North Carolina destinations are ready to welcome visitors for Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of the summer travel season. Special events feed the urge to travel, lodging packages make the trip more enticing, and lower pump prices sweeten the deal.
“The three-day weekend makes Memorial Day irresistible,” said Wit Tuttell, marketing director in the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism. “With the extra day, you can see more, do more, relax more and reflect more on the meaning of the holiday. It all adds up to a real bonus of quality time.”
Memorial Day is observed the last Monday in May in remembrance of those who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. North Carolina offers a harmony of solemn commemorations and festive events, often in the same destination. At VisitNC.com, travelers can find information on events, attractions, lodging and dining plus ideas and inspiration.
Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord stokes the crowd with Friday’s Coca-Cola Family Track Walk and Concert, Saturday’s History 300 and Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, which is preceded by a patriotic salute. On Monday, nearby Kannapolis reopens Veterans Park, whose new features include a granite Ring of Honor with the names of more than 1,700 people from Rowan and Cabarrus counties who have died in service since the Revolutionary War.
In Wilmington, the Orange Street Arts Fest sets a lively pace downtown on Saturday and Sunday, and across the Cape Fear River on Monday, the Battleship North Carolina goes to the heart of the holiday with an observance that includes music by the 440th NC Army National Guard Band and a 21-gun salute.
At Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum presents a three-day Living History Weekend that spans 1917 to 1999. Bennett Place in Durham also takes the long view with a living history program called “The American Soldier Through the Ages.” It runs Saturday and Sunday.
On the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the “Time to Remember” observance honors the Western North Carolina residents who sacrificed their homes, land and way of life for the creation of Fontana Dam, which helped power production of nuclear material to end World War II. At Fontana Village Resort, visitors glimpse this unique history on lake tours and hikes and at the Historic Gunter Cabin, an 1875 cabin that the dam’s builders preserved.
And across the state, annual festivals reflect the state’s character. Travelers can experience traditional music at the Fiddler’s Grove Festival in Union Grove, natural history at the Aurora Fossil Festival in Aurora, agricultural heritage and innovation at NC Hops & Roots Fest in Pittsboro, small-town spirit at the White Squirrel Festival in Brevard and the Garden Jubilee Festival in Hendersonville, and a hometown hero at Pettyfest in Randleman.
“These events invite you to soak up the state’s culture and heritage,” Tuttell said. “And there’s even more to discover. Just look at the Project 543 feature on VisitNC.com and you’ll find inspiration for traveling all summer long.”