Fill A Weekend Getaway to the North Carolina Triangle With Outdoor Fun

Outdoor NC has partnered with local tourism organizations across the state to help promote the protection of North Carolina’s stunning and diverse outdoor spaces by practicing the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Here are some insider tips if you're visiting the Johnston County area.

Q&A host: Jordan Astoske
Outdoor passion: My passion for the outdoors grew out of an interest for the ecological relationships found in nature. I am passionate about the conservation of our natural resources and enjoy educating others about the benefits they provide. 
Where in NC: Johnston County (Smithfield, Clayton, Bentonville, Benson)

Best places in the Smithfield or Clayton areas to spend outdoors? 

Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center (pet-friendly), Clemmons State Forest, Neuse Adventures Canoe & Kayak Rentals, rural bike routes, Tucker Lake.

Best season to spend in NC?

Spring. I find it rejuvenating to be outdoors as the trees begin to leaf out, flowers come into bloom and animals begin to stir after the dormant season.  

What level of experience is needed for outdoor activities in the Smithfield or Clayton areas?

Soft adventure: hiking, biking (paved and dirt trails offered), canoeing, kayaking (calm river and lakes offered).

How long should you plan on visiting?

 A long weekend would give you enough time to include most everything.

What attracted you to North Carolina or the Clayton area?

NC offers three distinct geographic regions, each with unique characteristics that make exploring our state interesting. Whether exploring the mountains, piedmont or coastal plain, NC has something to offer any outdoor enthusiast.  

What is unique about Smithfield, Clayton, Benson and Kenly in Johnston County?

Rural lowlands along the Neuse River, plus country roads that cut through scenic farmland.

How do you plan or prepare for your outdoor activities?

Planning for an outdoor adventure is necessary to ensure that the experience is enjoyable. Local experts and community groups offer a wealth of knowledge that can eliminate the risk of being unprepared. I also find a gear checklist helpful in making sure I have not forgotten anything. 

What piece of gear is your must-have? 

A map and compass.

How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles?  

The Leave No Trace principles are essential for the preservation of our natural resources and outdoor recreational spaces. We often associate these principles with pack-in-pack-out, but there are other ways to be a good steward: Follow designated trails, observe and enjoy but do not remove anything from its natural environment, and be respectful of others who are enjoying the outdoors.  

Favorite place for breakfast/lunch or dinner?

Cornerstone Cafe, Gilded Pear Brew House, Under the OakRedneck BBQ Lab.

Where do you like to go after you spend time outdoors? 

Anywhere on the Beer, Wine and Shine Trail.

Cool places to stay? 

Howell Woods and Raleigh Oaks RV Resort & Cottages

Other sites in the area to see while in town? 

Ava Gardner Museum and Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site.

What is your can’t-miss experience while in Smithfield or Clayton?


Insider tip! 

Check the county-wide event calendar managed by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau before you visit.

This article was produced in partnership with Johnston County Visitors Bureau. Visit Outdoor NC for additional tips on how to connect with nature and help preserve the natural beauty of our state.

Updated February 2, 2024
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