Wish Summer Wouldn’t End? North Carolina Has the Answer
There’s something magical about a Canadian summer -- all those lazy days by the lake, outdoor activities and patio sunsets. We wish it would never end, and yet it’s all too fleeting.
Fortunately, there’s a place you can keep the party going. North Carolina’s fall temperatures are comfortably warmer than ours, and there’s so much to do that you can’t get at home. Here’s our guide to unique activities that will make it feel like summer all over again and create memories that last for many seasons to come.
Raft the Great Smoky Mountains
In North Carolina the white-water rafting season extends well beyond Labour Day. In addition to being heaps of fun, fall foliage rewards those who raft in October with a kaleidoscope of colours.
Bryson City, in addition to bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a hub for rafting and deep-creek tubing, rafting’s less adrenaline-charged cousin. Many flock to Nantahala Outdoor Center for its family-friendly trip options and package specials.
If you prefer not to get wet -- or if you’re looking to wind down after a morning on the water -- the Great Smoky Mountains railroad is another great way to take in the region’s spectacular views.
Feast on barbecue
We Canadians love a hot grill -- just ask anyone who’s fired one up in subzero temperatures -- but it’s fair to say North Carolinians take barbecue obsession to a whole different level. (It also helps that they have the perfect climate for cooking outside.)
There’s a rivalry between proponents of Eastern-style barbecue, which often involves cooking a whole hog, and Lexington-style barbecue, which consists of pork shoulder with a red sauce made from vinegar and ketchup. We won’t take sides, but here are some spots to hit up if you want to form your own opinion.
Don’t expect to find much Eastern-style barbecue at the Lexington Barbecue Festival in late October, arguably the biggest event in North Carolina’s grilling calendar. Non-food highlights include live music, a lumberjack contest, a car show, sand sculptures and pig races (what are they running from?).
Harness the coastal winds
History was made on a picturesque stretch of beach near Kitty Hawk in 1903, when the Wright brothers piloted the world’s first successful powered flight. These days the conditions that contributed to their accomplishment -- reliable breezes and soft sand -- make North Carolina’s Outer Banks a go-to destination for wind-propelled fun.
Hang gliding is perhaps the most popular activity as it requires no skill, provided you hire a certified instructor and don’t mind heights. It’s a thrilling yet surprisingly serene experience that offers bird's-eye views of rolling dunes and the Atlantic Ocean.
A visit to Canadian Hole beach (named in honour of the many visitors from north of the border who popularized it) is practically a patriotic duty. It’s considered a prime spot for kiteboarding and windsurfing, which requires a lot of upper-body strength but is fortunately just as spectacular to watch as it is to take part in.
Drive a race car
NASCAR’s first-ever stock car event was held in Charlotte in 1949. Seven decades later, the sport holds a special place in the imaginations of many North Carolinians who grew up watching souped-up sedans tear down Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the most famous tracks in the world. If you’re coming on a race day, bring some earplugs and your own cooler and you’ll practically be a local (beer is allowed, glass isn’t).
On non-race days a behind-the-scenes tour costs just $16 (US$12) and takes you to several areas that are off-limits when events are happening. The biggest adrenaline rush is the Richard Petty Driving Experience, which lets you roar around the track in a real race car, just like Tom Cruise in the 1990 movie "Days of Thunder." At time of publication, the cost of three laps riding shotgun with a professional driver was 33% off, starting at $130 (US$99.99).
Channel your inner pirate
Ever heard of Edward Teach? Perhaps you know him by his more fearsome nickname: Blackbeard. His famous vessel, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was shipwrecked off the North Carolinian coast in 1718 then found in 1996, to the delight of locals and tourists alike. You can discover artifacts from the time -- or maybe we should say aarrr-tifacts -- in Beaufort’s maritime museum and Historic Bath’s Van der Veer House.
The infamous pirate’s legacy is also alive and well offshore on Ocracoke Island, the site of his final battle and eventual decapitation. The event is commemorated every October with Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, a swashbuckling weekend featuring a pirate ship battle, costumes, cannon fire and sword fights.
Ride in a hot air balloon
Thank gentle weather and Carolina blue skies for hot air ballooning, which has graduated from being a lost art to a statewide pastime. The Yadkin Valley wine region and the Lake Norman area (just north of Charlotte) are both near some prime launch spots and are especially lovely in the fall.
For the most impressive scenes you’ll want to head to Carolina BalloonFest, which is held every October. During the three-day festival, mass ascensions take place twice a day and the sky is dotted with colourful balloons as far as the eye can see. A tethered ride costs only $14 (US$10) per adult and $7 (US$5) per child -- a bargain that’s not just hot air, we promise. Or you can book an unrestrained flight for $325 (US$250).
Ready for a second “summer” south of the border? Visit North Carolina is your go-to place for inspiration and tips. Keep an eye on their travel deals page and Travelzoo's for easy ways to save money statewide. Air Canada maintains lists of its lowest fares to Charlotte and Raleigh from several major Canadian cities.