A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

“That sound never gets old,” Mindy Stinner says as a nearby coyote releases an operatic series of yips. Just then, a chorus of lions breaks in with some chest-rattling “oofs”

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

“That sound never gets old,” Mindy Stinner says as a nearby coyote releases an operatic series of yips. Just then, a chorus of lions breaks in with some chest-rattling “oofs”

3 Outdoor Itineraries for Exploring Alamance County

Dentzel Carousel in Burlington City Park

“That sound never gets old,” Mindy Stinner says as a nearby coyote releases an operatic series of yips. Just then, a chorus of lions breaks in with some chest-rattling “oofs” — a loud-and-clear reminder that in Alamance County, a day outdoors can bring some surprises. Whether you want your fresh-air fun to teach you something about your environs, help you exercise and energize, or just let you unwind, choose your itinerary and step outside.


Bearcat from the Animal Park Conservators Center in Alamance County

At the Animal Park Conservators Center in Burlington, you can learn about endangered and vulnerable species found around the globe, such as binturong, or bearcats … Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Make the Outdoors Your Classroom

… and large cats including lions, tigers, and leopards. photograph by Alamance County Visitors Bureau

As executive director of Burlington’s nonprofit Animal Park at the Conservators Center, Stinner is focused not only on caring for four-legged creatures but also on educating the two-legged. The majority of the park’s residents, like the tiger, binturong, and sloths it recently welcomed, serve as ambassadors for species in other parts of the world.

But it’s also important to help people learn about animals in our own backyard, from striped skunks to bobcats. “It’s easy for us to get casual about the wildlife that’s around us or get frustrated with it, like the opossum that gets into your garden or the coyote that chases your cat,” Stinner says. “We want to present those animals in an objective way where people can learn about them and their role in our ecosystem.”

With guided tours every weekend and special events throughout the year — as well as a picnic shelter and a nature trail for those looking to linger — the Animal Park makes it easy to get an up-close education on fauna from near and far.

For a lesson on the county’s human heritage, head for Great Bend Park along the Haw River Trail, and take a short trek to watch the water cascade over Glencoe Mill Dam. Continue your walk through historic Glencoe Mill Village, with a stop at the Textile Heritage Museum for insight into the late-1800s mill whose production of plaid cotton fabric helped spark the textile boom in this part of North Carolina, and into the homes and way of life that grew up around it.

Follow it up with a late lunch at Smokehouse at Steve’s in Graham. Have a seat on the shaded patio and dig into a brisket plate with hush puppies, scalloped potatoes, and cucumber salad.

People kayaking in Lake Saxapahaw in Alamance County, NC

Scope out Lake Saxapahaw’s shoreline by way of a guided paddle trip. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Then set out for Saxapahaw where you can join one of the guides from The Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. for a gentle paddle on Saxapahaw Lake. Even beginners can join a nighttime Owl Prowl to hear whoos from the barred owls that make their home here, and learn about other residents, like cormorants, bald eagles, and beavers. The outfitter’s daytime Flora & Fauna excursion adds a primer on plant life, from mountain laurel to purple pickerelweed.

If you’re in town on a Saturday in the summer, grab a blanket and relax with music, a market of local vendors, and food trucks at Saturdays in Saxapahaw. Just across the street at the Haw River Ballroom, a beautifully restored former textile dye house that now hosts musical acts, the weekly show begins at 8 p.m.


Man hikes along the trail in Cane Creek Mountain Natural Area in Alamance County, NC

Enjoy the tranquil beauty that flourishes in Cane Creek Mountain’s pristine natural setting Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Get Moving

Another day, another paddle. In Burlington, the Lake Mackintosh Park & Marina offers rentals for solo and tandem kayaks, as well as canoes and rowboats. It’s the perfect mash-up of cardio, core, and upper-body exercise while exploring the tranquil, tree-lined waters of this 1,150-acre lake.

A short drive will get you to an early lunch at The Village Grill, which adds Key West and Cajun accents to dishes like shrimp and grits. Or opt for savory Indian classics — think palak paneer or chicken vindaloo — at nearby Taaza Bistro.

Gear up for further adventures at O.V. Yonder in downtown Graham, a local outfitter for hiking, paddling, fishing, camping, and other outdoor endeavors. The two-story space features a strong selection from brands like Patagonia, Cotapaxi, Columbia, On, Teva, and Birkenstock, plus a new coffee bar. Ask about the shop’s running club, guided hikes, and other outings.

From downtown Graham, you’re only 15 minutes from Cane Creek Mountains Natural Area in Snow Camp. The Pine Hill trailhead opened in 2020, with its Oak Hill counterpart now nearing its first anniversary. Between them, “there are five trails, just over 10 miles total,” says Anna Bowland, communications coordinator for Alamance Parks. “The land has been pretty much untouched for the past hundred years, it’s a really special place.”

Wrap up your day of active exploration at nearby Cedarock Park. This 500-acre expanse features several hiking trails, as well as equestrian trails, two disc golf courses, FootGolf, and a historical farm complete with animals (find us by the baby goats). Set to debut this summer, the park will unveil a new playground with accessible elements that all children can enjoy.


Faint of Heart Fruited Sour Ale from Bright Penny Brewing in Mebane.

Kick back with a refreshing craft brew in Bright Penny Brewing’s beer garden and be sure to order the Grandma’s Deviled Eggs for snacking. Photography courtesy of Alamance County Visitors Bureau

Slow Down

A day outdoors doesn’t have to be about adrenaline. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and let your senses absorb the natural surroundings. We recommend heading to the Arboretum at Willowbrook Park, where 17 handsomely landscaped acres follow a creek through a quiet neighborhood. Pick up provisions first in downtown Burlington: Grab a new or used title at Persnickety Books, and then pop into The Blend & Co. around the corner for a coffee and late breakfast or snack to go.

You can while away the morning at the picnic tables or benches in the arboretum or stretch your legs on the paved path. Be sure to peek toward the creek by the sign marked “Ingle Farm Spring,” where artifacts honor the dairy farm that operated here in the early 20th century. You can even cross the suspended bridge to the Treehouse, where the supporting willow oak, also known as “Terry the Tree,” is perfectly poised for a photo op.

If the kids need to run off some energy after the arboretum, head for Burlington City Park. They’ll love taking a spin on the early 1900s Dentzel carousel — rightfully celebrated with its own festival in May — and other amusement rides before rejoining the adults to read and relax by the fountain.

Close out the afternoon at Mebane’s beloved Bright Penny Brewing, just a 20-minute drive away. Find a seat on the patio or in the shaded beer garden, a welcoming space for families (including canine members), and play a game of cornhole while you wait for your order to arrive. Take your time savoring your selection of a Neapolitan-style pizza and a house-made brew or root beer.

You’re just a few minutes away from the Mebane Community Park, so wind down your day at its splash pad, playground, or dog park. Check the schedule for family-friendly outdoor Movies in the Park on Friday evenings in April and May. Or just spread a blanket on the grassy open area and let the flicker of lightning bugs and the choir of crickets and cicadas entertain you as the sun sets over Alamance County.

Ready for a breath of fresh air? Click here to learn more about all the ways to experience Alamance County outdoors — whether for a day trip or long weekend — and start planning your adventure today.