It’s fitting that I’m writing this while watching The Hunger Games. Most of the first movie was filmed in and around Western North Carolina, and I love seeing those lush forests and rolling hills again. We capped off our road trip across North Carolina with two days at Earthshine, and no one is more surprised than me by how much we adored this area. I definitely consider myself a city girl, but I really miss the Appalachian landscape.
The drive from Charlotte to Brevard was around 2.5 hours. There weren’t that many towns along the way, so your best bet is to stock up on your snacks before you hit the road.
As with the rest of our trip, we squeezed a whole lot into two nights. And again, we are inspired to return so we can take our time exploring.
Where we stayed:
Earthshine Discovery Center–Lake Toxaway, NC
After a busy busy travel schedule, we were all both excited and relieved to stay in one spot for more than one night! And I had no idea of what to expect at Earthshine. From the website I couldn’t tell if it was a campground or an activity centre, and truthfully, it’s a little of both.
Now Earthshine is not your typical All-Inclusive resort. Yes, meals are included, as are all organized activities (ziplines and ropes for those 10-years-old and up, plus climbing wall, fishing, nature hikes, and water play for everyone) and non-organized options such as horseshoes, archery, catching fireflies at dusk (it was like a scene from a movie), and simply relaxing on the deck with a coffee or lemonade and taking in the beautiful views. Wifi is free but incredibly spotty, and we barely had any cell reception at all. This is why families stay at Earthshine, to escape and play together.
The guest rooms are attached to the main lodge and offer decent space for families, even if the quarters feel a little close. The two-level suites are air-conditioned, with a full bath and upstairs sleeping quarters for the kids. A safety gate can be obtained for those whose littles are really little.
A couple of things are a bit unusual about Earthshine; no staff stay on property overnight, the last person leaves after the post-dinner activity is complete and the kitchen staff arrive early in the morning to prepare breakfast. Another thing that threw us at first was that the room doors don’t lock. On our first night we actually pushed our dresser in front of the door, but we lightened up a bit and didn’t bother for our second night. We were a little careful about storing our electronics and valuables, while we were out and about, but that’s paranoia on our part.
What we loved about Earthshine was the casual and relaxed feel, and that all the guests were there for the same reason: to unwind and spend time with their families.
There are only 12 rooms at Earthshine Resort, so only 12 families are there at any given time. Our kids made fast friends with the others there, and are currently begging to return. It was quite freeing for us to let them run “mostly” free. And the friendly and caring staff really make your stay wonderful. Sadly we don’t seem to have a picture of their two resident goats. The kids can’t stop talking about them, either.
Earthshine was really a special and unique family vacation experience. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to stay there.
All-Inclusive lodging rates for Earthshine Discovery Center are $165 per adult per night (based on double occupancy). Kids 10-17 are $105 per night, and children 6-9 are $85 per night. Littles 5 and under are $40 per night. Bed & Breakfast and Day rates are also available. Prices do not include applicable sales taxes.
But if staying overnight at Earthshine feels a little too “earthy” for your tastes, you can still go and enjoy the activities for the day and stay nearby in the adorable Sunset Motel. Its cheerful decor was recently renovated with a retro feel, and combined with all your usual modern conveniences (free wifi and cable, plus fridges and microwaves) you’ve got a homey spot to stay after you’ve been out and about playing all day.
Where we ate:
Earthshine Discovery Center, NC
As a lodging guest of Earthshine, your stay is All-Inclusive. That includes three meals per day plus unlimited non-alcoholic beverages (water, coffee, lemonade, sweet and unsweet tea) and all-you-can-eat apples. The deal with the apples is that you have to throw the core over the railing of the deck :). I found the meals to be delicious. There is not a great deal of selection, but the next day’s menu is posted by the previous mid-day and, with advance notice, food allergies and intolerances can be accommodated. There were great options for fresh sides–fruit with breakfast and a salad bar at lunch and dinner.
I love that they tried to locally-source as much of the menu as possible. I also loved that there was lots of delicious biscuits or bread and butter available for those whose children have decided there’s only about five things they’ll actually eat. Ever. (ahem)
Rocky’s Soda Shop–Brevard, NC
Rocky’s stood out to us as a must-try the second we saw it. We are totally enamored with the idea of old-school soda shops (my obsession hearkens back to Back to the Future) and Rocky’s did not disappoint. The decor is adorable. The menu offers 11 different variations of hot dog, and I went one further with a custom order on our server’s recommendation: Chili and White Cheddar Jalapeno Pimento Cheese. Seriously.
