Spring is around the corner. Here are eight ways to enjoy the sunnier days and warmer nights North Carolina from the mountains to the coast.
Walk the wildflower trails
North Carolina’s mountain wildflowers are nearly as famous as the fall foliage. Color unfolds from March to June with a sequence of trout lilies and violets, trillium and lady slippers, and azaleas, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Pick up well-known trails at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain and Chimney Rock. And east of the mountains, discover a surprising wealth of wildflowers at Raven Rock State Park in Lillington and the Flower Hill Nature Preserve near Clayton.
Get lost in gardens
Every garden has a story, and North Carolina’s are epic. At Biltmore, which welcomes spring with Biltmore Blooms, George Vanderbilt, Frederick Law Olmsted and horticulturalist Chauncey Beadle created a dazzling array of formal and informal gardens. Don't forget to take your kids to Antler Hill while on the estate. At Sarah P. Duke Gardens, marking the 75th anniversary of their dedication, dramatic plantings in world-class designs reach the height of beauty in spring. The gardens of Tryon Palace cover 2½ centuries of history with marigolds and celosia representing the Colonial era. When you are in New Bern, don't forget to stop in and see the birthplace of Pepsi. And for more intimate vignettes, tour private gardens during the North Carolina Azalea Festival, Wilmington’s showcase of Southern pageantry at its finest.
Root for the home team
There’s nothing like baseball fresh from the farm, and North Carolina teams have helped cultivate an heirloom crop of players, including Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Miguel Cabrera. The Charlotte Knights begin a new era with the opening of BB&T Ballpark in the heart of the city. The team expects to see 600,000 fans between April 11 and Sept. 16, when the Triple-A Championship Game closes the season. The Durham Bulls, host of the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game, return to play in a ballpark fresh from a $19 million renovation. And in Asheville, Hickory, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Kannapolis and Zebulon, ballparks score with one-of-a-kind experiences. Bring a baseball for autographs.
See stars under the stars
Come April, music lovers will have no trouble finding jams and performance under the sun and stars. Fans travel to Merlefest from far and near to celebrate the late Doc Watson’s generous definition of traditional music. The four-day festival in Wilkesboro is one of the country’s largest and best-loved, and this year’s lineup includes Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Old Crow Medicine Show and Holly Williams. Music and craft beer come together in Huntersville for the North Carolina Brewers and Music Festival. Music also pairs well with barbecue, the main course at Winston-Salem’s inaugural Jammin' Pig BBQ Music Festival, Lexington’s BBQ Capital Cook-Off, Goldsboro’s Pig in the Park, Edenton’s Hogfest and Eden’s Ribfest — all fun, culinary experiences.
Toast craft beer
Throughout April, celebrate NC Beer Month, which connects the dots on the brewery map and destinations where beer culture thrives. Travelers can cross from the mountains to the coast to find signature festivals (Hickory Hops, World Beer Festival Raleigh), collaboration beers and new releases, beer dinners (including wild game served with Big Boss brews), travel packages (Asheville, Brevard, Sylva and elsewhere) and one-of-a-kind experiences (Kinston Beer Weekend, Taverns & Trolleys). With about 100 craft breweries, North Carolina is the state of Southern beer. One lucky traveler can also win a dream trip to Charlotte to become a brewmaster with NoDa Brewery.
Celebrate bud break
The first sign of the wine to come is the swelling of the buds on the vine. The sight itself inspires celebration, and vineyards across North Carolina’s expansive wine-growing region welcome visitors to see the vines awaken. The Budbreak Wine Festival in Mount Airy features vineyards from within and beyond the Yadkin Valley wine region, and seasonal events return to Raffaldini, Childress, Zimmerman and other wineries. And spring 2014 will be remembered for the grand openings of JOLO Winery at Pilot Mountain and Jones vonDrehle in Thurmond.
Get seriously wet
By the end of April, coastal waters feel welcoming even to people without wetsuits, and stand-up paddleboards dot the surf and sounds along the 320-mile shoreline. SUP attracts more first-time participants than any other outdoor sporting activity, and North Carolina makes an ideal destination for both novices and champions. The Carolina Cup at Wrightsville Beach has grown from local happening to international event. And with plentiful lakes and rivers, the state has developed inland strongholds including Lake Norman, Charlotte (at the U.S. National Whitewater Center) and Asheville.
Set your pace and pedal
If your two-wheeler has missed you all winter, make up for lost time this spring. Just choose your terrain — from a rugged mountain climb to an easy coastal route — and expect a scenic journey. Organized rides lay out possibilities, whether you participate or take the route on your own. Try the Burnsville Metric or the Tour de Lure, which offers a gentler 23-mile ride if you’re not up for the hilly 71-miler. Or make history on the coast with the inaugural Outer Banks Duathlon, featuring a 23-mile-ride through the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge with 5-mile runs as bookends.
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