In North Carolina, we’ve got more ways to entertain in the outdoors than just about any place in the land.
Today, we offer 10 can’t-miss outdoor options that are somewhat weatherproof. We provide a snapshot of each adventure, you click on the link to our online guide to outdoor fun for details and specifics on how to make the adventure happen. You wind up with happy guests who develop a better understanding of why you love living in North Carolina.


Merchants Millpond State Park
Outsiders are fascinated by swamps, especially if they view the entire South as being draped in Spanish moss and low-lying mist. Give your visitors a taste of true swamp life — tupelo gum, bald cypress, duckweed and all — with a canoe trip on the park’s 760-acre millpond. Canoes rented onsite, for $5 for the first hour.
More info here.

Hanging Rock State Park
Maybe you don’t have time to drive all the way to the mountains for a hike. In that case, pull a holiday slight-of-hand with a trip to Hanging Rock State Park. Located in the heart of the Piedmont, just north of the Triad, Hanging Rock none-the-less offers a mountainlike experience, with the likes of Moore’s Knob and its namesake peak, both towering 1,800 feet over the surrounding countryside. Waterfalls, too.
More info here.

Elk Knob State Park
Right after we suggest you don’t have time to drive to the mountains for a hike we suggest you do, with Elk Knob. Elk Knob is worth the drive, in part because the hike to the top is only 2 miles and the rewards once there are worth it: 360-degree views that take in a number of North Carolina’s (and Virginia’s) notable peaks. Plus, at 5,520 feet, it’s one of your best shorts for early season snow.
More info here.

Neusiok Trail
Croatan National Forest (Havelock)
This 20-mile trail will take your visitors into the exotic land of a coastal forest. Well, exotic to them, what with the eastern section going through dense pine stands that in numerous spots can be penetrated only via raised boardwalk. Perhaps even more intriguing, the northwest end of the trail in spots more resembles the mountains, with passage through holly, beech and galax. The biggest crowd-pleaser, however, may come from the occasional decommissioned still along the way.
More info here.

Zeke’s Island / The Basin
Kure Beach
The mention of a “lagoon” is always good for a reaction, as your visitors undoubtedly associate lagoons with “Creature from the Black —.” In fact, there’s nothing scary about this lagoon, which offers a peek into this 1,635-acre National Estuarine Research Reserve featuring tidal flats, salt marshes, shrub thickets, maritime forests, sand dunes and beach. The picture of what a healthy coastal environment should be.
More information here.

Company Mill Trail
Umstead State Park (Raleigh)
The most popular trail in one of North Carolina’s most popular state parks — and for good reason. The mile hike down to Crabtree Creek and the old Company Mill is doable by just about any level of hiker; cross the bridge over Crabtree and shed the masses for a 4-mile loop that explores a quiet hardwood forest. Six miles in all.
More info here.


Crowders Mountain State Park
Kings Mountain (Charlotte area)
A good option for Charlotteans who don’t have time to escort their visitors to the mountains. The state park west of Charlotte offers two peak experiences: Crowders itself and Kings Pinnacle. Both craggy mountaintops offer great views and a sense of being in a much less civilized locale (despite the fact Charlotte occupies the eastern viewscape). Escape the crowds by taking your charges down the Ridgeline Trail into South Carolina.
More info here.

Birkhead Mountain Wilderness
Uwharrie National Forest (Asheboro)
Who isn’t intrigued by the idea of visiting a wilderness? And one within an hour-and-a-half drive of Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle. Located on the northern tip of the Uwharrie National Forest in central North Carolina, this 4,790-acre oasis may not capture the land-that-time-forgot feel of a traditional wilderness, but it does offer a quiet ramble through a maturing woods. And, of course, those “We-hiked-a-Wilderness-Area” bragging rights back home.
More info here.

Haw River paddling
Paddling with visitors this time of year pretty much depends upon where you can find a boat to rent. That’s not a problem on the Haw, where the Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. will put you on the water year-round. Paddle the dam upstream of Saxapahaw, or take a shuttle farther upstream. Flat water or up to Class II, your choice.
More info here.

Stone Mountain State Park

Roaring Gap
Another mountain experience without really going to the mountains — though you’re mighty close. This 14,100-acre park sits at the base of the Blue Ridge escarpment and exhibits much of the escarpment’s rugged beauty, from numerous waterfalls to exposed rock perches and challenging climbs. The popular 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail offers a great sampling of the park, including views from atop Stone Mountain’s 600-foot exposed face.
More info here.