This mammoth body of placid water hides countless rock features and inlets to explore, making it possible to paddle out onto the lake and escape the crowds even in the height of summer.
Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
Lake Lure, N.C.
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Set amid the rolling Allegheny Mountains, a visit to the Greenbrier is about as close to visiting a Parisian chateau as we can get here in Appalachia. But with on- and offsite adventures like biking the Greenbrier River Trail and fishing Howard’s Creek, there are plenty of opportunities to see the wilder side of West Virginia, too.
The Omni Homestead Resort, Va.
State for Outdoor Activities
Within a five hours’ drive, you can be paddling whitewater on the James River, shredding singletrack at Douthat State Park, bouldering at Grayson Highlands State Park, or hiking on any number of the state’s 544 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It’s a one-stop-shop for adventure.
What Makes a Great Place to Raise a Family?
Our top two finalists for the “Best Place to Raise an Outdoorsy Family” couldn’t be more different. The mid-sized city of Roanoke, Va., has a population of nearly 100,000, while the small town of Bryson City, N.C., is home to just over 1,400. Where Roanoke was historically a railroad town, early Bryson City residents earned their living from farming.
Despite their differences, there is one theme that unites them as the region’s leading adventure basecamps for families: access.
“The Appalachian Trail is a 15-minute drive away, and the Blue Ridge Parkway is only 10 minutes away,” says Roanoke resident Nicole Lenderking, whose 10-year-old son is actively involved in the youth cycling scene. “Our house sits on the edge of Carvins Cove and feels like it’s out in the middle of nowhere, but then you’re less than 20 minutes from downtown.
“Where we used to live in town, we could jump on the greenway and ride our bikes, without cars, to the bottom of Mill Mountain and its extensive trail network,” says Nicole’s husband Troy. “It’s pretty unique to have that type of a trail system just one mile from downtown.”
Down in the westernmost corner of North Carolina, Bryson City is the literal gateway to a number of the region’s most prized outdoor destinations, such as the Nantahala River, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fontana Lake, and Tsali Recreation Area. For Bryson City, N.C., resident Mac Brown, who runs his own fly fishing guide service, that proximity to the outdoors was appealing to him, first as a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail (’86), then as a seasonal guide for the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and later as a father.
“The more you give kids a passion for the outdoors, the more likely it will make them better citizens down the road,” says Brown. “Swain County is a huge playground, with 90% of the land being federally owned. We run and ride mountain bikes, and I know it makes my kids more responsible individuals.”
With frequent family friendly festivals and events, a reasonable cost of living, and a central location to a number of other major urban centers, it’s no wonder outdoorsy families are flocking to these communities.
“There’s not any amount of money that would make me want to leave from here,” says Brown. “I wouldn’t move anywhere else in America.”
Each spring, hundreds of runners from all walks of life head to the Start City to see if they have what it takes to tackle the country’s toughest road marathon. The course certainly packs a punch, with over 7,430 feet of climbing in just 26.2 miles.
Park to Park Half, Va.
Shut-In Ridge Trail Run, N.C.
Ride through Shenandoah Valley’s bucolic countryside on this fully supported century and metric century. Though technically a race, this event has a much more inclusive feel, almost like a big group ride.
Shenandoah Mountain 100, Va.
Assault on Mount Mitchell, N.C.
Since 1983, the annual whitewater releases on the Gauley River have pulled paddlers from their respective corners of the world to the banks of this rowdy, big-wave river. The festival includes vendor exhibitions, downriver races, and plenty of Pillow Rock Creature Craft carnage to keep even non-boaters entertained (if you don’t know what a Creature Craft is, do yourself a favor and look it up).
Green Race, N.C.
Nantahala Racing Club Whitewater Open, N.C.
Made for climbers, by climbers, this multiday event is part party, part manual labor. The weekend kicks off on Friday with an all-day stewardship project in the Gorge, slingin’ rocks and wrestling rhodo. Afterwards, it’s all-you-can-boogie glow stick parties and dyno comps.
Triple Crown Bouldering Series at Hound Ears, N.C.
This adventure triathlon is the pinnacle of endurance—competitors start by mountain biking 15 miles to the Cunard put-in for the New River Gorge, kayak seven miles of class IV+ whitewater, and run 6.5 miles (which climbs 1,100 vertical feet) back to town.
App(ugh)lachian Race Series, Va.
Luray Triathlon, Va.
Be it a water bottle or a kayak, everybody wins in this checkpoint scavenger hunt. Racers are given a cue sheet with hints to destinations within a two-mile radius of the festival, with the goal being to hit as many of the places as possible. The more checkpoints you visit, the sooner you’ll get to pick your free swag in the gear tent.
Shenandoah Epic Adventure Race, Va.
Asheville Urban Odyssey, N.C.