Michael Jordan didn’t put Wilmington, N.C. on the map. In fact, long before “His Airness” laced up his sneakers and tried out for Laney High School’s varsity basketball team, this southern city was making national news.
All eyes were on “Port City” during the final year of the Civil War. Until it fell to Union forces in February of 1865, Wilmington was the last major coastal stronghold and source of supplies for the Confederate states. Naturally, Wilmington is a must-see for Civil War enthusiasts and history buffs, but it’s a far cry from a museum-centric city where time stands still.
Whether you’re a hardcore athlete like MJ or just an average adrenaline junkie, here are five ways to increase your heart rate while falling in love with one of the South’s liveliest cities.
1. Cycle the River-to-the-Sea Bikeway
Start downtown where bustling Market Street meets the Cape Fear River and then ride east for eleven miles. The route, which winds through several of Wilmington’s neatest residential neighborhoods, follows the historic trolley line that once ferried city residents to nearby Wrightsville Beach. Since the path ends at an island beach, there are a few bridge crossings and the trip may involve biking over a boat or two. Bring your own wheels, or pick some up at one of the city’s full-service cycling shops like Bike Cycles and Two Wheeler Dealer.
2. Attack the Single Track
Helmets are a must at Wilmington’s Blue Clay Bike Park where seven miles of single-track trails traverse a system of wetlands. While there are never any major elevation gains, there are plenty of obstacles and the course is known for its challenging twists and turns. The park’s trails and pump track are maintained by the Cape Fear Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association—a non-profit that hosts timed trials, group rides and races—unless ABC’s Secrets & Lies is in town and taping. (The new show, starring Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis, asked to borrow the site on a few occasions this summer.)
3. Get Your Race Face On
A mild, subtropical climate allows Wilmington to host outdoor competitions and races year round. This fall, several races will take place October 3-5 during the three-day Wilmington Riverfest. The city’s population, 109,000, doubles over the weekend when crowds come out to catch competitions ranging from the land-based Great Waiters’ Wine Race (think maneuvering alcohol around obstacles) to the water-centric SUP races. There is also the 8K Run the River Race put on by the Wilmington Road Runners Club. In November, runners can head to the historic USS North Carolina moored in downtown Wilmington and participate in the Battleship Half Marathon & 5K.
4. Drop In or Ask for a Day Pass
For a smaller city, Wilmington has more than its fair share of state-of-the-art fitness centers. Ever expanding and adding more square feet of studios, gardens and retail, the Wilmington Yoga Center refers to itself as the Southeast’s largest yoga center. This summer it started partnering with a nearby oceanfront property to offer pier yoga. Moving inland and only four miles from the heart of Wilmington, one finds O2 Fitness Wilmington/Hanover—the newest club from North Carolina’s largest locally owned and operated fitness chain. Every cardio machine in the 28,000 square foot facility is less than a year old, and there are plenty of rooms dedicated to group classes and cycling.
5. Explore the Waterways
Living up to its nickname, Port City, Wilmington is flanked by the Cape Fear River to the west and the Intracoastal Waterway, which eventually meets the Atlantic, to the east. The battleship towers over yachts that tower over sailboats, which provide shade for the colorful canoes and kayaks. Competitions can easily be found (there is dragon boating at nearby Carolina Beach and fishing tournaments at Kure Beach), but scenic tours and sunset paddles are also popular. “Sweepers” can find paddleboard rentals in and around Wilmington, and at the Blockade Runner Beach Resort’s Surf to Sound Academy, SUP surfing is the best way to give your body a good, healthy beating.
For more information on Wilmington and its surrounding beaches, visit WilmingtonandBeaches.com.