South Park Magazine

Day Trips

Fall color at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Fall color at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Photo by Jennifer Petosa

Sometimes, the best way to appreciate Charlotte is to leave it behind – by taking a day trip to a nearby destination that truly offers something different. Here are some suggestions.NO SKYSCRAPERS: Town Creek Indian Mound, two hours northeast of the Charlotte skyline, near Mount Gilead, is a state-owned archaeological site holding a Native American village that bustled around the year 1200. It was an offshoot of the Mississippian mound-building culture: Residents were farm folk who built various low-slung ceremonial buildings within and near the settlement stockade.Most activity is underground these days – recovered artifacts are displayed in the visitor center. The tallest structure is a 15-foot ceremonial mound topped by a reconstructed hut that’s 8 or 10 feet tall. Admission: free. Details: 910-439-6802; NO NASCAR: Ellerbe, east of Charlotte and about 15 minutes north of Rockingham, takes motorsports quite seriously. Thing is, its Lions Club track is all about racing modified self-propelled lawn mowers. On Saturdays, into October, gates open at 4:30 p.m., practice is 5:30 to 6, and the racing starts a half-hour later. Competition is organized in a number of classes; each race is 10 to 30 laps. As many as 1,500 spectators turn up for these meets, and with admission only $5, this is one of the most economical gas-fumed sport you can see. Details: NO NEW SOUTH: Charlotte sidles up to the southern edge of Iredell County; at its other end is Love Valley – a hamlet in the Little Brushy Mountains created in the mid-20th century to honor the Wild West. People ride horses or horse-pulled wagons here; the main street is (intentionally) dirt. Sidewalks are made of plank and there are hitching posts (not parking meters) in front of stores. Rent a horse there (or bring your own) and try the riding trails. Details: 704-592-7451; BANK-DRIVEN ECONOMY: Piedmont cities often go to great length to mask their mill-town past. One exception is little Cooleemee, an hour from Charlotte (north of Salisbury, off U.S. 601). The last cotton mill closed here in 1969, but residents honor their blue-collar past through a Textile Heritage Center museum (free) and the Mill House Museum – a house built when Teddy Roosevelt was president and furnished as it may have looked when FDR was fighting the Great Depression ($4; 12 and younger, free). Details: 336-284-6040; HALL OF FAME: There aren’t any race cars, but the S.C. Hall of Fame salutes such famous Palmetto State originals as jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, vice president John C. Calhoun, U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes and Gen. William Westmoreland. The hall is in a lobby area inside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center (2101 N. Oak St.) and features photos, biographical information and personal artifacts. Admission is free and is just minutes from the beach and the Swamp Fox roller coaster (named after S.C. hall-of-famer Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion). Details: 843-626-7444; VIEW OF CHARLOTTE’S TALLEST BUILDINGS: South Mountain State Park, north of Shelby on the southern edge of Burke County, is quite a popular destination for hikers. There are more than 40 miles of trails, and you can make your way to the gorgeous 80-foot High Shoal Falls. If you hike the strenuous Chestnut Knob Trail on a clear day, you see the tops of uptown Charlotte’s skyscrapers, 90 minutes to the east. Park admission: free. Details: 828-433-4772; You can also see the skyline from the heights of Crowders Mountain State Park, off Interstate 85 west of Gastonia. Admission: free. Details: 704-853-5375; DIFFERENT TAKE ON WHITEWATER RAFTING: From Bryson City – about an hour southwest of Asheville – you can get to the Nantahala Outdoor Center by driving U.S. 74 or riding the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Either way, you’ll eventually be following the fast-moving, peak-edged Nantahala River to the NOC Outpost. It’s a faux-rustic compound and the starting point for your whitewater fun on one of seven great rivers. Take a guided trip or if you’re experienced, go on your own. A half-day can cost as little as $37. There are other trips – like a session on beautiful Lake Fontana, or a whole-family float trip – and camping, hiking and mountain biking are available, too. Also there: an outdoors school. Over the years, NOC staffers have paddled in the Olympics. The vibe here is youthful. NOC is actually an extremely successful co-op, and is the largest employer in Swain County. Details: 888-905-7238;