Discover the 8 Most Dangerous Places in North Carolina

Clouds are rolling through after the rain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina.
© jadimages/Shutterstock.com

Written by Crystal

Updated: September 22, 2023

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With intense hiking trails, powerful rivers, and haunted circles; there are a lot of North Carolina attractions for thrill seekers. Whether you want to walk across a mile-high bridge that sings in the wind or zip down a famous motorcycle path, this state seems to have a bit of everything. In this article, we’ll be covering some of the top dangerous spots while being sure to highlight all of the good things about these areas too. Sometimes mixing scary with scenic is the perfect combination for an unforgettable adventure.

What are the most dangerous places in North Carolina? Read on to discover the heart-pounding experiences that await those who crave both adrenaline and inspiration.

Key Points

  1. Grandfather Mountain Trail: A challenging hike with ladders, cables, and rocky terrain, popular among adventurers. Unpredictable weather and black bears enhance the thrill.
  2. Henderson: While offering attractions like farmer markets and outdoor theaters, this city suffers from high crime rates, especially murders.
  3. Devil’s Tramping Ground: In the woods lies a spooky circle tied to devilish legends.
  4. Tail of the Dragon: With 318 curves and few guardrails, this popular road offers a thrilling ride.
  5. Oak Island: Despite its beauty, Oak Island’s shores harbor risky rip currents and shark encounters. Caution is advised, especially at the sound-ocean junction.
  6. Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula: Home to massive black bears, this region has some of the biggest black bears in the world.
  7. Cape Fear River: Stretching 200 miles, this treacherous North Carolina river hides perilous currents and abrupt drops, proving hazardous for swimmers and boaters.
  8. Dismal Swamp State Park: This park offers rich wildlife viewing, including venomous snakes and bears.

1. Grandfather Mountain Trail

Grandfather Mountain State park in fall season. Grandfather Mountain is a mountain near Linville, North Carolina. At 5,946 feet, it is the highest peak on the eastern of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The rough terrain of Grandfather Mountain makes it one of the most dangerous, and rewarding hikes.

©Chansak Joe/Shutterstock.com

Grandfather Mountain is one of North Carolina’s most popular locations for enjoying nature. But it can also be a dangerous place if you don’t know what you’re doing. The changing weather, rough terrain, possibility of fog, and likelihood of seeing black bears are what earned this location a spot on our list.

While many prefer driving to the summit, the truly adventurous hike is the Grandfather Mountain Trail. The 2.4-mile trail involves ladders, cables, and navigating rocky terrain, with changing weather conditions. It’s one of the most challenging hiking experiences in North Carolina.

Mile High Swinging Bridge

Do you have what it takes to cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge? It’s an experience you’ll never forget. When you get a Grandfather Mountain admission ticket, you’ll also get access to all sorts of other fun things to do, like crossing this famous bridge.

You may hear some people call this spot the singing bridge. That’s because when the wind kicks up, it sounds like the mile-high structure is playing an eerie harmonica. Standing a little over a mile high, this musical bridge gives you a chance to take in the scenery from every angle. Before even reaching the bridge, you’ll start seeing Blue Ridge Mountain views from the ground and the parking area.

Since 1952 this attraction has been welcoming visitors to a special nature experience. The “Mile High Swinging Bridge” name was coined in 1952 by Charles J. Parker, a former North Carolina Tourism Director. “Mile High” refers to the elevation above sea level, and “swinging” is for the bridge’s suspension design.

The fully accessible site has a paved path leading to the bridge for wheelchair access. There’s also an elevator inside the Top Shop. Speaking of the Top Shop, pop in there for a snack, souvenir, gift, or all of the above. You can also ask for trail maps and park updates.

Make a reservation online before visiting. And plan on spending a lot of time here to take it all in. Visitors are encouraged to explore additional attractions and activities like the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery, the onsite restaurant, picnic areas, and more. Plus, several trailheads for the dangerous Grandfather Mountain hiking trails are located close by.

2. Henderson

Crime Scene at Night: Crime Scene Investigation Team Working on a Murder. Female Police Officer Briefing Detective on the Victim's Body. Forensics and Paramedics Working. Cinematic Shot

Henderson, NC, deals with unusually high crime rates, especially homicides.

©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

Now for one of the most complex locations on our list. It’s both incredible and dangerous, and definitely worth learning about. Henderson, NC, has so many attractions in store, including farmers markets, camping, and a beloved outdoor theater dating back to 1949. You can sit beneath the stars, taking in the beauty of the night while watching a fun film together.

