North Carolina offers a plethora of play-and-stay attractions that allow you to arrive at your destination, check-in, enjoy the experiences and activities, and then simply head back to your accommodations of choice. In between, you can ride the rides, experience the thrills, play the games, soak up the rest and relaxation, shop until you drop and eat to your heart’s content.
1 Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort
1 Harrah’s Cherokee Casino ResortCherokeeSee on map
As gaming getaways set in the majestic mountains of Western North Carolina, two Harrah’s hotspots offer poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, video poker and gaming, and Asian gaming. There are also plenty of special events throughout the year, including slot tournaments and big-name concerts. The 21-story hotel, varied dining, shopping, pools, the Mandara Spa and more await Cherokee visitors. Plus, you’ll want to check out more of the same at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in nearby Murphy.
2 Fontana Village Resort
2 Fontana Village ResortFontana DamSee on map
Situated amidst the pristine beauty of Nantahala National Forest, this stand-alone destination resort offers everything you would expect from a North Carolina mountain vacation, including 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, fishing and boating on Fontana Lake, and whitewater rafting on the nearby Nantahala River. Then there are all of the unexpected things, like the Stone Creek Pool and Lazy River, disc golf, Hillbilly Putt-Putt, sand volleyball, tennis, arts and crafts, narrated nature hikes, two dining options, and evening campfires, storytelling and marshmallow roasts. With varied accommodations including camping, 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom cabins, poolside cabanas, and rooms in the main lodge, everything you need is within walking distance.
3 Tryon International Equestrian Center
3 Tryon International Equestrian CenterMill SpringSee on map
Open year-round, Tryon International Equestrian Center hosts a range of events including horse shows and competitions, a Saturday Night Lights series, Winterfest and concerts. Between events, shop at stores that offer clothing, classic jewelry, antique treasures and children's toys. If hunger strikes, enjoy a family meal at Roger’s Diner or the Pizza Oven – or choose a quiet evening for two at Blue Ginger Sushi & Noodles or Legends Grille. When the festivities are over, head straight to the on-site inn or cabins, or take an easy drive to the Lodge on Lake Lure.
4 CarowindsCharlotteSee on map
Carowinds combines the best of thrill rides, including Fury 325 – the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster – themed and family rides, the splash-tastic Carolina Harbor Waterpark, live entertainment and special events (SCarowinds takes over in fall, and WinterFest during the holidays). Choose from a dozen-plus dining options, ranging from classic amusement park fare to diners and cafés for sit-down meals. Accommodations are right next door at Camp Wilderness. Choose from campground sites, 2-bedroom cabins with full kitchens, or in the 1,100-square-foot Camp Wilderness Lodge that sleeps up to 14 people and comes with all the comforts of home.
5 Omni Grove Park Inn
5 Omni Grove Park InnAshevilleSee on map
This 100-plus-year-old historical attraction in the mountains offers you all of the conveniences and amenities imaginable without ever leaving the resort if you don’t want to – though nearby downtown Asheville is quite tempting. From the Donald Ross-designed golf course, championship tennis, and a sprawling fitness complex to historical property tours, world-class dining, wild food foraging adventures, shopping, and one of the top resort spas in North America, the Omni Grove Park Inn is steeped in Southern tradition and hospitality. At the end of the day, your room awaits, with lots of choices.
6 Great Wolf Lodge
6 Great Wolf LodgeConcordSee on map
For the ultimate in stay-and-play family adventures, you’ll love Great Wolf Lodge, North America’s largest family indoor water park. With dozens of waterlogged activities, including thrill rides, water slides and zero-depth-entry playgrounds for the tadpoles, the entire family can swim and splash the day away. After you’ve dried off, more awaits with ropes courses, MagiQuest adventures, bowling, Wolf Walks, story time and so much more. There’s a variety of kid-friendly dining options ranging from wood-fired steaks and seafood to poolside burgers and take-out pizza. When the sun goes down (or your kids run out of energy), there are more than eight types of suites available in the lodge. From standard family suites to Kids Kamp Suites with bunk beds in their very own tent or Wolf Den Suites with private forts, you’ll find the perfect place for your wolf pack.
7 Cataloochee Ranch
7 Cataloochee RanchMaggie ValleySee on map
This isn't your grandfather's ranch, but you'll feel right at home at Cataloochee Ranch, along with the many activities to remind you you're on a getaway. Book your stay at one of 12 private rooms or, if you're planning a family or group outing (couples' retreat?), choose from 12 cabins – complimentary breakfast and dinner is included with all accommodations. You'll want to spend much of your time outdoors, as the ranch is nestled among 900 acres at an elevation of 5,000 feet. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is its neighbor. Take in the scenery with mountain hikes, wagon rides, bird-watching and the especially popular guided horseback rides (and in winter, enjoy the convenient access to Cataloochee Ski Area, located less than a mile away).
8 Elkin Creek Vineyard
8 Elkin Creek VineyardElkinSee on map
Located in the Yadkin Valley, Elkin Creek Vineyard has produced whites, reds and sweet dessert wines for more than 10 years from six lush acres of varied grapes. You’ll start with sampling in the tasting room and then you’ll want to order some of the homemade artisan sourdough bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce. Or order an antipasto plate from The Kitchen at Elkin Creek to accompany your favorite wine. If you’re there on a Sunday, enjoy a fresh, made-to-order pizza from the wood-fire brick oven (pizza dough reservations recommended). Then, simply walk down the short path to one of Elkin Creek’s intimate creek-side cabins, featuring a full kitchen, stone gas fireplace, a soaking tub and complimentary Netflix in a rustic wooded setting.