Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
As the leaves change colors and the temperature becomes cooler, many people have the urge to head outdoors. If you find yourself in North Carolina or are thinking of planning a trip, there are a lot of options to get outside and enjoy the state’s natural beauty.
There are a number of national parks within a reasonable drive from Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city and a major American Airlines hub, which means you can stay in the city or in a hotel closer to your destination.
It’s time to fire up those cameras, pack a bathing suit or binoculars, and get those leaf-peeping guides ready. Here are four awe-inspiring national parks near Charlotte, North Carolina.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Among the Charlotte, North Carolina, national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is perhaps the most well-known. Stretching across North Carolina and Tennessee, it is the most visited national park in the country.
Great for hiking, it is also home to a wide variety of trees including Fraser fir, sycamore, maple and elm trees among others. These are best enjoyed during the fall months when their leaves change color from green to hues of red, orange, yellow and beige.
It’s a magnificent sight, and even if you don’t have time to visit, flying into or out of Charlotte can provide a beautiful aerial view of it all. If you are able to visit in person, be sure to go to Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park and the third highest point east of the Mississippi River, for epic views that can stretch as far as 100 miles around you.
There is only one hotel in the park, LeConte Lodge, and it’s only accessible by foot via five different trails which range between five and nine miles long. At an elevation of 6,400 feet, this lodge sits atop the third highest peak in the park and is the highest guest lodge of its kind on the entire East Coast. It’s open between mid-March and mid-November each year.
For those not interested in hiking to their lodging, there are several options available just a short drive from the various park entrances.
Best use of points: Knoxville, Tennessee, is not far from the park and provides a variety of hotel options. One of these is the Hyatt Place Knoxville Downtown, located in a historic building convenient to nearby dining and shopping. It is a Category 2 property, meaning that rates range between 6,500 and 9,500 World of Hyatt points per night.
If you prefer to drive to Charlotte, the trip takes between two and three hours. Once there, you’ll find a variety of hotels, including a JW Marriott and the Grand Bohemian Charlotte, Autograph Collection.
» Learn more: Guide to the World of Hyatt award chart
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest linear national park and runs from North Carolina up through Virginia. Along the parkway are many notable landmarks, like Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon, and Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak on the East Coast.
There’s also Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, and New River, which is considered to be the oldest river in North America.
Best use of points: The Blue Ridge Parkway runs right by Asheville, and there are many hotels where guests can use points during their visit. Marriott Bonvoy fans, especially, have quite a few options, including the Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, Autograph Collection in Biltmore Village or the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown, popular for its rooftop bar.
Marriott Bonvoy has recently switched to a dynamic pricing model, which means a redemption night can vary in cost depending on the night. Plan ahead to ensure you have enough points, or use one of the free night certificates that come with a Marriott Bonvoy credit card.
» Learn more: The best ways to rack up Marriott Bonvoy points
3. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
As the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, this trail is a great spot for hiking, biking and strolling through nature. Approximately 2,200 miles long, the trail actually runs from Maine all the way through Georgia, but visitors to Charlotte enjoy close proximity to this famous natural spot. It takes just over two hours to reach the trail by car from Charlotte.
Once there, the Max Patch trail (consisting of two easier, short loops at either 1.4 or 2.4 miles long) is a great option for day trips. If you’re staying longer, consider doing both before heading into Asheville to explore the city’s many breweries and art galleries.
Best use of points: Since the trail runs right past Asheville, there are several options in the mountain city where travelers can earn or redeem points. These include The Foundry, a Curio Collection by Hilton property (part of the Hilton Honors program) and the Kimpton Hotel Arras, part of IHG One Rewards.
Both programs use a dynamic pricing model, which means the number of points needed for a redemption night can change depending on the date.
» Learn more: Benefits of the Hilton Honors loyalty program
4. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The farthest of the state’s most famous national parks from Charlotte is Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the Atlantic Ocean. Known for its pristine Outer Banks beaches, this is a great spot for a longer vacation rather than a day trip from Charlotte (the drive can take as long as six hours).
Visitors can spend their time camping, fishing, swimming, biking and even off-roading on certain stretches of beach. There is also a wide variety of animal life ranging from various birds to sea turtles that make it a family-friendly destination. The Outer Banks has plentiful history, too, with colorful characters like Blackbeard (an 18th-century pirate) who visited the area and numerous lighthouses worth exploring to understand the seafaring past of this region.
Best use of points: IHG One Rewards members can take advantage of the Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront, which has four acres of private beach access. IHG has a dynamic pricing system, which means the number of points required varies by night.
» Learn more: Your complete guide to earning IHG Rewards points
National parks in NC, recapped
No matter where you go in North Carolina, there is plentiful natural beauty from the mountains to the sea. The national parks near Charlotte, North Carolina, are all within several hours’ drive from the city, making them great for a day trip or overnight exploration.
Depending on where you want to visit in North Carolina, there are numerous airports you can fly to or from to match your budget. If you’re keen on using miles to get there, American Airlines has a helpful mileage map that allows you to put in your departure city and see a map of where you can go using your miles.
As an added bonus, you can earn and redeem points at your favorite hotel brands along the way, which can make that family vacation more affordable than ever.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card