However, there’s another side to the city that warrants attention. Unfortunately, Henderson has earned a reputation for high crime rates, leading to its classification as one of the most dangerous places in the state, alongside cities like Whiteville, Wadesboro, Williamston, and Pineville. Particularly disheartening is its label as the “murder capital” of North Carolina.

3. Devil’s Tramping Ground

The Devil’s Tramping Ground is believed to be a haunted spot where the Devil himself still walks.

©Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock.com

It wouldn’t be a list of dangerous places without at least one haunted location. Deep within a wooded area lies the Devil’s Tramping Ground. The spot features a circle around 15 feet wide, where nothing grows and any objects placed within it are mysteriously moved overnight. Some witnesses claim to have seen red glowing eyes in the circle. According to local lore, one of the paths leading to the haunted spot was the Devil’s own path. It’s said that he walks this path, tramping around the circle, engrossed in dark thoughts.

Haunted History

The Devil’s Tramping Ground has ancient origins that have intrigued locals for centuries. Written accounts about this eerie site date back to the 1800s, and oral accounts trace back even before the founding of the United States. In the 1930s, the legend introduced a new element: a great black beast that reportedly chased hunters and dogs away. However, this element of the story appears to be fading from more recent legends.

Today, the Devil’s Tramping Ground remains a captivating mystery, attracting not only tourists but also paranormal investigators who have documented unusual occurrences. And permission is required to visit the site. Campsites are strategically located near the circle, allowing people to experience the spooky atmosphere up close.

4. Tail of the Dragon

Dominant wild boar, sus scrofa, male sniffing with massive snout with white tusks on meadow. Majestic wild mammal standing on grass in spring from side view

There’s a lot of wildlife along the Tail of the Dragon Road, including wild boars, turkeys, and bears.

©WildMedia/Shutterstock.com

One of the most dangerous places in North Carolina is the famous Tail of the Dragon Road. The 11-mile stretch of US-129 is famous for offering bikers an exhilarating ride. Situated at Deals Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina line, it draws thrill-seekers from all over the world. It’s a bucket-list drive for many, attracting sports car clubs and bike rallies.

The perfectly engineered road blends adventure and danger, there are 318 curves and limited guardrails. It’s both amazing and a bit scary. The gorgeous scenic overlooks make the ride even more incredible. Finally, there are also a few ghost stories about this famous path; tales that tell of whispers calling out in the night. Listen closely and maybe you too will hear the call.

This isn’t the only scary road in North Carolina. Other dangerous roads in the state include parts of Interstates 85 and 40, an area with deadly sharp curves. Then there’s US-17, a coastal highway, facing challenges from severe weather conditions and high traffic volume. And don’t forget about the Outer Banks NC Highway 12, a road notorious for flooding during storms.

Tips for a Safe Ride

The best way to survive North Carolina’s dangerous roads is by pacing yourself. Pushing yourself to the limit isn’t necessary; there will always be faster riders. Let faster riders pass using pull-offs or by pulling over. You can also use pull-offs for sightseeing.

Always focus on the road, mirrors, and other vehicles. When leaving the road, avoid making sudden avoidance actions. Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and use your rearview mirrors. Adjust your line carefully while maintaining control and avoiding abrupt braking or leaving the road. Also, keep an eye out for wildlife. Encounters with wildlife like bears, turkeys, and wild boars are common.

Most accidents are the result of speeding, over-braking, tricks, lack of attention, and unprepared riders. Prepare yourself with protective gear, including gloves, boots, leather, and full-face helmets. Be sure to also have a working and fully charged cell phone in case you need to call for help.

5. Oak Island

Oak Island Beach in Brunswick County, North Carolina, taken early morning during fall season. A beautiful resort in the east part of the state, few miles from Wilmington, home of Michael Jordan.

A lovely beach with a bad reputation for shark attacks; Oak Island can be safe if you stay vigilant.

©CeGe/Shutterstock.com

Oak Island is situated apart from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a great spot that offers a nature center, lighthouse, and hiking trails to explore. The lighthouse, positioned to the east, provides the perfect view of Caswell Beach and Bald Head Island.

What’s the twist in this sunny tale? As lovely as this spot is, it’s also one of the most dangerous places in North Carolina. Oak Island has had numerous drowning and shark attacks.

Along with sharks, beachgoers also need to be mindful of the risk of drowning. The rip currents here are unforgiving and can pull you under within seconds. Swimming where the sound meets the ocean is the most dangerous. The sound is the water that’s separated from the ocean by land barriers. When that water meets with the ocean the currents can be extra strong, and deadly.

25 Shark Species

Situated in the Cape Fear region, Oak Island is an area home to about 25 different sharks. A few species include sharp nose, dusky, bull, and sandbar sharks. Recently a 9-year-old visiting the beach was bit on the shoulder by a juvenile shark, thankfully, the injuries weren’t severe. To stay safe, it’s wise to avoid the waters during periods of elevated shark activity or jellyfish presence.

6. Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula

black bear

Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula in North Carolina is home to some of the largest black bears in the world.

©iStock.com/Brittany Crossman

North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula is home to the largest black bears in the world. It also has the highest concentration of black bears in the southeastern US. These coastal black bears are extra big, weighing 50-100 pounds more than other bears. With an estimated population of around 8,000 black bears, this area is one of their favorite stomping grounds. The peninsula averages four bears per square mile.

The three types of bears in North America are the polar bear, the brown or grizzly bear, and the black bear. Black bears are the only bear species found in North Carolina and the eastern United States. The Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, made up of six river basins flowing into sounds, provides a perfect bear-friendly habitat.

Black bears, mountain lions, and white-tailed deer are known for having extensive home ranges, especially in North America. Black bears can be found in 40 out of the 50 US states and across all Canadian provinces. Left alone, they’re peaceful creatures. However, an encounter can quickly turn into a serious situation, especially if you don’t know what to do.

Black Bear Encounter: Survival Tips

Bears are a fascinating presence in North Carolina, and they’re generally harmless. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, remember to keep a safe distance. Never feed, approach, surround, or corner a bear. During an encounter, calmly make yourself known by speaking confidently, clapping, waving your arms, and making noise. Slowly back away without running.

You can’t outrun a bear, and sudden movements can make them see you as prey. It’s best to make it clear you’re a non-prey animal, and wait for them to move on. In the rare case things get violent, it’s best to fight black bears with everything you’ve got. Unlike grizzlies, who it’s best to play dead for, black bears are a species you can scare away.

7. Cape Fear River

Cape Fear River

Beneath the serene surface of Cape Fear River lies dangerous currents that claim lives.

©Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.com

Stretching 200 miles, Cape Fear River is one of the most dangerous places in North Carolina for swimmers and boaters. This river is the main tributary and namesake of North Carolina’s largest river basin. It’s also the only river in the state that flows directly into the ocean. This dangerous swimming spot is known for claiming more lives than any other river in the state. The seemingly serene waters hide steep drop-offs and intense currents.

Most rivers are only dangerous when proper safety measures aren’t being taken. To stay safe, always wear life jackets, and don’t take on kayaking or canoeing challenges you’re not ready for. Swimmers and boaters have to know the safe spots, while also having enough skill to survive.

Other Dangerous Rivers

Other infamously dangerous rivers include the Dan River, Nantahala River, Yadkin River, Cheoah River, French Broad River, and North Toe River. Dan River is one of North Carolina’s largest rivers. Unfortunately, it gained tragic notoriety in 2021 due to a heartbreaking incident where a family of tubers lost their lives after going over a dam. Nantahala River has numerous fatal incidents involving kayakers and waterfalls.

8. Dismal Swamp State Park

alligator

The Dismal Swamp is home to

alligators

, river otters, bears, and venomous snakes.

©Sorbis/Shutterstock.com

Any time you’re visiting a spot with the word “swamp” in its name, you know there’s an element of danger. Dismal Swamp State Park is a natural site in North Carolina, offering access to the largest remaining swamp in the Eastern United States. It encompasses the 113,000-acre Great Dismal Swamp and its surrounding hiking and biking trails. It’s the largest remaining swamp in the Eastern US, once covering over a million acres. Native Americans used the swamp for hunting and fishing, but it was too wet for permanent settlement.

One of the biggest dangers at this spot is the threat of becoming dehydrated and overheated. When you’re in a swamp the “feels like” temperature can be much higher than the actual temp. Visitors should bring plenty of water to survive the hot murky temperatures. Warmer months are also some of the most dangerous times to visit since wildlife is the most active. Be vigilant while you’re on the trail to avoid any surprise encounters.

Venomous Snakes and Bears

The park is not only a state park but also a national wildlife refuge, providing habitats for all sorts of venomous snakes, bears, spiders, and more. Hikers can choose from a range of trails, including a 3-mile paved path that runs parallel to the canal, and you can be sure you’ll see quite a few critters along the path.

Along with bears and snakes, there are also all sorts of lovely butterfly species with over 40 identified so far. Palamedes and zebra swallowtails are common, as well as tiger swallowtails and variegated fritillaries. And there are plenty of birds too with over 100 identified species sighted.


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About the Author

Crystal is a dedicated writer at A-Z Animals, focusing on topics related to mammals, insects, and travel. With over a decade of experience in the world of research and writing, she also fulfills the role of a skilled video and audio engineer. Residing in sunny Florida, alligators are Crystal's favorite animal.

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