Ryan Smith, director of communications for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it’s pretty common to hear meeting attendees and tourists comment about the remarkably green landscape of North Carolina’s state capital. Greater Raleigh is blessed with 4,300 acres of parkland and a greenway system that spans 150 miles.
“It’s easy for meeting attendees to get outside, unplug and unwind from a busy day,” Smith says. “No matter how much time an attendee has, there’s an adventure to be had, including learning the history of Raleigh on a Segway, strolling through the largest art park in the country, renting a bike to hit the trails at Umstead State Park or climbing the walls in the tallest climbing gym in five states.”
South Carolina’s outdoor splendor, especially its white sandy beaches, is captivating year-round. Adventures abound on its seashore as well as on more than 300 golf courses, many rivers and lakes, trails and paths. Adding to the exhilaration are barrier islands, hardwood forests, Colonial plantations, wildlife refuges and many nature-based activities.
Here’s a look at adventure opportunities throughout North and South Carolina, which both offer Southern hospitality and vitality.
Western North Carolina is anchored by two of the most visited attractions in the National Park Service—Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile road that begins in Virginia. North Carolina also boasts 300 miles of the 2,220-mile Appalachian Trail, a primitive hiking route popular with backpackers that winds from Maine to Georgia.
Nature lovers will marvel at Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States at 6,684 feet, just outside of Asheville. Waterfall Byway explores this region, which features many of the state’s 250 waterfalls including Sliding Rock, a 60-foot natural rock waterslide. Another impressive natural wonder is Whitewater Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies with a drop of 811 feet.
Eastern North Carolina features 300 miles of barrier island coastline, and the state has been dubbed the cycling capital of the south for its vast trails.
Raleigh & Durham
The moderate climate in Raleigh and Durham is conducive to outdoor recreation, while retaining the allure of four distinct seasons. Lakes and rivers beckon as hundreds of miles of trails entice hikers, cyclists and wildlife watchers. And of course, there’s always golfing.
Claiming an impressive 26,000 acres of woodlands and a 12,000-acre lake, Falls Lake State Recreation Area offers a plethora of activity with sandy swim beaches. The Eno River and state park are also favorites, with smaller rapids and miles of riverside trails to explore.
Walking and mountain-biking are popular on local portions of the 1,150 Mountains-to-Sea Trail that reaches from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. The Americans Tobacco Trail, a 23-mile stretch utilizing a former railroad corridor, is ideal for cyclists, hikers and even equestrians and wheel-chair users.
The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is synonymous with NASCAR, attracting more than one million auto-racing fans each year. With a seating capacity of 134,000, Charlotte Motor Speedway is a racing mecca and is often referred to as “the greatest place to see the race.”
For those craving outdoor fun, Charlotte doesn’t disappoint. Visitors can raft the rapids where Olympians train at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, flat-water kayak or bike on nearby trails. For higher thrills, there’s ziplining and rock climbing. Less challenging options include trekking through 14,000 acres of parks, enjoying a lazy day on Lake Norman, trout fishing the many streams or golfing one of 40 public courses.
After the discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget in the area in 1799, considered the first gold rush, a branch of the U.S. Mint was established in 1837. The historic building now houses the Mint Museum, an exciting venue for receptions.
Greensboro has a central location for meetings and events, positioned between Winston-Salem and Durham on Interstate 85 and 40. The city hosts a variety of amateur sporting events, including the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s and men’s basketball tournaments this month at the Greensboro Coliseum. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held there in January.
Greensboro will be debuting a new adventure tourism feature in April, when SkyWild opens at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC). Set among the trees in the center’s Animal Discovery Zoo, the SkyWild adventure course will allow participants to complete physical fitness activities while getting a bird’s eye view of the zoo. The SkyWild project required forest revitalization to ensure visitor safety, with weakened trees being used to enrich animal habitats and for mulch.
“SkyWild will add a completely new dimension to the science center experience—adventure tourism,” says Glenn Dobrogosz, executive director of the GSC. “Not only will we be making our forest a safer and healthier place, but visitors also will be able to elevate both their brains and bodies in order to be the creature and see life from a whole new perspective.”
