Sprawled across the Appalachian Mountain range, the mountain towns of North Carolina and South Carolina are some of the East Coast’s best-kept secrets, often imbued with a rich heritage of Appalachian crafts, music and food. Groups can reap all the benefits of staying in these active communities, from exploring main street artisan shops to sampling local craft beer, and can then travel just minutes outside town to relish the stunning wilderness of the mountains.
Here are five destinations to keep in mind for your next trip to the mountain region of the Carolinas.
Haywood County, North Carolina
Just west of Asheville, Haywood County, North Carolina, is known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The county encompasses five towns — Waynesville, Maggie Valley, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde — which are clustered together within a 20-minute drive of each other. Nearby, groups can access Cataloochee Valley, one of the most unusual and remote sections of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
“It’s kind of an old ghost town with an abandoned schoolhouse, chapel, barn and other historic buildings,” said Ben Wilder, tourism development manager at Visit NC Smokies. “Often, our groups will pack a lunch and spend a few hours touring the different buildings.”
Cataloochee Valley is also a popular spot for elk sightings, particularly early in the morning and close to dusk.
In addition to visiting the national park, many outdoor enthusiasts enjoy driving along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile scenic route that winds through Virginia and North Carolina. Forty-six miles of the parkway run through Haywood County, passing incredible overlooks such as Waterrock Knob, a 6,000-foot-high peak, and Graveyard Fields, a flat mountain valley with two waterfalls.
The county seat of Waynesville features a charming Main Street district with craft shops, art galleries, the Boojum Brewing Taproom and the old-fashioned Mast General Store. In the evening, visitors can enjoy a show at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, which presents musicals and plays throughout the year. Though there are various lodging options throughout the county, the hotel properties surrounding Lake Junaluska tend to draw the most groups.