00-20170224_Tennessee_Knoxville Clingmans Dome

What better way to reward a vigorous effort on the trail—or up a summit—than by sitting back and soaking up the serenity of one of nature’s most beautiful shows? Fortunately, Knoxville has plenty of gorgeous sunset hikes right in its backyard. Whether you’re sticking close to town or venturing further afield, Knoxville is the perfect launching point for your next memorable stroll in the woods. Here are seven recommended sunset hikes in and around Knoxville that are sure to take your breath away.

1. High Ground Park

Probably the best view of the city and well worth the trip. Logan Mahan
Probably the best view of the city and well worth the trip.
Logan Mahan

This historical landmark in South Knoxville boasts excellent views of the city and is known for its picturesque sunsets. Once the site of Fort Higley, a Union camp constructed in 1863, High Ground Park is bordered today by hardwood forests, native flowering bushes, and a stone wall. To catch the sunset, park in the dirt lot at 1121 Cherokee Trail and follow the gravel trail as it winds its way into the River Bluff Wildlife Area. Hang a right at the first fork, and take your pick at the second fork—either way, will bring you to the overlook and the park’s famous swing. The golden hour light here is phenomenal, and the sunset isn’t bad, either.

2. Sharp’s Ridge Memorial Park

Another close-to-home sunset hike, Sharp’s Ridge offers a panoramic view of the Knoxville skyline, with the postcard-worthy gradient of the Great Smokies in the background. The 111-acre park is just 10 minutes from downtown, and while you can drive to the top of the ridge or the overlook (the sunset, as viewed from this observation deck, is considered among the most beautiful in America), there’s plenty of hiking to be had, too. If you plan to hike for your sunset, head to Sharp’s Ridge in the fall when the leaves have dropped and the mountains are visible from the three-mile multi-use trail below.

3. Clingmans Dome

Beautiful sunset seen atop Clingmans Dome.
Beautiful sunset seen atop Clingmans Dome.

Kevin Stewart Photography

At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in Tennessee, so you know it’s a great place to catch the sunset. On clear days, the 360-degree views go as far as 100 miles, and sunsets here are breathtaking. The summit is accessible via a steep paved trail, but the Appalachian Trail also crosses Clingmans Dome, so hikers looking for a challenge can watch the sunset, then head to one of the nearby backcountry shelters. The dome is also the western terminus of the 1,150-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail, so the possibilities for pre-sunset hikes are nearly limitless.

4. Cades Cove

Cades Cove is an excellent place to watch the sunset, either from your campsite or from the summit of Rocky Top (of Tennessee state song fame).
Cades Cove is an excellent place to watch the sunset, either from your campsite or from the summit of Rocky Top (of Tennessee state song fame).

Kevin Stewart Photography

A longtime Cherokee hunting ground, Cades Cove is one of Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s most worthy sights. An 11-mile, one-way loop road circumnavigates the entire cove; bikes are allowed on the road, as well. Several hikes begin at trailheads along the Cades Cove loop, including the five-mile roundtrip hike to Abrams Falls, as well as hikes to Thunderhead Mountain and Rocky Top (14 miles roundtrip to tag both summits), both of which offer fantastic sunset views.

5. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

With its dramatic sandstone bluffs, the highest concentration of natural arches and bridges in the eastern United States, gorgeous views of the Cumberland Plateau, and access to the Big South Fork River, it’s no wonder Big South Fork NRRA sees well over half a million visitors each year. Just an hour north of Knoxville, Big South Fork is home to more than 180 miles of trails for hiking and trail running, plus another 35 miles of mountain bike trails. Plan to explore during the day, then drive, bike, or walk to the East Rim Overlook, where it’s a short hike to a stunning sunset vista.

6. Cherohala Skyway

Cherohala Skyway offers access to incredible sunset hikes.
Cherohala Skyway offers access to incredible sunset hikes.

