This article was originally published by Bram Reusen on May 23, 2017 on Travel. Experience. Learn.
Charlotte, North Carolina, is conveniently surrounded by a wealth of amazing national parks, scenic drives, and hiking destinations. If you’re staying in Charlotte for an extended period of time, such as a week or more, you’ll definitely want to head out and visit one of these beautiful places.
Below, I’ve listed five absolutely awesome destinations for adventure near Charlotte. Many of them require some driving, which is why I’ve noted that these trips are ideal if you’re using Charlotte as a base during your holiday. Make sure to visit Discovery Place Nature (previously known as the Nature Museum), too, while you’re there. It’s a great introduction to the wildlife and nature in the region. There are several excellent hotels near the museum.
OVERLOOK ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
The most popular of all U.S. national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park receives more than 10 million visitors every year. Situated at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this exceptional park features diverse plant and animal life, historic homesteads, picturesque waterfalls, and great hiking.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Winding for 469 miles (755 kilometers) along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s greatest drives. It connects Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks and is the most visited unit in the National Park Service system. You can drive a short section of it or spend a few days exploring the Blue Ridge. There are historic sites, panoramic overlooks, and hiking trails.
MABRY MILL, BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
A relatively unknown national park, South Carolina’s Congaree National Park lies less than two hours south of Charlotte. It’s a rather small park, ideal for an afternoon visit. Protecting the largest floodplain forest in the Southeast, Congaree is characterized by wetlands, swamps, and woods. Walking the boardwalk and exploring the floodplain in a canoe are the two main things to do there.
4. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The furthest destination from Charlotte on this list, Shenandoah National Park lies at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The fastest route will get you there in about 4.5 hours, so this is a destination for an overnight trip. Shenandoah’s star attraction is Skyline Drive, a 105-mile (169-kilometer) mountain road that cuts across the park from south to north and hits basically all attractions. Lined with no fewer than 75 overlooks and numerous trailheads, it’s definitely a recommend thing to do.
BLACK BEAR WITH CUBS, SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
5. Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
Grayson Highlands State Park lies in the southwestern corner of Virginia, just across the border from North Carolina. Getting there takes about 2.5 hours, so it’s an ideal day trip from Charlotte. What sets this particularly photogenic place in Virginia apart is its mountain meadow landscapes, its herds of wild ponies, and the truly magnificent hiking opportunities.
GRAYSON HIGHLANDS STATE PARK, VIRGINIA
Where to Stay in Charlotte
Charlotte, as the largest city in North Carolina, is home to many great hotels. After your adventurous outing, whether it’s a day or overnight trip, you’ll want to be able to take a nice shower and get a good night’s sleep. Pretty much all districts have a fine selection of accommodations to offer, but consider focusing on the hotels near the Amtrak Station, Charlotte Convention Center, or Carolinas Medical Center.