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Lakes, trails, and more on a Piedmont, NC Road Trip!

The Piedmont Region of North Carolina has a lot to offer for outdoor recreation, so we packed our van and rescue dog and set off!

By: Erin McGrady + Save to a List

This story is presented by Visit North Carolina.

After taking a road trip along the North Carolina coast and one close to our home near Asheville, NC, we decided it was time to see what the Piedmont region, the area between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains, had to offer. So, we loaded our van and our rescue dog, Maggie, and set off! Keep reading to see why we'll be returning to this area in the near future.

Day one

Noon | Hyco Lake

A person in shorts and a tee shirt is walking to the end of a floating pier. Grass and trees cover the shorelines.
A person in shorts, a tee shirt, and a red backpack walks away from the camera down a paved trail through a forest. Two signs are in the forground at the isde of the trail. They indicate optional route distances and wish hikers a great time.

Our first stop, Hyco Lake, is a little under 4 hours northeast of our home base in Asheville. There are 120 miles of shoreline for paddling and fishing, and a free 18-hole disc golf course. If you didn't bring any discs, you can rent them on-site.

There are also a handful of trails, including the accessible Shore Trail, which starts and ends at the marina. Most dog breeds are welcome in the campground, but visit their website before your visit to get a rabies certificate on file if you plan on bringing your four-legged friend. Parking at the marina is $10 per day, but you can skip the parking fee by parking at the free gravel lot off Kelly Brewer Road. 

4 p.m. | Mayo Lake Park

A person in a short sleeve tee shirt and baseball hat throws a disc at a disc golf goal called a basket.
    A person is kneeling down facing a dog next to a lake. The sun is shining and creating a golden aura around them.
    A person in shorts and a tee shirt is standing next to a body of water with a small dog on a leash.

    We had no idea what to expect at nearby Mayo Lake, but we had an awesome time hiking along the Red Tail Hawk Trail with Maggie and playing a round of disc golf. We even decided to spend the night at one of their campsites (they have primitive, RV, and tent sites with electricity), which was peaceful and had a water view. You'll need to bring discs, but the course is fun, and you'll have lake views throughout. 

    There's also an ADA-Accessible fishing pier and two kayak/canoe launches. If you like disc golf, you could play three courses in a day: Hyco Lake (above), Mayo Lake, and a third at nearby Piedmont Community College’s Rockness Monster Disc Golf Course in Roxboro. 

    Note: The campground gate closes at 4 p.m. during the limited-service camping season, so call before you visit!

    Day two

    9 a.m. | Strong Arm Baking

    A blue sign on a building reads,
      A person wearing a handkerchief in their hair and an apron over their clothes is manipulating dough after measuring it on a scale on a counter.
      The black counter of a coffeeshop hosts packaged goodies. Coffee machines sit behind the counter.

      Skip coffee and breakfast at camp and point your vehicle toward the little town of Oxford, to fuel up at Strong Arm Baking. This spot is not only a solid option for a delicious bite, but is also LGBTQ-friendly. 

      If you arrive a little later in the day, no worries! They serve all kinds of salads and sandwiches for lunch. Treat yourself to a ridiculously delicious-looking pizza and a cold craft beer during dinner hours. We've dropped a pin to save this spot for later as we are aching to try the pizza. 

      11 a.m. | Kerr Lake State Recreation Area

      A person sits in a colorful hammock next to a lake. A dog is on a leash next to the person.
        A person lies in a colorful hammock. Only their legs and shoes stick out of the hammock. They're holding a leash with a dog lying on the ground at the other end.

        At 50,000 acres, Kerr Lake is one of the largest in the Southeast, with some of the best fishing in the region. With seven campgrounds and eight access areas, you're bound to find a spot that speaks to you and your pup. 

        We enjoyed swinging in the breeze at Satterwhite Point, just lounging in the sun, having a picnic lunch, and spending quality time together. Pets are welcome at the park and in campgrounds but not at the swim beaches or inside buildings. You can find a ton of other spots to hang out.

        Follow the Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principle of being considerate of others and sharing the outdoors by being mindful of noise levels if you stop here. If you play music, keep it low so you're not disrupting other visitors enjoying the nature.

        2 p.m. | Lake Gaston Day Use Area 

        Looking out over a grassy area toward a body of water with a boat floating on it.
          A person in a tee shirt and shorts is standing on a large rock next to a lake with a small dog.
          A person kneels down to pet a small dog next to a camper van with open doors showing a bed and storage area.

          Another lake, you say? Heck yes! But not just any old lake. Lake Gaston is over 20,000 acres! You can swim (at your own risk), go boating, fishing, or stay on land and enjoy the beautiful views.