Kevin Stewart Photography

A combination of the names of the two national forests it passes through, Cherokee and Nantahala, the Cherohala Skyway is about 40 miles long and provides access to excellent hiking—not to mention gorgeous sunset vistas. The remote Big Frog Mountain Wilderness clocks in at just under 8,400 acres and include 35 miles of backcountry trails, including several that lead to the summit of Big Frog Mountain itself. The views from Big Frog are spectacular, especially at sunset, and can be reached via the Wolf Ridge, Hemp Top, and Licklog Ridge trails. But don’t get too taken by the unforgettable vistas: This area has tons of black bears, so travel in groups and talk as you head back to the car from your hike after dark to avoid startling one.

7. Loyston Overlook Trail

Less than 40 minutes north of Knoxville, Big Ridge State Park is tucked in the Cumberland Mountains and features 15 miles of forested trails. The Loyston Overlook Trail is short but steep and leads to a lookout above Norris Lake, which now covers the former site of the town of Loyston. The well-marked trails here mean it’s easy to find your way back to the car once the sun has set. But it’s not for the faint of heart—thanks to the park’s haunted history (it’s all in good fun), you’ll want to travel in a group at dusk.


Featured image provided by Kevin Stewart Photography

Wicked Weed

For many dog owners, an outdoor adventure just isn’t complete without their canine companion. Looking at those wishful eyes while backing out the front door as you’re all set for a day outdoors is tough enough. And once you’re out there, it’s hard not to imagine how much more fun you’d be having with your furry friend along for the fun, too.

But there’s good news for you both: More and more cities with active-minded populations are making it easier to travel with our faithful friends. Here we’ve curated a list of offerings from five dog-friendly Carolina cities: where to sleep, play, eat, and drink with your pup in tow. So next time you head out for an adventure around Charlotte, you’ll be able to pack up your pooch, too. (Wherever you go, however, be sure to abide by leash laws and local regulations.)

Columbia, S.C.

Riverfront Park offers a history lesson for you and a long stretch of running room for your four-legged buddy. Rob Glover
Riverfront Park offers a history lesson for you and a long stretch of running room for your four-legged buddy.
Rob Glover

South Carolina’s center of education, business, and the legislature has a playful side and an obvious love of its canine companions. Whether you’re in the capital for a day trip or overnight, you’ll find plenty of dog-friendly options.

The Dog House: The Aloft Columbia Downtown is the place for visitors and their pooches to hang their hat (and collar) for the night. This pet-friendly hotel is a short walk to the riverfront and the Five Points entertainment district. Plus, the property’s regular adoption events allow guests to interact with rescue pups during their stay.

Where to Play: Just a few blocks from Aloft, the wide trail at Columbia’s Riverfront Park meanders in and out of shade trees as it follows a scenic canal. The dog-friendly trail has ample space for exploration of the area, which encompasses the city’s original waterworks and its oldest (and still operating) hydroelectric plant. A little farther out of town, Saluda Shoals Park offers several dog-friendly experiences. More than 10 miles of trail wind through the facility, and a 2-acre dog park, the Barking Lot, allows your pal to run free without a leash (an annual fee of $40, which covers two dogs per household, applies, plus a parking fee.)

Best for Kibble: Publico Kitchen & Tap doesn’t just offer a space for dogs; they offer a whole menu. Designed with your dog’s size in mind, the Puppy Plate has several proteins, snacks, and even dog-friendly desserts. Of course, there’s a fantastic human food menu as well, featuring creative tacos and an extensive beer list. The nearby Jake’s Bar & Grill is home to a local favorite Yappy Hour. After an active day romping around, take your pup here for a relaxed afternoon on Jake’s back deck.

Hair of the Dog: A brewery with its own backyard seems like a dream come true, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at River Rat Brewery. Grab one of their creative brews and have a game of fetch in River Rat’s fenced-in, grassy outdoor space.

Beaufort, S.C.

A charming riverfront and manicured greenspaces make the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park an excellent place to enjoy the outdoors in Beaufort, SC.
A charming riverfront and manicured green spaces make the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park an excellent place to enjoy the outdoors in Beaufort, SC.

Steve Rich

This laid-back seaside town is full of all sorts of water-based adventures catered to you and your pup.

The Dog House: A stone’s throw from the Harbor River and within an easy walking distance of the easygoing heart of Beaufort, The City Loft Hotel is a modern, comfortable base camp, with thoughtfully designed rooms complete with walk-in showers and memory foam-topped beds. Five rooms are set aside for pets and their humans.

Where To Play: For three miles, the soft sand of Hunting Island State Park stretches along the Atlantic, which is the perfect setting for a brisk morning walk as the sky ignites in the brilliant shades of sunrise. The park is also well equipped with showers, bathrooms, and fresh water.

Best for Kibble: At Plums, you can expect to find the simple pleasures of a Low Country feast. Of course, that means starting things off with a plate of oysters fresh from the boat and pile of wild-caught shrimp. Grab a seat on the porch or open-air patio for a view of the water and a breeze from the coast.

Hair of the Dog: Though named for its burgers—and rightfully so; they’re huge and delicious—Fat Patties is also a beer lover’s destination. A huge list of craft brews, including their own from Salt Marsh Brewing, is well organized to make trying a new style easy. Ice cream is equally awesome, with housemade, small-batch flavors available year round. The outdoor patio is one of the best in town, and best of all, there’s plenty of room for your canine companion, too.

Hendersonville, N.C.

This low-key but upscale mountain town knows how to treat visitors of both the two and four-legged persuasion.

The Dog House: The Cascades Mountain Resort recently underwent an amazing renovation, with beautiful stonework, a giant fireplace, and heavy wood accents that sync seamlessly with its mountainous setting. And pet-friendly rooms mean your pup can join for the adventure.

Where to Play: With so many incredible nearby waterfalls to discover, you’ll want to plan a full day of exploration at DuPont State Recreational Forest. High Falls, Triple Falls, and Hooker Falls are all accessible on a moderate hike from the main parking lot on Staton Road. The trails are open to dogs on leashes no longer than 6 feet.

Best for Kibble: The aroma of slow-smoked brisket emanating from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse is sure to lure you in. Tucked behind the colorful “rainbow row” of shops in nearby Flat Rock, N.C., Hubba Hubba plates up hearty helpings of pulled pork, brisket, and chicken. You and your pup will find plenty of room to enjoy the carnivorous feast on the spacious stone patio.

Hair of the Dog: Sitting among the patchwork of grapevines, green spaces, and wooded plots, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards offers a total immersion into the beautiful countryside of western N.C. From the cozy confines of the dog-friendly tasting room, they poor a range of varietals. If cider is more your thing, travel 20 minutes west to the edge of the Pisgah National Forest and the newest Bold Rock Cidery location. The cidery serves products made from local Henderson County apples in their huge taproom and outdoor patio. Both are welcoming to guests of the four- and two-legged persuasion.

Greenville, S.C

A modern city with a heart for the outdoors, Greenville is a must-visit locale for adventurers and their pups.
A modern city with a heart for the outdoors, Greenville is a must-visit locale for adventurers and their pups.

Timothy J

The Dog House: The Aloft Greenville is ideally situated to explore downtown Greenville. The clean, modern design is energetic but welcoming, and the Aloft team go above and beyond for their canine guests. Each stay includes an optional puppy package which includes a bowl, treats, toys, and even a bed for your four-legged buddy.

Where to Play: The Greenville Healthcare Systems Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is nearly 20 miles of multi-use trail built on a former railway line, is becoming famous around the Southeast as a destination for recreational cyclists. It conveniently travels through downtown and is very welcoming for dogs. For a little more “get lost in the woods” experience, head for the dozen miles of trail at Paris Mountain State Park. Paths here connect several small lakes and often run adjacent to streams, making for a convenient spot for Spot to cool off on a hot day. Many of these trails are also used by mountain bikers, so the 6-foot leash rule is a good one to follow. There is a $5 day-use fee at Paris Mountain.

