast


Duncan McCubbin, from North Carolina Tourism, shares his North Carolina vacation advice: "A lot of people tend to just say “the Carolinas”, and try and do both of those in one go. But we’re trying to get away from that. People think of North Carolina as mountains and South Carolina as coast – but if I’m totally honest, the South Carolina coast is pretty but much more commercialised. The North Carolina coast is a national seashore, so it carries a similar status to a national park in that there’s no high rise buildings. You name the water sport; you can do it in North Carolina. It’s all there. If you look at a map, the way that the coast runs is like a barrier strip of land so it’s safe water on the inside of that. It gets the breeze, but the water is protected by the sand, so it works quite well. But it means it’s great for kayaking.”

Turn off, tune out


Arthur Campbell, from our supplier Spring House Farm, owns secluded cabins in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He recommends western North Carolina as the perfect place to switch off: “It’s a hard thing to convey through a website – that peace and quiet and that connection with nature. But when folks show up to stay in the cabins, they just get it. That was something that I was raised with as a kid, in the country, with all that nature around me. It’s something I subconsciously plugged in when I built these cabins. Our guests can stay in a cabin and spend a night on the porch, and not hear anything but the cicadas in the summertime, and the crickets and the bullfrogs in the pond… the pond noises that come up are amazing. It’s almost deafening at night! I’ve had people check in and they go – “Oh God, there’s no television and there’s no cellphone service – what am I gonna do?” But there are books and games and there’s a hot tub out there, and you can walk on the trails. It takes folks a while, but they come back down and look at me and say – “‘Now I get it. We actually sat around and talked last night! We had to put the smartphone down…” Then they don’t pick it up until they leave.”

Asheville tips


Arthur Campbell, from our supplier Spring House Farm, shares his North Carolina vacation advice: I would highlight Asheville itself. It’s known as the “Paris of the South”. It’s a very progressive place, very artsy, young people… there’s still that hippie movement that’s very active there and in a little town called Black Mountain that’s close by too. But Asheville is really up and coming. The food scene is amazing there, and they say that the craft beer scene is the most important on the East Coast – if not, the whole country. It also has the Folk Art Centre that’s part of the Blue Ridge Parkway – that’s a guilded local arts and crafts centre. It’s amazing.”

Hang out with the locals


Chloe Tuttle, from our supplier Big Mill Bed & Breakfast: “I would tell people to go the smaller places. The smaller local restaurants, the smaller B&Bs, because I’m going to tell people where to go eat. Nobody at the Vacation Inn is going to tell them where to eat. I’m going to tell them the local things to do, what fairs or events are going on, don’t miss the herring festival – or whatever! It’s the small places – the “Mom and Pops” around the country. I get people from Europe coming here, they’ll go to New York City then come here because they want to see the countryside. I’m on a working farm so when I look out the window, I see crops. I live in the Boondocks!”

Canoe & camp


Chloe Tuttle, from our supplier Big Mill Bed & Breakfast, recommends a river adventure: “Cashie River has camping platforms and they’re extremely hidden in the swamps. You can take a canoe and go and spend a night on these camping platforms. I get a lot of people coming the day after of the day before as they want a shower after they’ve been on the creeks and rivers. They just get in these canoes and go off for two days, with the owls and the snakes! There are just as many people going in the cold weather as in the warm weather. People seem to like fall and winter better because there are no bugs.”

Health & safety in North Carolina


Travel safely in North Carolina with kids

Health


  • Medical treatment in the US is the most expensive in the world – take out comprehensive travel insurance before departure (companies usually charge a premium for US travel) and ensure it covers emergency repatriation and medical evacuation. Contact your insurance company as soon as you require any treatment.
  • Take note of the emergency number: 911.
  • Mosquitoes can be a nuisance, particularly in summer around the rivers, lakes and swamps. You’re unlikely to catch anything nasty, but wear bug repellent (natural if possible!) and wear long trousers and sleeves to reduce the risk of bites.
  • The sun is fiercer than it may seem in North Carolina – it’s on the same latitude as Morocco. Wear high factor SPF, plus long sleeves and a hat if possible – especially if you’re out on the water or in the mountains. Don’t forget, the sun’s rays are more powerful in the mountains, even though it is cooler.
  • Mountain streams may look enticing, but avoid drinking from them unless you are able to boil the water for at least one minute to kill bugs such as giardia.

Safety


The Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-see – but part of what makes is so beautiful are its hairpin bends and spiralling curves. Observe speed restrictions (between 35-45mph) and go even slower during fog or wet weather. Traffic can be heavy and there are an increasing number of cyclists and pedestrians along the road, plus motorhomes and caravans.

When hiking in the mountains, preparation is essential – most emergencies are down to poor planning. Take appropriate footwear and clothing – weather can change rapidly even in summer. Bring a first aid kit, head torch, trail map and sufficient water supplies. Never cross swollen streams or hike at night, and most importantly of all – always let someone know where you’re heading, and what time you hope to be back. Do not rely on your mobile phone or GPS – both can fail in remote areas, when you need them most.

The National Parks Service has fantastic advice on safety precautions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – take a look here.

There are two venomous snake species in North Carolina. Bites are rare and non-fatal, but it’s wise to watch your step – and particularly where you place your hands when scrambling up tricky terrain.

Bear sightings are rare, but with some 11,000 living across the state’s forests and swampland, it’s always best to take precautions. Prevention is better than cure when it comes to bear encounters – for once, we advise being noisy in the backcountry, which gives them chance to move away, rather than stumbling across you by accident. And never leave food around.

If you do happen to encounter a bear, remember it’s both dangerous and illegal to approach within 50m of it. However, you should never turn your back on it, and never run. Backing away slowly is the best tactic, and you should always carry bear pepper spray – more advice from the National Parks Service here.

June-November is the official hurricane season along the coast. While big storms are rare (roughly one every three to four years), August and September are the most likely months for them to occur.

There have been a number of recent shark attacks off the coast of North Carolina – none have proved fatal. While such attacks are widely reported, they are also incredibly rare; to put it into perspective, you are more likely to win the lottery than to be attacked by a shark.

You’re at far greater risk from rip tides than sharks. These are easily survivable if you know how to respond – drowning generally only occurs when people try and swim against the current (this is impossible) and exhaust themselves. Instead, keep calm and try and swim diagonally back to shore, or parallel to it; the further out you get, the weaker the current becomes, and you’ll eventually swim out of the rip. Fortunately, many beaches have lifeguards plus flags signifying waves as well as rip tides; never enter the water when there is a red flag – it’s both dangerous and illegal.

Look out for jellyfish – they are common here, including the Portuguese man-of-war. If you get stung, apply vinegar and don’t rub it. Seek medical assistance if you notice any allergic reaction or sign of infection.

Check laws regarding drinking; alcohol may only be purchased at certain times and may not be consumed in public places (such as parks and on the street).

Gun crime is notoriously high in the US, and North Carolina has very relaxed gun laws. However, the risk for tourists is low.

You may be required to provide extra documentation if you are a lone parent traveling with a child, see the US Customs and Border Protection website for details.
Photo credits: [Visit the coast: Blake Patterson] [Asheville tips: TimothyJ] [Canoe & camp: Elizabeth]
Written by Vicki Brown
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