          There's an ADA-accessible pier and a first-come, first-serve 40-person picnic shelter (free) at the Lake Gaston Day Use area. It's also dog-friendly. Do your part to keep this area beautiful by following Outdoor NC Leave No Trace Principles to minimize site alterations and leave it as you found it (or better)

          4 p.m. | Roanoke Canal Trail

          A person in a red tee and black shorts is running down a trail with their small dog on a leash.
            A person in a red top, yellow hat, and dark shorts is kneeling to pet a dog on a wooden overlook next to a stone bridge.
            A person in a dark hat and red shirt looks over a wooden railing at a stone bridge. The light is warm and golden.

            The Roanoke Canal Trail just west of Weldon is often referred to as North Carolina's "longest museum" because trail users who traverse the 7.8-mile path can learn about the 200-plus-year-old canal as they walk. It's open from dawn to dusk every day, and dogs are welcome; just be sure to keep them on a six-foot leash and pick up their poop. Place it in the on-site waste containers along with any other litter you come across.

            Download a trail map highlighting some of the route's features, such as the aqueduct at mile 6.25. It's one of the best preserved examples of 19th-century architecture and is also reachable by parking at the free lot off Aqueduct Road just West of Weldon, NC.

            6 p.m. | Medoc Mountain State Park

            A black sign with inlaid white letters reads,

              After a really full day of fun outdoor adventures, we camped at Medoc Mountain State Park. I researched before we set off for the park only to find that that using Google Maps and the park address (1541 Medoc State Park Road) will lead you to a closed road and not the park. We used 586 Medoc State Park Road, and it took us right to the campground, which had spacious sites and hot showers. There are also over 29 miles of hiking, 9 miles of mountain biking trails, and 10 miles of horseback riding trails. 

              In addition, the Neuse River Waterdog lives here, which is only found in NC and is one of the rarest salamanders in the southeastern US. Dogs are allowed here and at campsites, but not inside buildings, and they must be on a 6-foot leash. Please remember to keep you and your dog's feet on the trail.

              Day three

              10 a.m. | E. Carroll Joyner Park

              A street sign points toward
                A short stone wall meanders through a grassy field. There is a building barely peeking through trees.

                For our day in Wake Forest, we started with a morning walk around the grounds of E. Carroll Joyner Park. The 117-acre park has 3 miles of paved walking trails (five trails total), a pecan grove, a 2,000-foot stone ribbon wall, a playground, and plenty of open space to journal, meditate, or picnic. 

                When we arrived, the park was full of people getting their steps in, going for a run, and walking their dogs. Go early if you want to see fewer people. Sometimes there are family movie nights in late spring and summer. Parking is free, and there is no entrance fee to the park either. 

                1 p.m. | Horseshoe Road Nature Preserve 

                A person in a red hat and dark tee is holding a map and pointing at a route.
                  A person in a red hat, black shirt, jeans, and fanny pack is walking a dog down an unpaved trail through a forest. They're stopped to look through binoculars toward the sky.

                  Long pants and tick spray are a must at Horseshoe Road Nature Preserve. There are 2.4 miles of trails here, and it's a great location for birding and solitude. It's open from dawn to dusk, and while pets are welcome here, you'll want to come prepared to Leave No Trace by packing out what you packed in. There were a bunch of trail maps at the trailhead, but you may want to download one ahead of time. 

                  Note: If you plan on visiting, don't accidentally put Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve (instead of Horseshoe Road Nature Preserve) into your GPS, as they are both in North Carolina, but they are hours apart!

                  4 p.m. | Falls Lake State Recreation Area

                  A beach with a swimming boundary in the water hosts several people. There is a tree-filled shored across the waterway.
                    A scruffy dog pants as they look out the window of a van.

                    Falls Lake State Recreation Area was our final destination on our Piedmont road trip. We'd camped here a number of times when traveling from our home in Asheville to the coast. While the campground was familiar, this was the first time we had time for more than just making dinner and heading to bed. 

                    We checked out a portion of the Mountains to Sea Trail, which cuts through the park and the beach. The hiking trails were open when we visited, but the biking trails were closed. Check the website before you go for the most up-to-date trail use info. We learned that monarch butterflies migrate through this area between September and November, so we're hoping that we'll see them on a future visit!

                    Check out Outdoor NC Leave No Trace for more information on how to recreate responsibly. Head to Visit NC for more road trip ideas and inspiration.

                    Erin McGrady (she/her) and Caroline Whatley (she/her) are queer writers, photographers, and filmmakers. They're also the duo behind Authentic Asheville (Portfolio | Blog). Asheville, North Carolina is their home base though they frequently travel with their rescue dog, Maggie, in their camper van. You can follow them online at Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

                    We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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