North Carolina’s Top Sports Vacations
From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks, North Carolina is a great destination for sports vacations. The Tar Heel State offers many options for those seeking a mix of action and relaxation, from thrilling water sports and world-class golf to horsepower-fueled auto racing and high-flying thrills.
No longer just a skiing destination, Beech Mountain in western North Carolina has carved out a new identity as a year-round sportsman’s paradise. During the spring and summer, grab a mountain bike and tackle theBeech Mountain Adventure Trail Park. It features an 8-mile network of single track that ranges in elevation from 4,700 to 5,400 feet, providing unparalleled mountain vistas and overlooks. When winter rolls around,Beech Mountain Resort has some of the best skiing in the Southeast, with 17 trails varied enough to accommodate all levels.
Get Into the Swing
North Carolina boasts one of the most famous golf courses in the world with Pinehurst Resort. Host of the USGA’s 2014 US Open and U.S. Women’s Open, Pinehurst has 8 courses, many of which are consistently ranked among the world’s best, including the Donald Ross-designed Pinehurst No. 2. After a dramatic 5-month restoration, the course reopened in 2011, and it remains the resort’s centerpiece.
Get Your Motor Running
The Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS) is ground zero for all things NASCAR in North Carolina. The 140,000-seat venue hosts some of the country’s most prominent races, and also offers special programs where fans can drive real Sprint Cup racecars. Across the street is the 30,000-seat zMax Dragway, the country’s only 4-lane, quarter-mile concrete dragway that’s home to events like the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
Get Into the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks have some of the country’s best kiteboarding and surfing conditions. Real Watersports, located at the Outer Banks’ most southeasterly point in Cape Hatteras, offers lessons that accommodate every skill level. Most of the kiteboarding is done along the Pamlico Sound, considered one of the best places in the country to kiteboard. Surfers head west, across Highway 12 to the Atlantic Ocean, where a short continental shelf and shallow sandbars help produce world-class waves.
For boat lovers, head to Oriental — “the sailing capital of North Carolina.” Located on the shores of the Neuse River near the Pamlico Sound, the area offers great year-round boating. If interested in learning the ropes of sailing — literally — head to Oriental’s School of Sailing, which offers 3-and 4-day courses. Afterwards, you can charter one of the school’s sailboats, including the luxurious, high-performance Beneteau 343, which accommodates 5 adults, then cruise the open seas.
If you prefer your thrills up in the trees, visit one of North Carolina’s newest zipline attractions, ZipQuest Waterfall and Treetop Adventure. The 2-and-a-half-hour course includes zip lines that pass over Carver’s Falls — the largest waterfall in central and eastern North Carolina. Or take to the sky in a very different way atParaclete XP SkyVenture, the most powerful wind tunnel on the planet. Inside a glass-walled, cylinder-shaped room, soar some 50 feet in the air as powerful fans create winds speeds of up to 185 mph.
Take a Fitness Vacation
For fitness lovers, western North Carolina’s mild temperatures and scenic mountainscapes are a great option. That’s where you’ll find Zap Fitness, in Lenoir, a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here, professional athletes host running vacations and camps (from June to September) for all fitness levels. Guests stay at a spacious lodge, and a full-service chef cooks all the meals, which lean toward the healthy side. And just a short walk away from the lodge is the cool headwaters of the Yadkin River.
The rivers and streams in the North Carolina mountains are legendary among anglers. You can see why with the help of companies like Asheville Drifters. Take either a half- day or full-day excursion down the French Broad, Tuckasegee, South Holston or Nolichucky rivers, all great for landing trout or smallmouth bass. Another great resource is the WNC Fly Fishing Trail, which highlights 15 different fishing spots.
