Experience North Carolina’s three distinct geographic areas – our mountains, heartland, and coast – all in an action-packed Grand Tour.
We call it “From the Mountains to the Sea In a Week.” Our first installment featured three unforgettable locales: Boone, the Triangle, and Topsail Island.
We continuing the series with an exciting new itinerary, showcasing three equally charming places for you to discover: Black Mountain, Asheboro and Oak Island.
So fasten your seatbelts. It promises to be a fascinating ride.
Black Mountain has been called “The Front Porch of Western North Carolina.” And it’s easy to see why: So many of the alluring vistas our mountains have to offer to open up from here.
For example, there is an abundant number of hiking and biking trails within minutes of town. There’s fishing in the nearby lake and trout streams. There’s history to be explored. Craftspeople to meet. And so much more.
A good place to begin your tour is at the Black Mountain/Swannanoa Visitor Center (just follow the signs at Exit 64 off I-40), where you’ll find maps, accommodation information, and more.
After you’ve gotten your bearings a bit, we suggest a nice leisurely stroll through town, during which you can take in the art galleries, the upscale gift shops, and the local craft stores where you might see a craftsman forging some ornate ironworks, or watch a lovely pot emerge from a seemingly prosaic lump of clay.
You might also want to spend a little time hanging out at the local old-fashioned general store and see what shopping was like in gentler, less hurried days. And after a meal at one of Black Mountain’s many fine restaurants (and/or a hand-dipped cone at the corner ice cream parlor), a walk around Lake Tomahawk might be in order.
A quaint city park, Lake Tomahawk provides a well-lighted, level path for safe strolling in the evening. And adjacent to the park is a children’s playground and lighted tennis courts.
For golf enthusiasts, a superb challenge awaits you at the Black Mountain links, home of the world’s first par six.
But if you prefer to take your hikes unencumbered by golf clubs, you might want to try the easy hike to Lookout Point – or perhaps the all-day trek across the Seven Sisters mountain range.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is just eight miles away via Highway 70.
Head north and you’ll find the Folk Art Center, home of the Highland Craft Guild with its dazzling collection of local works of art. Drive south, on the other hand, and you’ll discover Cold Mountain, made famous by Charles Frazier’s superb novel, and Mount Pisgah, home to the Graveyard Fields Trail, teeming with fascinating flora and fauna.
Asheboro & the North Carolina Zoo
In almost the exact middle of our state, you’ll find the city of Asheboro, home to one of the true wonders of the world: The North Carolina Zoo.
This happens to be the country’s largest and finest walk-through natural habitat zoo, with 5 miles of trails in its African and North American areas.
And so, during the course of your day, you can see over 1,100 animals and a staggering 60,000 different plants here.
To find out more, go to www.nczoo.org.
Asheboro also happens to be nestled in the Uwharrie Mountains.
The Uwharries might be the shortest of North Carolina’s mountains – the highest peak here is only 950 feet. But they are also the oldest.
In fact, many geologists believe this is the oldest mountain range in North America.
The area is rich in Native American and colonial history (the first Indian habitation here has been dated to 12,000 years ago).
And because no major interstate highways have been cut through these ancient hills, even native North Carolinians are sometimes surprised by how unspoiled the rolling, bucolic landscape remains.
In his book Hiking North Carolina, Randy Johnson describes several worthy trails in the area, including Denson’s Creek Nature Trail: “Perhaps the forest’s easiest, most interesting trail [with] seventeen designated stops keyed to an interpretive brochure available at the information sign beside the Uwharrie Ranger Station.” (The station is located 1.7 miles east of where NC 24/27 meets NC134 in Troy.)
He also says that “The Uwharrie Trail is the area’s jewel of long-distance hiking [20.5 miles]…almost entirely on national forest land.”
A real treat for golfers is Tot Hill Farm, designed by acclaimed architect Mike Strantz. Bounded on three sides by the Uwharries, it features everything from giant boulders bordering the fairways to a 200-year old farmhouse adjacent to the course.
Located about seven miles from Southport and approximately 30 miles from Wilmington, Oak Island is more than just a tranquil haven for weary vacationers; it’s a refuge for another breed of traveler as well: Atlantic sea turtles.
In fact, Greens, Loggerheads and even rare Kemp Ridley turtles all return here every year to lay their eggs and propagate their species. (The town, in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, recently completed a Sea Turtle Habitat Restoration Project to ensure the protection of these gentle giants for years to come.)
Until 1939, Oak Island was still undeveloped and was frequented mostly by fox hunters. Today, you’re more likely to see shell hunters along the wide, gently sloping beaches.
If the kids get a little restless, you may want to take them to the local Nature Center, located at 52nd NE and Yacht drive. Or let them “get their wiggles out” at the Oak Island Skate Park, open to all in-line and skateboarders.
But as usual, the simple pleasures in this quiet community are almost always the best: like soaking up some rays on the beach; sampling some of the local seafood; counting the shooting stars at night.
We can’t think of a better way to experience the glories of our “variety vacationland” than by traveling North Carolina from the mountains to the sea.