Make Your Escape

North Carolina's mountain lakes, like Lake Lure and Lake James, pictured here, offer crystal-clear waters and striking mountain views.

Need to escape? (That was rhetorical; of course you do.) Consider these picturesque North Carolina destinations for a much-needed weekend away from reality.

Blowing Rock

Built in 1952, Grandfather Mountain’s mile-high Swinging Bridge is the highest in America. Linking two rocky peaks, the bridge tends to sway in high winds.

Escape summer’s heat with the winds of The Blowing Rock, a cliff overhanging the Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below and North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. The mountain outcrop received its name, because winds sweeping up the cliff will return light objects thrown into the gorge.

Two miles from the rock itself lies the town bearing the same name, with shops, restaurants and a village atmosphere.

History, outdoor adventure and nature abound at Blowing Rock’s top attractions. Consider a winding drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a tour of the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, hiking at Grandfather Mountain State Park or an adventure at Mystery Hill, an indoor/outdoor play “museum” complete with a natural gravitational vortex.

Trip Time: About 3 hours


Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock is a 87-acre resort, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooking Chetola Lake.

Challenging, rocky hikes such as MacRae Peak and Attic Window Peak are rewarded with beautiful vistas.

The centerpiece of Moses Cone Memorial Park is Flat Top Manor, above, a 20-room, Colonial Revival style mansion built in 1901. The first floor houses The Southern Highland Craft Guild, which features handmade crafts by hundreds of regional artists.

The Gamekeeper Restaurant is ranked among the area’s top restaurants. For dessert, try the GK Bread Pudding, a bourbon and caramel bread pudding, with crumbled nut topping and Chantilly cream.

Ride horseback, or hike, through forests and meadows on 25 miles of trails in the Moses Cone Memorial Park.

The Linn Cove Viaduct in the Blue Ridge Parkway hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel.

Fly-fishing and float trips in the Watauga River are available through Chetola Resort.

At Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine, visitors sift buckets of mine ore at a water flume to reveal gems.

 Lake Lure

A boardwalk hugs the shoreline on Lake Lure, where visitors can explore the mountain lake by rental boat, canoe and kayak, or by taking a guided boat tour.

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, man-made Lake Lure and its bountiful surroundings include soaring cliffs and sandy beaches, pristine forests and cool, river-fed swimming holes.

Famous as the setting for the movie “Dirty Dancing,” Lake Lure lives up to its reputation as a secluded mountain retreat. Sitting at the base of the Hickory Nut Gorge in Rutherford County, the lake is surrounded by mountains, with lake homes tucked along a lush shoreline. Nearby are restaurants, lodging and a swimming beach.

Outdoor adventure awaits up the mountain at Chimney Rock State Park. Here you can climb (or take the elevator) to the top of a 315-foot granite monolith called the Chimney and enjoy the breathtaking views across the lake and the gorge. Or you can hike the Hickory Nut Trail and cool off under one of the state’s highest waterfalls. When you’re ready to relax, dip your feet in the Rocky Broad River while enjoying a craft beer at Chimney Rock Village, or you can meander through the blooms and blossoms at the Flowering Bridge.

Trip Time: About 4 hours

A moderate hike at Chimney Rock State Park rewards trekkers who visit Hickory Nut Falls, a 404-foot waterfall that was featured in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.”

Lake Lure’s 21 miles of secluded shoreline is home to more than 1,500 private houses, many of which are vacation rentals.

The 535-million-year-old cliff at Chimney Rock State Park is a must-see destination. Visitors can climb the 500 steps to the top of the granite rock or take an elevator.

Zach Horn of Fletcher, N.C., enjoys a craft beer while cooling his feet in the Rocky Broad River in Chimney Rock.

Lake Lure’s 100-yard-long sandy beach has water games, slides, picnic shelters and fantastic mountain views.

A historic bridge spanning the Rocky Broad River, scheduled for demolition in 2011, remains open, but only to foot traffic visiting its flowering gardens. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, above, was created by a group that campaigned to turn the structure into a garden and pedestrian walkway.

