The Perfect Fall North Carolina Road Trip

The Jersey Shore is known for its miles of sun-baked sand and crashing waves, but now that fall is upon us, you might be looking for a vacation spot that is more seasonally appropriate. A state that’s rich in history, scenery, and activities is North Carolina; you can feel like you’re on top of the world in the Great Smoky Mountains, or see how much charm the small towns have to offer. No matter how chilly the weather may get, the warmth of North Carolina’s Southern hospitality is sure to make you glad you took the trip. If you’re planning on going on a North Carolina road trip this fall, here are some of the best places to eat, rest, and venture through for a vacation like no other.

Destination 1: Winston-Salem

After you touch down in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), you’ll begin your journey in Winston-Salem, a city full of “firsts” that is a 75-minute drive from the airport. Winston-Salem may also be referred to as “City of the Arts and Innovation”, “Camel City” for its involvement in the tobacco industry (R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco Company’s Camel cigarettes are based in this area), or where the first Krispy Kreme doughnut shop opened! If you’re craving a snack while on the road but you’re not in the mood for a sweet treat, you can stop in Lexington at the Barbecue Center for something savory, or visit Childress Vineyards to see the Bistro menu (reservations are recommended) for a more luxurious meal. 

Once you get to Winston-Salem, recommended places to stay include The Graylyn Estate (Winston-Salem’s only luxury boutique hotel and conference center) or The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel (whose architecture was the prototype for the Empire State Building). The latter is pet-friendly, and includes an adult recreation room (complete with a twisty slide entrance!), an in-room spa, and a living room that makes any hour a happy one. The Graylyn Estate has a historic charm and a multitude of rooms for guests who are craving any environment, whether it’s modern, premium or antique. Guests can actually replicate the experience of what it was like to be a Southern baron or baroness; all guests upon arrival receive the title “Lady/Lord of the Manor”, with personal butlers who are eager to serve at all times. You’ll be beginning your North Carolina road trip feeling like royalty!

If you can drag yourself away from your alluring abode, Winston-Salem is a city where you can shop as well as appreciate nature and culture to its finest extent. Depending on your interests, you might want to browse the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, the estate formerly inhabited by R.J. Reynolds (remember that name?) and his family, to see exhibits such as Tiffany Glass exhibits or Girlhood in American Art. The Reynolda Gardens “Gardens and Greenhouses” are also open for you to stroll through so you can explore the four themed gardens the recreation center has to offer. You can also kill two birds with one stone by browsing the boutiques at Reynolda Village, which includes art exhibits, fashion, furnishing stores, and health and wellness establishments, but also satiate your hunger at The Village Tavern, where you can dine outside and be served an extensive list of classic meals, with a classy twist. Wherever you go in Winston-Salem, you’ll leave with keepsakes and memories to treasure forever. 

Destination #2: Mount Airy 

After you’ve gotten a taste of the aristocratic life from Winston-Salem, the next stop on your North Carolina road trip is Mount Airy, which is a 50-minute drive away. One place to rest is the Mayberry Suite, a two-bedroom suite within walking distance of Mayberry and Main, or the Whippoorwill Cabin, a charming two-bedroom cabin where you can see the fall foliage bloom from the comfort of your own home. One activity you absolutely cannot miss, though, is the Squad Car Tour, which is a staple of any North Carolina road trip: as Andy Griffith grew up in Mayberry, the Squad Car Tour offers a comfortable view of Andy Griffith’s home, as well as Mayberry businesses, including Wally’s Fillin’ Station, Barney’s Cafe, and Floyd’s Barber Shop. If you feel like working up a sweat, though, visit Pilot Mountain State Park, where you can work up a sweat by hiking, paddling, biking, fishing, or climbing. 

To decompress after an adventure-filled day in Mount Airy, you can visit any one of its notable wineries, which are all esteemed for various reasons. JOLO Winery & Vineyard was rated to be in the top seven of vineyards in the country, as visitors are attracted to its view of Pilot Mountain, as well as its assortment of wines. Another contender is Round Peak Vineyards, which is dog-friendly and offers disc golf to be paired with a wine or beer tasting. Finally, there is Old North State Winery, which was built from scratch and is a major contributor to the Mt. Airy economy. No matter what destination you choose, you are sure to leave Mt. Airy feeling satisfied and refreshed! 

Destination #3: Elkin 

An exemplary final destination to conclude your North Carolina road trip is Elkin, a small town with natural beauty that is 40 minutes away from Mount Airy. Lodging options in Elkin are aplenty; you can “rough it” in the Elkin Creek or Frog Holler Cabins, or stay in the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites for a more modern respite. Guests at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites receive access to all the attractions Elkin has to offer, such as Stone Mountain State Park, or over 20 award-winning wineries.

Stone Mountain State Park is alluring for everyone, from nature lovers to the most daring climbers. You can hike or rock climb, or fish and enjoy a picnic while being a short distance away from the waterfall at Stone Mountain’s summit. If the state park is not for you, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy yourself on the river, such as at Rocky Forest River Run where you can kayak normally, do fitness kayaking, canoe, or go on a full moon kayak cruise! If the river doesn’t relax you enough, there are more wineries for you to take advantage of, with the most memorable being Divine Llama Vineyards, where the name says it all: Llama Trekking tours are available where you can hike along Miller Creek with your own personal llama by your side! Elkin’s attractions and adventures will be something you want to return to again and again, even as you head back home.

End: Fly out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Your North Carolina road trip will (unfortunately) have to end sometime, which takes you back to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. While you wait for your flight back home, this gives you the perfect opportunity to reminisce on your North Carolina road trip (and maybe even plan another trip in the near future)! If you’re looking for other travel destinations, check out another article of ours, How to Spend Winter in South Tryol!

Photo Credits: Visit NC