The Appalachian Mountains' wonders
Cloaked in thick forest, the Appalachian Mountains provide gentle, rolling vistas that stretch for more than 1,500 miles in the eastern United States. Although low in elevation compared to the Rocky Mountains, this scenic treasure offers up the east’s breathtaking Blue Ridge Parkway and a myriad of national parks, protected forests and historic hotels.
Blue Ridge Mountains
Known as America’s Favorite Drive, the majestic scenery and endless recreation of the Blue Ridge Parkway makes it one of the most visited National Park Service locales in America. Connecting Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkways flaunts 469 miles of enchanting farmland, mountain meadows and scenic overlooks with the world’s most diverse display of flora and fauna.
Scattered throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains, quaint towns greet America’s road trippers, like Banner Elk, North Carolina, where the population barely peaks 1,000. In fact, it’s so charming, the mountain town boasts an annual Woolly Worm Festival, going on nearly forty years. During the festival, residents race Pyrrharctia isabella worms with the winning critter being used to predict coming winter conditions, an important declaration since Banner Elk is located between three ski resorts. Legend has it, a black-striped worm points to cold, snowy winters; brown stripes mean milder conditions.
In Banner Elk, The Mast Farm Inn provides a historic country retreat for travelers visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains. The main inn features charming rooms with four-poster beds, claw-foot tubs and endless farmhouse charm. Many of the rooms are named after Mast family members — from Mam’s Refuge to Uncle Earl’s Haven. Additionally, a number of secluded cottages and rustic cabins create a resplendent getaway. Among these treasures, the Loom House, restored with modern conveniences, is believed to be the oldest inhabitable log cabin in North Carolina.
Shenandoah National Park
in the Appalachian Mountains
Connected by the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a hiker’s paradise with more than 500 trails, including 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In the Shenandoah wilderness, remote waterfalls, spectacular gorges and other hidden gems reward hikers for their efforts. Abundant with wildlife, the Discovery Channel featured the Shenandoah in a remarkable 2013 series, filming everything from coyotes to bears.
Old Rag Mountain is one of the region’s most popular hikes — and yet, the most dangerous. Here, rock scrambles are not only steep, they’re extremely challenging. Often, hikers must carefully climb through cracks in the rock. Still, the panoramic views of the Old Rag are worth the challenge. Hikers also love Whiteoak Canyon, a strenuous hike through a spectacular gorge where six waterfalls are the reward.
In Luray, Virginia, recreationists can check into The Mimslyn Inn, a classic Georgian Revival treasure that rises gracefully from the rolling hills of Shenandoah Valley. The Inn is in walking distance of Luray’s historic downtown and nestled in between the famous Luray Caverns and the scenic Shenandoah National Park. After a day of adventure, guests can replenish themselves at the inn’s historic restaurant, Circa ’31, a vision itself with floor-to-ceiling menus. Meanwhile, the chef’s upscale southern cuisine will fuel travelers’ next Shenandoah adventure.
The Great Smoky Mountains
At the other end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee with its ridge of enchanting forest. The Smoky Mountains are America’s most-visited national park, and for good reason — more than 100 native trees and 1,500 black bears (roughly two bears per square mile) can be found here, making this a wildlife wonderland. In fact, the Smokies are often referred to as America’s “Wildflower National Park,” with more than 1,500 flowering varietals, including fall’s vibrant asters.
Cades Cove is one of the most verdant valleys in the park, where animal sightings are as plentiful as the number of historic buildings located in the cove. The first Europeans settled here between 1818 and 1821. By 1830, the population swelled to 271, leaving behind three churches, a gristmill and other 18th and 19th century structures.
Just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Asheville, North Carolina, one of the country’s most celebrated resorts calls the Blue Ridge Mountains home — The Omni Grove Park Inn. This AAA Four Diamond property is listed on Fodor's “Top 10 Luxury Spa Resorts” and in Travel + Leisure’s rankings of “Top Spa Resorts” in the world. Enjoy a challenging round of golf on the resort’s Donald Ross-designed course, or take sanctuary at the 43,000-square-foot subterranean spa.