There’s nothing that quite compares to hitting the open road. It’s exhilarating, liberating, intoxicating. You never know what’s around the corner, what hole-in-the-wall shop or hidden gem you may discover. Even if you’re just out for the day, breaking the 9-to-5 routine for a scenic drive might be enough to recharge your batteries and get you inspired to go outside and play.
If you’ve already used up your vacation time at work, taking a weeklong trip might not necessarily be feasible. Never fear! You can easily accomplish a week’s worth of adventure and travel over a three-day weekend. Climber, paddler, foodie, beachgoer, whatever your calling, we have a road trip that will let you experience some of the best of the region in 400 miles or less. So pack the car, crank the tunes, and put the pedal to the metal. It’s time for a road trip.
Savannah, Ga. to Charleston, S.C.
Driver: Erin Larsen
Hails from: Fayetteville, W.Va.
Rocks out to: Pandora—Macklemore and Lucinda Williams
Always brings: friends, swimsuit, sarong, and board
Munches hard on: fresh bread, sharp cheddar cheese, apples, hummus, carrots
Day 1: Savannah and Tybee Island, Ga.
Your day begins in the city of Savannah, a historical town where country-fried hospitality and a touch of Greek Revival sophistication adorn every street corner. Check into The Marshall House (marshallhouse.com; rooms from $152.10), the oldest hotel in Savannah. Once you’re settled in, head downtown and grab a bite at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady and Sons (ladyandsons.com). The culinary must-haves there include artery-clogging classics like fried green tomatoes and chicken pot pie. Splurge a little; you’ll need that greasy energy later.
Head east on US-80 until you arrive at Tybee Island. With five miles of sandy-white beaches and plenty of piers, lighthouses, and waves, plan on spending all of day one out in the sun. Hit up East Coast Paddleboarding for a rental SUP (eastcoastpaddleboarding.com; $40) and try to catch some surf at the Pier or paddle out to the Cockspur Lighthouse near the mouth of the Savannah River.
Day 2: Beaufort and Hunting Island, S.C.
Before leaving town, stand beneath the Majestic Oak off LaRoche Avenue near the heart of Savannah, said to be one of Georgia’s oldest and largest live oaks. An hour’s drive north puts you in yet another charming waterfront town, Beaufort, S.C. The setting for a number of Hollywood flicks like Forrest Gump and Forces of Nature, Beaufort is known for its quaint southern vibe. Continue through town on the Sea Island Parkway until you get to Barefoot Bubba’s Surf Shop where you can rent a bike for your next adventure: pedaling the 8-mile trail on Hunting Island State Park.
Situated on a 5,000-acre barrier island just 16 miles east of Beaufort, Hunting Island’s marshy beaches and maritime forest were used for the Vietnam jungle scenes in Forrest Gump and Rules of Engagement. This multipurpose trail weaves through the five different ecosystems that span the state park and flourish year-round with wildlife. Finish your ride by cruising over to Hunting Island Lighthouse. Pay $2 to enter the historic structure and climb its 167 steps; you’ll sweat for the view, but it’s worth it.
Nab a spot at the campground on Hunting Island (huntingisland.com; $17) before swinging back up the parkway for dinner. Order a shrimp burger ($4.25) at The Shrimp Shack on St. Helena Island and finish the evening with a sunset stroll back on Hunting Island’s marsh boardwalk.
Day 3: Charleston and Folly Beach, S.C.
On your way off the island in the morning, stop by Blackstone’s Café (blackstonescafe.com) for breakfast. Pancakes, French toast, shrimp omelets. Accept it: vacations are meant for such indulgence.
Pass through the city of Charleston to your final island getaway, Folly Beach, S.C., the “Edge of America.” Grab a SUP, kayak, surf board, whatever your craft of choice, and get to exploring. Marshes line sections of beach for a calmer float while The Washout provides some of the best swells on the South Carolina coast. Paddle hard for lunch at The ‘Wich Doctor, a gourmet pizza and sandwich shop on the island. Brussels sprouts pizzas, chicken and waffle sandwiches, need I go further?
