In sunny Charlotte, N.C., Valentine’s Day usually means the daffodils are peeking out and there’s a hint of spring in the air. It’s a perfect time to impress your better half with something more creative than flowers and a box of chocolates. This year, think outside of the box and consider the following creative ways to hike, bike, and romance your way into your Valentine's heart.
Bicycling and a Picnic
Thanks to Charlotte’s booming bikeshare program, you can pick up a set of wheels on just about any street corner. Bike to 7th Street Public Market’s Hazelnuts Creperie for breakfast and a to-go cup from Not Just Coffee. It’s a 1.5-mile ride to the Charlotte History Trail on Little Sugar Creek Greenway. Stop at the bronze statues that line the trail to learn about the city’s storied past, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Kiosks along the way show how, through projects like the greenway you’re following, Charlotte is preserving and revitalizing historic neighborhoods and natural areas.
Park your bikes at the Metropolitan to pick up your picnic lunch at Trader Joe’s. Add a stop at Le Macaron to stock up on namesake confections in flavors like tea matcha, lavender & white chocolate, and strawberry key lime. Continue riding to Freedom Park, 98 acres of nature just outside center city, to find your picnic spot on the 7-acre lake. It’s a perfect place for people-watching, so score some extra brownie points by bringing a hammock to curl up in after you eat.
When you’re ready to get back on your bikes, ride 3 miles through the Sedgefield neighborhood to pick up the south end of the Rail Trail at Triple C Brewing Co. Sample the Greenway IPA (in keeping with the day’s theme) or try another pint from their well-rounded selection of creative staples and seasonal batches. Follow the Rail Trail 4.5 miles back to 7th Street Public Market for happy hour, and stop at Tank’s Tap, which serves more than over 50 regional beers.
A Culinary Hike
Learn to make some exotic and decadent desserts, then walk off your sugar buzz with an urban hike to some of the Queen City’s newest parks and oldest neighborhoods. Start at Lincoln’s Haberdashery & Provisions in artsy South End for locally-sourced breakfast sandwiches on freshly-baked breads. Get that coffee to go because you have reservations just over a mile up the Rail Trail at the Cocoa Lab in the Ritz-Carlton. Inside one of the city’s top restaurant kitchens, you’ll spend the morning creating and sampling sinfully delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries under the guidance of the hotel’s award-winning chefs.
After class is over, the hike continues through Romare Bearden Park to Graham Street and 1 mile north into Fourth Ward. In 1830, when Charlotte was divided into four political districts, this was one of the most prosperous areas of the city. After decades of neglect, it’s been restored to Victorian-era elegance, which you can learn about on the Fourth Ward Walking Tour. Finish up the tour with lunch at Alexander Michael’s Tavern, a local favorite known for its hearty burgers and spicy crab soup. From here, it’s just over 2 miles on the Rail Trail back to your starting point.
Zipline & Dine
Make your date earn their Valentine’s dinner at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. The Zipline & Dine: Valentine’s Edition pairs the center’s 1,625-foot zipline and high rope course with dinner prepared by Executive Chef Michael Rayfield and served in the River’s Edge Restaurant. Couples spend about an hour on the zipline and ropes course as dusk turns to dark over the Catawba River. A short hike back to the restaurant leads to a three-course dinner with gourmet selections like roasted beet and apple salad, salmon, steak, and opera cake with blackberry puree, all paired with wines and local craft beers.
Show Your Commitment to Each Other, Health and Hiking
Show your partner that you’re in it for the long haul by tackling the NC State Parks 100-Mile Challenge together. Register online to formalize your commitment, then start logging your miles with a Valentine’s Day hike at Crowders Mountain State Park. You can track your miles, earn prizes, and even organize a group to join you on your 100-mile quest. You and your partner have all year to reach 100, so you can spend the rest of the year hiking, running, biking, and paddling together to meet your goal.
Outdoor Weekend in Asheville
Only two hours from Charlotte, Asheville is the ultimate outdoor-lover’s romantic getaway. The truly adventurous couple can camp year-round at the Davidson River Campground in Pisgah National Forest and warm up with a hearty breakfast in downtown Asheville at Sunny Point Cafe, Early Girl Eatery, or Homegrown. For a weekend in the woods with all the comforts of home (and then some), stay at Shoji Spa, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rooms come with access to Shoji’s luxurious outdoor hot tubs, where you can soak away the aches and pains of a day on the trail under the stars. For total relaxation, book the Zen Couples Massage or the three-hour Valentine’s Day Yin Yang Package..
There’s endless options to hike the trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway and in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests surrounding Asheville. For another perspective on the trail, book a three-hour Foraging Tour with No Taste Like Home. Your hiking guide will help you identify and collect edible native plants like bittercress, sweet birch twig, honey locust pod, and turkey tail mushrooms, just to name a few. After the tour, you can drop your ingredients off at one of their partner restaurants, where the chef will transform your collection into your dinner.
Originally written for OrthoCarolina.