Get on the Road
You’ve banked vacation days and are ready to get out of the house. Now all you need is a destination. That’s why we’ve curated four action-packed trips across Southern Appalachia that will fill your summer with rides, rambles, rapids, and rocks. So pack your bags and crank up the car—it’s time to hit the road.
Sample Singletrack in Pisgah National Forest
It’s not hard to find legendary singletrack in Brevard, N.C., a sleepy-eyed mountain town located at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest. What’s hard is deciding which trails to ride during your time in this mountain biking mecca. Luckily, Lucas Gomez—a mechanic at The Hub and Pisgah Tavern, a local bike shop and taproom—has perfected what he refers to as the “Ultimate Loop.”
Clocking in at 41.4 miles with 5,394 feet of elevation gain, the route is “pretty stout,” Gomez warns. But for all your toiling, you’ll be rewarded with a taste of Pisgah’s most iconic trails, including Black Mountain, Bennett Gap, and Joel Branch. Riders will even get to sample Stony Knob, a “mystery flow trail in the middle of the woods that seems out of place but is a blast to come down,” says Gomez.
From there, Gomez’s loop will spit you out in downtown Brevard, where you can recover with a white cheddar jalapeño pimento cheese sandwich from Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop. For good measure, Gomez suggests you also add a chocolate shake to your order. “It’s probably not the best for your stomach, but it’s good for the soul,” he laughs.
After refueling, follow the Brevard Bike Path back to your car and go rent a cabin at Pilot Cove. Situated within pedaling distance of Pisgah, this forest resort caters to mountain biking enthusiasts. There’s even an on-site flow track, just in case 41.4 miles didn’t tucker you out.
Reach New Heights at Seneca Rocks
If you’re a newbie climber, it’s easy to feel intimidated by the 900-foot Tuscarora sandstone escarpment that is West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks. Fortunately, Tom Cecil is here to teach you the ropes.
As the owner of Seneca Rocks Mountain Guides (SRMG), Cecil leads monthly Kinship of the Rope Road Trips to this beloved landmark. Part climbing course, part meetup, these two-day rendezvous are designed to help beginner rock jocks build community while developing the confidence needed to climb outside of a gym.
“On the morning of day one, we assess your skills and start with something easy. We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Cecil explains. “Afterward, we head off to the summit of Seneca Rocks.”
On day two, guides take the group to Nelson Rocks, a striking rock formation located 10 miles south. “We’re the only ones allowed to climb there, so it’s a really cool, crowd-free experience,” says Cecil.
In the evenings, participants can crash at the SRMG Basecamp, a private campground situated on the banks of Seneca Creek. The outfitter also provides breakfast and dinner by the fire. But if you’re craving more formal fare, Cecil recommends making the 30-minute drive to The Hermitage Inn and Taphouse in Petersburg. Nestled in a nearly 200-year-old mansion, this eatery boasts stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods like smoked trout dip, cinnamon-spiced bread dredged in apple butter, and pulled pork nachos.
Find Seclusion on the Benton MacKaye Trail
Stretching roughly 290 miles from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Davenport Gap in the northeastern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) is a bit long for a weekend backpacking trip. But there are plenty of opportunities to section-hike this footpath, so long as you don’t mind being alone.
“This trail doesn’t see much traffic—I think I saw two backpackers during my time,” says Tara Dower, a thru-hiker and ultra-runner who polished off the BMT last summer. “So, it can be overgrown in areas but the peaceful seclusion makes for a wonderful experience.”
If you’re craving a few quiet days in the woods, travel six miles down Lakeview Drive near Bryson City, N.C. Also known as the Road to Nowhere, this scenic mountain highway was constructed to provide Swain County families displaced by the construction of Fontana Lake access to ancestral lands. But when environmental concerns cropped up in 1971, construction came to a screeching halt and never resumed.
Alas, the highway now abruptly ends at a quarter-mile-long tunnel. When you arrive at this eerily dark shaft, every particle of your being will scream “Let’s just go home and doomscroll!” Ignore that little voice and enter anyway. You’ll then follow the BMT south for 34.7 miles to the Fontana Dam.
According to Dower, this stretch of the trail can be pretty wiley. “Even though the elevation profile isn’t crazy, there are a lot of blowdowns,” she says. “It’s tough.”
When you finish your trek—which should take between three to four days—treat yourself to a “dam burger” at Wildwood Grill. Afterward, you can either snuggle into a warm, cozy bed at Fontana Village Resort and Marina or rent a camp spot along the Little Tennessee River.
Raft the Rapids of the Chattooga River
In 1972, when Warner Bros. finished filming the American thriller Deliverance in northeastern Georgia, local whitewater fanatic Claude Terry purchased used rafting equipment from the set and founded Southeastern Expeditions. The outdoor outfitter has been guiding trips down the Chattooga River ever since, says current owner Dusty Rogers.
“We’re now the oldest rafting and kayaking company in the Eastern United States,” Rogers confirms.
For a taste of the feral Chattooga, book the company’s Wilder: Section IV tour. Starting at the Highway 76 bridge in Clayton, Ga., and ending at Lake Tugaloo, this seven-hour trip takes paddlers on a heart-pumping ride through famous, class IV rapids with foreboding names like “Corkscrew” and “Sock-em Dog.”
If you’re craving a more family-friendly excursion, Rogers recommends the Wild: Section III tour. This route commences at Thrifts Ferry Campground in Mountain Rest, S.C., and winds down to the Highway 76 bridge. Though generally tame, you can still expect stretches of top-notch whitewater.
Afterward, change into some dry clothes and head to the Universal Joint for brisket tacos and loaded fries. For dessert, polish off a dozen (or two) donuts from The Farmhouse on North Main Street and then get comfy at The White Birch Inn, a quaint hotel nestled in the heart of historic Clayton.
Cover photo: Seneca Rocks. Photo courtesy of West Virginia Department of Tourism