North Carolina Heartland Outdoors
North Carolina offers excellent opportunities for road cycling on alternate routes to busy major roads. For a serious long-distance ride and a taste of all the state has to offer, check out the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST), a.k.a. NC Biking Route 2.
The Heartland portion of this ride takes you through the rolling foothills of the Piedmont, traveling via rural lanes that run through farmland and major cities alike. Keep on pedaling east to the Atlantic, west to the Blue Ridge Parkway, or cycle across the entire state.
For a north-south road route, check out the Carolina Connection. This segment of US Bike Route 1, which runs from Maine to Florida, covers almost 200 miles of Heartland terrain. San-Lee Park, Umstead State Park, and Kerr Lake State Recreation Area all sit along this route.
Lake Crabtree County Park's single-track is by far the most popular place for beginner riders in the Triangle area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), so plan on passing lots of other fat-tire fiends when the weather is nice. Four short loops (about five miles) all connect to a single jeep trail, making it hard to get lost and easy to get back to the car if you get into trouble.
Catawba Riverfront Park, just west of Charlotte, offers about eight miles of well-maintained fire roads and single-track. Exits along the trail let novices bail if the going gets too tough, while speed demons will enjoy the downhill and dual slalom racecourses.
For a different kind of wild ride, check out Charlotte's Discovery Place. This experiential science museum offers adventure inside a five-story OMNIMAX theatre and a state-of-the-art, virtual-world simulator, as well as more down-to-earth exhibits such as a rainforest reproduction, animatronic dinosaurs, and an aquarium.
For a quick escape, the Greensboro Watershed offers 11 trails and 31.8 miles' worth of hiking. Even though it's just a few minutes north of the city, you'll feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.
You'll find another classic hiking getaway in the Uwharrie National Forest, just two miles east of Troy. The Uwharrie Mountains are the oldest range in North America, the once-towering peaks worn down to just 1,000 feet. Much of the 4.5-mile Birkhead Mountain Trail follows these ridgelines and offers scenic viewsespecially after the leaves have fallen. Watch for the rock chimneys of long-abandoned farmhouses and the headstones of former residents as you hike this easy-to-moderate route. To avoid backtracking on this trail, set up a two-vehicle shuttle.
Just 30 miles north of Winston-Salem, the 6,000-acre Hanging Rock State Park offers 18-plus miles of maintained trails for your hiking pleasure. Savor scenic vistas, waterfalls, caves, and the highest peaks of the Sauratown Mountains. The strenuous Moore's Wall Loop Trail (4.2 miles) will take you to the top of Moore's Knob (2,572 feet) for a panoramic view from atop an old forest-service fire tower.
While in the area, museum and history buffs will enjoy a tour of the Reynolda House Museum of American Artthe 64-room "country home" of tobacco king R.J. Reynolds. Located in Winston-Salem, the estate houses masterpieces of American art, as well as period costumes, furniture, and architecture.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication