To the Mountains and Back: 10 Easy Outdoor Day Trips from Winston-Salem

Find beautiful views along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Find beautiful views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mike
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The Blue Ridge Mountains to the north and east of Winston-Salem beckon with endless opportunities to pack your day with outdoor adventure. In fact, you can even get your fill of running, biking, hiking, paddling, or climbing and still make it back to town in time for a late dinner. Clear your calendar now and finish off a summer full of adventure in the mountains around Winston-Salem with these 10 day trip ideas.

1.Cycle the Blue Ridge Parkway

The beauty of an out-and-back ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway—beyond the stunning scenery and spectacular views—is that you can cycle for as little or as far as you like. Get on the parkway at Fancy Gap (milepost 199.5) for a moderate ride of just over 23 miles north to the historic gristmill and blacksmith shop at Mabry Mill. Continue another eight miles north to the Rocky Knob Visitor Center, overlook, and picnic area. This is a great spot to turn around, and be sure to allow enough time on your way back to stop for a tasting on the patio at Chateau Morrisette Winery, located just 300 feet off the parkway.

2. Summit Grandfather Mountain

There are a number of trails to Grandfather Mountain, but you can also also drive to the top and hike the crest trails.
There are a number of trails to Grandfather Mountain, but you can also also drive to the top and hike the crest trails. Brian Greer

There’s no mistaking the jagged profile of Grandfather Mountain on the horizon driving west from Winston-Salem. At just over 5,900 feet, the craggy peak is home to 16 ecological communities, meaning hiking trails change from mixed hardwood forest at the base to habitat more typical of a Canadian spruce-fir forest at the top. A number of trails climb the full elevation of Grandfather, but you can also drive to the top and hike the crest trails. These are no novice trails, however. Expect cables and ladders to navigate steep chutes with dramatic drop-offs and technical rock scrambles. If you’re up for it, walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge for 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A restaurant, gift shop, and nature museum are sure to please hike-weary kids at the summit.

3. Paddle Nantahala Whitewater

A trip down the 8-mile stretch of the Nantahala River with Nantahala Outdoor Center gives you just enough whitewater action that you have to work for it, but no experience is required. Take a guided raft trip or rent a raft to navigate the solid class II rapids to a class III finale at Nantahala Falls. Trips end at the outdoor center, where you can move on to ziplining, mountain biking, or stand-up paddleboarding on Fontana Lake.

4. Run the Black Mountain Crest Trail

If you’re looking for a cardio challenge with expansive ridgeline vistas, this is the day trip for you. Option 1: Drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, and go for an 8.6-mile, out-and-back run on the Deep Gap Trail for continuous climbs and descents over five peaks. Novice runners can cut that distance in half and still enjoy the views. Option 2: Start at Black Mountain Campground to hike Mt. Mitchell for 11.4 ascending and descending miles (bring your trekking poles for this one!).

5. Hike in Elk Country

Arrive at dawn or stay until dusk for the best chances of seeing elk in Cataloochee Valley.
Arrive at dawn or stay until dusk for the best chances of seeing elk in Cataloochee Valley. anoldent

Amid some of the highest peaks in the Smokies, Cataloochee Valley offers a peaceful and remote experience along the eastern border of the nation’s most visited national park. Keep an eye out for the Cataloochee elk herd, successfully reintroduced to the park after a 200-year absence. Arrive at dawn or stay until dusk for your best chance of seeing elk and watching the park’s namesake wispy, blue-tinged clouds descend to the valley floor. Nine historic buildings along the road and the 10.5-mile round trip Little Cataloochee Trail also make this one of the best spots to experience the park’s pioneer history.

6. Bike Greenville

Road, mountain bike, or hybrid—there’s a ride for every kind of cyclist in Greenville, South Carolina. Mountain bikers can tackle more than 10 miles of tight singletrack at Paris Mountain State Park, where multiple loops hug the park’s lakes and creeks with steep, technical climbs, banked turns, and fast, flowy descents. (Note: Biking is not allowed on the trails on Saturdays.) The 20-mile paved Swamp Rabbit Trail follows the Reedy River through downtown Greenville to Travelers Rest. End your day with local brews and food at one of the restaurants bordering downtown Greenville’s urban oasis, Falls Park.

7. Climb Chimney Rock State Park

Towering above Western NC’s Lake Lure, Chimney Rock offers novice climbers the opportunity to learn top-rope techniques on the granite gneiss rock face under the guidance of Fox Mountain Guides. Rumbling Bald is another popular climbing destination in the area. You’ll find more than 300 routes (trad and sport) and boulder problems ranging from easy to moderate difficulty.

8. Ride the New River Trail

The family-friendly New River Trail follows the gentle grade of a former rail line for 57 miles of easy cycling. Starting at Foster Falls, where you can rent bikes and stock up on drinks and trail snacks, ride west past a historic shot tower, cruising over three major bridges and through two tunnels to the towns of Fries and Galax. Extend your distance by cycling east to the trail terminus in Pulaski.

9. Hike the Appalachian Trail

Home to Virginia’s highest peak, Grayson Highlands State Park is the gateway to one of the most scenic stretches of the Appalachian Trail. The rocky, spruce-fir forest and highland balds at 5,000 feet make for endless views in all directions. A network of 13 hiking trails lead to the AT and the spur trail to the summit of Mount Rogers. As if the balds aren’t scenic enough, Grayson Highlands is also known for herds of wild ponies roaming freely throughout the park.

10. Paddle Smith Mountain Lake

Paddle 500 miles of shoreline and endless coves at Smith Mountain Lake.
Paddle 500 miles of shoreline and endless coves at Smith Mountain Lake. Virginia State Parks

The second largest freshwater lake in Virginia is just under two hours north of downtown Winston-Salem and has some of the best paddling and bass fishing in the southeast. Bring your own boat or rent kayaks, SUP boards, and canoes at Smith Mountain Lake State Park to paddle 500 miles of shoreline and endless coves and tributaries feeding into the 32-square-mile lake. A number of boat-in restaurants make for a perfect day on the lake.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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