Outdoors in the Old North State

When I moved to North Carolina, I never could have imagined the treasures this state would have in store.  I came to Charlotte, rather unexpectedly and discovered in many ways Western North Carolina wasn’t too different from New England.  From Charlotte it’s under 150 minutes to the mountains and under 4 hours to scads of beaches.  Also the craft beer scene matches and dare I say exceeds, that in Vermont. For me the biggest change was swapping out seafood for barbecue – yummy in a more indulgent way!  This page will serve to help educate visitors and new comers to the natural wonders

 North Carolina

Image result for western north carolina map

Most the posts will focus in this region of North Carolina

Western North Carolina is land of grandeur.  It is home to the highest mountain (Mt. Mitchell at 6,684 sq.ft) & the tallest waterfall (Whitewater Falls) on the East Coast.  Maid tremble in fear at the thought of cleaning the largest private residence (The Biltmore Estate & its 250 rooms).  While atop Grandfather Mountain, you can walk across a mile-high suspension bridge (How about that Bronco fans!).  

Charlotte was the heart of the original frontier during colonial era.  Deemed a “Hornet’s Nest” by the British there has long been an independent strike by people who live in this region. Charlotte celebrates Meck Day on May 20th as a celebration of the reading of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on 5/2/1775 in response to the battles of Lexington & Concord in Massachusetts. It is considered to be the first Declaration of Independence against Britain and an inspiration for Thomas Jefferson. 

Typically much of what I have seen Charlotte focus its historical identity has been post Reconstruction Era (following the Civil War) and raising out of the war’s ashes to embrace an identity as a hub of the “New South.”  You can learn more about the New South identity at the Levine Museum of the New South or the Harvey B. Gantt Center, named for one of the city’s more popular mayors.  Other museums to explore include the Mint Museum of Art or the Discovery Place, the area’s science museum. 

But for me, I enjoy the accessibility Charlotte affords, being able to enjoy dynamic neighborhoods, boisterous sporting events & innovative restaurants.  When I want to recharge my batteries, its a quick interstate trek to the mountains out west or beaches, southeast. It’s this accessibility coupled with the sincere warm of residents that endears me to this vibrant region.

Greetings from the Chilly South East

In 2017, Take A Day Trip is branching out from New England excursions to a new geographic pocket!  The South East, specifically most of Southern Appalachia and the Southern North Carolina, South Carolina and Northern Georgia coast.

I’m Alana and I have known the founder Shawn, since our very first day at college! I relocated to Charlotte, NC in the summer of 2013 from Massachusetts.  Prior to moving,  I had a limited knowledge of the South East including historical sites, the various ecosystems and the rich cultural diversity.  In less than 4 years, I have grown to marvel at this corner of the country. The natural beauty never falls to leave me awestruck and I can never speak higher of the local food and drink scenes I have discovered. You can expect to find new places to hike, local businesses to support and where to get that next great meal (drinks included)!  Also, being a history and anthropology buff I’ll try to share some fun facts and trivia along the way.  Knowledge is power people and we’ll try to make each other the next pub trivia champ!

My posts will typically focus on things within a 4 hour drive from my home.  This means highlighting the following areas:

  • Western – Central North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Eastern Tennessee
  • South-western Virginia
  • Northern and (hopefully) coastal Georgia.

However, I will try to expand upon that focus if my travels take me beyond this scope.

We welcome anyone in these states to also share their favorites spots, whether they are hikes, experiences and even fun facts.  Also, we also open to suggestions on what people would like to gain from their experience with Take a Day Trip.  I’m excited to grow the scope of Take a Day Trip and I’m also looking forward to your suggestions on where to explore next.

Happy Trails to You… Until We Meet Again!

Alana

The joy of taking a vacation in the off season.

My wife and I just came back from a wonderful weekend out in the Berkshires where it was definitely quiet season with very little snow to bring skiers in and all of the warmer weather activities long having finished for the season.  It’s nice not to wait for a seat at a restaurant, get a deal on a place to stay or see many attractions with a lot fewer people there.  The Berkshires are far from the only place in the Northeast that can really shine in the off-season.  Cape Cod is very quiet this time of the year and the islands can feel totally empty – even places like Boston aren’t quite so hectic since the flow of tourists tends to slow down sometime after October ends.