Round out the island experience and get your Namaste on with Charleston SUP Safaris (charlestonsupsafaris.com). Either rent a board ($35) and do your own yoga practice or get a crew of four together for a private lesson ($30/person). Stay the night at the James Island County Park campground (ccprc.com; $25), catch the sunrise in the morning, and say aloha to those sweet days of salty paradise…for now.
TRAILS of TRI-CITIES
ERWIN, TENN. to DAMASCUS, VA.
Driver: Jenny Nichols
Hails from: Bristol, Va.
Rocks out to: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Hot Buttered Run, Hackensaw Boys, Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, and local favorite Folk Soul
Always brings: Salomon Mantra Sense 2 shoes, Salomon Agile 12 hydration pack, a sense of adventure, and a little flexibility
Munches hard on: wasabi peas, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and Kombucha
Day 1: Damascus, Va. and Buzzard Rock
They don’t call it Trail Town, U.S.A. for nothing. As the hub for over five different trail systems ranging from foot-traffic only to multipurpose, Damascus, Va., is the perfect place to begin your trail vacation. For a scenic yet challenging run or day hike, try out the DAM8, the local trail running community’s go-to loop. This 8-mile loop starts and ends at Sundog Outfitter and follows parts of the Iron Mountain Trail and Virginia Creeper Trail for 2000’ of elevation change.
After you’ve worked up that appetite, roll into the Blue Blaze Cafe (blueblazecafe.com) for the best cheesesteak subs south of Philly (for our veggie lovers, try the shiitake/crimini version of the sub). If you’re still itching to get out on the trail, head up Route 58 to Buzzard Rock and hike the easy two-mile out-and-back trail to catch the sunset. Grab a campsite along the Virginia Creeper Trail on your way back into Damascus or try one of the many bed and breakfasts in town for lodging. Finish the night off with a Beaver Rage brewski from The Damascus Brewery (thedamascusbrewery.com).
Day 2: Bristol, Tenn. and Steele Creek Park
Consider staying another night in Damascus as your destination on day 2 is just a 30-minute drive to the border town of Bristol, Va./Tenn. Although largely an urban hub of country music and Nascar, Bristol’s 2,200+-acre Steele Creek Park is a perfect way to get out on the trails while still being able to experience the culture of town. Link the park’s trails for a 7-10 mile trail run around the lake, past cascading waters, and through densely wooded forest.
Afterwards step back in time at the Burger Bar (burgerbarbristol.com) in downtown Bristol, rumored to be the place where Hank Williams enjoyed his last meal. The signature item is the Burger Bar’s thick burger (vegetarian options available) stacked high with everything from fried eggs to Tabasco onion straws, but the breakfast and milkshakes here are also brag-worthy. It’s easy to catch music in Bristol any night of the week during the summertime, but be sure to visit the newly opened Holston River Brewing Company (holstonriverbrewing.com), which is scheduled to have some awesome live music this year.
Day 3: Erwin, Tenn. and the Nolichucky Gorge
Tucked amid some of the tallest peaks in the East is the town of Erwin, Tenn., a sleepy little place with a seasonal whitewater boom. It’s here, at Erwin’s Nolichucky Gorge Campground (nolichuckycampground.com; $3), where you will park your car and arrange a shuttle with campground staff to be dropped off at Iron Mountain Gap on the Appalachian Trail. The route is 18 miles south along the A.T. back to the campground, so choose your adventure. For an epic trail run, tackle it in a day, but for a casual overnighter, stop before you reach the halfway point near Beauty Spot and pitch a tent at Deep Gap.
Regardless of how you choose to approach the trail, expect grassy balds with 360° views of the surrounding Unaka and Bald Mountain ranges as well as the nearby Nolichucky Gorge. When you’ve made it back to the campground, head into Johnson City, Tenn., for brick oven pizza at Scratch (scratchbrickoven.com). Build your own or “trust” the experts and let the chefs decide! Post up for the night at Cardens Bluff Campground, which overlooks Watauga Lake and the surrounding Cherokee National Forest (wataugalakeinfo.com).
