From Wrightsville Beach on the state’s east coast to Asheville in its western mountains, North Carolina vacation rentals come alive on Thanksgiving weekend. Get ready to enjoy fireworks, watch a Christmas tree lighting, run in a Turkey Trot, or send the kids on an enchanted ride on the famed Polar Express. Filled with numerous exciting activities and attractions, the Tar Heel state gives you a variety of ways to start new holiday traditions. Check out this list of 9 North Carolina Thanksgiving vacation destinations to get started on your getaway plans.

1. Party at The Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach

beach sunrise

Wrightsville Beach is a favorite summer vacation destination in eastern North Carolina, and its Holiday Flotilla activities attract thousands of visitors. The fun starts with a party on Friday, and continues through Sunday after Thanksgiving. During the day, enjoy the Festival in the Park tree-lighting ceremony, arts, crafts, entertainment, and greetings from Santa and Mrs. Claus. A decades-old tradition featuring fireworks displays and a parade of decorated boats on Saturday make this a must-see event.

2. Tree Lighting, Thanksgiving Parade, and Turkey Trot in Charlotte

car trails charlotte

Welcome the coming season with the Carolina Panthers Christmas Tree Lighting in Charlotte, held on the night before Thanksgiving. This free event in North Carolina’s largest city features family-friendly live entertainment, balloon artists, face painting, food trucks, and even a visit from Santa. Nearby, by the South Carolina border, Uptown Charlotte hosts the Carolinas Thanksgiving Parade, with more than 100 marching bands helping to make it one of the biggest turkey day parades in the United States. If parades aren’t your thing, earn your very own medal for finishing the Charlotte SouthPark Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning instead. With many different race options, the whole family gets to share the fun with 15,000 participants in this 25-year-old ritual. Register online or in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods at SouthPark Mall on Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

3. Run the Gobbler 5K Run/Walk and 3K Dog-Jog and Skate at Winterfest in Greensboro

herd of deer in green meadow

For a Thanksgiving Day run that includes your dog, head for Greensboro, North Carolina, for the 3k Dog-Jog that lets you exercise with your pooch. Just hold on tight, in case he gets a little too social with the competition. If you’re dog-less, sign up for the 5k Gobbler Run/Walk instead. There’s no race day registration, so make your plans early. While you’re in town, take the family to the Piedmont Winterfest in downtown Greensboro’s LeBauer Park. Bring your own ice skates, or use theirs to take to the large outdoor ice rink to show off your figure skating prowess or teach the little ones the skill. No interest in skating? Chill out and watch the kids play in the snow play box, or have a ball as they slide down the ice slide.

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4. Join the Community Christmas Tree Lighting in West Jefferson

christmas tree hunting
Source: Flickr / Benjamin Hollis

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, West Jefferson is a cozy little town with a big national reputation for its “choose and cut” Christmas tree farms. Arrive for the annual holiday parade downtown on the third Saturday of November, and stay for the lighting of the Community Christmas Tree at Backstreet Park the day after Thanksgiving. Encourage the family to join in the caroling and sip hot chocolate before Santa’s dramatic arrival on a fire engine. Enjoy the festive holiday displays of local downtown, and be sure to check out Backstreet Park’s merchants to shop for homemade gifts, crafts, jellies, and jams.

5. Ride The Polar Express in Bryson City

north carolina autumn

This small town in North Carolina is known worldwide for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad train, the Polar Express. Dress your kids in their favorite pajamas for a 1.5-hour ride on the famous train during Thanksgiving weekend. Their trip includes warm cocoa and treats, a reading of the beloved story, caroling, a silver sleigh bell souvenir, and greetings from Santa at the North Pole. Before ending your weekend getaway, take the kids to the Swain County Visitor Center where they can write and mail letters to Santa. Everything they need is provided at the center, including all-day cookies and cocoa.

6. See The National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville

gingerbread house closeup
Source: Flickr / Dean Michaud

Surrounded by both the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina, is the home of the historic Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn. The inn hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition, where Thanksgiving is a great time to feast your eyes on the finalists’ creations. Viewing is free, as are self-guided tours of the grounds that are decorated for the holidays. Shop at the Folk Art Center, which features handiwork by Southern Appalachian artisans.

7. Live A Dickens Holiday in Fayetteville

dickens holiday choir fayetteville
Source: Flickr / Selena N. B. H.

On the day after Thanksgiving, experience a unique throwback to centuries gone by in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Ride in horse-drawn carriages, part of the Victorian-style decorations that transform downtown into the setting for Charles Dickens novel, “A Christmas Carol.” Kids enjoy another opportunity to talk to Father Christmas, as well as singing carols, drinking cider, eating gingerbread, joining a candlelight procession, and watching fireworks.

8. Celebrate Christmas in the Park in Blowing Rock

mountain view of north carolina autumn

Locals and visitors enjoy Blowing Rock’s annual Christmas in the Park and Lighting of the Town. On the day after Thanksgiving, this western North Carolina town welcomes the holiday season with a festival including hayrides, live music, free hot chocolate and cider, caroling, and another appearance by Santa. On Saturday, the town’s Christmas parade features animals, floats, and exciting costumes for an old-fashioned family celebration.

9. Experience Speedway Christmas in Concord

christmas lights at charlotte motor speedway
Source: http://www.charlottemotorspeedway.com

Three million lights in 800 spectacular arrangements illuminate the famous Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord for Thanksgiving. Drive on the speedway to view this amazing 3.1-mile display, including a lights-to-music section of one of the biggest light shows in the United States. Expect to enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides in Christmas Village, live-action performances in Bethlehem Village, games and activities at Santa’s Workshop, and a petting zoo. Close out your Friday or Saturday night watching a holiday movie on the 16,000-square-foot-high HDTV screen, the largest in the world. Head back to your vacation rental afterwards to warm up.

 
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