Survive the holiday nuttiness with a weekend escape

It’s a stellar weekend for escaping from the insanity of the holiday season. The coast offers a unique glimpse at a waterfowl wonderland, there’s a hike into history in the Piedmont, and in the mountains you’ll find a flatlander’s paradise. Intrigued? Read on.


As fall wanes, I always think about heading to the coast. The mountains are cold and the prospects of snow and ice make travel dicey; the Piedmont, well, I live in the Piedmont and love it but it doesn’t constitute a weekend escape. That leaves the coast, fall’s last refuge for color in North Carolina and a wild wonderland generally free by now of the annoying flying critters and slithering citizens who can take the fun out of a backcountry adventure.

One of the more unique aspects of the coast’s wildlife wonderland is it’s setting as the winter home of waterfowl and other migratory birds from the far north. Several wildlife refuges along the state’s northern coast offer prime habitat for these snowbirds, one of the most popular of which is the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. And every first Saturday of December, Mattamuskeet becomes even more visible as areas usually closed to the public open for tours. This year, those tours will be in open-air trams, and are offered Saturday morning at 7:30, 9 and 10:30. It’s a great opportunity to take in the stunning sight of the hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including the pictured Tundra swan, that call Mattamuskeet their winter home.

It’s a rare opportunity, and a popular one. Though the tours are free, advanced reservations are recommended, by calling 252.926.4021. Learn more about the refuge here.


Years ago I took a hike that started in downtown Hillsborough, went up NC 86, traipsed through a lot of people’s backyards, played tag with the Eno River and wound up at Durham Academy. We got seriously lost once, took a bath in the Eno (a cold bath, it being February), and encountered more than our share of vehement and vocal “this-is-my-yard!” guard dogs. The hike was a retracing of the route John Lawson, the first European with pen-and-paper to explore the interior of North Carolina, took in 1701. It was probably the most fascinating hike I’ve ever taken.

Learn what secrets from the past lie along the Eno River on Sunday's TPA hike.

The hike was the doing of Tom Magnuson, one of the most curious folks I’ve ever met. And by curious I don’t mean that he himself is … curious, I mean he’s … curious, mostly about history, especially about the routes early residents of the state, dating back thousands of years, took to get from point A to point B. So curious was Tom that he founded the Trading Path Association, dedicated to uncovering the highways of yesterday. To hike in the woods with Tom is to learn that what the untrained eye may take as a mere swale may actually be the site of a once-bustling crossroads where traders, trappers and tradesmen conducted the economy of the day.

Sunday, you’ll get a chance to experience the magic of Magnuson on a two-hour hike starting at 2 p.m. that will reveal the human past of the Few’s Ford section of the Eno River. You’ll never look at a seemingly innocent pile of rocks the same again. $5 fee supports the TPA; for directions go here,  for more info call 919.644.0600.


It’s one thing to call yourself a mountain biker in the Triangle, the Triad or in Charlotte. It’s quite another when you venture into the high country, which boasts some of the best — and toughest — mountain biking in the East. If you’re a Piedmont pedaler who’s been tentative about making the leap, take note of this twice-monthly Beginner Group Mountain Bike Ride at Bent Creek Experimental Forest in Asheville. A couple things to know about Bent Creek in advance. One, it’s easy to get to, located not far off I-40 in Asheville. And two, while it has some intense trails, it’s also got plenty or routes perfect for the first-time-in-the-mountains mountain biker.

Sunday’s ride is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and departs from the Rice Pinnacle Trailhead. It’s advertised as an “Easy, social ride,” with helmets required. For more info, contact ride leader Rick Schrader at 828.665.0015 or at

Photo at top by Jeff Lewis

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Those are GGNC’s thoughts for an active weekend. Find out other ways you can get out this weekend by browsing our super calendar, a collection of events calendars from throughout the state, below.

Comprehensive calendar for the Cape Fear/Wilmington/southern N.C. coast searchable by date and event name.

Coastal Guide
Comprehensive calendar including nature programs from a variety of costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs. Covers the entire coast.

Crystal Cost Tourism Authority
Comprehensive calendar focusing on the Crystal Coast. Good source for programs offered by N.C. Coastal Federation, Cape Lookout National Park, N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve and other costal conservation and research agencies that offer nature programs.
Comprehensive calendar including programs for the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast.

North Carolina Coast Host
Comprehensive calendar for the entire coast that lets you search for events by day, by region, by county, by city or by event (based on key word).

This Week Magazine
Primary focus is the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s coastal midsection).


Asheville Citizen-Times
From the main page, click on “Outdoors,” then WNC Outdoors calendar.

Blue Ridge Outdoors
Searchable calendar lets you extend your reach to events throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southeast (or you can just limit it to North Carolina). Also lets you search a boatload of categories, ranging from Hiking, Mountain Biking and Climbing to Trail Running, Triathlon and Road Walking.

The Mountain Times
From the main page, click on “Calendars,” then Main Events.



Charlotte Observer events calendar
Comprehensive calendar searchable by category, including Nature, Recreation, Recreation & Wellness, Running

Charlotte Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.

Comprehensive calendar includes a Sports & Recreation category.

Piedmont Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.

Comprehensive calendar searchable by category, including: Birding, Boating, Cycling, Nature, Rec & Wellness, Recreation, Running, Swimming, Tennis, Yoga.

Carolina Parent
Comprehensive calendar concentrating on things the family can do together.


Office of Environmental Education
One calendar for the numerous Environmental Education Centers statewide.

North Carolina State Parks
Lets you search for programs at the state’s parks, recreation areas and natural areas by location, by month, by topic. To reach the calendar from the home page, click on “Education,” then “Fun & Free Programs at Parks.”

National Forests in North Carolina
From the home page, click on Carolina Connections for news updates on the state’s four national forests as well as hints on recreational opportunities and a detailed rundown of recreation areas and the amenities at each.

2 thoughts on “Survive the holiday nuttiness with a weekend escape”

  1. The Mattamuskeet tours are awesome. We went several years ago. If they’re still renting kayaks for touring the canals, don’t miss that chance! But put your wallet in a plastic bag or leave it in the glovebox.

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