Is your family full of travelers, history buffs, nature lovers and outdoor adventurers? If so, the Southeastern United States should be the next stop on your vacation wishlist. During the same weekend, you can experience historical destinations, diverse plant life, and amazing comfort food within steps of each other.
For thrill seekers, head to Tennessee, where the small mountain towns nestled in the Smokies offer attractions like Dollywood, indoor skydiving and zip lining. The wide range of opportunities for long-lasting memories while enjoying Sevierville, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge entertainment will not be easily forgotten by any members of your family. Music and art lovers will feel totally nourished in cities like Memphis and Nashville, with a never-ending list of performances at your fingertips. And for those who want to lose themselves in nature, head east towards Asheville, North Carolina.
From the Smokies to the Blue Ridge, the mountains in the Southeast offer an incredible range of ecosystems, natural wonders and eye-opening experiences for hikers of all skill levels. And there are so many trails within driving distance of Asheville, NC, that allow you to experience the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountain region in just a few days of hiking.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are some of the most ancient in the entire world. In contrast to the Rocky Mountains out west, the Blue Ridge Mountains are made up of smooth, slabby granite and are significantly lower in elevation than the Rockies. This is due to their advanced age, as their elevation has been significantly altered over thousands of years.
This area is also unique because it is classified as a “temperate rainforest”, which allows a greater level of diversity on flora and fauna than others. For instance, you can encounter giant banana slugs, wild trillium (a species of orchid), rose quartz formations and great pileated woodpeckers on just one hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One of the many special features of the hiking trails near Asheville, North Carolina are the beautiful waterfalls and water formations. Several rivers converge here, separating into multitudes of creeks and streams that rush and babble throughout the rolling hills around the mountains.
Catawba Falls is a fairy-tale-like waterfall that’s accessible via a 40-minute drive north from downtown Asheville. After a moderately strenuous 1.5-mile hike in, you can enjoy the multi-leveled waterfall and escape from the world. Pay special attention to the wild butterflies that like to congregate on the lush moss during the summer months to truly absorb the fantasy of the moment.
Linville Falls, located about 1.5 hours north of Asheville, is a powerful water feature that is suffused with history. You can access the falls from above and below on a 1.5-mile, moderately strenuous hike each way. From above, you see down into LinVille Gorge and can marvel at the sound and height of the falling water. From below, you get a close-up-view of the unique ecosystem that congregates around the rushing waters created by the falls.
Bridal Veil Falls is an unforgettable waterfall located south of Asheville, in DuPont State Forest. You can expect about a 45-minute drive to the Brevard area to access this state forest and the amazing water features within. A 5-mile, moderately strenuous loop hike takes you into the forest, past an abandoned airstrip and a working farm, and to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. From there, you can enjoy the height of the granite falls, cascading gracefully down over a few hundred sloping feet.
For those who enjoy height and gorgeous views, there are several hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway that deliver the goods.
Black Balsam is at the top of the list, clocking in at an elevation of 6,000 feet, and totally bare due to logging and fire damage from years ago. The pines have remained, and many plants and animals make the windswept area their home. When you visit, prepare for views that stretch for miles in every direction. You can see past Asheville to the north, and even towards the Smokies in the west. And on a clear day, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the famed and historical Shining Rock, as well.
Devil’s Courthouse, an eccentric and prominent rocky outcropping right along the Parkway, offers a rare view of the mountains. A short, strenuous and partially-paved 1-mile hike leads you straight up to the top, and once you emerge from the trees onto the rock, you will be amazed at how far you can see. It’s a wonderful place to bring an evening picnic and enjoy the sunset, as you can see the streaks dance across the sky from east to west with ease.
Craggy Gardens, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Asheville, offers a special chance to experience a northern view of the mountains and the parkway while enjoying the unique plant life of the region. In the spring, summer and fall, a short, moderate 1.5-mile hike to the top of Craggy Gardens affords you a view of hundreds of rhododendrons and mountain laurels in full bloom. Songbirds of all varieties frolic in the greenery, and the elevation can allow you to see birds of prey in species as diverse as hawks, eagles, and even peregrine falcons. This is another wonderful place to enjoy a meal or a snack with loved ones, as there is a picnic area near the beginning of the trail which offers lovely views of its own.
The next time you are longing for a getaway that will inspire your mind, restore your body and rejuvenate your spirit, come visit us in the Southeast. You can start your trip in Tennessee, and experience the thrills, fun and culture of Sevierville and Nashville for a few days. Then, when you’re ready to find yourself in the adventure of the outdoors, make sure to plan some time hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Try one or several of the hikes listed above to get started! Also, check out this fantastic list of the best hikes within an hour from Asheville, NC for more ideas! You’ll certainly come away with a greater appreciation for the temperate rainforest, and the teeming life it holds, as well as the history and mythology of these amazing mountains.