Greensboro has 90 miles of trails and greenways, from beautiful garden pathways to expansive hiking and mountain biking along lakefront routes. City lakes are very popular with anglers and are stocked with largemouth bass, Bodie bass (hybrid), crappie, catfish and sunfish. Fishing tournaments are held throughout the year.
Set among the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, picturesque Asheville is home to the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned residence in the nation. The property has more than 30 meeting venues, including riverside areas.
Asheville offers big-city living on a smaller scale, with outdoor recreation rivaling any in the eastern United States. Mountain hiking and biking trails, stunning scenery, whitewater rafting and outdoor tours appeal to both thrill seekers and naturalists. The city is also a prime destination in October as fall foliage peaks.
Asheville continues to receive numerous accolades. It was named the No. 1 Most Popular City for Retirement (topretirements.com, 2014) and one of six top Alternative Travel Destinations for 2014 (Men’s Journal and Business Insider).
In the Piedmont Triad region, Winston-Salem is a vital Southern city richly steeped in Colonial roots. Stunning backdrops of forests, hills and plains make it suitable for outdoor activities, especially golfing, with almost three dozen courses in the area. For non-golfers, there are hot-air balloon rides and skydiving, rock climbing, hiking, cycling and paddling. The Airbound Trampoline Park is perfect for adrenaline junkies.
For those not wanting to break a sweat, stroll the Old Salem district, where the roots of some heirloom gardens date to the 18th century, or brave a ghost tour for tales of murder and mystery.
There are 35 wineries west of the city in the Yadkin Valley along the front range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winston-Salem hosts the largest wine festival in the state over Memorial Day weekend.
The Palmetto State is renowned for its southern gentility, vibrant cosmopolitan cities, awesome Atlantic Ocean coastline and luxurious resorts that attract more than 29 million visitors each year. Outdoor recreation abounds, as well as history with Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, where shots were fired that started the Civil War in 1861. Eventually, more than 200 battles were fought in the state.
One of the most popular destinations in the United States is South Carolina’s Grand Strand, which reaches 60 miles from Little River, with centuries-old mossy oaks lining the waterfronts, to Georgetown. The Grand Strand includes Myrtle Beach, with restaurants and theme parks catering to families and college students in the summer and snowbirds in the winter. South Carolina’s northwestern corner is called “The Upstate” and ranks as the fastest growing area of the state, thanks in part to the popularity of Greenville.
“Given our close proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we have the luxury of a number of unique experiences that many other destinations simply can’t offer,” says Taryn Scher, president of TK PR, which handles marketing for VisitGreenvilleSC. “Anything from cycling through the mountains to ziplining over the treetops to whitewater rafting is in our backyard, making for an unforgettable meeting destination for conference attendees.”
In the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Greenville has earned national recognition including being named as one of the Top 10 Fastest Growing Cities in the United States by CNN Money.
Enhancing Greenville’s natural beauty is the $15 million Falls Park on the Reedy River with several waterfalls and gardens, and the Liberty Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge overlooking the water. Falls Park also offers access to the 18.9-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, which runs along the Reedy and is a haven for cyclists; hikers prefer the rugged beauty of the Foothills Trails.
As the home of professional championship cyclist George Hincapie, cycling is prominent in Greenville. Nearby lakes and mountains encourage kayaking, whitewater rafting and zipline canopy tours.
Home of University of South Carolina and the state capital, Columbia is best known for hosting major college football, baseball and basketball games. When the Gamecocks are playing at home, the city pretty much stops to watch.
For doers, Adventure Carolina offers lots of paddling and floating options on the Congaree, Saluda and Broad rivers. Hiking is popular in the diversely forested Congaree National Park, home to the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. About a 30-minute drive from the city, this otherworldly gem is one of the few national parks near an urban metropolis. Lake Murray, a short drive from Columbia, was constructed to generate electricity. The lake is 41 miles long and 14 miles at its widest point. Besides skiing and swimming, it’s a very popular fishing destination.
