Asking someone who lives in North Carolina whether they would rather travel to the mountains or to the beach is the vacation-planning equivalent of a Myers-Briggs personality test.
The most random predilections — a taste for saltwater fish over freshwater fare, for swimsuits over sweaters, for goofy golf over a well-groomed Bermuda grass-covered course — can help sort the beach bums from the mountain folk.
“Beach. Definitely. I’m a beach person,” said David Slyck (pronounced “slick”), who moved to Emerald Isle, off Carteret County, nearly two decades ago.
At the time, Slyck was a special-education teacher for the Department of Defense, and he took a job at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. He had never even been to North Carolina.
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“I had no idea where I was heading,” he said. “Then I got here, and as soon as I saw Emerald Isle, I said, ‘That’s where I’m moving.”
The mountains are fine for some people, Slyck said, but for him, there’s nothing like a stroll along the ocean’s edge.
“If I’m upset with someone or something, I walk on the beach and I kick the sand and sometimes I use a few curse words. After I’ve kicked a few grains of sand around, I forget what the heck I was mad at,” he said.
Now retired and pursuing a second career as an artist whose main medium is car parts from early 20th-century American models, Slyck says for him, beach weather is a major attraction.
“I’m from Rochester, New York, originally,” he said, “and I’ll tell you one thing: I’ve never had to shovel rain. The warm weather, that’s what does it for me. And the ocean views, and the boats and ships. I can be in the mountains in seven or eight hours, but if I have my druthers — which I do — I’m a beach person.”
At the other end of the state, Caet (prounounced “kate”) Cash loves a good walk too, but in hiking boots instead of bare feet or flip flops. In fact, that’s how she landed in the North Carolina mountains.
“I was southbound on the Appalachian Trail, and I came through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the fall. I absolutely loved it. It’s my favorite place in the entire world.”
Cash is now a full-time guide for Blue Ridge Hiking Company in Asheville, where she takes people of every age and fitness ability on walks into the woods. The company runs hikes that range from the one-day excursion to the six-day backpacker experience.
While she knows some people love an ocean breeze, for Cash, nothing is as refreshing as a mountaintop wind and the view from several thousand feet above sea level. She is revived by the scent of spruce and the sound of a waterfall.
“I hear people talk about how they really love the ocean and they say, ‘Oh, when I look at the ocean I feel so small.’ But when you’re top of Black Balsam, and all you can see is wave upon wave upon wave of mountains, you get that same feeling of being truly immersed in nature and feeling so small. It gives us hope.”
And isn’t that what a good vacation does? It breathes life back into the soul, brings rejuvenation, realigns perspective.
If you aren’t sure whether you’re a Beach Person or a Mountain Person, take our quiz to test your beach-versus-mountains familiarities and preferences. If you still can’t decide, maybe you don’t have to.
“You can literally walk between the two,” Cash said. “The Mountains-to-Sea Trail will take you right from Nantahala National Forest to Jockey’s Ridge.”
So, are you a mountain person or a beach person? See how well you know each with our quiz.
NC's mountains vs. beach quiz
1. Hang gliding is said to have been invented in which N.C. community?
a) Southern Shores in Dare County
b) Lookout Mountain in Buncombe County
2. Which is North Carolina’s largest natural lake?
a) Fontana Lake in Graham and Swain counties
b) Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County
c) Lake James in Burke and McDowell counties
3. The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles from Afton, Va., to Cherokee, N.C., connecting Shenendoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was started in 1935. When was it finished?
a) with the opening of the Linn Cove Viaduct in 1987
b) with the opening of the Big Witch Tunnel in 1949
4. Its shifting inlets, bays and capes have earned the North Carolina coast the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for the number of vessels it has claimed since at least 1750, when a fleet of Spanish treasure ships went down. Modern surveying equipment estimates how many ships have been wrecked off the state’s shore?
a) about 200
b) about 2,000
5. Which is colder: the ocean at Carolina Beach in May, or the surface water of Lake Lure in August?
a) ocean at Carolina Beach
b) surface of Lake Lure
c) they’re about the same
6. Which outdoor drama telling a local story has been running longer?
a) “Unto These Hills,” in Cherokee, about the forced migration of tribal members to Oklahoma in 1838-1839 from the Southern Appalachian mountains to Oklahoma
b) “The Lost Colony” in Manteo, about the disappearance of English settlers from Fort Raleigh in 1587
7. What is the source of the “smoke” that European settlers saw in the Great Smoky Mountains?
a) the camp fires of native Cherokee people who occupied the land
b) the “breathing” of the dense forest, which releases vapors that scatter blue light from the sky
c) pollution that settles naturally into the valleys
8. N.C. native Hugh MacRae worked as a mining engineer in the late 1800s, until he got interested in tourism development. His company developed the resort mountain town of Linville, acquired Grandfather Mountain and built which early 1900s N.C. beach resort?
a) the Lumina at Wrightsville Beach
b) the Oceanic at Wrightsville Beach
c) the Pagoda at Atlantic Beach
9. What is Santa’s Land?
a) a famous year-round Christmas shop in Manteo
b) a family theme park in Cherokee
c) a holiday costume store in Wilmington
10. North Carolina has 301 miles of Atlantic Coast shoreline, with nearly 280 public access sites to allow people to get to the beach. In areas where houses are built along the ocean front, what part of the beach does the public have a legal right to use?
a) between the property owner’s fence and the ocean
b) anywhere on the beach that is not marked as private property
c) seaward of the mean high tide line
11. The North Carolina mountains are home to dozens of naturally occurring gems and minerals. The largest emerald found in North America was mined in the state. What was it?
a) the two-inch-square 65-carat Carolina Emperor, found in a corn field near the town of Hiddenite
b) the 51-carat Imperial Emerald, overturned by a well-digger in Foscoe
c) the 45-carat Tarheel Princess, found in a gem mine in Linville
12. North Carolina has seven coastal lighthouses, six of which allow the public to climb their spiral staircases or ship’s ladders during the warmer months. Which is the tallest?
a) the Ocracoke Lighthouse
b) the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
c) Bodie Island Lighthouse
Answers to the quiz
Best of both worlds
If you’re in a mixed marriage, with one side of the family drawn to hilltops and the other to beaches, you don’t have to take separate vacations. In North Carolina, there are beaches in the mountains, and a mountain at the beach.
Two favorite places to catch rays in the mountains are on the 100-yard-long sandy beach at Lake Lure, southeast of Asheville , and along the shore of Lake James within Lake James State Park, west of Morganton.
On the Outer Banks is the ever-changing mountain of sand known as Jockey’s Ridge, within Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Actually made up of three primary dunes, this giant “living sand dune,” the largest on the East Coast, is the topography that inspired the Wright Brothers flight to their dreams.