Ready to experience The Hunger Games? You’ve come to the right place. The road to Panem starts in North Carolina, where the first movie based on the bestselling book trilogy was filmed. And with the release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins’ prequel surrounding Coriolanus Snow’s rise from young man of means to cold-blooded tyrant – in 2020, there’s no better time to revisit the sites that stood in for District 12, the Capitol and the Arena.
This four-day itinerary, which loops from Charlotte to Asheville and back, leads to film locations, choice star hangouts and sites that connect to elements of the novel. It also notes training options to learn skills a Tribute could use.
Day 1: Charlotte, Hildebran & Asheville
Head out of Charlotte and drive an hour northwest to Hildebran, where the Henry River Manufacturing Co. once turned out fine-combed cotton yarns. At the abandoned Henry River Mill Village, filmmakers found a ready-made set for the Mellark family bakery and the Everdeens’ shanty. You can satisfy your curiosity about the place with a tour or visiting for a special event – or live like Katniss and stay overnight in one of the (lovingly restored) cabins.
If you're only stopping at Henry River Mill Village briefly, then continue on I-40 to Asheville, where the cast and crew were based during much of the summer shoot. This Appalachian city does right by everyone from the rich and famous to bohemians, outdoorsmen and dreamers – little wonder it suited the Hunger Games cast. Enjoy lunch at Laughing Seed Café, a vegetarian restaurant where the actors dined, and contemplate the choices for an active afternoon – or stay another day and you can do it all.
Craggy Pinnacle Hike
The North Fork Reservoir, where the Cornucopia scenes were filmed, is off limits to the public, but you can see the lake from the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, accessed at the Craggy Gardens visitors center on the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville. Follow the law and stick to the established trail to minimize damage to the environment.
Lower Douglas Falls Hike
Filmmakers went to Pisgah National Forest’s Coleman Boundary area (aka Big Ivy) to shoot pre-Games scenes of Gale and Katniss. No guarantee this is the exact spot, but it’s a good place to channel the characters’ connection to the teeming wilderness. Please exercise caution and obey all rules and warnings posted at mountains, waterfalls, forests and parks.
Navitat Canopy Tour
Think of Rue soaring through the treetops as you attach the zip line harness for a three-hour eco-adventure at Pisgah’s edge. Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) made the trip three times (once at night and once with then-girlfriend Vanessa Hudgens), and six other Tribute players soared here too.
Note: Katniss spent years learning the skills that helped her survive. Begin your own training with wilderness survival courses and workshops at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City (a little more than an hour west of Asheville).
Day 2: DuPont State Recreational Forest
Order breakfast from Early Girl Eatery, where Entertainment Weekly interviewed Hutcherson for its “Men of The Hunger Games” spread (your server might know how he likes his eggs). Stop by Malaprop's Bookstore/Café, a quintessential indie bookshop that championed The Hunger Games trilogy well before the cast came by.
Drive to DuPont State Recreational Forest, a magnet for mountain bikers, hikers and nature lovers. In the dramatic landscapes of waterfalls, hideaway lakes and fishing streams, try to spot both Katniss’ pond and the place where Peeta camouflaged himself. Triple Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the covered bridge at High Falls are among the visual highlights, and sharp eyes might spot black bear, deer or wild turkey. Sightings of tracker jackers and mutant wolves are unconfirmed.
An uncommonly cool mountain town waits at the end of the trek. Brevard features a compact downtown with irresistible shopping (O.P. Taylor's, Theophilus, DD Bullwinkel's), galleries (Number 7 Arts), culinary treats (The Square Root, Bracken Mountain Bakery, Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop) and Brevard Brewing (plus three more breweries within 4 miles). Brevard might be off the Panem radar, but you can bet Rue would be drawn to the music that rings out almost every night.
Day 3: Shelby & Charlotte
About 80 miles east of Brevard, the unassuming town of Shelby might boast the world’s highest concentration of Hunger Games readers. The Reaping and Hob scenes were filmed in private warehouse space near the heart of town, which inspired the local library to use the book for its community reading program in 2012. If you have trouble picking out the buildings used in the film, or if you want to know where the paparazzi perched, ask somebody on Lafayette Street as you shop for Hob-worthy items – just as the crew did. For lunch, try Pleasant City Wood Fired Grill, which scored with the cast.
Allow 50 minutes for the drive to Charlotte, plus time to check in at your lodging (several of the stars stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, crew members at the Dunhill Hotel). If you’re anything like the actors, you’ll be drawn to the lively NoDa – as in North Davidson Street – neighborhood. Follow their example with dinner at Cabo Fish Taco or Boudreaux’s Louisiana Kitchen, and top off the night at Amélie's French Bakery, where Woody Harrelson joined regulars for a round of chess and whose delicacies even made an appearance in the train sequence.
Day 4: Charlotte
Caesar Flickerman would thrill to Uptown Charlotte’s modern architecture and urban sheen. Yet even in the shadow of corporate towers and art-filled plazas, the Capitol’s flamboyant fashionistas drew gapes as costumed extras entered Knight Theater for filming. The theater, Charlotte Convention Center and other venues might not be routinely accessed, but depending on events, you might get inside. Visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where it will dawn on you that hovercrafts have the same kind of seats as racecars.
The featured attraction on today’s itinerary is the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Imagine the Gamemakers creating the world’s largest recirculating whitewater river, a canyon to cross and a 46-foot rock to climb. Tributes could actually train here – the center offers extensive skills and survival classes. On a visit to ascend the wall, Woody Harrelson offered a glimpse of Haymitch’s capabilities in the Arena. Refresh and re-nourish at the River’s Edge Bar & Grill.