Growing up in the northeast, every year spring seemed to take too long to show up. The long cold gray days of March and April were always a tease with occasional warm days that got your hopes up only to be followed by snowstorms and more freezing temperatures. Where were the cute bunnies hopping around flowerbeds bursting into bloom?
In North Carolina, spring arrives in March. Go further south and it starts even earlier. This free road trip plan through the South is the perfect antidote to your where-is-spring blues.
- Free Road Trip Plan: Winston-Salem, NC to Savannah, GA
- Trip Length: 7 Days
- When: April
Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC
Start in this living history museum – a town that once was the settlement of persecuted Moravians. There are over one hundred restored buildings and colonial life are reenacted, like a mini-Williamsburg. To enjoy the spring flowers, check out the Old Salem Single Brothers Gardens, a huge garden worth exploring.
Plan on spending about 3 hours in Old Salem, depending on your interest in colonial times and gardens. Afterward, I suggest you head to The Reynolda Mile, home of the R.J.Reynolds family and tobacco empire. Tobacco is the crop of North Carolina and you can tell when you visit this area that includes the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Village, and the Reynolda Gardens, which should be glorious at this time of year.
There are many hotels to choose from in Winston-Salem, from the big chains to quaint B&B;’s. If you like pubs, have your dinner at the Village Tavern in Reynolda Village and enjoy pub-fare like burgers and steaks in a casual dining setting.
Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC
The famous Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-see on your way to Asheville. A winding leisurely drive with plenty of places to stop and take in the view, this will take most of your day on Sunday. Make sure to get gas before you get on the parkway as there are no gas stations on this road (though there are restaurants).
The best route to take is to start on I-40 West, take exit 86 onto Highway 226 towards Shelby. The road becomes Highway 221 before you take a left on US 70. Take a right on to Lake Tahoma Road, and your next left will be onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Follow the parkway into Asheville (you’ll know when you converge again with I-40W).
Once you arrive in Asheville, head to Biltmore Village, a town originally built for the workers on the Vanderbilt estate. All Souls Cathedral, the Vanderbilt family church, is worth checking out and it’s a charming town to explore.
There are many wonderful restaurants in the village, so if you plan on eating out, plan on eating here. Two extremely popular restaurants are Rezaz Restaurant (Mediterranean) and Fig Bistro(European).
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
The Biltmore Estate, one of the homes of the Vanderbilt family, is so huge you could spend many days here. So, plan on spending the whole day to get the most out of the experience. Arrive early (check hours online as they change) and start with a tour of the house, the largest private residence in the U.S. with 250 rooms.
It’s an amazing overwhelming place – a palace, really – and it’s hard to imagine living there as the Vanderbilt family did. My favorite room is the dining room with its long ornate table and miles of chairs. It was fun imagining the huge dinner parties they had there.
Most people have lunch at the Stable Café which is to the left as you exit the house in a collection of buildings which include the carriage house and stables.
Next, explore the gardens – assuming you arrive after April 4th, you’ll be treated to the annual Festival of Flowers. These gardens are gorgeous year-round, but the spring display is really amazing!
Finally, get back in your car to drive to the winery and historic farm village (it’s a little too far to walk). The winery used to be the old dairy for the estate – see the old milking room which has now been made into the wine tasting room.
The farm village is worth checking out – with blacksmiths and woodworkers displaying their trades and a general store selling old-time goodies. The farm village is free with your visit to the house. You may have already had your share of this type of thing with Old Salem, so visiting this depends on your interest level.
Drive to the Coast of North Carolina
This is a day that involves more driving, so try to get an early start. You’ll be passing through Winston-Salem again. This time, you’re just passing on the highway, staying mostly on I-40 East.
Your first stop will be Chapel Hill for lunch, and if you’ve left by 9:00 am, you’ll arrive just in time. Walk around the downtown that is almost completely built of deep-red bricks. There are lots of restaurants to choose from as this is a college town. I like Spanky’s – a casual place that serves delicious burgers. The campus is worth checking out briefly – I always enjoy strolling around the tree-shaded quad.
Get back on I-40 and head for the Raleigh Farmer’s Market. There are signs on I-40 that will point the way. This huge market is located right off of the highway and is just amazing for its selection of produce as well as plants, cut flowers, meats, dairy products, and prepared items like salsa and jam. It’s definitely worth a look-see.