North Carolina has many rich sports traditions, especially when it comes to basketball. Tar Heels and Blue Devils always draw diehard fans when they face off at either Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium or Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center. Another member of the “Tobacco Road” schools is North Carolina State University, home to the NC State Wolfpack. Home games are at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, not far from the bustlingHillsborough Street area. North Carolina’s professional NBA team, the Charlotte Bobcats, play out of Time Warner Cable Arena, conveniently located along the LYNX Blue Line light-rail system in the heart of uptown, close to other attractions such as the EpiCentre, a 3-story entertainment hub with dozens of bars, clubs and restaurants.
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April 2012 – North Carolina’s Beech Mountain is emerging as one of the region’s top mountain biking destinations with the addition of a several new chairlift-assisted trails. Scheduled to open in June, the new trails are part of ongoing renovations and improvements at Beech Mountain Resort, located about 20 miles from Boone. This is just the latest development in the town’s bid to become a year-round outdoor recreation Mecca.
For more than four decades Beech Mountain Resort has attracted skiers from all over the Southeast with some of the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains. But action at the resort often came to a grinding halt during the summer—until now.
Last year Chris Herndon, the 2007 dual slalom mountain bike national champion, designed two new tails at the resort for the 2011 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Gravity Nationals. This summer marks the first time the course will be open to the public. Visitors will be able to take the resort’s high-speed quad chairlift—which will be equipped with special trays to carry bikes—to the mountain’s 5,506-foot summit. From there they can race down either an intermediate or advanced trail, reaching speeds of up to 45 mph as they navigate rock gardens, jumps, burms and wooded sections.
“Chairlift-assisted mountain biking is very popular these days, but it’s taken longer to reach the Southeast,” Herndon said. “This is really going to open up a type of riding that has been limited in our area for so long.”
The trails end at the resort’s newly revamped Alpine Village. There visitors can grab a bite to eat and a cold drink at Beech Tree Bar and Grill or View Haus Cafeteria. They can also check out some of the new shops, like Beech Mountain Village Bakery, which offers pastries, baked goods, and a small gift shop with T-shirts, hats and souvenirs.
Beech Mountain Resort’s general manager, Ryan Costin, said he plans to open the new trail system on the weekends starting in June, leading up to this year’s Mountain Bike Gravity National Championships, which runs July 20-22.
In addition to Beech Mountain Resort, there’s also the new Beech Mountain Adventure Trail Park, which the town unveiled last summer. Daniel Scagnelli, the fitness and wellness director for the town’s parks and recreation department, worked with dozens of volunteers to build the trail system. It features an eight-mile network of single track—known as Emerald Outback—that ranges in elevation from 4,700 to 5,400 feet, providing unparalleled mountain vistas and overlooks. The park’s second and third phases are scheduled to open in 2014, and will encompass more than 25 miles of trails, including single track, double track, technical runs and long, rolling descents.
Cycle 4 Life Bike Shop in nearby Banner Elk is among the first in the area to provide mountain bike rentals and guided bike trips at the new Beech Mountain Adventure Trail Park. Owner Doug Owen said the new park is helping attract more people to the area, including both hardcore mountain bikers as well as families looking to enjoy some two-wheeled outdoor fun together.
In response to the park’s debut, Owen said he’s beefed up his mountain bike rental program, and is offering guided trips that last from three to four hours. He’s also offering special guided trips that involve mountain biking and wine tasting. The “Oz to Banner Elk” trip begins at the top of Beech Mountain near the old Land of Oz theme park. From there, he guides groups down a thrilling “creeper trail” along a ridge that provides scenic views of the Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina mountains. The ride makes a pit stop in the town of Beech Mountain for lunch, and then continues downhill to a tasting at the Banner Elk Winery.
These great new resources only add to Beech Mountain’s 51 miles of road bike routes, which vary from easy to challenging. All routes begin at the Visitors Center, with some passing through paved residential areas, while others wind past scenic Buckeye Lake and the town’s Recreation Center. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced mountain bike rider, this summer is the perfect time to check out why Beech Mountain has become so much more than just a skiing destination.
— By Sam Boykin
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