Best for Kibble: One of the most surprising aspects of Greenville to first-time visitors is the alfresco dining culture. Eclectic cafes, ranging from pub grub to Thai to pizza, line downtown’s Main Street. Street-side tables are all welcoming spots for you and your pup to refuel. For hearty plates of well-crafted fare that straddles the line between fine dining and comfort food, The Green Room is a recommended choice.

Hair of the Dog: With a spacious taproom and plenty of outdoor space, Brewery 85 just outside of downtown Greenville has enough room to spread out while sampling their range of brews. The brewery is especially welcoming to dogs and hosts occasional Yappy Hours.

Asheville, N.C.

Craggy Gardens is a must-do hike for active dogs and their owners.
Craggy Gardens is a must-do hike for active dogs and their owners.

Explore Asheville

Last but definitely not least, our beloved mountain town Asheville, NC, where a trusty four-legged companion is almost as requisite as a Subaru and Chacos.

The Dog House: The Omni Grove Park Inn exists at the intersection of mountain-cozy and ultra-luxe. Close to Asheville and its mecca of mountain adventures, the sprawling property is an ideal launch pad for a weekend of exploration. The resort shows its affinity for pups with dog-friendly accommodations complete with canine-centric room services like treats, water, and food bowls.

Where to Play: The mountains surrounding Asheville hold a cornucopia of outdoor experiences, and almost all of them are suitable for you and your favorite canine. For a great payoff with relatively minimal effort, take a hike up to Craggy Gardens. After just a 15-minute drive and 1.5-mile hike, you’ll be taking in 360-degree views that seem to stretch forever.

Best for Kibble: Yes, it’s a brewery. But Asheville Brewing Company is also home to some of the highest quality pub grub in town (try the fries, you won’t be disappointed). And after a long day of exploring, the dog-friendly outdoor patio is the perfect spot to savor a beer.

Hair of the Dog: If your pal enjoys the finer things in life, then a visit to the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar might be in order. Dogs are well taken care of in this used bookstore/wine bar as are their humans, with a full espresso bar and a wine list that includes 80+ selections of wines and Champagne.


Featured image provided by Explore Asheville

Haw River

Dedicated organizations such as the Carolina Thread Trail, the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail, and the Tarheel Trailblazers are the engines driving new trail projects across the Carolinas. From flat, wide rail trails to gnarly sections of technical singletrack, miles upon miles of new outdoor experiences are constructed every year.

They’ve been so busy in fact, that a complete list of all the new trails would be nearly impossible to curate. Instead, we’ve listed six segments that are interesting for either the trail itself or what’s around it.

1. Love Valley Trail

Love Valley is short but sweet, giving you a taste of the Old West. Rob Glover
Love Valley is short but sweet, giving you a taste of the Old West.
Rob Glover

Sometimes the trail is only part of a much larger experience, and such is the case for the 2.6-mile stretch of the Carolina Thread Trail known as the Love Valley Trail. Ideal for horseback riding but open to bikers and hikers, this smoothly graded path runs along the southern edge of the Brushy Mountains and begins in Love Valley. The real draw of the area, especially for equestrian fans, is the Old West-themed town center. The dirt road, where only foot and hoof traffic are allowed, is lined with hitching posts, wooden walkways, and saloons. Not what it once was—many of the shops have closed and buildings are for sale—the novelty of seeing a town where the horse remains king is still worth a visit.

2. East Main Extension at the USNWC

Hikers and bikers should watch out for each other along the East Main Extension. Rob Glover
Hikers and bikers should watch out for each other along the East Main Extension.
Rob Glover

Land acquisitions in 2014 and 2015 effectively doubled the footprint of the U.S. National Whitewater Center located on the western edge of Charlotte. According to its directors, the center plans to protect the land rather than develop it, resulting in hundreds of open acres just waiting for trail designers to work their magic. One of the most challenging recent additions is an extension on the existing East Main Trail. Now totaling 6 miles, the trail includes sharp climbs and swift descents, earning its nicknames “East Pain” and “Beast Main”. All trails at the USNWC are open to foot and bike traffic.