This elegant resort town is a nature lover’s utopia, with shorebirds and eco tours. Hilton Head is great for executive retreats thanks to 24 exceptional golf courses, more than 100 tennis courts and myriad water sports on 12 miles of immaculate beaches.
Explore marshes and lagoons, Jet Ski or parasail, or just relax by the sea for sightings of dolphins, alligators and the occasional manatee. Better yet, take a kayak tour or charter a private fishing boat.
Symbolic of the town’s maritime culture, a well-maintained red and white lighthouse at Sea Pines Resort is a must-see. This property comprises the Inn at Harbour Town, the Harbor Town Conference Center and Plantation Club as well as four golf courses.
Renowned for amazing beaches, challenging golf courses and fresh local seafood, Myrtle Beach is one of the country’s premier vacation destinations. Located along the Grand Strand, the sandy, wide beaches are conducive to fun in the sun.
From thrilling water sports to water parks, outdoor activities are a natural here. Fish in freshwater or deep-sea saltwater or explore the diversity of the coastline. Discover Myrtle Beach State Park’s beach, campsites, hiking trails, fishing pier and nature center. Huntington Beach State Park has a freshwater lagoon, salt marsh and maritime forest, along with nature trails and the historic Atalaya castle.
The charm of historical Charleston originates in the city’s alluring parks and landscapes before spreading out to the natural panorama of beaches, rivers and marshes. Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines have voted Charleston the No. 1 City in the United States. Outside magazine ranked Charleston No. 6 on its Best Town Ever list. Meeting venue options are as unique as Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens in Mount Pleasant, which can accommodate groups of all sizes in this spectacular setting for memorable gatherings.
The adventurous may choose surfing, parasailing or fishing on charter boats, while others may opt for golfing or tennis. Ahoy-pirate tours are always fun and capture a slice of coastal Carolina life during the 1700s.
North and South Carolina are teeming with historic sites and Southern hospitality. Amazing adventure opportunities await, whether meeting at oceanfront resorts, mountain retreats or anywhere in between.
North Carolina Fun Facts
- North Carolina has 1,500 lakes that cover at least 10 acres and 37,000 miles of freshwater streams.
- The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the world’s largest active archive of weather data, is located in Asheville.
- The first English colony in America was founded on Roanoke Island (pictured) by Sir Walter Raleigh. The colony mysteriously disappeared, but the word “Croatoan” is scratched on a tree near the area.
- North Carolina leads the nation in
furniture, tobacco, brick and textile production.
- The highest peak in the Blue Ridge range, Grandfather Mountain, is the only private park in the world designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve.
- The state’s highway system, with 77,400 miles of roads, is the largest state-
maintained highway system in the United States.
- Famed golfer Arnold Palmer refined
his skills on the championship golf
team of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.
North Carolina Resources
South Carolina Fun Facts
- The walls of forts in Charleston Harbor, site of the first Civil War shots, were made of Palmetto logs to protect the forts because they were spongy and British cannonballs bounced off them.
- South Carolina is the nation’s leading peach producer and shipper east of the Mississippi River.
- In 1898, the Lake City tobacco market was established and is now one of South Carolina’s largest markets.
- Using sweetgrass, the art of hand-woven baskets has been a craft passed through the generations in parts of South Carolina for more than 300 years.
- The world’s largest gingko farm is in Sumter (pictured).
- Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, was born in the Waxhaws area on the border of North and South Carolina.
South Carolina Resources
Who: SYNNEX Corporation, a global Fortune 500 technology company; more than 1,800 executive-level attendees
What: SYNNEX North American Conference, drawing tech companies such as HP, Lenovo, Intel, Microsoft
When: Sept. 30−Oct. 4, 2014
Where: Greenville, South Carolina’s TD Convention Center; seven hotels including Hyatt Regency as anchor hotel; Peace Center for Performing Arts; BMW Performance Center.
