Drive time

Haven’t seen you around lately ... possibly since the long and cold winter set in. Hibernating indoors, sleeping more and putting on those pounds may have been a good idea – at the time.

The best way to get in shape for spring and summer may be behind the steering wheel: Spend some spare weekends – or a full-tilt vacation – getting fresh air and exercise from one end of the Carolinas to the other. And you’ll have a great time.

Consider this: There are 41 state parks, recreation areas and natural areas in North Carolina. The South Carolina State Parks system administers 47 state parks and historic sites. And county and municipal parks and sites are plentiful on both sides of the state line.

Admission? Free or a couple bucks.

Some are half-day destinations: Lake Norman State Park – a 32,510-acre tract with a shoreline of 520 miles – is just up the road from Charlotte, near Troutman. Other not-costly trips can take you to remote mountaintops with panoramic views, or to wildlife preserves inhabited by animals you only see on television.

Gary McCullough and Mark Alan Hudson have been writing about doable destinations for decades in The Charlotte Observer’s travel pages. In this edition of Road Trips, they steer you to some of their favorite getaways.

We also get best-bet selections from Timothy Spira and Stephanie Jeffries, whose hiking guides to the southern Appalachians were published by the University of North Carolina Press.

For those heading to the Grand Strand, we offer 12 fun things to do there in the fresh air.

Because your exertions may make you thirsty, suds scholar and author Daniel Hartis – whose Beer Here column appears Fridays in the Observer’s CLT section – raises a glass to the burgeoning brewing scene in Western North Carolina. (He also picks the gotta-go beer festivals.)

And on the coast? Reid Creager talks with “Dr. Beach” – oceanographer and Charlotte native Stephen Leatherman, whose best-beaches lists are a national media event every Memorial Day weekend. You’ll find Leatherman’s list of most-compelling Carolinas beaches right in the middle of this magazine.

So turn off the TV, grab your sneakers or hiking shoes, and hit the road.

John Bordsen, Travel Editor