HARRISONBURG, VA. to STATE COLLEGE, PENN.
Driver: Chase Lyne
Hails from: Charlottesville, Va.
Rocks out to: The Infamous Stringdusters, The Steel Wheels, The Builders and The Butchers, Beck
Always brings: Two tubes, pump, water, and a bike tool
Munches hard on: PB&J, Snickers, gummy worms, ProBars, nuts
Day 1: Harrisonburg, Va. and George Washington National Forest
Gear up for your biking vacation by hitting the primo singletrack in and around Harrisonburg, Va. Combine the Narrowback Mountain (12.5 miles) and Lookout Mountain (13.1 miles) loops for a full-on day of riding. Hair-raising descents, swoopy trail, and incredible rockwork have earned these trails a lot of respect among the mountain biking community. If you’re looking to do some road biking instead, tackle Reddish Knob, one of Virginia’s highest peaks. The climb is brutal but the spectacular views at the summit are well worth the sweating and swearing.
For lodging grab a campsite or rent out the lodge at Stokesville Campground (stokesvillelodge.com). If you’re looking to explore more of the city, head into Harrisonburg to the Stonewall Jackson Inn (stonewalljacksoninn.com; rooms from $149) for a less primitive, more convenient option. Catch some tunes and grab a meal at Clementine Cafe (clementinecafe.com) before retiring for the evening.
Day 2: Davis, W.Va. and Canaan Valley
West Virginia’s Canaan Valley is home to some of the best singletrack in the East. Each year, the valley hosts a mountain bike festival at the end of June, so be sure to put that on your calendar for next year. Use Camp 70 to connect two classic rides in Canaan ¬– Moon Rocks and Hoodoo Rocks – both of which offer killer views, fun descents, and a smattering of technical rock gardens. Be on the lookout for wild blueberries in the area and blooming rhododendron!
For post-ride relaxation, kick your feet up at Sirianni’s Pizza Cafe (facebook.com/thesiriannispizzacafe) for a slice (or two, or five) of gourmet pizza and a pitcher of local beer from Mountain State Brewing (mountainstatebrewing.com). Reserve a cabin, room, or campsite at nearby Blackwater Falls State Park (blackwaterfalls.com; rooms from $85, campsites from $20).
Day 3: State College, Penn., and Rothrock State Forest
One of the stages for the annual Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic, Rothrock State Forest is a 90,000-acre forest in central Pennsylvania and is home to the country’s oldest and largest grove of hemlock trees. Anyone familiar with the Keystone State’s trails knows the defining feature of the systems here: rocks. That being said, the trails in and around State College afford more than just technical rock gardens. Check out Tussey Ridge for some epic ridge riding and stunning views.
A short jaunt from the state forest is the town of State College where you will be posting up for the night. Try renting one of the privately owned cabins operated under Happy Valley Retreats (happyvalleyretreats.com; cabins from $125). Otto’s Pub and Brewery (ottospubandbrewery.com) is known for its excellent craft beer and locally sourced entrees. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself; you rode hard for this.
STEELE, ALA. to BREVARD, N.C.
Driver: Jonathan Dull
Hails from: Elon, N.C.
Rocks out to: The Doors, Freddie King, The Black Keys, Creedence Clearwater Revival
Always brings: Rope, Misty Mountain Harness, chalk bag, RAB pullover, helmet
Munches hard on: Homemade jerky, chocolate-covered espresso beans, BLT from Foscoe Deli, GU
Day 1: Steele, Ala., and Horse Pens 40
Sloper central. That’s what you can expect when you head south to The Heart of Dixie where some of the best sandstone bouldering in the world exists. Horse Pens 40 (horsepens40.tripod.com), privately owned and operated by the Shultz family, sits on 40 acres of pristine land where you can find some of the oldest exposed rock formations in the world (we’re talking hundreds of millions of years here). Steeped in history, Horse Pens 40 sits picturesquely atop Alabama’s third highest mountain, Chandler Mountain, and has over 250 bouldering problems of every degree of difficulty. Some classic routes include The Stranger (V2), Bumboy (V3), and Hammerhead (V5).
