North Carolina takes the idea of outdoor adventure and runs with it.
Depending on when your group visits, you might be snow-skiing or waterskiing, biking or boating, sitting by the fire or by a fishing pole. The possibilities are out there.
“North Carolina is an ideal destination for groups seeking outdoor activities, from our mountains to our coast and the urban centers in between,” said Wit Tuttell, director of Visit North Carolina. “The state offers opportunities for large and small groups at every adventure level to get outside and try something new. Great ziplining, white-water rafting, bike tours, hiking and walking tours, kayaking, surfing and wild horse tours are all available within close proximity to our many conference and convention centers across the state.”
Following are just a few of the many choices in the Tar Heel State.
Say aloha to the water, and we’re not talking about the ocean. Aloha Paddle Sports can introduce your group to the joys of paddling Lake Norman, the state’s largest manmade lake, set just north of Charlotte and spanning four counties with a 520-mile shoreline. Aloha offers rentals as well as lessons and SUP and kayak excursions, including sunset and full-moon tours.
“We take groups of up to 30 out on the lake,” said owner Rob Bennett. “I’ll do what I call ‘the mash-up,’ starting with paddleboard lessons, then some fun races and a little paddleboard yoga.”
Aloha also operates the Charlotte Cycle Boat, which is like its land-based party cycle cousin but with a paddlewheel controlled by pedaling participants. Hosting up to 15, the boat features 10 cycling stations fronting a high-top galley bar as well as seating areas for those who just want to relax and enjoy the ride.
“It’s a blast,” Bennett said.
Segway to the Outdoors
Why walk when you can roll? Segways are a good way to take in the sights of Winston-Salem, including historic Old Salem, originally a Moravian settlement dating back to the mid-1700s.
“Our most popular tour starts in Old Salem, then we go through downtown Winston, including Washington Park and the School of the Arts campus,” said Chelsi Wilkerson, a tour guide with locally based Triad Eco Adventures.
Triad’s Segway programs include divide-and-dine tours, a three-hour tour that includes lunch, and even night tours atop Segways fitted with headlights.
“We also have a mini-glide, which is about an hour,” Wilkerson said.
Groups can Segway into the wild along greenways and through nature areas or hop on a Triad electric bike tour.
“We have some bike tours that go by local lakes. You forget you’re in town,” Wilkerson added.
Blue Ridge Mountains
Part of the greater Appalachian chain, the beloved Blue Ridge Mountains define western North Carolina and yes, when seen from a distance, these gentle slopes really do look blue.
Part of the experience includes a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, meandering for 470 miles through North Carolina and Virginia past spectacular scenery and historic sites.
Miles of trails wind through the mountains, with operators like Blue Ridge Hiking Company on hand to point the way through the lush, misty landscape.
“Our mission is to make the wilderness accessible and enjoyable,” said Sarah Matzke, head guide and operations manager for the Blue Ridge Hiking Company, offering half- and full-day hikes near Asheville as well as custom multi-day trips and backpacking expeditions along the Appalachian Trail.
“Our company can create the perfect outing for a backpacking novice or the group seeking a challenge and any adventure in between,” Matzke said. “Our tours highlight flora and fauna, local history, mountain views and waterfalls. The only thing we require is comfortable footwear.”
For an even closer look at the local population—of animals—groups can check out the Western North Carolina Nature Center, tucked into the side of a mountain near Asheville and featuring owls, box turtles, snakes, opossums, deer, cougars, wolves, otters, bears and many more species.
“It’s a great opportunity to experience the wildlife that is indigenous to the mountains of Appalachia,” said Keith Mastin, the center’s education curator. “We started in 1925 and have gone through several phases, including one now,” he added, referring to a host of improvements scheduled for 2020, including a new park entrance.
Private group tours are available, as is a small classroom accommodating up to 25.