Luckily, hot dogs are one of the handful of food items my son will willingly eat, so he was delighted with his old school classic. My daughter loved her burger. And my gluten-free husband shamed us with his Chef Salad plate, which looked delicious and I was tempted to order one in spite of myself. The ice cream has its own menu at Rocky’s, and while I was thinking of finally trying an Egg Cream, I couldn’t resist the Moose Mountain sundae (Moose Tracks and Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream with fudge, peanut butter topping, and whipped cream). It was incredible. I think I’m still working it off.
Where we played:
Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
We started our adventure in Western North Carolina with a visit to the Pisgah National Forest. The entrance is a small road off the main highway–blink and you’ll miss it! Transylvania County calls itself “The Land of Waterfalls,” and Pisgah is home to lots of them–and one you can even slide down!
The forest felt so cool and refreshing compared to the (apparently unseasonably) hot temperatures we experienced. We thought that was just North Carolina in summer but, according to everyone, it was hotter than usual. We checked out Looking Glass Falls — you’ll know you’re there by all the parked cars on the side of the road, and the kids waded in the creek for a bit before we headed to the Cradle of Forestry, which I’m so glad we didn’t blow off.
The forest rangers working at the Cradle of Forestry are, quite literally, some of the friendliest people I have ever met. Clearly, they love their jobs and sharing information about the forest and the history of forest conservation in the U.S. You could spend hours there, but we did one of the self-guided outdoor tours/scavenger hunts on offer (my son was obsessed with the “bug eye” in the tool kit children borrow) before heading to their indoor displays. The helicopter was a favourite for all of us. The Cradle of Forestry is open every day from 9am to 5pm, and admission is only $5.00 per person 16 years-of-age and older. Everyone is free on Tuesdays.
The definite highlight of Pisgah is Sliding Rock. It’s a natural granite slide that really fun in a kind-of-scary way. The line moves fast and there’s really no way to “choose your adventure” so to speak. People that have gone a lot seem to know the right direction to take, but newbies like us got a little mangled! There are lifeguards present (and they are definitely attentive!) but there are no real rules about who can go down the rock. At six, Bub is a very strong swimmer, but I didn’t feel comfortable letting him go down by himself. So we went down together and that might have been a mistake since my death grip on him caused us both to hit the water at the bottom in a really awkward position. We weren’t hurt, but were both a little shaken up. A big hug in a warm towel and all was well. He opted not to go down again, but became the official photographer for us instead. We all took a few more turns.
Sliding Rock is $1 to enter, and there are washrooms and changing facilities on site, but no lockers. Most people just brought their stuff down with them and left it off to the side. The water is pretty cold!
DuPont State Forest, North Carolina
Just about a 20 minute drive from Pisgah is the DuPont State Forest. Movie buffs will recognize the surroundings as much of the background of the first Hunger Games movie, as well as The Last of the Mohicans (there are lots of movies filmed in North Carolina) and, more recently, Max, but I loved that these were mainly just well-used and well-loved swimming holes for locals.
As with Pisgah, the greenery is so lush and quite wild, and the water gushing over the rocks is refreshing (to say the least!). Real Katniss Everdeen buffs can still take the Hunger Games tours that are running a couple of times a month. But if your kids are too young for that series, you can still enjoy an easy hike and a picnic lunch in a really beautiful setting.
Brevard, North Carolina
Driving up to the main drag in Brevard is pretty much exactly what you’d imagine charming Main St., U.S.A to look like. I was pretty surprised it hasn’t starred in a movie or two. There is actually some great shopping in town, as well as fun dining experiences (see Rocky’s below) and I guess I really liked the mix of laid-back locals with the vacationers and out-of-towners. The surrounding area has lots of summer camps, especially fancy equestrian camps, and I enjoyed seeing families (what I guessed was) visiting their children mid-camp, or dropping them off for the summer. We stopped in O.P. Taylor‘s, which calls itself, “the coolest toy store on the planet,” and they’re not exaggerating. I had to literally drag my husband out of there before we did (even more) damage to our credit card 🙂
We visited North Carolina with the assistance of Visit North Carolina, but all opinions are my own.