For the time it takes to do a couple loads of laundry, you could be out having fun at one of the cool destinations about an hour – or less – from home. Try one of these attractions on for size:
Historic Brattonsville: 44 minutes
Historic Brattonsville, in McConnells, S.C., is both 36 miles and 200 years away: Authentic pre-Civil War buildings, mixed with reproductions, show the story of a prominent Upcountry Scots-Irish family; programs and re-enactors bring the Bratton family’s story to life.
More than 30 historic structures are on the 800-acre grounds, some relocated from elsewhere in the area. The plantation house, Hightower Hall, is opened for house tours on occasion; the other buildings, a half-mile away, can be entered and are connected by pathways. Visit them on a self-guided tour; Tuesday-Saturday, interpreters at those buildings will provide background and answer questions.
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Trails also extend through woodlands and clearings. There’s a demonstration farm with rare breeds of cattle, sheep, hogs and chickens. Admission charged; special programs offered. Details: www.chmuseums.org/brattonsville.
Spencer: 45 minutes
The state-owned N.C. Transportation Museum occupies the grounds of what was the Southern Railway’s largest steam locomotive repair shop. The yards, the sheds and the roundhouse have proven a fitting place to store and display the hulking coal-burning and diesel dinosaurs. The 57-acre campus has 11 exhibit areas. Some holdings are still in motion: You can take a 25-minute train ride around the grounds, and the 37-bay roundhouse has a still-working turntable that will give you a five-minute spin. The roundhouse alone holds 25 train engines. Admission charged; special programs offered (“Day Out With Thomas” is Sept. 25-27 and Oct. 2-4). Details: www.nctrans.org.
Landsford Canal State Park: 45 minutes
Early Americans counted on rivers to move goods, but in South Carolina, rapids kept Upstate cotton from moving down the Catawba River to the coast. A series of canals and locks was built in the 1820s to fix this, and the 338-acre Landsford Canal State Park is a relic of that short-lived experiment. A 11/2-mile trail takes you through the project’s history. The granite locks survive, as do several stone bridges and buildings. The swift-moving Catawba also attracts canoeists and kayakers. (Rentals: www.catawba-river-expeditions.com.) Admission charged. Details: www.southcarolinaparks.com (use the “Park Finder” window).
Midland: 52 minutes
There was gold in these parts long before the mega-banks: In the 1820s, John Reed, a Cabarrus County farmer, learned a large rock on his property that was used as a doorstop years contained about $3,600 worth of gold. Reed became a very wealthy man – and triggered the first documented gold rush in the United States.
Reed’s gold mine passed into different hands and eventually played out. But its importance was recognized: It became a state historic site in 1971. It’s a great field trip throughout the year; visitors tour the site for free and – April through October – can try their luck at finding gold for $3 per pan. Details: www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/reed.htm.
Morrow Mountain State Park: 60 minutes
East of Albemarle, the dammed Pee Dee River nestles in the Uwharrie Mountains, one of the oldest ranges in North America. Morrow Mountain State Park and Uwharrie National Forest flank the river – which widens as Lake Badin and Lake Tillery – and offer great hiking, pastoral vistas of ancient mountains and plenty of elbow room.
Morrow Mountain State Park, on the west bank of the Pee Dee, is paradise for trail hounds, with more than 30 miles of hiking and equestrian trails. Only two trails are strenuous; some are a little more than a half-mile. Walk the Morrow Mountain Trail (6 miles, round trip) to the top: On a clear day, you can see the Charlotte skyline. Free admission. The Uwharrie Mountain Festival (look for its page on Facebook) is staged in nearby Troy in October. Park details: www.ncparks.gov (use the “Find a Park” window).
Love Valley: 60 minutes
Charlotte’s Andy Barker wanted to be a cowboy but instead became a contractor. After World War II, he bought land in northern Iredell County’s Little Brushy Mountains and set about creating a community that looked like a set from a Hollywood Western. In Love Valley (current population: maybe 130), the main street is (intentionally) dirt, sidewalks are made of plank and there are hitching posts (not parking meters) in front of stores. It has maybe 15 businesses – mostly catering to campers, day-visitors (the Silver Spur saloon has swinging doors) and those who love to ride horses: Love Valley has about 2,000 acres of riding trails. You can bring your own horse or rent one. Details: www.townoflovevalley.com.
John is the Observer’s travel editor.