Head Over Hills
Weekend Mountain Drives You'll Flip Over
Clear air, waterfalls tucked within Eden-like forests, lively small town main streets — there’s plenty of lure in the mountains of the Carolinas. Not sure where to start? Here are a few destinations in each state to consider as you plan your escape to the mountains.
Seneca and Walhalla, S.C.
With a distance of less than nine miles between each town, it’s easy to hit them both in a weekend with plenty to keep you occupied.
In Seneca, stop by the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum. The museum’s namesake worked as a maid for Dr. John and Mrs. Lilian Lunney for 47 years. Upon her death, Mrs. Lunney willed the property and home to Mrs. Strickland. Today, the home is now a treasure trove of history honoring the legacy of local African Americans.
Consider a visit to Duke Energy’s World of Energy at the Oconee Nuclear Station while in the area. This self-guided education center teaches visitors how electricity is made through interactive and engaging exhibits. The video game area that includes puzzles and books is fun for kids of all ages. Situated on the bank of Lake Keowee, it’s also a perfect spot for a picnic under the shelter followed by a leisurely walk along their nature trail.
Pickens County, S.C.
Located on Clemson University’s campus grounds, Fort Hill plantation is the beautifully preserved and restored home of noted S.C. statesman and seventh Vice President John C. Calhoun. The plantation is a designated National Historic Landmark, and family portraits, personal items and historical pieces are displayed throughout the home. Guided tours are free (and extremely informative), but donations are accepted.
A trek through Table Rock State Park rewards hikers with challenging trails, lush forests, and shimmering lakes and waterfalls. Situated at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains there are more than 3,000 acres to explore. Scale to the summit of Pinnacle Mountain, the tallest mountain contained entirely within the state of South Carolina.
The popularity of Asheville is undeniable. Its long list of laurels from AFAR, Lonely Planet, Condé Nast Traveler, and others testify to that. Tucked between the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky mountains, Asheville boasts a thriving arts community, fantastic food and a ridiculous amount of cool things to do.
Biltmore Estate is an obvious choice for area diversions. If you’ve visited and crave a different experience, take the rooftop tour. It will give you a new perspective and a greater appreciation for the genius and vision of architect Richard Morris Hunt.
Well Played is new to the Asheville landscape. The first of its kind in N.C., this board game café offers more than 500 gaming titles (including old school board options), and locally sourced food and craft beer, as well as wine and coffee.
Whether you hope to alleviate what ails you or just need a spot to unwind, check out Asheville’s Salt Cave & Salt Spa. Experience this centuries old therapy believed to be helpful in the treatment of arthritis, respiratory problems, stress and other ailments. The cave’s enriched microclimate is said to promote relaxation, rehabilitation and balance.
Mount Airy, N.C.
You don’t have to be an Andy Griffith Show fan to enjoy a visit to Mount Airy, but there’s a strong chance you’ll be a fan by the time you leave. Mount Airy is Andy Griffith’s hometown, and largely believed to be the inspiration behind the show’s fictional town of Mayberry.
Begin your visit at the Andy Griffith Museum. Andy’s close friend Emmett Forrest has amassed the largest collection of Andy Griffith memorabilia, and it’s all here. Peruse varied photos and items from Andy’s childhood and props and pieces relating to Andy’s extensive music and acting career.
Downtown you’ll also find antiques shops, Floyd’s City Barber Shop and the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Grab a pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch (mentioned in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show) and save room for dessert at Miss Angels Heavenly Pies.
Enjoy a tour and tasting of handmade, small-batch whiskey at Mayberry Spirits. Three sorghum-based whiskeys are on offer — Crystal Moon (their white whiskey), Toasted Vanilla (infused with vanilla beans) and Toasted Oak (aged in oak chips). Barware, cigars, coffee, whiskey soaked fruit and local art and crafts are also available for purchase.
Just about 15 miles southeast of Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain State Park is an ideal stop for outdoor enthusiasts. Towering some 2,000 feet, the mountain provides stunning vistas along the ample trails and steep cliffs. At the summit, take in views of the Sauratown and Blue Ridge mountains. Campsites are plentiful if one day isn’t enough.
Transylvania County, N.C.
Situated in the southwest corner of North Carolina, Transylvania County is known as the Land of the Waterfalls. And for good reason. More than 250 cascades beckon visitors. Looking Glass Falls, which is named for the reflective layer of ice that forms on Looking Glass Rock in the winter, is one of the country’s most viewed falls.
You’ll also find the highest waterfall in the eastern U.S. in these parts. Often called “King of Waterfalls”, the 411-foot Whitewater Falls is a designated North Carolina Natural Heritage area.
A hot spot for hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers, DuPont State Recreational Forest is also a popular destination for Hunger Games fans. The covered bridge at High Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Triple Falls made for dramatic backdrops for many scenes in the blockbuster film. See if you can spy traces of the movie’s pyrotechnics from the fireball sequence by the pond where Peeta expertly camouflaged himself.
The headquarters of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation is just minutes from Bryson City in western North Carolina. The area is thick with opportunities to appreciate the history and traditions of the Cherokee Nation through a well-curated and interactive museum, a reconstructed Indian village and a compelling outdoor drama.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian teems with artifacts, photographs, artwork and life-size figures that bring the Cherokee story to life. Exhibits include a slice of history through “Emissaries of Peace: 1762 Cherokee & British Delegations” which chronicles the meeting between the Cherokee leaders and King George III in London in 1762, arranged by Henry Timberlake.
Walk through the Oconaluftee Indian Village for an interactive, eye-opening look at life in a Cherokee village in the 1760s. You’ll witness firsthand cultural dances, weapons demonstrations and other slices of history.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to see Unto These Hills, one of the oldest outdoor dramas in the U.S. Performed nightly (except Sundays) from June 3 to Aug. 19; the play beautifully depicts the heartbreaking and victorious history of the Cherokee people.
Bryson City, N.C.
Edging the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this charming mountain town and its surrounding landscape are abundant in outdoor adventure. Sections of the Appalachian Trail weave through Swain County and make for perfect day hikes and longer backpacking treks.
If you’d rather experience the outdoors with minimal effort, consider hitching a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Excursions from Bryson City include a 44-mile tour to the Nantahala Gorge. This trip includes a stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where you’ll have time to hit the zip lines, or take a rafting or jeep tour. The Tuckasegee River tour passes through the spot where The Fugitive was filmed. Passengers enjoy a layover in historic Dillsboro where art galleries, gourmet and wine shops, and varied restaurants beckon.