Looking for the best adventure hubs in Appalachia? Memorize your capitals and then listen to a local. They know what makes their towns tick. Here are the capitals of hiking, running, biking, paddling, fly fishing, and climbing towns across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic according to their most adventurous citizens.
Jeff Patrick has worked at Mt. Rogers Outfitter for nearly three decades. He sums up his hometown’s love for trail succinctly: “Hiking isn’t a sport. It’s a way of life.” That’s apparent every May when Trail Days comes to town. This three-day festival celebrates hiking with workshops, music, arts, and even a parade. As for actually humping a pack, Damascus has immediate access to high-profile trails, like the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, and nearby Mount Rogers Recreation Area harbors 400 miles of trail. While Damascus is certainly a popular destination, it is not short on authentic Appalachian flair. “The best spots? I wouldn’t tell you!” says Patrick. “I’m not gonna butter your toast. That’s what your momma’s for.”
Gear salesman, and trail builder Mike Meintzchel raised two kids in Charlottesville. They spent countless days hiking around the Blue Ridge Parkway. “Everything is within a half-hour reach,” says Meintzschel. “You can get out in the middle of nowhere and have a really productive weekend.” Even when hikers can’t make a 20-minute drive to 500 miles of trail in Shenandoah National Park, they can get their fix downtown. The city has developed urban green space, including the popular Rivanna trails. Great Outdoor Provisions hosts weekly meetups that even include historical hikes. “They’re connecting neighborhoods and making easier access for families,” Meintzschel says.
Hot Springs, N.C.
Hot Springs is an anticipated stop on an Appalachian thru-hike. It has a quaint downtown, a beautiful river, a few good pubs, and only 645 residents. While small, Hot Springs is colorful. “There are some characters in town,” says Dan Gallagher, part-owner of Bluff Mountain Outfitters. From the downtown you can a hike a number loops and side trails, such as Lover’s Leap Ridge. South of town, Max Patch is an iconic bald with stunning 360-degree views. Bluff Mountain, Laurel River Trail, and the Van Loop Trail are less-popular but equally rewarding hikes. “If you come downtown, I’ll give you a free map,” says Gallagher.