It’s only $15 to pitch a tent for the night, so claim a site and head into town. You can grab some grub in the nearby city of Gadsden at Flip Side Cafe (flipsidecafe.com), a family-operated restaurant that serves every meal and specializes in gourmet sandwiches for under $5.
Day 2: Knoxville, Tenn., and Obed Wild & Scenic River
Located just an hour outside of Knoxville, the Obed Wild & Scenic River is a popular climbing destination for both bouldering enthusiasts and sport climbers alike. With everything from solution pockets and crack systems to gigantic ledges and tiered roofs, climbing in the Obed is perfect for both novice and experienced climbers looking for a challenge. Check out classic climbs like Jungle Jane (5.12a) at the Tieranny Wall, where many of the Obed’s first bolted routes were established. For some easier and more shaded options, head to South Clear Creek and hop on routes like Fat Lady Sings (5.9+) and Pet Sematary (5.11a).
Make your way into the city at the end of the day and crash at the Knoxville Hostel (hostelhandbook.com; $18) for the night. There are plenty of pubs, breweries, and restaurants for every budget, but definitely check out Smoky Mountain Brewery (smoky-mtn-brewery.com) and Saw Works Brewing Company (sawworksbrewing.com) during your night on the town.
Day 3: Brevard, N.C., and Looking Glass
Your final climbing destination highlights one of the most iconic trad spots in the Southeast: Looking Glass Rock. Rising 600 feet above the center of Pisgah National Forest, Looking Glass is an impressive granite dome that affords climbers a plethora of single- and multi-pitch trad routes as well as aid routes on the North Face for advanced climbers. To get a taste of Looking Glass, climb up Rat’s Ass, a 300-foot route with three pitches. Wear long sleeves and/or lots of sunscreen as Looking Glass is extremely exposed and hot during the summertime.
You can camp for free in the national forest, but if you’re looking for a cool shower after your climb, head to Davidson River Campground (visitnc.com) where showers are included with your campsite. The campground will put you close to the town of Brevard where you can head to Pescado’s Burritos (pescadosburritos.net) for quality (and a large quantity of) Mexican food.
KEEP CALM and PADDLE ON
FAYETTEVILLE, W.VA. to FRIENDSVILLE, MD.
Day 1: Fayetteville, W.Va., and Summersville Lake
While rafting the New and Gauley Rivers are typically the main attraction in Fayetteville, stand up paddleboarding at Summersville Lake is gaining popularity among climbers, boaters, and out-of-towners alike. It’s the perfect way to experience the area if you’ve already rafted the New and Gauley, if it’s too hot to climb, or if the adrenaline-pumping whitewater just isn’t your thing. Rafting companies like ACE (aceraft.com) and Adventures on the Gorge (adventuresonthegorge.com) offer guided SUP adventures to Summersville Lake starting at $79. Expect towering rock cliffs, knowledgeable guides, and a mellow afternoon out on the water.
Lodging at each of the companies ranges from primitive campsites to luxury cabins, and if you haven’t had your fill of paddleboarding come day’s end, check out the numerous options available for the next best thing: yoga SUP. Grab a gourmet sandwich or burger at the Secret Sandwich Society (secretsandwichsociety.com) and top it off with a brew from Bridge Brew Works (bridgebrewworks.com) for the ultimate Fayetteville experience.
Day 2: Ohiopyle, Penn., and Cheat River Canyon
Head all the way up through the mountains of West Virginia, past the Monongahela National Forest to the small town of Albright. It is here that you will tackle your next river adventure: rafting the Cheat River Canyon. The Cheat River is the largest free-flowing class IV-V river on the East and runs for three months during the spring and early summer. It is home to a number of rare and endangered species such as the Indiana bat and the three-toothed snail (which, believe it or not, only has one tooth). Check in with the Wilderness Voyageurs outpost there and get geared up to hit the water (wilderness-voyageurs.com; trips from $75).
