Freewheeling Appalachian spirit is on full display along this road trip through the best of North Carolina’s mountain towns. Surrounded by some of the most accessible national parks and protected forests in the country, as well as quirky small towns begging for a stopover, the hardest part of this route is deciding where to spend your time.
Start your journey in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where you can hike, bike and boat to your heart’s content. Nearby, Lake James boasts 150-miles of shoreline, as well as 25 miles of hiking trails, 15 of which are geared towards mountain biking. The Holly Discovery Trail has an interpretative, nature-walk element, while more experienced hikers should head to the Overmountain Victory Trail for views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Head to Benfields Landing on the shores of the lake to rent a boat or put it your own, before exploring the serene waters in search of the lake’s famed largemouth bass. End your day with a fun-filled trolley tour that bounces between barbecue joints, breweries and downtown distilleries.
Drive 57 miles • 1 hour
Sixty miles west on I-40, the quirky city of Asheville has become a mecca for beer lovers looking for the inside scoop on crafting the perfect brew. The hilly mountain town – the largest in the western part of the state – is home to numerous award-winning craft breweries and the best way to experience them might be one of the popular “Brews Cruise” tours, where you’ll join locals and tourists alike as you follow the creation of your favorite draft “from grain to bottle.” Looking for an exciting adventure outside the city limits? Asheville is billed as one of the top whitewater rafting destinations in the country, so it’s sure to be a memorable trip whether you join a relaxing ride on the Lower Pigeon River or navigate the Class II, III and IV rapids of the Nantahala or French Broad Rivers.
Asheville Bear Creek RV Park • Asheville, NC – (800) 833-0798
Drive 52 miles • 1 Hour, 7 minutes
As you near the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the historic town of Cherokee stands out as the perfect jumping-off place for exploring the natural wonders and one-of-a-kind history of the area’s Native American population. Start your visit with a drive to the Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest point, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges from a 360-degree observation tower. From there, you can hike Andrews Bald or Big Creek, two easy-to-moderate trails that wind past spruce forests and secluded waterfalls, or explore any of the over 850 miles of trails and nearly 400 miles of roadways that bisect the expansive wilderness. For a different kind of adventure, visit the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a living history museum portraying Cherokee life during the 18th-century, where you can enjoy guided tours and join villagers in artisan craftwork, cooking and more.
Drive 31 miles • 38 minutes
End your trip thirty miles south at the small town of Franklin in the Nantahala National Forest. Known locally as the “Gem Capital of the World,” the historic hamlet has been wowing visitors with the bounty of precious gems like rubies, sapphires and emeralds hidden in the surrounding hills and valleys. These days you can try your own luck during an afternoon excursion at one of the many family-friendly roadside mines in the Cowee Valley area north of town. The purest gems in Franklin, though, are the scenic waterfalls that seem to pop up around every corner. Nearby Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls and Cullasaja Falls are the classic must-sees, but there are dozens of smaller cascades dotting the landscape on nearby hikes in and around town.