Travel

6 easy places - N.C. Piedmont

Salisbury/Spencer

DISTANCE: About 48 minutes (43 miles), one way.

GOTTA SEE: N.C. Transportation Museum at Spencer, former repair facility for Southern Railway, is a 57-acre shrine to old-time railroading, with 25 locomotives and dozens of rail cars. (Free; $6 for train ride around the grounds – $5 for kids; $1 for a spin on the roundhouse turntable; charge for special events; 704-636-2889; http://nctrans.org)

TOTALLY FREE: Somber, stirring National Cemetery, site of Civil War POW camp (http://salisburyprison.gorowan.com). Take walking tour of beautifully preserved downtown Salisbury; map at www.salisburync.gov/visitor.html.

GOTTA TRY: Wink's King Barbeque and Seafood at 509 Faith Road (just south of the I-85/U.S. 52 interchange) – a big, old-fashioned place known for seafood and smoked-right-here pork. Very local, very informal. (5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 704-637-2410).

PRIME TIMES: Aug. 2 (All-Ford Auto Show at N.C. Transportation Museum).

DETAILS: Rowan County CVB, 800-332-2343; www.visitsalis burync.com.

Yadkin wineries

DISTANCE: About 90 minutes (86 miles), one way, to Wilkesboro, the southern edge of the winery area.

GOTTA SEE: There are roughly 70 commercial vineyards across North Carolina; the largest single concentration (17) is close by the Yadkin River, arching southeast from the Wilkesboro area to around Lexington. They vary considerably in size, sophistication and wineries. Laurel Gray in Hamptonville is quaint; Raffaldini in Ronda is known for Italian wines; sprawling Shelton, in Dobson, has great tours. Childress, near Lexington, is a big and slick operation (dine at the Ask the Pro bistro). Cost, including you-keep wine glass: $5-$12 per person.

TOTALLY FREE: Picnic or hike along two miles of the Yadkin River at Pilot Mountain State Park's southern tract – or visit the northern part that includes great views from Little Pinnacle mountain. Both sections of the park are northwest of Winston-Salem via U.S. 52 (336-325-2355; www.ncsparks.net).

PRIME TIMES: October (wine festivals).

DETAILS: www.visitncwine.com (download map); Yadkin County Chamber, 336-679-2200; www.yadkinchamber.org.

Uwharrie Mountains

DISTANCE: About one hour (46 miles), one way.

APPEAL: The mountains-plus-big-lake combo closest to Charlotte.

GOTTA SEE: Uwharrie National Forest is a 53,000-acre tract on the east side of Lake Badin and Lake Tillery (dammed Pee Dee River). Hike five-mile Flint Hill Ramble, or the Uwharrie Trail (one of the longest in the Piedmont). Hike, ride your horse or mountain bike for free.

TOTALLY FREE: Morrow Mountain State Park, on the west bank of the Pee Dee, is paradise for hikers. 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.

Rowboat/canoe/paddleboat ($5 for first hour, $3/ each additional hour); swimming pool ($4; $3/kids). Great fishing pier is handicap-accessible.

PRIME TIMES: Programs, from astronomy to guided hikes, offered at Morrow Mountain on Saturdays-Sundays. Check Fridays at park office or park bulletin boards.

DETAILS: Uwharrie National Forest: 910-576-6391; Morrow Mountain State Park: 704-982-4402; www.ncsparks.gov.

Winston-Salem

DISTANCE: Close to 90 minutes (about 80 miles), one way.

APPEAL: Culture – from fine to campy.

GOTTA SEE: Walk grounds of 1700s Old Salem free or, better yet, buy a pass and step inside various buildings to meet re-enactors ($14 or $21; $7 or $10 for kids; 888-653-7253; www.oldsalem.org). Reynolda House Museum of American Art is full of great works by American artists ($10; closed Mondays; 336-758-5150; www.reynoldahouse.org).

GOTTA TRY: Catch a minor-league (Class A) baseball game at Ernie Shore Field and buy Warthogs cap or shirt (www.warthogs.com). Great tunes – rock to bluegrass – at The Garage (110 W. 7th St.; www.the-garage.ws).

TOTALLY FREE: Reynolda Gardens, adjoining Reynolda House, has sunken garden, rose gardens and other theme gardens – plus a couple of nice trails (336-758-5593; www.reynolda gardens.org).

PRIME TIMES: Aug. 1-2 (NASCAR racing at Bowman Gray Stadium (www.bowmangrayracing.com).

DETAILS: Winston-Salem Visitor Center, 866-728-4200; www.visitwinstonsalem.com.

Greensboro

DISTANCE: A little over 90 minutes (93 miles), one way.

APPEAL: Unusual attractions for all interests.

GOTTA SEE: Kid-pleasing Natural Science Center has 36-foot replica of a T-Rex, gem/mineral displays, zoo with monkeys, tigers, wolves, tortoises, etc. ($8; $7 for kids/seniors; $5 extra for Omnisphere movie; 336-288-3769; www.natsci.org). Greensboro Children's Museum hands-on exhibits arranged in a Main Street format where youngsters can learn about grownups' occupations ($6 for children/parents; 336-574-2898; www.gcmuseum.com).

TOTALLY FREE: N.C. A&T University Galleries include 1,500 pieces from more than 30 African nations and Haiti. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays during summer; 336-334-3209; www.ncat.edu/~museum; click “Permanent Collection”). Stroll elevated boardwalk of Bog Garden (www.greensborobeautiful.org/TheBog.htm).

PRIME TIMES: Aug. 11-17 (Wyndham golf tournament; www.wyndhamchampionship.com).

DETAILS: Greensboro CVB, 800-344-2282; www.greensboro nc.org.

Asheboro/Randleman

DISTANCE: About 90 minutes (85 miles), one way.

APPEAL: For any who love roars – from wild animals or at NASCAR races.

GOTTA SEE: N.C. Zoo, at Asheboro, is one of the largest walk-through natural-habitat zoos in the world (wear comfy shoes for the five miles of walking paths). Main themes: North America and Africa. The 37-acre African Plains holds one of the largest herds of rhinos and elephants in the Western Hemisphere. Other standouts include polar bears, sea lions, river otters, alligators, gorillas, baboons, giraffes and zebras.

Randleman is home to the Petty family racing dynasty – and the Richard Petty Museum is loaded with racing items.

TOTALLY FREE: Have an old-fashioned picnic at Pisgah Covered Bridge – one of two remaining N.C. covered bridges (www.pisgahcoveredbridge.com). Hike free quarter-mile trail.

DETAILS: N.C. Zoo ($10; $8 for seniors/college students; $6/kids), 800-488-0444; www.nczoo.org. Richard Petty Museum ($5; $3/kids; closed Sundays): 336-495-1143; www.pettyracing. com (click “The Pettys”).

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