After crashing through the rapids with your guide, continue an hour north to Ohiopyle, Penn., where you can stay for the night and refuel for the last day. Grab a room at Wilderness Voyageur’s Trillium Lodge (trillium-lodge.com) or pitch a tent at Kentuck Campground (dcnr.state.pa.us), just a short drive away from Fallingwater, one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest feats. Whether you’re a vegan or a paleo, everyone can find something to pig out on at The Firefly Grill (thefireflygrill.com) in downtown Ohiopyle before retiring for the evening.
Day 3: Friendsville, Md., and the Youghiogheny River
You’ll be reconnecting with Wilderness Voyageurs again this morning, but this time at their third outpost in Friendsville, Md., a quick half-hour drive north. Rafting down the Upper Youghiogheny (Yough) River is your mission for the day, and with 11 miles of continuous class III+ whitewater zooming through the mountains of western Maryland, it’s bound to be a memorable ride. The Upper Yough is on a dam release schedule from the middle of May until the beginning of October, so check the schedule before planning your trip.
After you’ve spent most of your day basking in the sun and dodging boulder-strewn class IV-V rapids in your raft, head over to The Riverside Hotel (riversidehotel.us; rooms from $69) for dinner and a pillow to rest your head. The hotel overlooks the takeout of the Upper Yough and the front porch there is the best place to unwind after an adrenaline-packed three days on the water. The meals at The Riverside Hotel are all homemade, vegetarian, and organic. For just $12, you can get unlimited soup, bread, salad, drink, and a dessert.
BREAKS, VA. to SLADE, KY.
Day 1: Breaks, Va., and the Pine Mountain Trail
The 4,600-acre Breaks Interstate Park is located in the westernmost corner of Virginia where the state meets the eastern Kentucky border. From climbing to mountain biking, hiking, and paddling, Breaks Interstate Park is an epicenter of outdoor adventure. For your first escapade, hike out from the park to tackle the 13-mile Birch Knob section of the Pine Mountain Trail. This ridgeline hike affords amazing views of the surrounding Virginia and Kentucky mountains and arrives at Birch Knob, the highest point along the trail. A water source and shelter are available at the summit, making for a logistically easy out-and-back overnighter. Grab a campsite at the park (breakspark.com; sites from $15) if you’d rather just do part of the trail as a day hike.
Day 2: Corbin, Ky., and the Cumberland River
Cool down on day two with a class III paddle down the Cumberland River, one of the few free-flowing rivers in Kentucky that runs year-round. Put in below Cumberland Falls, a gorgeous 68-foot waterfall that spans 125 feet across the river and is often referred to as the “Niagara of the South” or “Little Niagara.” Sheltwoee Trace Outfitters (ky-rafting.com; trips from $70) offers guided rafting trips as well as inflatable duckies that you can rent and paddle down on your own. Once you’re off the river, check out The Root Beer Stand in nearby Corbin and treat yourself to a dangerously delicious cheeseburger and root beer float.
Day 3: Slade, Ky., and the Red River Gorge
Go big on your last day in the Bluegrass State by climbing at the Red River Gorge, one of the premier climbing destinations in the East. With over 1,100 different routes spread throughout a variety of national forest and privately owned land, there is an endless array of climbing available at the Red. Mostly sport with some trad walls and a few bouldering areas, some of the classic beginner climbs in the area include Bedtime for Bonzo (5.6), Plate Tectonics (5.9+), and Creature Feature (5.9).
Pull hard all day or until your fingers are raw, and then head to Miguel’s Pizza (miguelspizza.com) to stuff your face and crash for the night. Miguel’s has long been heralded as the unofficial headquarters for the Red, a place where rail-thin climbers can choose from 45 different toppings and create their own motherload pizza. With cheap campsites starting at $2 per night and a climbing shop located right in the pizza parlor, it’s no wonder that this sleepy little building becomes a climbing hub when the weather cools down. •