Bald Head Island

The island adheres to strict building codes that conserve trees and preserve the natural environment, including a variety of habitats — a 10,000-acre marshland, ancient maritime forest, freshwater lagoons and beaches.

As soon as you step off the ferry onto Bald Head Island, it’s clear this is a place like no other. Bicycles and electric golf carts are the main sources of transportation (only service vehicles are allowed, no passenger cars), so any thoughts of hustle and bustle quickly blow away in the salty ocean breeze.

Although not strictly an island since Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, the area retains its remote and picturesque nature. This southernmost settlement in North Carolina is nationally recognized as a sea turtle nesting spot and a prime place for birdwatching.

Outdoor activities like kayaking, kiteboarding and surfing are typical pastimes. A visit to the historic Old Baldy lighthouse, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, is a must.

Trip Time: About 2.5 hour drive, plus a 20-minute ferry ride

Built 200 years ago to help guide ships past the dangerous shoals at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the 110-foot Old Baldy Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse.

Wildlife is frequently spotted, like the white ibis, one of 260 species of birds documented on the island.

Enjoy waterfront dining at Mojo’s on the Harbor, one of only a handful of restaurants on the island.

A remote barrier island on the tip of the Cape Fear River, bald head island is only accessible by ferry or private boat. People travel the car-free roads by bike, golf cart or on foot.


Waterfront dining in the “Seafood Capital of the World” supplies views of the abundant wildlife along the Calabash River.

Just north of the South Carolina border, sits the “Seafood Capital of the World” — Calabash, N.C. Boasting nine seafood restaurants within walking distance of each other, the breaded-and-fried-style seafood, known as Calabash style, originated here during the 1940s.

Primarily a fishing village, fresh catch is plentiful in Calabash. Local restaurants capitalize on that bounty with classic fried platters and modern approaches as well.

“Calabash fried seafood has been a part of the history here in this area for quite a long time. And for us, the biggest challenge has actually been the idea of balancing tradition, with a new spin,” said Patrick Legendre, general manager of The Oyster Rock restaurant in Calabash. “We have blended the old with the new by keeping it as close to home as possible.”

When you’ve eaten your fill, visit Sunset Beach, only 10 minutes away, or charter a boat tour for the authentic Calabash fishing experience. Golfing enthusiasts rejoice with close to 30 courses within 30 minutes of the community.

Trip Time: About 3 hours

Freshly caught is always the dish du jour.

Classic Calabash-style seafood platters at the waterfront seafood shack feature fresh, wild seafood prepared to order and served with the traditional sides — coleslaw, french fries and hushpuppies.

On the banks of the Calabash River, the Oyster Rock restaurant’s oyster pit delivers fresh oysters — still muddy from the beds — and prepares them in front of guests.

The Waterfront Seafood Shack is open from March through October.

Sunset beach is a quick, 10-minute drive from the center of town.

A Sampler of Seafood Stops

1. The Oyster Rock
Upscale dining establishment with a seafood-heavy, contemporary American menu.
9931 Nance St.

2. Ella’s of Calabash
Famous for its traditional Calabash-style seafood, Ella’s also serves it broiled, sauteed and steamed.
1148 River Road

3. Beck’s Restaurant
Established in 1940, Beck’s is still owned and operated by the original family.
1014 River Road

4. The Boundary House
The upscale restaurant serves a variety of entrees, huge salads and homemade desserts.
1045 River Road

5. Captain Johns
Choose traditional Calabash style or opt for broiled, Cajun style, lemon-grilled, or sauteed seafood. Capt. John’s also offers oyster roast (in season).
9887 Oak St.

6. Captain Nance
Family-style restaurant offering steak, chicken and seafood lunch specials.
939 Nance St.

7.Dockside Seafood House
Open since 1955, the family-owned restaurant is located on the Calabash River. Visitors can take a walk on the boat docks before their meal.
9955 Nance St.

8. Seafood Hut
Opened in 1961, this roadside stop is known for fried seafood and hushpuppies, plus burgers, steak and barbecue.
1125 River Road
(910) 579-6723

9. Waterfront Seafood Shack
Fresh, local, wild seafood prepared to order — grilled, fried, blackened or broiled.
9945 Nance St.

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