The scenic marvels of rushing waterfalls and meandering rivers lie hidden in the wilds of the Blue Ridge peaks and Great Smoky Mountains.
Mist envelops the slopes of the southern Appalachians, obscuring winding roads and rich forests nestled in rolling hills. Here are five can’t-miss destinations for your mountain getaway.
Dubbed “the gateway to the Great Smokies,” Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the ideal starting place for your trip to the mountains. Get your adrenaline fix at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where you can enjoy a whitewater rafting excursion and 2.8-mile hike. If navigating unstable bridges three stories high is more your style, head to Gatlin’s Rugged Ropes Adventure Course and strap on a harness to tackle a multi-level obstacle course.
Great Smoky Mountains
Sunlight sparkles through wispy clouds above the ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains, a majestic range named for the misty haze that perpetually wreaths its sky-blue peaks. Split between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smokies cover over 520,000 acres of hills, valleys and streams. Because of the beauty of this vast expanse of forested mountains, it’s no wonder that this is America’s most visited national park.
There are a variety of ways to experience the rugged summits’ splendor. After a 1.3-mile hike along the Laurel Falls trail you will arrive at the waterfall itself, where a curtain of creamy whitewater cascades down the mountainside in a shower of silk. You can also park at the end of Clingmans Dome Road and take a steep 0.5-mile hike from the trailhead to the top of Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in Tennessee, and survey the Smokies from an observation tower at the peak.
Blue Ridge Parkway
A winding road that snakes through 469 miles of Appalachian highlands, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic route that connects the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park. In autumn, the trees along the parkway burst into fiery hues of crimson and gold accented by emerald evergreens that dot the landscape. Soak in majestic views of the road’s namesake blue mountains as you curve through miles of blazing red-orange foliage.
Shenandoah National Park
A thin band of golden light pierces the cloud-streaked sky, illuminating the gently sloping blue-green hills and verdant valleys of Shenandoah, a national park tucked in the Blue Ridge range of the sprawling Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. Enter the park via one of four stations along Skyline Drive, the sole public road that runs through Shenandoah.
Head to Skyland Stables for an hour-long, $50 guided horseback ride on a gravel path through the Shenandoah forest and an apple orchard. To explore one of the park’s hidden gems on foot, take a 1.4 mile hike along a steep, slick trail to Dark Hollow Falls, where a thin white veil of water tumbles over gray rocks surrounded by lush greenery.
The glassy surface of the James River reflects the puffy white clouds overhead as well as the green trees that line the banks of this longest river in Virginia as it flows through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. Stop by the James River Visitor Center for inside details on the river’s history and canal system. There are several short hikes nearby, ranging from a 0.4-mile walk to the canal locks to the 3.5-mile Otter Creek Trail.
Soak in the beauty of the mountains’ grandeur as you explore the southern Appalachians.