Erica Chats: Outdoor Adventures

Plan your next adventure with Erica’s suggestions.

By this point in the year, with the holidays long behind us and summer still a few months away, I’m itching to go somewhere! It’s my birthday month, and I’m always more interested in experiences than tangible gifts, so an adventure is a must. I’ve requested to swim with sharks in Florida (again), and this time my husband says he will be staying ashore with the kids.

Thankfully, here in North Carolina, you don’t have to go far to find your next adventure.

Let’s start with local activities:

Downtown Cary Park

PARK IT: Downtown Cary is like rolling through a Hallmark town. More than 20 years in the making, the new Downtown Cary Park is incredible and well worth the wait. With a playground, gorgeous outdoor spaces, public art, and way more, it’s fun for the whole family. That includes fur babies! Check out the dog park and visit the Bark Bar. There are several delicious eateries nearby, including one of my favorites, Scratch. To make a staycation of it, book a room at The Mayton and stay for a delicious brunch at Peck & Plume.

Kayak season starts now!

GRAB A PADDLE: Kayaking isn’t just a summer adventure. Explore the waterways by kayaking or canoeing along the Neuse River, Lake Johnson, or Lake Wheeler. Rentals and guided tours are available to experience the beauty from a different perspective. Don’t forget to bring along a floating cooler so you can stay out on the water all day.

TAKE A HIKE: Being outdoors is a proven mood booster, and luckily we have a ton of local trails! William B. Umstead State Park, Falls Lake State Recreation Area, and Lake Johnson Park offer trails of various difficulty levels, and and being outdoors is a proven mood booster. Umstead alone has over 20 miles of hiking trails with diverse landscapes including forests, lakes, and creeks that are so pretty we’ve even taken family photos there.

VISIT FEARRINGTON VILLAGE: Enjoy a beautiful patio lunch on a historic farm near Chapel Hill. Afterwards, take a stroll through the gardens or say hello to one of the farm animals — and don’t forget the afternoon tea. I personally love taking the kids to grab brunch at The Belted Goat, walk around the bookstore, and check out the farm animals. If you want upscale eats at a Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant, check out the Fearrington House Restaurant. Pro tip: There’s also a spa. Treat yourself.

The NC Zoo will give everyone in your family an experience to remember.

DINE AL FRESCO: Pack an old-school picnic and head to Raleigh for the Rose Garden or a personal favorite, the JC Raulston Arboretum. A botanical garden near NC State University, the arboretum features a diverse collection of plants, trees, and garden spaces. The Lath House and Japanese Garden are definitely worth a visit and ensure lots of picturesque moments.

UP, UP, AND AWAY: North Carolina is a beauty to see from above the trees, and Pittsboro has several hot air balloon operators ready to take you there. Mark your calendars for the Balloon Glow & Laser Show in Holly Springs June 7–8.

Feeling a day trip? Here are few options our family has enjoyed:

SEAGROVE: Known for its rich pottery tradition, Seagrove is home to numerous studios and galleries. You can even make your own pottery, creating a forever piece for your home. For the history lovers, check out the North Carolina Pottery Center — a museum dedicated to preserving the heritage of North Carolina pottery.

ASHEBORO: Visit the North Carolina Zoo, one of the largest natural habitat zoos in the world. We went here with my in-laws at the start of the year, and the shuttle makes it possible for all ages.

Conquer the Grand Canyon of the Southeast (or practice at Triangle Rock Club).

WILMINGTON: Get your salty air fix with a coastal day trip. Off-season beach visits are the best! Grab lunch along the historic riverfront, visit the Battleship North Carolina, or relax on the beautiful Wrightsville Beach. We have also rented ATVs to drive around, which brings loads of fun!

LINVILLE GORGE: For adventurous souls, head west to the “Grand Canyon of the Southeast” for some rock climbing! Check out rugged cliffs, dramatic overhangs, and multipitch routes. Looking Glass Rock near Brevard is another option good for climbers of varying skill levels.

And a splurge just outside of North Carolina:

HOT SPRINGS, VIRGINIA: About 4 hours from the Triangle, The Omni Homestead Resort is one of the most stunning historic places to stay in Virginia. Travelers have been coming to the region for centuries due to the healing mineral properties of the nearby warm springs.

What adventure are you planning in 2024? Whether you’re staying local or hitting the road, drop me a line and let me know your must-see spots. @EricaDeLong

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