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Ten Best: Nearby vacation spots

by Amy Kingsley

Hanging Rock

If you’re like most people, rising gas prices are forcing you to reexamine your fiscal priorities. Especially this summer – a hot spell that promises record prices at the pump – when elaborate vacations may be beyond the reach of those unwilling or unable to take a second mortgage. We’ve got an idea: Stick to North Carolina. Save your money by booking a weekend getaway at Hanging Rock State Park outside Winston-Salem, where you can camp, hike, fish and swim.

Cherokee

So it’s not exactly Vegas. It’s not even Biloxi. North Carolina gambling rules limit the variety of games at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino to video slots, video blackjack, video baccarat and video poker. Tribal laws enacted by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians also prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages at the casino. There are, however, buffets aplenty, so load up your plate and picture yourself in Sin City.

Asheville

It’s a favorite of The New York Times travel section, and anyone who has spent serious time in this state has probably already been there. So this entry is for newcomers. Asheville, a Bohemian village tucked into the North Carolina highlands is just a few hours from the Triad. There are plenty of good places to eat, drink and make merry. If you’re inclined towards outdoorsy-ness, the mountains make for a more than beautiful backdrop.

Ocracoke Island

Summer vacationers flock to the Outer Banks like cliff swallows returning to Mission San Juan Capistrano. By late May, the sandy shores are already glutted with students and families filling up on Vitamin D and UVB. These islands that hang like keratin fixtures off the coast are one of the state’s greatest natural treasures. Deceptively fragile, like pieces of eggshell, their reputation as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” lends them some historical depth. Especially Ocracoke, where the pirate Blackbeard met his end.

Seagrove

Ignore the name – Seagrove isn’t anywhere near the water. It’s a little town about an hour south of Greensboro with a pottery tradition that dates back nearly 300 years. Today the pottery capital of the world is home to more than 100 studios, some of which are open to the public. Visit the North Carolina Pottery Center for a healthy dose of background before plunging into the clay-baked byways.

Lake Lure

This man-made reservoir at the bottom of the Hickory Nut Gorge initially powered a turbine owned by the Carolina Mountain Power Co. that was repossessed by Stroud & Co. at the beginning of the Great Depression. The residents of Lake Lure bought the plant, dam and lake back in 1965 and turned the area in a tourist center. Dirty Dancing was filmed here, and if you’re a fan, you can rent Johnny’s Cabin or Baby’s Bungalow for $255 a night.

Yadkin Valley

Reenact Sideways right here in the Tar Heel State’s official viticulture region, the Yadkin Valley. Twenty wineries operate in the agricultural areas flanking the Yadkin River, including RayLen and Childress Vineyards, and you can find them all on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail website. Bed and breakfasts and small motels litter the region, so finding lodging should be a snap.

Ghost Town in the Sky

Disney World is a two-day trip south to Florida – too far, in other words, unless you’ve managed to lay hands on one of those nifty electric cars. Maggie Valley, at the entrance of the Blue Ridge National Park, is home to an alternative. Ghost Town in the Sky is a Wild West-themed amusement park accessible by chair lift and incline rail. It’s cheaper than Disney’s flagship park and significantly smaller. But it does have a carousel, roller coaster, drop tower and beautiful Appalachian views.

Calabash

This small town is so Southern it practically belongs to the other Carolina. The southernmost incorporated community on the Brunswick Islands is also the “Seafood Capital of the World,” a place where the fish is abundant and the deep fryers plentiful. Calabash gave the world Calabash-style seafood, an appellation loosely interpreted as “piles of deep-fried seafood.” You can find it in the Triad, but it’s better at the source.

Home sweet home

Sometimes it’s nice just to tool around the house on lazy summer days, to wake up early and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee before embarking on whatever project you’ve set for yourself. Staying home means skipping the traffic, the expense and the stress of a formal vacation. But it also means skipping out on some of the adventure.

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