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Southeast: Small towns

Courtesy Gaston County Travel and Tourism

Gaston County, North Carolina
In Gaston County, North Carolina, Charlotte visitors and residents can have a peaceful nature experience about 20 miles from the city center.

Among the most popular outdoor attractions in the area is Crowders Mountain State Park.

“It’s a 7,000-acre park,” said Walter Israel, director of Walton Travel and Tourism. “It’s one of the first outcroppings you see in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can go on a nice 45-minute hike and be on top of Crowders Mountain looking at the Charlotte skyline.”

For another take on the outdoors, many groups in the area visit the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens. This 380-acre site was left by a local textile magnate as a gift to the city and features 10 themed gardens and 12 fountains along the banks of Lake Wylie. Visitors can browse through the tropical Canal Garden or the fragrant Conifer Garden or venture inside the state-of-the-art orchid conservatory.

Another area attraction, the Schiele Museum of Natural History, has a planetarium and a collection of minerals, rocks, fossils and taxidermy. A 20-acre outdoor section features a colonial village, a Catawba Indian village and a working historic gristmill.

The Gaston area has also gained notoriety as the home of the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
“That’s where the Olympic white-water team trains,” Israel said. “You can watch them from the restaurant there, where they have about 100 beers that you can choose from. They also have a band that plays out on the terrace overlooking the white water.”

North Little Rock, Arkansas
You can see North Little Rock from the downtown district of Little Rock — it sits just across the Arkansas River. And although it’s easy to consider these two cities as one destination, North Little Rock has its own set of signature attractions.

Chief among North Little Rock stops for tour groups is the Old Mill.

“It’s a replica of a gristmill from the old South,” said Hazel Hernandez, public relations representative at the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was featured at the beginning credits of ‘Gone With the Wind.’ It’s very picturesque and a great photo stop for groups.”

Nearby, the Arkansas Queen Riverboat docks in North Little Rock and is a popular excursion for groups that visit the area. The boat offers a number of cruise options, among them sightseeing cruises, luncheon cruises and dinner cruises that feature musical entertainment.

Downtown, North Little Rock has a historic district, an arts district and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The city is the home of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, home of the USS Razorback.

“It’s a submarine from World War II,” Hernandez said. “You can actually go down into the submarine, and all of the tour guides are submarine veterans. So you get the history, but you also get a personal touch.”