Need a COVID-safe getaway? Two summer adventures you can take in North Carolina
Yeah, it’s a bummer that you haven’t been able to take your annual summer vacation. Curse you, COVID-19!
But you know what? Summer isn’t over. And if you choose to go on an adventure vacation, you can pick a low-risk option.
We offer up two options below. Both are three-day affairs, Friday through Sunday. Both involve establishing a base camp and exploring from there. Both involve campgrounds that embraced social distancing long before social distancing was a thing.
Itineraries reflect lodging and activity options deemed to be among the most virus-resistant.
While the CDC encourages outdoor activities like visiting parks and recreational areas, you should still take precautions. If you are high-risk for severe illness, consider postponing any trips. Always avoid parks or trails that are crowded.
Hanging Rock State Park and vicinity
Basecamp: camping ($23 per night) or cabin ($107 per night)
Activities: Hiking, paddling, tubing
Afternoon/evening: Check in, for either camping or cabin, is 4 p.m. Once you’ve established base camp, let your adventure-loving legs take you on a 4.7-mile hike on the loop trail up to Moore’s Knob; hike it clockwise, catch sunset, then use your headlamps to hike the mile or so downhill back to camp.
Morning: Take a short drive out of the park for a refreshing paddle on the Dan River. Have your own boat? This guide by the Dan River Basin Association shows access points along the Dan, the difficulty level, distance and about how long the trip should take.
No boat? No problem. Dan River Adventures is running trips on the Dan, ranging from 2 to 4 hours depending upon river conditions. Kayaks ($35) and canoes ($60) are available (tubing is also an option). COVID-19 social distancing requirements apply. Learn more and make reservations here.
Afternoon: Keep with the water theme for the day by hiking to the various waterfalls at Hanging Rock State Park. From the park Visitor Center, take the Indian Creek Trail just over a half mile to both Hidden and Window falls. Or, take the Upper Cascades Trail for 0.2 miles to the trail’s namesake falls.
Evening: Running out of steam but still thinking about Friday’s awesome sunset from atop Moore’s Knob? Wolf Rock and House Rock are options nearer camp. Another possibility is to close out the day along the shores of the park’s 12-acre pond (currently closed for swimming), a short walk from both the campground and cabins.
Morning/early afternoon: Since check out isn’t until 3, you’ve got more time to explore. Get up earlier and beat the masses to the summit of Hanging Rock (a challenging 1.3-mile climb from the Visitor Center). And if you’re compelled to get just one more hike in, a short one, preferably with a waterfall, it’s less than 0.2 miles from the Charlie Young Road access to both Tory’s Den (a shallow cave!) and Tory’s Falls.
If you’re headed south/southeast on the drive home, check out the Piedmont Land Conservancy’s Knight Brown Nature Preserve outside Stokesdale. A mellow 3-mile hike takes you down into a valley carved by Belews Creek and isolated from the surrounding countryside by steep hardwood slopes.
Learn more about exploring Hanging Rock State Park by going here, about the area in general here.
Julian Price Park, Blue Ridge Parkway
Basecamp: Julian Price Park Campground ($20 per night)
Activities: Hiking, paddling
Afternoon/evening: With check-in at 3 p.m., that leaves plenty of time to set up camp and do a little exploring. Or, to lounge around camp and revel in a camp chair recliner beneath the lush canopy that shields the sun while letting the mountain breezes move freely about the campground.
If you want to get some walking in, simply strolling the six loops of this campground and checking out your fellow campers’ set-ups may be enough. Or, take an evening stroll on the 2.7-mile trail circling Price Lake and catch the setting sun glinting off nearby Grandfather Mountain.
Morning: Wake up and discover you are in the midst of some pretty awesome hiking. For one, the statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs through the park. Pick it up heading south past Holloway Mountain Road. Hike through a dense fir forest, over mountain meadows, then through a mature hardwood forest. Head east and cross Boone Fork into alpine woods. Or stay within the park and hike the 5.5-mile Boone Fork Loop. The loop includes a wild run along a particularly bouldery section of its namesake creek.
Afternoon: Walk back to Price Lake and rent a canoe ($15 for 2 hours), kayak ($10 per hour) or stand-up paddle board ($15 for 2 hours). At those rates, we recommend paddling to the middle of the lake. You can drop the brim of your hat over your eyes and let the water lapping against the hull lull you to sleep. Do the latter and you’ll be glad you brought that hammock to continue your napping back at camp.
Evening: A return to Price Lake for sunset wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Morning/early afternoon: With checkout at noon, and sufficiently relaxed from Saturday’s napping and hiking, you’ll likely want to loll about until the last possible moment before breaking camp and heading out. But with the day so young, you won’t want to head home immediately, so don’t.
Rather, head north on the parkway for 3 miles to Moses Cone Park, where you’ll find 25 miles of carriage trails. If you’re looking for easy, short and scenic, you’ll want to continue north and catch US 221 into Blowing Rock. There, you can hike the nearly 1-mile loop around Bass Lake. Otherwise, park at the manor and consider any number of options: the 6.2-mile (roundtrip) up to Flat Top Tower, the 11-mile (roundtrip) hike to Rich Mountain, or the roughly 2-mile hike down into The Maze. So many options.