Why: “Our North American conference gives SYNNEX the opportunity to bring our top customers and manufacturers to our East Coast headquarters in Greenville. They love our downtown and how much it has to offer, from the variety of restaurants and shops, to the unique elements like the Liberty Bridge. When we asked our attendees if they wanted to come back to Greenville for the conference, over 80 percent said yes.”
—Bob Stegner, senior vice president, marketing, North America, SYNNEX Corporation
Major Meeting Venues North Carolina
Located on 125 rolling acres just one mile from downtown; 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 16,600-square-foot Expo Center and large veranda; 274 guest rooms; 20 indoor/outdoor tennis courts; nine-hole golf course.
Elegant AAA Four Diamond resort boasts panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains; 18-hole golf course; award-winning spa; 513 guest rooms; 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting space for up to 2,200 theater-style. q
Facility offers 83,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; ExploreAsheville.com Arena has capacity of 7,200; complex also includes 2,431-seat Thomas Wolfe Auditorium; banquet hall can seat 500; exhibition hall has space for 2,000.
This $195 million museum adjoins the Charlotte Convention Center; unique meeting venue for up to 2,400 attendees; 40,000-square-foot ballroom; 278-seat Belk High Octane Theater; 32,000-square-foot outdoor plaza.
Site of more golf championships than any other golf course in the country; hosted back-to-back U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open championships in 2014; four different hotels on resort; Carolina has 230 Four Diamond guest rooms, including suites; Holly features 82 guest rooms and suites; resort features 33 meeting and event spaces.
The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte
LEED Gold-certified hotel; two beehives on its rooftop garden; bees’ honey used in spa treatments; modern art collection; desert boutique Bar Cocoa; spa, fitness center, swimming pool; 146 guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Upscale hotel in financial district; across from Charlotte Convention Center; 700 guest rooms; 44,000 sq. ft. of event space; can accommodate 850 seated guests and 1,200 reception-style; LYNX Light Rail stops at the hotel.
Modern LEED Silver-certified; more than 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 150,000-square-foot exhibit hall; connected via underground walkway to Raleigh Marriott City Center Hotel, which has 15,000 sq. ft. of event space and 400 guest rooms.
Winston-Salem & Greensboro
Next to M.C. Benton Jr. Convention Center in Winston-Salem; seats 300; moveable stage; part of $26 million. Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, several meeting venues including the Reynolds Galleria, an impressive, 3,300-square-foot multipurpose space.
100,000 sq. ft. of flexible conference space in Winston-Salem; two enclosed skyways connect convention center to 146-room Embassy Suites and 315-room Downtown Marriott.
Major Meeting Venus South Carolina
Downtown luxury property; rooftop pool; 24-hour business center; collection of famous shops; 435 guest rooms and suites; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 14,000-square-foot ballroom. q
Includes 77,000-square-foot exhibit hall, 25,000-square-foot ballroom and 7,000-square-foot prefunction foyer for up to 5,000 guests; 14,000-seat North Charleston Coliseum and the North Charleston Performing Arts Center; adjoins the 255-suite Embassy Suites Charleston via skywalk, with additional 10,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Historic property opened in 1924; 235 guest rooms, including seven penthouses with crystal chandeliers and marble fireplaces; three ballrooms totaling 19,000 sq. ft. feature 24-foot ceilings and antique chandeliers.
Forbes Five Star sanctuary spa; 15 miles from Charleston; 90 holes of championship golf; 12 dining options; 255 guest rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in several rooms.
One of the largest exhibit halls in the United States; 280,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 30,000-square-foot ballroom to accommodate groups up to 25,000; free wireless Internet.
Largest oceanfront resort on Hilton Head Island; 513 guest rooms with private balconies; 46,000
sq. ft. of meeting space, including 17,600-square-foot ballroom; three championship golf courses; new spa.
Embassy Suites Hotel at Kingston Plantation Resort
Family-friendly beach resort; lazy river, water playground; nine tennis courts; 255 guest rooms; 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort at Kingston Shores
AAA Three Diamond hotel; 385 luxuriously appointed guest rooms with views of the Atlantic Ocean; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; restaurants; rooftop ballroom front the ocean.