Winter in Chapel Hill is most associated with the Dean Dome, the screech of sneakers on a gymnasium floor and the roar of a crowd.
But when cabin fever sets in and the mountains seem a little too daunting for a February day, the North Carolina Botanical Garden can make a fun and relaxing day trip.
Yes, even in the winter.
A straight shot off of I-40, about 90 minutes east of Winston-Salem, the gardens are a pocket of solitude in the bustling college town. They offer lots to do and see in the colder months.
Beside the traditional display gardens, there are habitats that mimic various natural environments found across the state. These immersive settings are compelling year round, with plants and landscapes constructed to resemble areas as diverse as the Sandhills region and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Piedmont Nature Trails, which abut the display gardens, provide over three miles of hiking through 88 acres of typical North Carolina forest. The trails include informational plaques detailing the flora, fauna and natural features hikers encounter. Additionally, benches are placed periodically along the trail for visitors to sit and soak in the sights and sounds of the forest.
One of the most active areas of the gardens regardless of the season, is the Certified Bird Friendly Habitat. Native plants and other bird friendly qualities draw a plethora of the area’s native birds. A bird blind constructed by the local chapter of the Audubon Society allows visitors an up close view of the winged denizens, without them seeing the onlookers. On a recent overcast day nine species were observed over a 25 minute span.
The botanical gardens regularly offer classes on such things as native plants and conservation gardening.
And if you can’t imagine going to Chapel Hill without paying some sort of homage to basketball, the Carolina Basketball Museum is just a stone’s throw from the botanical gardens on the outskirts of campus.