Spartanburg, South Carolina
Ten years ago, few travelers would have considered Spartanburg one of the top destinations in upstate South Carolina. Many of the beautiful surrounding lakes and rivers were once inaccessible on private land, and it was not until Spartanburg joined forces with nearby state parks and other organizations to actively promote the area that tourism began to develop.
Lake Bowen, Lake Blalock and Lake Cooley eventually opened to the public, and the county parks department opened an outdoor recreation outfitter to supply visitors with canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Soon after, Spartanburg’s food scene began to flourish as places like the RJ Rockers Brewing Company and the Farmer’s Table opened in downtown, providing hikers and boating enthusiasts a terrific location to unwind after exploring the local natural highlights.
“Residents started to realize, ‘Wow, we don’t have to go to Asheville or Charlotte. We have so much to do right here,’” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president at the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was almost like the perfect storm. A plan was put in place, the plan was implemented, and infrastructure started to grow. It’s a great time to be in Spartanburg because it’s really starting to come together.”
Another prominent draw for groups is Croft State Park, one of the largest park systems in South Carolina. The park is on a former World War II training ground and now serves as a mecca for mountain bikers with over 20 miles of trails. Spartanburg is also home to the BMW Manufacturing Co. and BMW Zentrum, where groups can learn about the colorful history of the BMW brand and even take a drive around the track at the Performance Center.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Nestled amid the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, welcomes nature lovers with a host of outdoor activities and attractions, from treetop ropes courses at High Gravity Adventures to the Mile High Swinging Bridge overlooking Grandfather Mountain. At Moses Cone Memorial Park, groups can tour Flat Top Manor — an estate mansion with white pillars — and explore 25 miles of carriage trails through forests and fields. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Price Lake presents an inviting location for water recreation such as canoeing, kayaking and fishing.
“Blowing Rock has this contained villagelike atmosphere, but within 10 minutes, you can be somewhere that feels totally off the map,” said Amanda Lugenbell, assistant director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority. “It’s one of the things that makes it so special.”
Throughout the year, Blowing Rock hosts a number of citywide festivals and events, such as Art in the Park, the Monday Night Concert Series and the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, a celebration of Scottish culture. Many visiting families enjoy a trip to Tweetsie Railroad, a Wild West theme park with amusement rides, gold-panning activities, a petting zoo and a three-mile ride aboard a historic steam engine train.
Travelers can choose from a variety of cafes and pubs in town for lunch or dinner, though Timberlake Restaurant at Chetola Resort and the Chestnut Grille at the Green Park Inn are the two that cater most to groups, enabling larger groups to stay at the hotels and dine on-site.