Day Trips and Memories to Make
Extend the holiday season with short ventures around the state.
by Latisha Catchatoorian
What’s your favorite holiday memory? While gourmet meals and presents are nice, it’s usually the experiences and the people we share them with that we remember the most. Since it truly is the most wonderful time of the year, set the turkey baster aside and round up your family and friends to venture out of the Triangle for a day. These five winter day trips will get you into the festive spirit and help you extend the fun across the season.
The Biltmore Estate
If you’re a born-and-raised North Carolinian, chances are you’ve been to the Biltmore, whether with your family or on a school field trip. But a visit during the holidays is like no other. Built by George Vanderbilt during the Gilded Age and still owned by his descendants, this American castle is the largest privately owned home in the nation. Vanderbilt first opened up his expansive home to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895. More than100 years later, people the world over flock here to experience its seasonal magic and grandeur. You’ll marvel at the thousands of ornaments and lights on the 55 Christmas trees scattered throughout the rooms, and enjoy live performances of traditional music during evening visits. The nearby Antler Hill Village & Winery, shops, and gardens also offer special holiday festivities that will have you returning for many Christmases to come.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center
Thanks to the typically mild winters of North Carolina it’s possible to enjoy outdoor activities virtually year-round, and one of the best options for adventuring is the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Home to 1,300 acres along the scenic Catawba River, it offers a natural setting to play, relax, and experience the great outdoors. On days too chilly for whitewater sports, there are also flatwater activities like kayaking and canoeing to enjoy. But water isn’t the only asset that the Whitewater Center has to offer. Land activities include rock climbing, jumps and ropes courses, ziplines, and hiking trails. There are also on-site dining venues, including the River’s Edge Bar & Grill and the Pump House Biergarten. The main gate and trails are open from dawn until dusk, 365 days a year, weather permitting. Check the calendar of events for daily activities, special events, and more.
Embrace history with a return to the past when you visit historic Old Salem. Founded in 1776 by Moravians (a Protestant group organized in the 15th century), Old Salem was developed as the central administrative, spiritual, craft, and professional town of its surrounding congregations. Now surrounded by its namesake city, Winston-Salem, Old Salem was home to craftsmen who were respected for their architecture and attention to detail. Even today, about three-quarters of the historic town buildings are the original structures and the staff are wearing authentic period costumes of the 1700s and 1800s. Throughout Old Salem, visitors can watch craftsmen making products of that era including tools, ceramics, furniture, metals, and foods. During the holidays, Old Salem offers day tours, candlelight evening tours with tavern games and caroling, a special day with St. Nicholas, and a Moravian-themed Salem Christmas Saturday. For event and ticket information visit OldSalem.org.
Ski N.C. and Visit the Mountain Villages
A veritable winter wonderland awaits in the mountains of western North Carolina. Whether you yearn for skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, or simply sitting by a stone fireplace, there are plenty of snow-globe moments to be shared just a short three-hour drive from Raleigh. The High Country has numerous winter sporting resorts to choose among, as well as picturesque villages like Blowing Rock and Banner Elk with shops, dining, and scenery that could be pulled straight from the pages of a storybook. Opening season of Appalachian Ski Mountain kicks off November 17th, Sugar Mountain Ski Resort projects a November 20th opening, and Beech Mountain Ski Resort opens November 24th.
Carolina Tiger Rescue
Put a little wild into your winter and visit the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro. You won’t find any bears, but you will see lions, tigers, cougars, caracals, ocelots, and servals, to name a few of the cat species. The Carolina Tiger Rescue’s mission is to save and protect wild cats, and this rescue center differs from a zoo because the animals are in a refuge sanctuary, living out the remainder of their lives in a homelike environment. The number of visitors is also limited on a daily basis, which helps the animals to be less overwhelmed and more receptive to visitors.
The wild cats are more active during cooler months, making winter an optimal time to see your favorite bobcat or leopard up close. Public and private tours are available, but require an advance ticket. For more information visit CarolinaTigerRescue.org.
While there’s no place like home for the holidays, set some time aside this winter to take a day trip that enhances the merriment of the season and spreads the holiday cheer into next year.