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Ales & Trails

beer garden

A cold beer makes for the perfect ending to a day exploring the outdoors, and fortunately the South is full of world-class adventure and amazing craft breweries churning out creative suds. Whether you love a hazy IPA after a hard hike or a crisp lager after a long paddle, here’s a look at some of the region’s best breweries with places to play not far away.

burger and fries
Good eats at Back Forty. Photo courtesy of the brewery.

Back Forty Beer Company 

Gadsden, Alabama

The Back Forty Beer Company is named after an old agricultural term for the often overlooked 40 acres of land farthest from the barn. Similarly, Back Forty Beer Co. feels that Alabama is often overlooked when it comes to beer, and they hope to elevate the state’s status as a micro-brewery destination. While at Back Forty, check out their award-winning Truck Stop Honey, an English brown ale. For something on the hoppy side, try the Freckle Belly IPA. 

little river falls
Little River Falls. Photo by Matt Switzer, courtesy of Public Domain.

Where to Play: 
Little River Canyon National Preserve

The trails are short at the “L.R.C.,” which just leaves more time for the B.E.E.R. afterward. Little River Canyon National Preserve is located on the southern end of Lookout Mountain, about 40 miles from Gadsden. The short hikes are clustered around the not-so-small Little River Falls, with the Little Falls trail leading less than a mile, one-way, to a popular swimming hole. Other trails can be found along the preserve’s scenic drive on AL-176, which serendipitously leads south toward Gadsden. 

Trailhead Beer Market 

Knoxville, Tennessee

There are 36 stops on the Knoxville Beer Trail, including breweries and tap rooms, so selecting just one is pretty tough. Instead, you could try a bit of everything (within reason) at the Trailhead Beer Market, located on the edge of the city’s Urban Wilderness not far from the Ijams Nature Center. If that doesn’t satisfy your thirst, nearby there are three more breweries in South Knoxville, including Print Shop, Alliance, and Hi-Wire. Basically, come for the weekend but maybe stay for a week? 

Where to Play:
Ijams Nature Center

Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness has over 50 miles of natural surface trails with eleven trailheads to pick from. One excellent spot for a hike is the Ijams Nature Center, a 315-acre greenspace with about 12 miles of trails and a section of the Will Skelton Greenway. While at Ijams, check out the boardwalk along the Tennessee River. 

beer at westbrook brewing co
Photo courtesy of Westbrook Brewing Company

Westbrook Brewing Company 

Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

Located just outside of Charleston, the Westbrook taproom in Mt. Pleasant offers way more beers than you could (should) ever try in a single visit. If you go when it’s hot out, consider the Low & Slow Helles, a German-style golden lager. If you head there during fall, try the Marzen, an Oktoberfest-style Amber Lager. And if you go during winter, consider the Mexican Cake, an imperial double stout. Also, if you go during winter, don’t blink, because winter doesn’t last long on the Southeast coast.

Photo courtesy of Coastal Expeditions

Where to Play:
Go Paddling with Coastal Expeditions

If you’re looking to rest your legs and stretch your arms, Coastal Expeditions in Mt. Pleasant offers a variety of paddling adventures. For paddling closer to town, consider the Shem Creek Kayak Tour, which departs from the Coastal Expeditions Shem Creek Campus. For something more adventurous, consider one of two trips around Francis Marion National Forest. One explores the tidal Awendaw Creek. The other trip, the Blackwater Tour, takes paddlers deeper into the swampy wilderness. 

Lazy Hiker Brewing Company 

Franklin, North Carolina

Located just off the Appalachian Trail, the Lazy Hiker taproom sees its share of thru-hikers on the A.T.—and “thru-drinkers” on Appalachian brewery tours. With more beers than can fit in a backpack, you’ll be hard pressed to try them all in a single visit. If you still have miles to make that day, consider the lighter Trail Mate Golden Ale. If you’re kicking off your boots and relaxing, consider trying one of their IPAs, like the Slack Pack. 

Where to Play:
Appalachian Trail to Siler Bald

Since you’re so close to the East Coast’s most famous trail, why not have your own walk in the woods for a few miles? The seven-mile round-trip to Siler Bald has about 1,000 feet of elevation gain and stunning views from the summit lookout. The trailhead at Wayah Crest (aka Wayah Gap) can be a little tricky to find, located in Wayah Gap Picnic Area on Wayah Road, about 14 miles from the Lazy Hiker tap room. 

Broken Throne Brewing 

Pikeville, Kentucky

There’s nothing better than being out in the middle of rolling country when you stumble across a brewery. This one, in the tiny town of Pikeville, is only a half-hour drive from the scenic Breaks Interstate Park. At Broken Throne, try their Gollysnotcher, a hazy New England IPA with an always-changing recipe. Or toast your fortune at finding yet another brewery and adventure spot with the “Dumb Luck” Blonde. 

Where to Play:
Breaks Interstate Park

Straddling the border of Kentucky and Virginia, Breaks Interstate Park is a multi-sport adventure playground. The park offers over 20 miles of hiking trails, as well as a 12-mile mountain biking trail. And paddling opportunities include a lake and the Russell Fork, a river with both class I floats and an extreme class V gorge. With so many opportunities, make sure you leave time for the brewery. 

beer at damascus brewery
Photo courtesy of Damascus Brewery

The Damascus Brewery 

Damascus, Virginia

The small mountain town of Damascus is located at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Rail Trail. Just outside of town is the perfect adventurer’s way station, the Damascus Brewery. Their tasting room has taps pouring eight of their 45 beers at any one time. If you like hops, try the Beaver Rage, an East Coast Red IPA. If you’re looking for something mellower, try the Honey Mango Sour. 

Where to Play:
Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail

The Virginia Creeper is a 34.3-mile rail trail that runs from Abingdon, Va., through Damascus and ends near Whitetop Station in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. You can easily walk a section of the Virginia Creeper going either direction out of Damascus. But another option is to take your bike and ride this pleasant gravel trail. Heading west toward Abingdon, the trail is mostly flat. Heading east toward Whitetop, the trail climbs at a steady two-percent gradient, meaning on an out-and-back ride you can coast back to the brewery. 

Cover photo: Outdoor seating at Back Forty Beer Company. Photo courtesy of the brewery.

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