Trails and Cocktails Around North Carolina

The view from atop Mt. Winter Star is just wave after wave of lush, green mountains.
The view from atop Mt. Winter Star is just wave after wave of lush, green mountains. Rob Glover
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Wine-themed weekends, brewery trails, and even distillery tours continue to grow in both quantity and quality across the state of North Carolina. Day-trippers and out-of-state visitors alike now consider where the nearest winery or brewery might be when making plans to hit a trail or river. The connection between outdoor adventure and libations has become standard practice. Here we offer five such pairings of active day experiences and some of the best potent potable purveyors around.

Part brewery, winery, lodge, and adventure center, the Blind Squirrel is hard to define. 
    Rob Glover
Part brewery, winery, lodge, and adventure center, the Blind Squirrel is hard to define. Rob Glover

Black Mountains and Blind Squirrel Brewing

The Black Mountains of North Carolina may not be as long as other ranges, but they sure pack a punch. In just 15 miles you’ll find 18 mountains topping 6,300 feet each, including the tallest peak in the eastern United States, Mt. Mitchell. To avoid the crowds and bag one of the toughest hikes along the range, look five miles north of Mitchell to Winter Star Mountain. Besides being saddled with a super-cool moniker, the views from Winter Star are fantastic and the hike is among the most rugged in the area. The three-mile out-and-back hike begins and ends near the Carolina Hemlocks Campground on SH-80.

There are few joys greater after a long day of expedition than stumbling upon an unexpected gem of a place like the Blind Squirrel in Newland, North Carolina. The most notable aspect of the location is the brewery where they produce brews (affectionately called "squirrel juice") that span the beer rainbow—from IPA to quad to stout. But beer is really just the beginning. There’s the gastropub where hearty portions of pub grub are served (the loaded tater tots are fantastic). The Blind Squirrel’s space, carved out of an old mercantile, is split into several levels with a range of seating from table to bar to couch. An outdoor seating area stretches along the peaceful Tow River and a full service lodge sits over the restaurant. There’s even low cost farm-to-stay lodging, a disc golf course, and adventure center for zip lining and rafting. It has to be experienced to be understood.

Stone Mountain and Skull Camp Brewing at Round Peak Vineyards

Any great post-hike beer needs has to start with, well, a hike. Stone Mountain State Park, just a few miles from Round Peak Vineyards, is an excellent place to do just that. The 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Trail climbs its namesake peak—a 600-foot exposed granite dome—before tumbling alongside a cascading waterfall. Any time of year is great here, but the wide-angle views of a hundred different hues in fall make this a fantastic autumn trek.

Sometimes after a hike it’s difficult to decide if it’s time for a refreshingly cold beer or a soothing glass of great sipping wine. Now that Skull Camp Brewing is turning out a range of brews onsite at Round Peak Vineyards, you don’t have to choose. Sit back and gaze upon the verdant green foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains while sipping a sangiovese or quaffing a rich imperial stout.

The Lynx Blue Line Trail and Sycamore Brewing

Sometimes adventures don’t need to take you far from home. The Lynx Blue Line Trail, locally called the Trolly Trail, is just such an urban escape. Referred to as a "rails-with-trails" path, the 3+ mile hard surface route mirrors the Blue Line commuter train tracks and connects the business district of uptown to the many bars, restaurants and shops of South End Charlotte. With its central location, the wide trail is popular for bikes and forms the backbone of several area group running routes.

You can hop on the Trolly Trail at several locations, but why not start and end at a brewery? Sycamore Brewing has become one of Charlotte’s most popular brew tour stops. The clean, modern interior opens up to a large outdoor patio and green space that connects directly to the Trolly Trail. The beers are among the most eclectic in Charlotte, showing great range from the standards to the must-try Salty Coconut Red Ale.

The Rock Hill Outdoor Center and Legal Remedy Brewing

It really doesn’t matter what type of human-powered, two-wheeled locomotion you’re into, there’s a place to ride at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center. This amazing facility is the result of a mega-makeover that replaced a decaying industrial facility with an expansive cycling center. Here, you can race on the high-banked turns of the velodrome, attack the singletrack on a mountain bike trail, cruise along the river on a wide greenway, and even jump the bumps on an Olympic-caliber BMX training facility.

Just down the road from the RHOC, another transformation has taken place. A one-time car dealership has been transmogrified into a hub of crafty beers and even craftier food. Legal Remedy Brewing shows great range in their beers, but for stout and porter fans they really shine. Flavors such as maple bacon and peanut butter are often on the docket at Legal Remedy. Pairing a pint with one of their house-smoked meat selections might just the best post-ride recovery fuel ever.

Rob Glover
Rob Glover

Paddling the Catawba and Muddy River Distillery

If you’re looking for a more unique adventure, grab your kayak and head to the Catawba River. Even if you don’t already have a cruise-ready craft there’s a great option just a short drive from uptown Charlotte.The Catawba River Paddle Club at Tailrace Marina manages a sizable fleet of rental canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards. Their water access is within paddle distance of the distillery and they offer all types of classes.

Caroline Delaney
Caroline Delaney

While you won’t exactly feel like you’ve spent the day on the high seas after paddling the Catawba, you can still channel your inner pirate at the Muddy River rum distillery. The distillery is not only the first in North Carolina to produce that most coveted of pirate potables but is also conveniently located on the banks of the Catawba. Muddy River rum is available in restaurants and taverns across the state, but why travel that far? The distillery offers tours and tastings most weekends so it’s a perfect stop after paddling the river.

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