A trip out to Western Massachusetts or Upstate New York is lovely any time of the year and the weather in January is certainly less than ideal – however places like Stockbridge, Lenox, and other lovely postcard-worthy New England towns are lit up from the holiday season (at least for a little while longer).  The Vineyards, Museums, Cider Houses, Distilleries, State Parks and other attractions are a great way to get away with only a modest drive and many of the places to stay are offering reduced rates.

When a trip to a warmer climate or ski destination isn’t an option for you consider a relaxing trip to someplace close to home – there’s lots of wonderful places on sales that make for an ideal getaway!

Enjoying the home stretch of summer vacation.

New England is an absolutely glorious place in the summer and, although it’s a short season, there’s so much to enjoy here.  There’s especially a lot of family-friendly attractions throughout the area.  For those of you in the Boston area with young children a few not much more than an hour from downtown come to mind:

  • Battleship Cove – this ‘floating museum’ on the southcoast of Massachusetts has several retired US Navy warships open for touring.  Most notably the World War II era Massachusetts.  If you bring a group along you can also camp out on the ship in the enlisted crew cots – it’s a great place to bring someone to show them a piece of living history.
  • Great Brook Farm State Park – This park in Carlisle boasts a working dairy farm that is open for scheduled tours, lots of open space to enjoy, an ice cream stand in the summer and an area where you can pet and feed the farm animals.
  • Stone Zoo – This zoo is located just a few minutes north of Boston off of I-93 and boasts lots of different animals and environments for kids to enjoy – including a lagoon full of flamingos!  The Stone Zoo also has a sister zoo in Boston – Franklin Park Zoo.
  • Minuteman National Historic Park – This is a great place to take a child after they’ve learned about the American Revolution in school.  Being able to talk the Battle Road and see the places from the history books is a real treat.  Plus there’s an interactive video, people dressed up in period uniforms and costumes and lots of special programming.

This is just a small sample of what’s available near Boston – there’s a lot more in the area and tons more if you’re willing to drive further!  Go out and enjoy these wonderful last few weeks of summer and free days before school starts up again!

Exploring the Erie Canal and Upstate New York.

I had read about the early history of the United States in school and I learned in history class (grudgingly at the time) about some of the earliest infrastructure projects in the United States.  One that played a key role in the development of our country and was a key driver in New York City’s economic growth in the early 19th century was the Erie Canal.  This canal allowed barges to go from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and thus New York City become the busiest port in the young United States.  This is an interesting piece of history that is still alive today.  In addition to many sections of the original canal that are preserved throughout New York the canal was upgraded under the stewardship of Governor Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century and is still in use today as part of the New York State Canal system.  This comprehensive system of canals connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Hudson River), Lake Champlain, Seneca Lake, a couple of the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario across the interior of New York State.  There are also other options available to bring you to Montreal and other locations on the St. Lawrence River and spots further along on the Great Lakes.  Seeing this come to life was really exciting and I hope to include more photos and spots from this beautiful and historic transportation network in the future.

This is one end of lock 16 on the Erie Canal in Mindenville, NY.

This is one end of lock 16 on the Erie Canal in Mindenville, NY.

Take a tour of New Englands Industrial History.

Anyone visiting or living in New England knows all about the lovely old industrial buildings all over New England.  Often made of stone and brick and usually repurposed into something else for use today (often offices or condos) – they’re a lovely part of many a New England downtown.  With very little manufacturing left in New England these buildings are a very lovely testament to the industrial innovation and development that took place in New England and the critical role that it played in the development of the American economy.  In traveling throughout New England a few attractions stand out as great places to get a glimpse into the industrial development of the region and an idea of how big an manufacturing powerhouse New England used to be.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Saugus Iron Works – This National Historic Site just north of Boston was a
    Water Powered Trip Hammer at Saugus Iron Works NHS

    Water Powered Trip Hammer at Saugus Iron Works NHS

    surprise to me.  I always thought that New England’s industrial development didn’t start until the 19th century, however this site shows that industrial development started a lot earlier.  This site dates from the 17th century and was the first location in the British Colonies where iron ore was refined and turned into useful items like nails and other tools.  Saugus Iron Works represents the beginning of the iron industry in the United States.  It’s a great place to take kids for an in-person history lesson and even has an operational water-powered trip hammer!

  • Lowell:  This city was built on the textile industry.  It wasn’t the first place where textiles were produced at an industrial scale but was one of the very first large
    Historic Locomotive in Lowell.

