Short Drive, Multi-Adventure Weekend Getaways
With summer in full swing, many are itching to get back on the highways of Southern Appalachia. And while towns and cities in the footprint of the Blue Ridge have been gradually reopening, this is still a time to practice social distancing, respect pandemic-related restrictions, and take recommended precautions while traveling. With that in mind, we’ve crafted some short-distance, multi-adventure road trip itineraries in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. When you’re ready to pack up the car and go, these getaways will take you deep into the woods, offering plenty of space to explore mountain vistas, refreshing rivers, and miles of trails.
Casting, Climbing, and Chasing Waterfalls in North Carolina
Estimated Road Time: 2-4 hours
Pack your boots and a fly rod for a drive through the backroads of southwest North Carolina. With thousands of miles of trout streams in Jackson County, N.C., you’ll be able to find plenty of space to cast a line. For specific spots, check out the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail for some of the best waters in the area for brook, rainbow, and brown trout. Brookings Anglers (brookingsonline.com) in Cashiers offers gear and guided trips on the mighty Tuckasegee River and other mountain trophy creeks away from the crowds.
From there, start heading east towards Brevard, a cool mountain town that’s a great hub for accessing the maze of trails in the Pisgah National Forest and the nearly 250 waterfalls in surrounding Transylvania County. For scenic cascades, seek out Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah or Bridal Veil Falls in the DuPont State Recreational Forest.
The next day continue cruising east to Chimney Rock State Park for rock climbing and rappelling adventures. Hit up Fox Mountain Guides (foxmountainguides.com) if you’re looking for introductory lessons or a full-day guided trip. If bouldering is more your style, check out Rumbling Bald Climbing Access for more than 1,500 bouldering problems that will test your skills. For a short, steep, rewarding hike, take the Outcroppings Trail to the top of Chimney Rock for views of the lake and gorge below.
Hiking, Riding, and Swimming in western Maryland
Estimated Road Time: 1-2 hours
For a sampler of the wild and scenic mountains of western Maryland, start with the Savage River State Forest to access more than 54,000 acres of hardwood forests and rhododendron blooms. Hikers have plenty of options, including the rugged 17-mile Big Savage Trail and the 24-mile Backpacker Loop. You can also immerse yourself in the woods on the New Germany Trails, a 10-mile network well known as a prime destination for cross-country skiing in the winter.
From the forest’s main access point in Grantsville, it’s a short drive to the Cumberland Visitor Center, where you can unload your bike and ride the C&O Canal Towpath. This flat, historic former railroad route features attractions and camping spots dotting the 184-mile trail, which runs all the way to Washington, D.C., and connects with the Great Allegheny Passage in the other direction towards Pittsburgh.
If you prefer to see the area by water, hop on the Potomac River for a scenic paddle between locks, or dive into the cool waters of Deep Creek Lake. You can access Maryland’s largest freshwater lake at Deep Creek Lake State Park, which features a beach area for swimming and a boat launch.
Water and Trails in the northern Georgia Blue Ridge
Estimated Road Time: 2-4 hours
A cool down and an adrenaline rush can both be achieved with a whitewater rafting trip on section IV of the Chattooga River, which sits on the Georgia/South Carolina border. From their Chattooga outpost in Mountain Rest, S.C., the Nantahala Outdoor Center is now offering limited guided trips with new safety protocols on the classic Southern river— made famous in the 1972 film Deliverance—which features a handful of consecutive class IV rapids.
If you’d rather cast in calm waters, grab your rod and reel and check out the Toccoa River for excellent trout fishing on a mountain stream. As the river winds north, the waters feed into Lake Blue Ridge, which is nestled in the Chattahoochee National Forest and features 100 miles of shoreline. More fishing options are found at Lake Nottely, which in addition to being stocked with bass by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, holds channel catfish, crappie, and sunfish.
Following some time on the water, make your next stop a trailhead and take the eight-mile hike to the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus, Springer Mountain, from Amicalola Falls. Up north, another favorite is Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald, which holds stunning 360-degree views from the 4,784-foot summit.
Mountain Biking and More Water in the Mountain State
Estimated Road Time:1-3 hours
Within the dense forests of northeast West Virginia, the Canaan Valley is a mountain biker’s playground with trails and loops scattered throughout the area, featuring miles of world-renowned singletrack that will have your legs screaming by day’s end. Head to Little Canaan Wildlife Management Area, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and Blackwater Falls State Park for scenic rides through protected areas and hit up area classics like Moon Rocks, Blackwater View Trail, and Allegheny Highlands Rail Trail for hours in the saddle.
