Ten Carolina vacation options

Gas is expensive. Really expensive. For those who would like to get away but find the costs of traveling too far from home prohibitive, or for those who would like to explore their home region more deeply, there are many options located within the Carolinas. Vacationers don’t need to look any further than their own backyards.

Mountains
North Carolina — The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most traveled scenic roads in the country. Started in 1935 during the Great Depression to create jobs for local workers, construction of the entire stretch wasn’t completed until 1987. The final stage was the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering wonder that allows the Parkway to wrap around Grandfather Mountain and “float” above the valley floor. The design eliminated the intrusive construction that was rejected by the private land owners whose property supplies the space for the viaduct’s pillars. Located at Parkway mile marker 304.6, the views provide spectacular vistas throughout the year.

South Carolina — Table Rock State Park, another New Deal project started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, encompasses nearly 3,100 acres of Pickens County and boasts some of the most beautiful views in the state. Complete with two lakes, campgrounds, cabins and a renovated historic lodge, there are many outdoor activities available for people who enjoy a pristine mountain environment.

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Rafting
North Carolina — If you like the mountains but have already driven the Parkway, you might consider going a little further west and taking advantage of the rafting services offered by any of the family businesses dotting the Nantahala River. Located in the Smokey Mountains, this is often considered the most popular river in the Southeast for rafting excursions. For good reason, too: The scenery is beautiful, the water is varied and the falls are exciting. This might also mean large crowds, so consider whether you prefer solitude and plan accordingly. Note that the most spectacular portions of the river will also host the biggest numbers of people.

South Carolina — Forming part of the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia, the Chattooga River is an easy drive from Greenville, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Atlanta, Ga. Equally blessed with lush scenery and exciting water routes, this river is extremely popular. Horseback riding is also an available option in many locations along the Chattooga.

Beaches
North Carolina — If you prefer the tranquility of sand and sun over woods and streams, consider the coastal opportunities in the Carolinas. The Outer Banks is replete with beach towns, tourist attractions and beautiful sunsets. If you would like to explore the North Carolina coast, one group of landmarks to consider is the state’s collection of historic lighthouses. Driving the coast and visiting the towns that host the sites is a relaxing way to see as much of the shore as possible. The best-preserved lighthouses are at Oak Island, Cape Hatteras, Ocracoke, Bodie, Cape Lookout, Pine Knoll and Currituck Beach.

South Carolina — Perhaps you prefer more flair in your beach experiences? If so, then Myrtle Beach is the place for you. Jam-packed with neon lights, bathing suit beauties and mind-numbing traffic, you will definitely be able to find a multi-million dollar resort development somewhere in the area that suits your fancy (and hopefully your budget). Hilariously camp in its touristy appeal, Myrtle Beach is the coastal destination in the Carolinas for fun, fun, fun.

QPoll: Travel costs

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Artistic & Historical
North Carolina — Asheville is a bit of a conundrum. How can a place so beautiful, reposeful and seemingly non-intimidating be so overwhelming? Perhaps it’s the spectacular countryside joined together with the carnival atmosphere and Bohemian attitude of the locals. Perhaps it’s the city’s ability to mix a history of high art, architecture and literature so seamlessly with humble artisan craft and mountain culture. Perhaps it’s the lack of parking when you see yet another fascinating spot begging to be photographed.

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Asheville is seductive in a bouncy, granola, organic yogurt way. The city is almost too innocent to be as flirtatious and fabulous as it truly is. The best way to experience Asheville: Persevere in finding a parking spot and then walk all day. You won’t be disappointed by the alternately quaintly festive and psychedelically random sensory overload.

South Carolina — A list of Carolina destinations would be utterly inadequate without a polite nod and tip of the hat to Charleston (and the people who live there will be very eager, in a stately way, to point that out themselves). This city is amongst the oldest in North America, its memory stretching back 100 years before our nation was forged. Once (and locals will argue this is true even today) the epicenter of Southern Culture and the birthplace of a united Carolina during Colonial times, Charleston can boast more history and art in a square block than most other places in the U.S. can muster for a region.

Be sure to visit the peninsula where you can see the spot where the “Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.” Also, remember that “The War of Northern Aggression” started here. If these local phrases don’t give visitors a clue as to the ornery, irascible gentility of the locals, nothing will. Charleston isn’t charming — it’s far too dignified and venerable for that — it’s epic. Just ask anyone who lives there.

Gracious Culture
North Carolina — The Yadkin Valley is the only part of the Carolinas to achieve Appellation status amongst wine enthusiasts. Why fly to far away places to sample great vintages when award-winning vines and bottles are right here? Nestled among beautiful valleys, North Carolina’s vintners are gaining attention at the national level by way of impressive showings at regional and national contests. Try a leisurely drive from winery to winery (designated drivers needed: apply within) as you enjoy the scenic beauty and the delicious flavors.

South Carolina — Horse racing is a refined sport enjoyed by people who appreciate the thrill of beautiful animals charging by at breakneck speeds. And you can enjoy it, too, right here in South Carolina. Aiken is world-renowned as a destination with highly prized stables and offers all the frills one would expect from hosting people with sophisticated tastes. Aiken has exceptional options for fine dining and luxury accommodations. The newly renovated downtown also begs to be explored with its many arts and crafts shops, gourmet eateries and fine galleries.

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