    Historic Locomotive in Lowell.

    cities built for the express purpose of textile manufacturing.  There are multiple mills and museums in the city which showcase Lowell’s rapid rise from a small village to a major industrial hub.  Your first stop should be the National Historic Park visitor center.  Tours leaving from this location and give you a good introduction to the city.  After that, there are several things to see including the National Streetcar Museum and the American Textile History Museum among other spots.

  • Slater Mill – Pawtucket, RI:  This is one of the first textile mills in the United States, opened in 1793.  The designs for each machine in this mill were smuggled out of Great Britain (where this information was considered a state secret) by Samuel Slater.  This was one of the very first places where water power was used in the United States to manufacture textiles.  Slater Mill has a great museum which is a popular stop for school groups.

There are many other interesting sites in New England but these three are great places to learn more about the Industrial Revolution in New England.   Enjoy an afternoon at any one of these places and learn a little more about this fascinating part of American History.

A few of my favorite spots year round that shine in the summer!

One of the reasons I love living in New England is that we get all four seasons here and they can be enjoyed in a variety of landscapes.  Mountains, coastline, long lazy rivers, big cities and small towns – with just about everything in between.  No matter the landscape it’s pretty much all here.

I personally tend to gravitate towards mountains and freshwater fun.  It started with

Bristol Falls, VT

Bristol Falls, VT

being put on skis and learning to love winter in the mountains from when I was a little kid.  It has grown into an enjoyment of lots of outdoor activities especially hiking and swimming in a nice lake or mountain swimming hole in the warmer months along with skiing, snowshoeing and enjoying the scenery in the colder months.  This has allowed me the pleasure of visiting lots of great New England ski towns that shine year round.  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • Warren and Waitsfield, Vermont – These two towns anchor two of New
    Mad River Valley in the Summer

    Mad River Valley in the Summer

    England’s most iconic ski resorts in the Mad River Valley of Central Vermont: Sugarbush and Mad River Glen.  This area has it all: iconic New England Mountain scenery with jaw-dropping scenery in the fall, great skiing and several classic mountain swimming holes to cool off on during a hot summer day.  There’s also a lovely covered bridge that makes for a great photo backdrop!

  • Bethel, Maine:  Bethel is home to one of New Englands largest and most developed resorts, Sunday River.  It’s one of my picks to start the season since they have (at least as far as I can see) the best snowmaking in New England (maybe tied with Killington) and it tends to get the crowds.  But Bethel is a lovely classic New England ski town with lots to do when the snow has melted.  Sunday River runs lots of activities (check out their website for details) and the surrounding area is tons of fun in the summer.  With camping, biking, swimming and lots of other activities to enjoy Bethel is a great place to bring the family for some summer fun!
  • North Conway, NH:  North Conway is a really popular place and it’s a very
    Swimming hole on the Kangamangus Highway in NH

    Swimming hole on the Kangamangus Highway in NH

    popular destination for good reason.  It’s been a resort town for quite some time and is a busy place at the year-round hub of the Mount Washington Valley.  With the Kangamangus Highway, Mount Washington and several ski resorts with lots of summer activities in the area just to start with.  There’s also a great downtown, lots of nice restaurants and many other great activities to enjoy.

There are lots of other great mountain towns that are fun year round (Rangeley, Maine and Stowe, Vermont come to mind as great spots too) but these are ones that I end up spending a lot of my free time enjoying and know well.  All are worth a trip and there are many more lovely places that I haven’t mentioned too.  I hope to hear about your adventures (click on one of the social media links, comment here or e-mail me at daytripdiaries@gmail.com) and happy trails!!

Enjoying the slow lane in Massachusetts

I grew up in Massachusetts and, for a very long time, took my home state for granted and thought that I had seen everything worth seeing as I was growing up.  That led to years of missed opportunities to explore all that Massachusetts has to offer, which is a lot more than I could have imagined.  Every region of this great state has so many things to see and do packed into it.  One of the great ways to get a good glimpse of that is to hop off the expressway and enjoy the slower roads across the Commonwealth.  The biggest example of this that comes to mind is the Massachusetts Turnpike, or Interstate 90.  This 138 mile highway is a critical connection that runs across the state and I’m very thankful it’s there and I’ve used it many times to go lots of different places.  However, looking at other options to cross the state if you’re not in a hurry is a great way to see lots of other enjoyable places in Massachusetts.  There is a wonderful network of older roads that show a different side of the Bay State.  Three of the easiest ones to follow that take you all the across the state and are great to start with are the following:

  • Massachusetts Route 2:  This road has earned a reputation for being a
    Connecticut River from the French King Bridge.

