Experience Great Art and Explore the Outdoors Under Changing Leaves With These Five Colorful Fall Getaways
A week roughing it in the woods can be great. But if you want your trip to offer equal parts recreation and culture, check out these five Southern Appalachian towns. Both outdoorsy and creative, these destinations allow you to bike, hike, paddle, fish, and climb while experiencing world-class art. So, grab your helmet and your sketchbook and get ready to get away.
Befriend Bears and Black Diamonds in Hendersonville, North Carolina
Tucked in the mountains of western North Carolina, Hendersonville is often pegged as a sleepy-eyed retirement town. But don’t discount it just yet. Though the pace here is slow, there are still plenty of artsy adventures to be had. That much is evidenced by the Bearfootin’ Public Art Walk.
Situated on Main Street, this whimsical display features dozens of ceramic ursines. Painted by local artists, these brutes roam downtown from spring to early fall, when they are auctioned off for charity.
Of course, Hendersonville delivers its fair share of real bears too. To spot one, travel 10 minutes outside of town to Ride Kanuga, a 1,400-acre bike park with an impressive system of professionally built trails. Crowd favorites include Hemlock Epoch, a black diamond with epic jumps, and Natural Selection, a forebodingly named double black diamond with massive features.
To fuel up after a day of gnar, head to Postero, an upscale restaurant that culls inspiration from “the great American melting pot.” Belly full, retire to the Treehouse at Edenwood, an arboreal abode where you can daydream about one day escaping your corporate cubicle for good.
Hike Trails and Listen to Tales in Jonesborough, Tennessee
On a fall day in 1973, a former Arkansas congressman, Tennessee banker, college professor, and western North Carolina farmer mounted a stage in Jonesborough and told stories. They spoke of coon hunting and droughts and quirky neighbors. Meanwhile, a crowd of 60 listeners laughed, cried, and begged for more.
In the decades since, that small event—now known as the National Storytelling Festival—has exploded in popularity, drawing some 10,000 visitors to the tiny burg of Jonesborough each autumn.
If you plan on attending this year’s festival (slated for October 6-8), bring your hiking boots and explore Persimmon Ridge Park between storytelling sessions. At 130 acres, this woodland wonderland isn’t your typical municipal greenspace. Sure, there’s a baseball field and playground. But the park is best known for its hiking trails, which wind through wildflower-fringed fields and hardwood forests.
After your hike, head to historic downtown Jonesborough (est. 1779) and order a simple yet satisfying ‘Borough Burger from Main Street Cafe. Then, catch some Zs at the Hawley House Butterfly Cottage.
Sample Fine Art and Flatwater in Wytheville, Virginia
Wytheville (pronounced with-ville) is unassuming. Boasting a population just shy of 9,000, this Virginia township is friendly and quaint. It’s a place where folks say “howdy” and ask how your momma is doing. But for all of Wytheville’s Mayberry-esque charm, it boasts a funkier side as well. Case in point: Formato Fine Arts.
Founded by 18-year-old native Lily Formato, this gallery features local artists who are “exploring conceptual framework and boundary-pushing ideology.” Formato also hosts community events—everything from ballroom dance lessons to improvisational jam sessions. Alas, if you left your jaw harp at home, fret not: There’s still lots to discover in Wytheville.
One popular pastime among townies and tourists alike is kayaking the New River. To access this waterway, drive about 20 minutes south to the rural holding of Austinville. You’ll begin your 3.5-mile flatwater trip here—just under the Route 636 bridge—and take out at the New River Trail State Park boat ramp just upstream from Foster Falls Camp.
Afterward, head back to Wytheville, get cleaned up at The Bolling Wilson Hotel, and grab a bite at Graze on Main, an eclectic eatery with strong cocktails and even stronger Southern influences.
Catch Some Trout and Tunes in Ellijay, Georgia
In 1988, former president Jimmy Carter invited reporters from The Washington Post to his 10-acre homestead in Ellijay. During the interview, Carter donned waders and fished Turniptown Creek—a brook “alive with fat, pulpy rainbows.”
Since that article hit newsstands 35 years ago, anglers have descended upon the north Georgia mountains in droves. If you’re among them, book a trip with Reel’em In Guide Service. These fly fishing experts know all the honey holes in Ellijay—even a few along the presidential-approved Turniptown Creek.
After a long day on the water, freshen up at Ellijay River House Bed and Breakfast and then down some bologna sliders and fried green tomatoes at The Roof, an Appalachian-inspired noshery with sweeping views of downtown.
For a nightcap, head over to Cartecay River Brewing Co. A timeworn watering hole, this place is the perfect spot to nurse craft beers and listen to folksy ballads performed by emerging and established musicians. Pro tip: For even more footstompin’ tunes, attend the Dancing Goats FolkFest. Hosted in late October, this shindig features live music, Appalachian crafts, goat beauty pageants, and other curious forms of entertainment.
Celebrate Crags and Craft in Morgantown, West Virginia
A booming city nestled in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia, Morgantown is a mecca for bookish beatniks with a thirst for adventure.
If it’s your first time visiting this eclectic enclave, we suggest starting at Coopers Rock State Forest. Located about 15 minutes east of downtown, this 13,000-acre park is rife with hundreds of V0 to V11 boulder problems with curious names like Anti-Elvis, George Washington’s Nose, and Get Your Shoes Back On. There are some opportunities to top-rope too, if that’s more your style.
Once you’ve had your fill of climbing, return to the city and head straight for the Art Museum of West Virginia University. Situated on WVU’s campus, this 5,400-square-foot venue is home to everything from abstract paintings by prolific 20th-century artist Romare Bearden to folksy carvings by Kentucky creative Minnie Adkins.
End your day with a farm-to-fork dinner at Table 9, a hip gastropub serving delicacies like ribeye steak anointed with bone marrow butter and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with pepper jam. Afterward, bed down at the Modern Homestead, a bucolic holding that offers spa services and fresh-baked pastries.
Cover Photo: Downtown Jonesborough offers tons of historic charm. Photo courtesy of the Town of Jonesborough