When the temperature soars, I love to escape to the cooler air of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a kid, I enjoyed hiking and horseback riding in the mountains, but with age, I have grown to appreciate more sedate activities like sightseeing, dining and shopping.
Along with beautiful state parks, quaint mountain towns, and charming B&Bs, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer a wide array of arts and crafts, historic sites, festivals, museums, restaurants, and wineries. There is something for everyone, no matter what your age, and many of the sightseeing attractions are wheelchair accessible.
Whether you go for a break from the summer heat, to see the waterfalls at full force in spring, or to see the trees change in fall, the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway provides stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains. Connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC and the Shenandoah National Park in VA, the 469-mile roadway has over 200 overlooks where you can pull over and stop your car or RV to take in the breath-taking views.
If you want to visit the parkway, I suggest planning your itinerary or scenic drive ahead of time. The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville, NC, is a good place to start. It’s located at mile post 384.
Asheville is also home to the Southern Highland Guild’s Folk Art Center of traditional and contemporary Southern Appalachian crafts. Along with temporary exhibits, there is a permanent exhibit of 250 works, including woodcarving, textiles, furniture, basketry, pottery, and dolls from 1855 to the late 20th century. Allanstand Craft Shop is the oldest continuously operating craft shop in the U.S.
No visit to Asheville is complete without seeing Biltmore Estate. Built in 1888 as a summer retreat by George Washington Vanderbilt, the 250-room French Renaissance-style mansion, situated on 8,000 acres, is the largest privately owned house in the U.S. Take a self-guided tour of the 60-plus restored rooms, stroll through the many gardens, or enjoy a wine tasting at the Antler Hill Village & Winery.
Perfect for the grandkids, the Western North Carolina Nature Center is more than a zoo. Voted “best place to take kids,” it is a living museum of native plants and animals. See all kinds of mountain wildlife, including snakes, otters, raccoons, goats, sheep, wolves, foxes, cougars, bears, hawks, and owls.
Located on 3,600 acres in Boone/Blowing Rock, NC, the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park was the summer country estate of the “Denim King,” Moses Cone, and his wife, Bertha. Take a tour of the 23-room Colonial Revival mansion built in the mid-1890s, fish for bass and trout in one of the lakes, or watch artisans give live demonstrations of mountain handicrafts. There are also 25 miles of carriage roads and an apple orchard.
The Cherokee Indian Reservation is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Anyone who is interested in Native American culture and history should visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Be transported back in time to a living, working 18th-centurty Cherokee village at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Take time to enjoy the stunning views at Chimney Rock State Park, named #3 for scenic views in a national poll by Southern Living magazine. It’s home to Hickory Nut Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi.
If you need to relax, visit Hot Springs, NC, and enjoy a soak in the naturally heated mineral waters. Located on Spring Creek and the French Broad River, Hot Springs Resort & Spa offers modern Jacuzzi-style hot tubs that are situated outdoors so you can take in the mountain views, as well as licensed and certified massage therapists.
What’s your favorite mountain travel destination?
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