    Connecticut River from the French King Bridge.

    miserable road in the eastern third of the state, however it goes near or by lots of great places and is a completely different highway when you get to it’s western sections.  It passes through the historic towns of Lexington and Concord just after it goes by Route 128 heading west and skirts Minuteman National Historic Park.  As it keeps going westward it passes by the town of Fitchburg and becomes the Mohawk Trail shortly thereafter.  It crosses over the Connecticut River at the lovely and historic French King Bridge  As it continues it passes into New York over a lovely mountain pass with switchbacks in the road that equal any in Vermont as it leaves North Adams and ends in Troy, New York after a spring through picturesque farm country in Upstate New York.

  • US Route 20:  This road is often congested in Eastern Massachusetts and is
    Grist Mill at the Wayside Inn of Sudbury.

    Grist Mill at the Wayside Inn of Sudbury. Photo courtesy of Catherine Cox at R & B Photography

    often a miserable ride in rush hour.  Don’t let that keep you from exploring it as it goes through some absolutely lovely sections of the state.  Its eastern sections include trips through the historic and lovely towns of Sudbury, Wayland and Waltham, home of the first watch factory in the United States and a thriving city with an awesome culinary scene.  Right off of Route 20 in Sudbury is the historic Wayside Inn, the oldest inn in the United States that is still operating and hosted a visit by General George Washington (though he likely didn’t sleep there).  As you go further west it passes through Springfield with it’s many museums and other attractions (including the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield Armory National Historic Site) and then onto the lovely Berkshire towns of Lenox and Pittsfield before heading into New York.

  • Route 9:  This is another miserable road in Eastern Massachusetts that is a heavily used commuter road and a very popular shopping destination.  As you
    Quabbin Reservoir

    Quabbin Reservoir

    had west it quiets down and goes through several lovely communities on its way west including Were, Amherst and Northampton before ending in the Berkshires in Pittsfield.  In addition to the towns it passes through it also goes by the historic Quabbin Reservoir (the 412 billion gallon reservoir that supplies water to 2.4 million people in the Boston area and is a former valley that was flooded to make the reservoir) and several more parks in Western Massachusetts.

These descriptions don’t do justice to all of the things to do on these roads and the other routes you can take across the state.  However, I hope I’ve gotten you thinking about all the great places to see taking the slow road.  Enjoy the trip!!

Enjoying Massachusetts by Kayak

One of the great things about living in New England in my opinion is all of the bodies of water we have here.  We don’t have to worry about droughts as much as people in other parts of the country and our backyard is covered with lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, creeks and other types of waterways.  This makes New England a great place to be a kayak owner or to at least give it a try.  My wife and I are considering buying kayaks because there are so many great places to enjoy kayaking just in our backyard!  A few places near us that we’ve tried include the following:

  • Charles River Canoe and Kayak – located in several locations in the Boston area the one Newton is just a few minutes down the road from us.  You can rent stand-up paddleboards in addition to canoes and kayaks.  This part of the Charles River has plenty of room to maneuver and you get to see lots of places from a unique angle.  One example is the I-95/128 and I-90 interchange.  It looks completely different on a boat underneath the highway.
  • South Bridge Boat House:  This place rents canoes and kayaks in Concord.  It’s a great way to enjoy parts of Minuteman National Historic Park, especially the North Bridge in Concord where the second main engagement of the Minuteman against the British Army.
  • Norton Reservoir Kayaking:  I haven’t been here yet but I grew up right down the street from this lovely body of water.  There is a great kayak company that I’ve heard about and I want to try.
  • Lyman Reserve:  There aren’t any places nearby that rent kayaks that I know of.
    Buttermilk Bay from Lyman Reserve

    Buttermilk Bay from Lyman Reserve

    However, don’t let that stop you.  This Trustees of Reservations property fronts onto Buttermilk Bay, a sheltered and calm area connected to Buzzards Bay that is a great place to kayak and enjoy the lovely coastal scenery of Massachusetts.

These are just a few of the many, many places you can go out and enjoy using a kayak or canoe in Eastern Massachusetts alone!!  There are many more places in the rest of the state and throughout New England.  Please let me know a few of your favorites – by commenting below, on my Facebook page or via Twitter (@takeadaytrip)!  I’d love to hear from you!!