Outdoor adventures in the Sandhills and Fayetteville, N.C.

Fran Severn-Levy

I felt like Peter Pan, swooping through tall oak trees and above a waterfall, alighting on a platform high above the forest floor.

I hadn’t been sprinkled with fairy dust; I was strapped into a secure harness and rolling along strong cables at ZipQuest Waterfall and Treetop Adventure in Fayetteville, N.C. With unique features such as the waterfall and swinging bridges to clamber across, ZipQuest ranks as one of the top zip lines in the country. If you crave more excitement after the two-hour daytime adventure, try one of the “Zips by Moonlight” nighttime tours.

Mention Fayetteville and many people think immediately of Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base, so it’s natural that outdoor activities would be plentiful. Zip lining is just one of the outdoor activities you’ll find in Fayetteville and the surrounding Sandhills region. Laid back or high energy, you can choose from a menu that fits your desired adrenaline level.

On and around the water

The Cape Fear River provides recreation on land and on the water. Walkers, hikers, bicyclists, dog-walkers, and joggers enjoy the Cape Fear River Trail. The 5.5-mile path takes advantage of the varied terrain, with portions covering gentle hills and others level. Bring a birders’ guidebook; the trail is home to 150 species of birds.

An easier way to enjoy the plants and birds is at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden. Gently meandering paths link the “wild” areas of pine forests and river bank with themed gardens — daylilies, shade plants, herbs, butterfly — which are designed, in part, to give visitors ideas for their own gardens. Ponds and waterways attract herons, egrets, hawks, and migratory birds. The nature trails have plenty of places to sit and relax, including hammocks overlooking the river. With something always blooming, it’s as attractive to photographers as to bees.

On Tuesday mornings, tai chi is practiced in the garden. On Thursday nights in September, there’s an open-air concert. You’ll find an unusual, practical, and whimsical inventory at the gift shop.

A Cape Fear River Boat Cruise is a refreshing option on a muggy day. Captain Freddie Mims offers two- to four-hour cruises on his spacious pontoon boat. Flotilla commander of the local Coast Guard auxiliary, Mims knows the waterways, history, and ecology of the river. Cruises are by reservation, with a minimum of six paying adults and a maximum of 16 people for a cruise. Kids younger than 12 are free.

Insider tip: Bring along a picnic to enjoy with the scenery.

Both Fantasy Lake Water Park and Lake Waldo’s Beach Campground are all-day options.

Fantasy Lake has a theme park atmosphere. The center of activity is the 6-acre, manmade, sand-bottom lake. It’s dotted with many water slides, teeter-totters, and monkey bars over the water, a water volleyball court, and paddleboats. There is a separate area for children 3 to 11, with scaled-down versions of the adult attractions. Safety is a priority, with a large staff of certified lifeguards.

Lake Waldo’s Beach Campground is a pet-friendly RV park which welcomes day trippers. It is a lot smaller and quieter than Fantasy Lake. Lake Waldo is a natural lake with a broad, sandy beach and a fishing pier. There are separate pools, including a shallow kiddie pool. You’ll find water slides, lazy river rides, boat rentals, a games arcade, and other attractions. It also has a crew of certified safety staff and lifeguards. The campground also has vacation apartment rentals.

Another good option for families is Clark State Park, which provides fun with its Kids in Parks Track Trail. The self-guided adventures include learning about bugs, “nature hide-and-seek,” and an animal-themed exercise trail. The Saturday morning Nature Hour explores natural history, usually in a hands-on format. Guests are invited to the Thursday afternoon dinner time for alligators, snakes, and turtles at the park’s nature center.

Shoot, climb, and jump

Fayette zipquest4
Zipquest offers a variety of day and moonlight adventures above ground.

Get in touch with your inner special ops soldier at two paintball centers: Both Black Ops Paintball and Black River Paintball promise the ultimate paintball combat experience for all levels of players. Or, try out the Fort Bragg Clay Target Center, which proves that shooting those little clay discs is much more challenging than it looks.

For climbers, the Sandhills are relatively flat. But, at the Climbing Place, rock climbers can belay and “chicken-wing.” It has 14,000 square feet of climbing surfaces for all ages and levels of experience.

Enjoy the thrill of sky diving without actually jumping out of an airplane at Paraclete XP SkyVenture. With the clever use of a vertical wind tunnel, you’ll simulate a free-fall from 13,000 feet while never being more than a few yards above the floor. Flyers attend an orientation before suiting up and flying with instructors hovering alongside. The basic package includes two “free falls” of about a minute each, which is the length of a real sky dive. If you decide you want to try the real thing, they also offer tandem sky dive packages.

With almost constant good weather and gently rolling terrain, the Sandhills are a natural location for golf courses. Duffers can tee off at 20 courses within an hour of Fayetteville. Designed by pros such as Davis Lane III and Stewart Gooden, they feature 300 uncontested holes on 19 miles of fairways. Plenty of accommodation/golf packages are available.

International focus

The Cape Fear Botanical Garden is just one of the unexpected gems in the Fayetteville area.
The Cape Fear Botanical Garden is just one of the unexpected gems in the Fayetteville area.

Sept. 25–27 is the 37th annual International Folk Festival, where you can tour the world without leaving Fayetteville. More than a dozen nationalities demonstrate music, dances, and other cultural arts, while artisan vendors display traditional crafts and the International Café serves cuisine from around the world.

When troops return to Fort Bragg from overseas deployments, they bring an appetite for foreign cuisines with them. As a result, Fayetteville has a tasty and varied dining scene. Italian, Mexican, and Greek menus are common, as are sports bars and “American casual.” Visitors also can look for authentic-quality pad thai and biryani or have fun building an entrée at a Mongolian barbecue. And, Fayetteville is one of the few cities with a restaurant serving West African specialties.

Fayetteville’s interactive website makes it easy to design your visit based on your interests and accommodations choice.

Learn more:

Fayetteville Tourism: visitfayettevillenc.com

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