How far do you need to drive to have an unforgettable experience? Not as far as youd think. Here are 12 great things to try right here in the Carolinas.
Stand atop Mount Mitchell
With the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell offers stunning, panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can navigate an extensive network of hiking trails that leads to the top, or simply park near the summit and follow a 980-foot path to a stone observation platform. On clear days you can see for nearly 100 miles, a view that encompasses seemingly endless ridges and valleys blanketed in spruce-fir forests. Info: http://1.usa.gov/2NNrZ7.
Toes in the Hatteras surf
Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Hatteras is the most southeasterly point of the Outer Banks, a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands. A short continental shelf and shallow sandbars help create superlative waves, making the area a favorite playground among surfers and kiteboarders. With so many coastal destinations overrun with development, Cape Hatteras remains relatively unspoiled and pristine. Info: www.nps.gov/caha/index.htm.
Roar down the Nantahala
Rising near the Georgia-North Carolina border, the Nantahala River has an eight-mile stretch thats one of the countrys most popular rafting destinations. Its a family-friendly adventure but one that also provides plenty of thrills. About a dozen commercial outfitters in the area that provide guided whitewater rafting trips in the area, including the renowned Nantahala Whitewater Center. But before you take the plunge, take heed: Even in the summer, Nantahalas temperature averages about 55 degrees, and that first splash will take your breath away. Info: noc.com.
Charlestons Battery Park
This scenic waterfront park and promenade in Charleston is a great way to soak up and explore the citys historic charm. Situated near downtown along the shores of the Charleston peninsula, Battery Park is the site of a defensive seawall used during the Civil War. Today, it features beautifully landscaped lawns, shady oak trees, a stately gazebo and dozens of historic antebellum homes. Info: charlestoncvb.com.
Golf or tennis at Kiawah
Sure, its not cheap, but theres a reason that top publications repeatedly vote luxurious Kiawah Island Golf Resort, in South Carolina, one of the countrys best family, golf and tennis destinations. The resort, situated on a beautiful barrier island, boasts postcard-like views of the ocean and impeccable service, along with two tennis complexes and five championship golf courses, including the Ocean Course, host to the 2012 PGA Championships. Info: kiawahresort.com.
Glide through Raleigh
It takes about 20 minutes of practice and you have to wear a helmet, but you can see downtown Raleigh in a whole new way via Triangle Glides Segway tours. Choose from five different tours, including one that cruises through the vibrant and bustling Fayetteville Street District, known as North Carolinas Main Street. Info: triangleglides.com.
Myrtle Beach boardwalk
Yes, the area is often crowded with tourists, and theres no shortage of cheesy souvenir shops, but the Myrtle Beach boardwalk remains an iconic part of the South Carolina coast.
The city unveiled a revamped $6 million, 1.2-mile boardwalk in 2010, and since then a number of new shops and restaurants have opened. Theres also the new SkyWheel complex, which features a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel. Info: http://bit.ly/GATja.
Lowcountry fishing boats
The 11th Street Dockside, in Port Royal, S.C., is a laid-back little seafood shack in the heart of the Lowcountry that offers everything from fresh flounder and shrimp to lobster and crabs. Located in this small, historic town on the Beaufort River, the restaurant overlooks scenic Battery Creek, where fisherman moor their boats and families stroll along walking trails. Info: 11thstreetdockside.com.
Bike at a ski resort
Western North Carolina is predominantly known as a skiing destination. But in recent years there have been initiatives to make it a year-round sports attraction. Beech Mountain, just north of Boone, recently unveiled the Beech Mountain Adventure Trail Park, which features an eight-mile network of biking trails popular among locals. Beech Mountain Resort is scheduled to open two chairlift-assisted bike trails this year. Info: bikebeechmountain.com.
Columbia Riverfront Park
This scenic, 167-acre park in downtown Columbia is a popular destination for the areas families, runners and bikers. Situated along the picturesque Broad River next to the historic Columbia Canal, the park hosts several festivals throughout the year and features picnic areas, playgrounds, a brick amphitheater and pedestrian bridge. Info: http://bit.ly/KfuadL.
Munch at Poes Tavern
Often overshadowed by nearby Charleston, Sullivans Island is nonetheless a charming, low-key coastal town with its own allure. There are no hotels or motels on the island, but there is a handful of eclectic bars and restaurants, including Poes Tavern, a lively spot that pays tribute to former resident Edgar Allan Poe.
With only about 2,000 residents on the island, youre sure to rub elbows with some on the spacious patio as you dine on Poes famous Angus Chuck burgers. Info: poestavern.com.
Kayak at Hilton Head
The pristine waterways around Hilton Head Island, S.C., are ideal for exploring via kayak or canoe. You can go it alone or consult one of the boating rental and guided tour companies, such as Outside Hilton Head, to help your family paddle along the many creeks and inlets, or even out in the ocean, where youre likely to spot bottle-nose dolphins. Info: outsidehiltonhead.com.