Just down the road, you can cool down on the Cheat River Water Trail. Flowing north towards the Maryland border, paddle or float nearly 40 miles with nine access points along the way. Take in the many natural sights and sounds of the valley and mountains as you meander past shallow pools and towering canyon walls. Those looking for more of a whitewater thrill should check out the Cheat Narrows for some family fun and Class III rapids with Blackwater Outdoor Adventures (blackwateroutdoors.com).
For hiking, options are plentiful in the Monongahela National Forest, but a can’t-miss destination is the Dolly Sods Wilderness and Scenic Area, one of the highest plateaus east of the Mississippi that features red spruce and other flora usually found much farther north. With more than 17,000 acres to explore, Dolly Sods is also perfect for finding an isolated backcountry camping spot.
Southern Road Trips: More Options
Scenic Driving and Scuba Diving in Upstate South Carolina
Take a trip through the mountains of South Carolina on the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC 11). Choose from a number of stunning hikes at Caesars Head State Park such as Raven Cliff Falls. Paddlers, anglers, and scuba divers will enjoy exploring the waters of Lake Jocassee from Devils Fork State Park. Finish up with some laps on the flow trails at Stumphouse Mountain Bike Park off of the Palmetto Trail.
Hiking, Biking, and Exploring Caverns in northeast Tennessee
Start off with a hike at Roan Mountain State Park at the base of one of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail. Look into the RV and tent campsites for a multi-day trip. Grab a bike and head to the professionally built mountain biking trails and skills park at Tannery Knobs in Johnson City, Tenn. Once you’re done at the park, ride into town to refuel and rest up. From there, make your way to the Appalachia Caverns for a wet and muddy tour beneath the Earth’s surface.
Climbing and Country Music in Kentucky
Head into the Daniel Boone National Forest to discover hiking trails, waterfalls, and natural stone arches. Discover the many waterways for fishing and paddling, as well as top notch rock climbing in the Red River Gorge. View the towering rock exposures and natural sandstone bridge at Kingdom Come State Park. Travel the Country Music Highway (US 23) as the music of Eastern Kentucky intertwines with history, culture, and coal mining.
Hiking and Fishing in southwest Virginia
Fish the waters of the biologically diverse Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, from the deep pools of the creeks to Laurel Bed Lake stocked with brook trout. With more than 5,000 miles of trails in the area, you’re sure to find a new spot to hike in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Walk, run, or bike New River Trail State Park as the rails-to-trail path follows the New River for 57 miles.
Cover Photo: Hang out at Waterrock Knob off the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Photo by Steve Yocom—courtesy of Jackson County TDA
Tips for Social Distancing Outside and Staying Safe on the Road
1. Pay Attention
With the pandemic, the situation is changing daily as state and local officials make adjustments and announce new regulations. Before heading outside, check for guidelines in your own community and wherever you are headed to make sure it is safe to be outside. Don’t expect all of the amenities, like water, restrooms, and campgrounds, to be open during this time. Plan ahead, pack everything you need, and abide by closure signs.
2. Pack it In, Pack it Out
Make sure to have masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, soap, snacks, water, and anything you may need while outside. You should always pack out everything you bring in. But it is especially important to take care of all your trash and belongings as park staff is reduced at this time.
3. Avoid High Use Areas
If there are already a lot of cars at the trailhead, don’t add to the congestion. Be prepared with a plan B, C, and even D before heading out. Find another trail to hike or come back at another time. It is important to maintain your distance from others, at least six feet apart, and narrow trails don’t always allow for this. Avoid groups larger than 10 people and stick to recreating with the people you live with.
4. Be Kind and Considerate
This is a stressful time, and everyone is affected by COVID-19 in a variety of ways. Be respectful of other people’s health and safety by keeping your physical distance, wearing a mask around others, and being kind to employees at parks and campgrounds.
5. Stay Local
Now is not the time to hit all the parks, trails, summits, etc. on your bucket list. Think of the small communities that are on the edge of your favorite park or forest. Help stop the spread of the virus by staying local and not visiting communities more vulnerable to a pandemic.