Road Tripping Across NC on I-40

Photo Credit: VisitNC.com
From the Atlantic coast to the Great Smoky Mountains, Interstate 40 links scenic landscapes, vibrant cityscapes and as-you-like-it recreation options across North Carolina. If time is tight, zero in on the most appealing section along the epic journey’s 400 miles.

Wilmington and its beaches. The Port City extends its charms from its well-loved downtown to a pair of moss-draped open spaces. Airlie Gardens enchants with its ancient live oaks, seasonal blooms and Mystery Grave, and Greenfield Lake Park maps trails through cypress trees and natural wonders. Wrightsville Beach, a noted surf and SUP destination, offers paddles and eco tours to pristine Masonboro Island, while the Flytrap Trail at Carolina Beach State Park showcases an indigenous carnivorous plant. At Kure Beach, natural and human history intersect on the trails and beach at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area.

Raleigh. Two hours from the coast, this fast-growing Southern city has more open space than a traveler might expect, including a 300-acre downtown park, a state park within city limits and the nation’s largest art park, which connects the N.C. Museum of Art to the city greenway system. The museum’s outdoor spaces include a courtyard garden with Rodin sculptures and reflecting pool with waterlilies. Falls Lake State Recreation area adds options for swimming, boating and hiking.

Greensboro. An hour west of Raleigh, history has marked Greensboro as the site of a significant Revolutionary War battle and the birthplace of the civil rights era’s sit-in movement. At Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, visitors can soak up history on leg-stretching trails to the monuments. Families can enjoy outdoor experiences at Greensboro Science Center, home of a lively zoo and the Skywild treetop adventure park.

Winston-Salem. Half an hour west, visitors can reach the heart of the city’s history with a stroll along the cobblestone streets of Old Salem Museum & Gardens.  Nearby, Tanglewood Park is home to nature trails and Softgolf, which gets participants onto the green to hit oversize foam balls. Families will want to swing by Divine Llama Vineyards in East Bend to pick up a bottle or two of In a Heartbeat (a semi-dry red blend) and look across the field for some of the llamas that will be leading treks come October.

Morganton. Foothills meet mountains on the 90-minute drive to Morganton, a gateway to the great outdoors. Catawba Meadows Park, a 230-acre city park on the Catawba River, offers greenway trails plus disc golf, a zipline experience and a Native American living history center. Hikers eager to challenge themselves can take to the trails at South Mountains State Park or the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Crystal clear waters at Lake James State Park invite travelers to immerse themselves in beauty with a hike, a swim, or a kayak or stand-up paddle board glide. For late-night adventure, pursue the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights.

Asheville. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise to meet you on an hourlong ride to Asheville, a city that pulses with creativity. You can lose yourself in the shops, restaurants and breweries downtown or find your way to immersive hikes to see wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls. For surefire sightings of black bears, barn owls, red wolves and river otter, head for the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Outfitters stand ready to take you out on the French Broad River for your choice of tubing or whitewater rafting, and children as young as 4 can join a zipline tour.

Haywood County. Thirty miles south of Asheville, get off the interstate at Clyde and check into your own caboose at Buffalo Creek Vacations (and you thought the tiny house was cool!). Book a ride on an American Paint Horse with Panther Creek Outfitters, drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike or drink in the scenery, or visit the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. As a final treat, splurge on an excursion with Cataloochee Valley Tours or Leapfrog Tours to see the wild elk that have been brought back to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
 

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