Find adventure away from the crowds this Memorial Day weekend 

Memorial Day weekend — traditionally, the start of an adventure-filled summer. Trouble is, just about everyone else thinks so as well.

To help you get the summer of 2018 off to the start you deserve, we’ve highlighted some kick-off adventures that shouldn’t be overwhelmed by fellow explorers.  

Memorial Day adventure

Paddling Greensboro’s Lake Brandt

Paddling

Some people paddle year-round, a few more paddle mid-March into November. Most folks, though, don’t pick up a paddle until Memorial Day weekend. If that sounds familiar, here are some destinations for you.

1. Watershed Lakes

Greensboro, NC

The three watershed lakes on the north edge of town — Townsend, Brandt and Higgins — are the outdoor recreation epicenter of Greensboro. Forty-two miles of mountain bike and hiking trail snake through the area, and the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway runs through the region on its (eventual) way downtown. With about 2,600 acres of water combined, Townsend, the biggest, siphons off most of the power boats, leaving Brandt and Higgins for paddlers. Canoe and kayak rentals available.

More info here

2. Jordan Lake

Farrington Point boat access, Chatham County, NC

The region’s big Corps of Engineer lakes are abuzz with outboards Memorial Day weekend. They tend to stick to the main channels, however, leaving the coves and inlets peaceful and placid for paddling. At Jordan Lake, for instance, the Farrington Point access handles its share of power boats, but canoes and kayaks can find escape by hanging a hard right off the ramp and heading up the increasingly smaller Bush Creek. In a mile and a half, it doglegs left into a wetland where you can paddle into the willows, lie back and appreciate the holiday.

More info here

3. Mountain Island Lake

Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, Charlotte, NC

If you’re in the Charlotte area, odds are you aren’t the only person thinking of a Memorial Day paddle on popular Mountain Island Lake. But two numbers suggest you won’t be overwhelmed by the company: 3,300, the number of acres of surface area of this sprawling reservoir, and 5, the number of access points on the lake.

More info here

4. Northwest River Park

Chesapeake, VA 

Maybe you’re just an occasional paddler — but Memorial Day weekend is one of the occasions when you really want to paddle. Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the boat rental season at many county, municipal and state parks that rent paddle craft, and Northwest River Park is one of them. $6 gets you an hour in a canoe; and if you have your own boat, ramps off Indian Creek Road and Baum Road let you explore the waters of Indian and Smith creeks, and Northwest River, which border the park. More info here.

5. Merchants Millpond State Park

Gatesville, NC

If you’re looking for a real paddle deal, you can’t beat what they’ve got going on at Merchants Millpond. The 760-acre millpond is peppered with Spanish moss-dripping cypress and tupelo gum, offering a true swamp paddle experience that requires no experience: there’s even a marked trail that takes you into the upper reaches of Lassiter Swamp and the Enchanted Forest. For $5 you can spend an hour exploring this wet wonderland in a classic Old Town 158 canoe.

More info here.

Memorial Day Adventure

Hiking up Basin Creek at Doughton Park

Hiking

Even if it’s sweltering hot, folks will be inclined to hike Memorial Day weekend. And that means big crowds at the places you’re most likely to want to go. Our advice: Don’t stand in line at the front door, do sneak around to the back entrance.

1.Crowders Mountain State Park

Kings Mountain, NC

Don’t: Head to either the main Sparrow Springs Access or the Linwood Road Access.

Do: Head to the Boulders Access on the southern tip of the park, where you can monkey about on the boulders, or take the Ridgeline Trail and hike south into South Carolina, or head north through more rolling terrain; both will earn you a bit of solitude.

More info here.

2. Eno River State Park

Durham, NC

Don’t: Head to the Fews Ford, Pleasant Green, Cole Mill or especially the Cabelands (the primary access for quarry seekers) accesses.

Do: Head to the Pump Station Access, along the gravel Rivermont Road. Park either at the top of the hill heading east from Cole Mill Road or at the bottom, at the Nancy Rhodes Creek Bridge, and pick up the Pump Station Trail for a quiet mile-and-a-half loop that can be extended by tapping into the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

More info here.

3. Pilot Mountain State Park

Pinnacle, NC

Don’t: Head to the main parking area atop the pinnacle, where it has been known to take upwards of half an hour to find a parking spot on the weekend.

Do: Head to the Pinnacle Hotel Road Access, where you can pick up the Mountain and Grindstone trails and take a well-shaded and secluded 6-mile hike around the base of the mountain.

More info here.

4. Doughton Park

Blue Ridge Parkway, near Boone, NC

Don’t: Head to the Milepost 238 entrance off the Parkway, which will be cram-packed with people and the exposure of the open meadows wilting on a hot Memorial Day.

Do: Head to the Longbottom Road Access and take the gravel Grassy Gap Road for 1.5 miles, then head up the 3.3-mile Basin Creek Trail. Basin Creek’s numerous pools and drops will be especially welcome, as will be the dense canopy overhead. Your reward: the Caudill Cabin at trail’s end.

More info here.

Memorial Day adventure

Clear, cool hiking crossing the North Mills River just above the campground

Camping

A good rule of thumb for securing a camping spot for Memorial Day is to reserve it, say, the previous Memorial Day. Everyone camps Memorial Day weekend; still, there may be a space or two you can reserve even at this late date. (And remember, many campgrounds set aside a few first-come sites, if you’re the gambling type.)

 1. North Mills River Campground

Mills River, NC

You call the popular Davidson River Campground and it’s full — no surprise there, what with out-the-tent-door access to some of the best hiking and mountain biking in the region. What is a surprise is that you might be able to score a spot just up the road at the North Mills River Recreation Area and Campground. Lots of good hiking and the river makes a nice spot to cool off in at day’s end. Or middle or beginning.

More info and reservations here. 

2. Crabtree Falls Campground

Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 339.5 (NC)

On Memorial Day weekend several years back I found myself in the mountains and woe-unto-me, looking for a place to camp, without a reservation. After a half dozen “No Vacancies” I pulled into Crabtree Falls, where not even a third of the campsites were taken. I spent half my stay searching in vain for the campground’s character flaws, the other half napping, taking in the view of the Black Mountains across the South Toe River Valley, and hiking the 2.7-mile loop trail to the campground’s namesake cascade. The only thing I could figure: the fact that all sites were first-come, first-served was keeping the masses away from this camping gem.

More info here.

3. Mount Pisgah Camground

Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 408 (NC)

A couple years back our GetHiking! crew did a basecamp hiking weekend out of the Mount Pisgah Campground. Interest in the trip exceeded the number of campsites booked, and I feared the late sign-ups would be shut out of a spot in this campground where rhododendrons serve as wind breaks and privacy fences. “Nah,” said the gate attendant, “we hardly ever fill up.” Access to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Mount Pisgah and the Shining Rock and Middle Fork wilderness areas down the road — go figure!

More info and reservations here.

4. Rocky Knob Campground

Blue Ridge Parkway, Milepost 167.1 (VA)

Here’s another tactic: go to recreation.gov, type in a state, type in the Memorial Day weekend and see if anything pops — whoa! Really!? Rocky Knob Campground has not one but several tent sites still available? Hokey smoke — it’s a short drive to the fun town of Floyd, likewise to great hiking in Rock Castle Gorge.

More info and reservations here.

More info

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