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North Carolina Celebrates ‘Year of the Trail’ Throughout 2023

From its section of the world’s longest hiking-only footpath to the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, North Carolina comes by its “Great Trails State” handle honestly. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the N.C. Trails System Act, 2023 marks the Year of the Trail with events in each of the state’s 100 counties, where travelers can find trails for hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding and off-road vehicles. Need a starting point? Try Hot Springs, where you can cross Bridge Street and claim an Appalachian Trail credit (the aforementioned “world’s longest”). Or Elkin, where the Mountains-to-Sea Trail intersects with paddling, mountain biking and other recreation. Or coastal Pettigrew State Park, where you can paddle as well as view Native American canoes dating back thousands of years. Learn more about Year of the Trail at

And speaking of great trails, here’s a selection of 2023 debuts that lead to extraordinary places:

  • Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail. Hundreds of miles from the Atlantic, snorkelers can don their gear and check out what’s beneath the surface of mountain rivers. Trail kickoff events start July 6 on the Swannanoa River in Black Mountain and continue on the Catawba River in Marion, the Pigeon in Canton, the Little Tennessee in Franklin, the East Prong Roaring at Stone Mountain State Park, and other locations. Find details and how-to info on the trail website.
  • New Bernard Mountain Trail, Old Fort. A collaboration of community groups, the U.S. Forest Service and other partners, the trail adds 3.16 miles to an ongoing 42-mile expansion. Designed for intermediate hiking and mountain biking, the new trail takes in rocky features, all-season views and lush forests as part of a project that aims to redefine rural economic development in Appalachian communities.
  • N.C. Science Trail. With a wide world as classroom and lab, this newly designated trail connects a wind-powered pier on the Outer Banks to a nature preserve in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Between those points are 60 sites offering natural wonders, hands-on activities and citizen science projects. Major museums, including Charlotte’s Discovery Place and Raleigh’s N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, mix with unexpected treasures such as the Aurora Fossil Museum, where visitors can dig for giant shark teeth, and Sylvan Heights Bird Park, home of the world’s largest collection of waterfowl. Trail sites are designed to appeal to learners of all ages.
  • Hendersonville Ice Cream Trail. Chill-seekers can follow the Hendersonville Ice Cream Trail to a dozen locations serving homemade and brand-name ice creams, frozen custards, frozen yogurts, banana splits, milkshakes and sundaes as well as authentic Mexican sorbets and paletas (ice pops). The map of stops runs from in-town shops to the countryside. 
Public Will Encounter 'Dueling Dinosaurs' in Raleigh

Two stars of the dinosaur world will take center stage in Raleigh in 2024 with the opening of “Dueling Dinosaurs,” a permanent exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The most complete fossils of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops ever unearthed will be displayed as they were found: locked together as if dueling at the time of their death. The museum is building a state-of-the-art research center, called SECU Dinolab, where the public can get a close-up view and meet scientists seeking to uncover secrets that were buried for 67 million years. The museum announced the acquisition of the T. rex and Triceratops in May 2020, 14 years after they were excavated at a Montana ranch. 

High Point Achieves Recognition as Certified Autism Destination

High Point, long known as the “Home Furnishings Capital of the World,” gains new distinction as the second U.S. City — and the first on the East Coast — to achieve recognition as a Certified Autism Destination. In an effort led by the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, the certification from the International Board of Credentialling and Continuing Education Standard recognizes dedication to making attractions, hotels, restaurants and public spaces accessible and welcoming to autistic and sensory-sensitive individuals and their families. Sites that have made the commitment include the JH Adams Inn, Nido & Mariana Qubein Children’s Museum, the High Point Rockers baseball team, the High Point MuseumSweet Old Bill’s and Giannos restaurants, and Q’s Corner, a play center that inspired the initiative. Mesa, Ariz., was the first city to receive CAD designation. Learn more at

Raleigh's N.C. Freedom Park to Honor an Epic Struggle

Two blocks from the state Capitol in Raleigh, work is under way on N.C. Freedom Park, which will honor the Black struggle to achieve freedom for all. With completion targeted by the end of the year, the park  was designed by Phil Freelon, the late Durham architect known for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington as well as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte. The centerpiece of the 1-acre park will be a towering sculpture called "The Beacon of Freedom," which will shine a light toward the sky to reflect the fire for freedom.  

Museum With ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ Plane to Reopen With New Name

The Carolinas Aviation Museum is targeting a summer 2024 reopening as the Sullenberger Aviation Museum, which will be housed in a new space at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Named in honor of “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the reimagined museum will occupy multiple buildings on a 10-acre tract and offer flight simulators and other interactive elements. The collection at the Smithsonian-affiliate museum, which vacated its temporary CLT quarters in 2019, includes helicopters and commercial, military and civil aircraft, but its star is the Airbus A320 from US Airways Flight 1549. On Jan. 15, 2009, Sullenberger miraculously landed the plane after its engines were destroyed in a run-in with Canada geese.

Yadkin Valley Wine Region Marks 20th Anniversary

The Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area, the first and largest of North Carolina’s six recognized wine regions, reaches the 2-decade mark this year. With 1.4 million acres, which makes it roughly the size of Delaware, the AVA has grown from a handful of wineries to 46. Grapes cover a spectrum that includes well-known French and Italian vinifera, Vitis labrusca and French-American hybrids. The list of Yadkin Valley medalists from the San Francisco International Wine Competition includes JOLO, Jones von Drehle, Junius Lindsay, McRitchie, Piccione, Raffaldini and RayLen.

Ocracoke Lighthouse Marks 200 Years

On an island accessible by only water or air, the nation’s second-oldest operating in lighthouse celebrates its bicentennial in 2023. The Ocracoke Lighthouse rises 75 feet,  and its fourth-order Fresnel lens casts beam that can be seen from 14 miles away.  Though the tower is not open for climbs, the lighthouse base is open from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. through mid-September for visitors to check out this landmark as they explore the island, whose history includes the final days of Blackbeard the pirate and two reigns at the top of the Best Beaches in America list.

US National Whitewater Center Extends Its Reach

The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, home of the world’s largest artificial whitewater river, takes on the natural rapids of Western North Carolina with Whitewater Pisgah. Located in Mills River, the new adventure hub offers a range of paddling options plus climbing, mountain biking, gravel biking, hiking and backpacking, trail running and flatwater paddling. Guests can also find accommodations and hospitality services as well as rentals, instruction, guides and events. Whitewater Pisgah is part of an expansion of the center, which has hosted USA Canoe/Kayak Team trials for four Olympic games and boasts the first-of-its-kind Deep Water Solo Climbing Complex. The expansion includes Whitewater Santee in South Carolina and Whitewater Grayson, opening in Virginia in 2023.

Oyster Trail Connects Coastal Cuisine, Heritage

Oyster farmers, restaurants. markets and educators invite travelers to indulge and learn along the N.C. Oyster Trail, which highlights an industry whose colorful history includes a war against out-of-state poachers. Stops extend from the Outer Banks to Bald Head Island with oyster farm tours, exhibits, excursions and dining with inland markets and restaurants sharing the delicacy with their customers. The Outer Banks Seafood Festival and other events will also elevate oysters at their 2021 celebrations. The Oyster Trail is administered by the N.C. Coastal Federation and N.C. Sea Grant in partnership with the N.C. Shellfish Growers Association.

Suzanne Brown
Media Relations Manager
Veda Gilbert
Public Relations Manager
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