In a different part of the state altogether—the northern Piedmont region near Greensboro—Haw River State Park is set on 1,430 acres of wetlands and uplands that are home to creatures ranging from the great blue heron to the beaver and rare white deer. The park is also home to the Summit Environmental Education and Conference Center, with space for up to 180 in eight indoor meeting spaces, along with overnight accommodations for 47 guests.
“In your spare time you can go out and hike on our trails,” said conference coordinator Tammie Vass. “It’s a way to see the natural side of North Carolina while also getting your meeting in.”
|Golfing at Pinehurst | Credit: VisitNC
Face it. For many enthusiasts, fairways are the only greens that count. And North Carolina has them, particularly in the fabled golf enclaves of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen, home of championship courses and championship events like the U.S. Open.
“We’ve got 40 golf courses within a 15-mile radius,” said Beverly Stewart, vice president of sales for the Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen CVB.
But even duffers can enjoy the action here.
“We’ve now got the Cradle, a par-3 executive course that you can play in about an hour, at Pinehurst Resort,” Stewart said. “We also have disc golf in the area.”
Other non-golf activities include croquet, lawn bowling, trap and skeet shooting, biking and fishing, all enjoyed in the great outdoors.
The Farm Report
Look for outdoor excitement in the pastoral countryside in and around Raleigh. Just west of the city hub, groups can pick strawberries, navigate a corn maze and run relay races, among other down-home recreation, at Phillips Farm in Cary. Special events include an October Haunted Farm adventure featuring the “Field of Lost Souls” and a “Gore House.”
“We have teambuilding activities included in our corporate outing packages and work with each client to customize any activity they would like included,” noted Debbie Byrne, events manager.
Kick it up a notch at Sk8-Cary, an action sports venue offering ramps and tracks for bicycling, skateboarding and inline skating, with private group lessons available for all skill levels. Private parties include activities led by the park’s experienced instructors.
Your adrenaline gets a workout at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, where a typical day includes white-water rafting, rock wall climbing, bike racing, ziplining, cross-country running and yoga.
The massive center sits on 1,300 acres and caters to all group sizes and fitness levels, said Adam Bratton, marketing director.
“We can do everything and anything, whether you need teambuilding or if it’s just a group that’s tired of meeting indoors and says, ‘Let’s get some inspiration outdoors,’” Bratton said. “We have a ton of conference space, so you can get some work done and three minutes later you’re jumping on a raft.”
Programs can be customized according to ability, from novice to fearless. The point is to take people out of their comfort zones, Bratton said.
|ALOHA PADDLE Sports, Lake Norman
“Whatever the group wants to work on, leadership, communication, we work on that ultimate goal,” he noted. “We try to figure out what they’re trying to accomplish. It takes a lot of the planning pressure off.”
On-site food and beverage and evening entertainment add to the center’s one-stop-shop flexibility.
“You park once and experience everything,” Bratton said.
What about the beaches and the Outer Banks? Part of a 200-mile string of barrier islands, Cape Hatteras National Seashore sits at the ocean’s edge, washed by waves and shaped by wind, with marshes, wildlife, birds and picturesque lighthouses among the many unforgettable sights.
“We have daily programs, usually about a half-hour in length,” noted Michael Barber, public affairs specialist. “Two of the three lighthouses are open to climb during the summer and through Columbus Day.”
North of the Seashore, imagination takes flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, where a renovated visitor center features a reproduction of the first “flying machine” the brothers tested in 1903.
New interactive exhibits at the center are complemented by regular talks during the day. In addition, the aircraft’s first flight path is indicated on the sand.
Sun, Fun and Luaus
South of the Outer Banks, the North Carolina coast is lined with beaches from the Topsail area down through the Wilmington area, where groups will find Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours and Captain Joe Abbate, whose boats can handle up to 25.
For groups, Abbate recommends an excursion to uninhabited Masonboro Island in the Cape Fear region, where participants practice yoga and explore the island.
“We also do sandcastle building contests, which is great for teambuilding, and luaus on the beach,” he said.