When you’re back on the road, you’ve got about 2 hours left of driving on I-40 (East), which will deposit you right on the coast. There are many beach communities here and hotel room availability and rates will be in your favor as it’s early in the season. Wrightsville Beach will be the most convenient. Check out nearby downtown Wilmington for more action if you like the nightlife or just enjoy the quiet beauty of the beach.
Drive down the coast to Charleston, SC
Wake up and take a long walk down the beach before hitting the road. You’ll practically have the whole beach to yourself! If the wind is good, this will be a perfect time to fly kites as you won’t have to worry about hitting anyone with your kite.
Heading down US-17, you’ll drive right into Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Plan on stopping here and exploring around lunchtime. Myrtle Beach is a huge vacation destination, so don’t think you can take it all in during your brief visit.
Of course, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from for your lunch. Try the River City Café if you love a laid-back atmosphere – they serve buckets of peanuts on every table and you can autograph the walls. If you’re picnicking, it’s great to hit the beach with a big blanket and enjoy the fresh salt air.
Back on the road, continue down the coast to Charleston on US-17. Your trip will take about two hours. If you like the great outdoors, I highly recommend you stop at the Francis Marion National Forest which is on the way, and take a nature walk. It’s a beautiful area and there are a number of trails, all easy walking. You will need a pair of walking/hiking shoes as they are not paved.
Depending on when you arrive at your accommodations, you may want to walk around Charleston’s historic district and take in the colonial architecture.
Charleston and the Plantations
There are two ways to spend your morning. You can either explore historic sections of Charleston on your own, or you can take the highly acclaimed Ed Grimball’s Walking Tour of Historic Charleston.
Although touring on your own can be fun, you’ll get a lot more out of Ed’s tour as he knows everything about the city and is just plain fascinating! His tour starts at 9:30 am at the Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park and you do need reservations. It’s about two hours long and really worth the price (Adults $16 and children $8 (those under seven years old get the tour for free)).
Have lunch in Charleston – there are so many great restaurants, it just depends on what kind of food you’re in the mood to eat. The best way to spend your afternoon is by touring the oldest public garden in America at the Magnolia Plantation. Travel south on US-17 and a right on SC-61. The plantation will be on your right. These gardens are always beautiful, but at this time of year, the display will blow your mind. The gardens sprawl for 30 acres, giving you plenty to see. Getting your fill of spring flowers yet?
Plan to spend the evening in Charleston, leaving first thing in the morning for Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, GA.
Hilton Head, SC & Savannah, GA
Head south on US-17, connect to I-95 South and look for exit 8/Hilton Head. Take a left off the exit and follow US-278 into Hilton Head.
Hilton Head is most famous for its golf courses, but even if you don’t play, there’s plenty to see. You’ll be arriving close to lunchtime, so get yourself over to Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s, a restaurant that serves true Southern cooking and is not to be missed! Even picky eaters will find something yummy here.
After lunch, visit the Sea Pine Forest Preserve where you can view a swamp from the safety of elevated boardwalks. There are 8 miles of trails to choose from, or just check out the swamp if you’re not in the mood to walk.
Before you leave Hilton Head, take a walk around the marina areas and check out the famous Harbourtown Lighthouse, a red and white striped icon. Climb up the stairs to see the great view if you can.
Back in the car, it’s a short drive to Savannah. You’ll need to get back on I-95 South and then follow signs for Savannah.
You might want to splurge and stay at one of the many historic inns in Savannah. It will be worth it for the experience alone. Plus, you’ll probably be closer to or in the historic district which is fascinating to explore. Like Charleston, there are many great restaurants to choose from for your dinner.
This is one of my favorite places to road trip to. You can’t go wrong with watching the leaves fall in Forsyth Park or in one of the 22 historic squares throughout the city. Be sure to grab some artisan chocolates from Adam Turoni, and explore the Wormsloe Plantation (where Forest Gump ran) to get into the fall spirit.
Last Day: Head Home
Before you head home, you might want to visit the amazing Bonaventure Cemetery. Featured in the bestselling book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, its history is rich, there are many beautiful monuments, and everywhere there are old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. It’s about 20 minutes outside of Savannah.
Now it’s time to head home! If you have some extra time, make sure to stop along the way to see other sights and continue the fun. If you have to scramble to get back, why not try one of our road trip games to help make the miles fly by?
With this free road trip plan, you’ve got a healthy dose of spring flowers along with a nice mix of history/touring and hiking/outdoor activities. Make sure to buy road maps for this trip. Although I’ve given you some routing advice, you’ll need maps for reference – especially if you take the wrong turn and get lost. Have fun!