Our area is surrounded by small towns and iconic attractions that many people know very little about. Here are five spring road trips that deserve your attention the next time you want to head out for an adventure.
Words and Photography by Christina Riley
Randolph County gets a lot of attention thanks to the North Carolina Zoo, but Seagrove is another excellent spot to visit in the area. Home to slightly more than 200 people, this is the handmade pottery capital of the U.S., thanks to the local clay’s rich minerals. You’ll find at least 100 potters and more than 50 studios within this small community.
Start by grabbing a map from the North Carolina Pottery Center. Then drive up and down Pottery Road, designated as a scenic road by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. You can also ask the kind people at the visitors center where to go, and they’ll ask what you’re seeking.
Find just about any style, including popular ModdWare and one-of-a-kind agateware from Eck McCanless. Speaking of Eck, he is always happy to provide a demo, which is truly a wonderful experience.
When you get hungry, head to nearby Asheboro for a meal at The Table. The farmhouse-style restaurant keeps things as local as possible and also makes the best cinnamon rolls in central North Carolina. If you need another option, don’t count out the legendary fried chicken at Magnolia 23.
The Crystal Coast, located between Wilmington and the Outer Banks, is another incredible daytrip. In this stretch of coastal byways is Beaufort, a wonderful town full of charm and history. Take time to walk down the boardwalk that runs parallel to Front Street. The views of Taylor’s Creek and boats docked in the marina provide for a beautiful backdrop.
Beaufort offers one of the easiest ways to see wild horses in North Carolina. You can sometimes see them from the mainland as they graze and roam the inlets and islands of the Rachel Carson Reserve. You can also kayak or hire a boat to take you across the creek and get a closer look.
Another option from Beaufort is to take a ferry to Shackleford Banks, where you can see more horses and explore the iconic Cape Lookout National Seashore.
After your adventures, enjoy a refreshing meal at Moonrakers in the Beaufort Historic District. The restaurant has some of the best views of Beaufort from its rooftop and a great local beer selection. Start your meal off with a delicious appetizer of whipped feta, and ask about the local catch of the day. Make sure to browse its extensive wine list with more than 90 selections – the restaurant earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.
This county northeast of the Triangle is home to important North Carolina history and has lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures. Start in the county seat, Halifax, which is partly responsible for the “First in Freedom” state license plates that adorn our cars today. That’s because the Halifax Resolves, which ordered North Carolina’s delegation to the second Continental Congress, was signed here on April 12, 1776.
You can learn about this historic happening at the Halifax State Historic Site in town. The Underground Railroad Trail, another Halifax landmark, has a site here and at two other spots in the county.
One of the other locations is at the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail. Here you’ll find information about the enslaved people who built the canal, which ended up serving as an escape route for those seeking freedom.
History is just one piece of what makes the county special. The Sylvan Heights Bird Park is an 18-acre, primarily outdoor aviary with more 2,000-plus exotic waterfowl and birds. You can even feed flamingos and other birds in a designated area.
Medoc Mountain State Park is also in Halifax County, spanning 3,900 acres with more than 10 miles of hiking trails. The majority of the trails are short and perfect for less experienced hikers or families.
This city, less than an hour east of Raleigh, is known for the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum. The 2-acre park is in the heart of downtown and features 30 kinetic sculptures. Each one was built by local farm machinery repairman Vollis Simpson, who used various discarded parts to tell a story of life in eastern North Carolina. Walk around this unique place, and you’ll see milkshake mixers, ceiling fans, bicycles and road signs that spin in the wind.
You can also walk around Lake Wilson, a scenic reservoir on the outskirts of town. The Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House is also worthy of a stop. This unique piece of architecture preserves the area’s African American history, art and culture.
Afterward, grab some iconic eastern North Carolina barbecue (and fried chicken) from Parker’s Barbecue. This wood-fired barbecue restaurant has been smoking whole hogs since 1946, and there is an air of nostalgia as the entire staff wears 1950s-style paper hats.
Tailgate outside The Beefmastor Inn if you arrive early enough before they open. When you’re seated, prepare for one of the state’s finest steak dinners.
Head south to Moore County and Southern Pines for a wonderful getaway. Sometimes Southern Pines is overshadowed by its more famous golfing neighbor, Pinehurst, but there’s a lot to do in the area beyond the links.
You can start your adventure here by searching for North Carolina’s oldest known longleaf pines at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. Its three access points and sandy hiking trails sit just a few minutes from downtown Southern Pines. Each trail is surrounded by towering evergreens, meaning that this state park is verdant throughout the year.
Downtown Southern Pines is packed with shops and great local food. Get in line for the delicious crepes coming out of Betsy’s Crepes for breakfast. For lunch or dinner, order ribs and an appetizer of Cajun crawfish fries from Chapman’s Food & Spirits. A stop at The Ice Cream Parlor Restaurant for a homemade scoop is a must. They also make great burgers if you’re looking for a full meal. Wash those incredible meals down with a frosty pint from Southern Pines Brewing Company before heading back home.