3. Bigleaf Slopes

Volunteer opportunities exist almost every weekend for building new trails all over North Carolina. Bob Ellis
Volunteer opportunities exist almost every weekend for building new trails all over North Carolina.
Bob Ellis

The 2.2 miles of singletrack at Bigleaf Slopes in Statesville, NC is yet another testament to the tenacity and hard work put forth by the Tarheel Trailblazers. Working in conjunction with Iredell County, the superheroes of the singletrack have created another stellar mountain bike park out of the previously unused land. Trail mileage will continue to spread throughout the 104-acre tract, but for now, the ride is fairly fast with moderate elevation changes.

4. Piedmont Medical Center Trail Extension

Get refreshing river views on paths like the Piedmont Medical Center Trail.
Get refreshing river views on paths like the Piedmont Medical Center Trail.

Patrick Mueller

The Piedmont Medical Center Trail is one of several dazzling amenities at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center. A recent extension to the trail, made possible in large part by the Carolina Thread Trail, has made it even better. Now connected to existing paths in the adjacent River Park, the system extends for over five miles. Bikers and walkers will find a mix of construction including pavement, boardwalk, and natural surface trail. Flowing alongside the Catawba River and through the forested River Park, the trail offers a serene escape at the outdoor center.

5. The South Fork Rail Trail

Look for different species of plants that live along the trail.
Look for different species of plants that live along the trail.

Charlie Cowins

Passing through a Cypress swamp isn’t a common occurrence in the central Piedmont of North Carolina, so catching a glimpse of this unusual biome during a peaceful run on the South Fork Rail Trail is a cool experience. In fact, the swamp setting is just one of several points of interest along the new two-mile, natural surface trail in Lincolnton, NC. Keep an eye out for large leaf magnolias, the remnants of a bridge destroyed by Union soldiers during the Civil War, and the rocky shoals of the South Fork River. This smooth trail is an excellent spot for a morning walk, jog, or short bike ride.

6. MST section along the Haw River

The Mountains to Sea Trail is an incredibly ambitious, 1,150-mile trail housed completely within the state of North Carolina. While the trail is walkable now—dozens have actually completed it—around half the distance requires overland passage. Several new sections of trail are added every year and one of the longest recent additions is the four-mile continuance of the Haw River Trail in Burlington, NC. Following the banks of the placid and rocky Haw River, the trail extension creates a total of eight uninterrupted hiking miles.


Featured image provided by Nathania Johnson


Imagine unloading your kayak or canoe and setting up camp on an island in the middle of a mountain lake. A brilliant Carolina sunset reflects on crystal clear water as you finish tying off your hammock. Or maybe you’ve reached a coastal oasis accessible only by your own paddle power. At night, you fall asleep in your tent to the relaxing sound of waves.

From the cool waters of Lake Jocassee to the brackish tidal swamps out east, the Carolinas are home to a huge variety of flat water paddling experiences. While many are accessible by day trip, some require a little more time. Here are seven of the best paddle-in campground adventures from the mountains to coast in the Carolinas.

Cheraw State Park

Several trails offer an on-land option to explore Cheraw State Park.
Several trails offer an on-land option to explore Cheraw State Park.

South Carolina State Parks

through the cypress wetlands of Lake Juniper is an experience every flatwater boater should have, and at Cheraw State Park the experience couldn’t be easier. The $21 per night camping fee for the paddle-in sites comes complete with boat rental and the park even participates in a fishing tackle loaner program. All you need is your standard camping gear. If possible, time your trip during one of the park’s moonlight paddle outings and see the lake in a whole new light.

Devils Fork State Park

The crystal clear waters and minimally developed shoreline of Lake Jocassee has become a popular retreat in all seasons. Leave it all behind and paddle out to the seclusion of an island campground at Devils Fork State Park. Thirteen sites line the western edge of the island, providing an incredible sunset experience. Basic toilets are available but you’ll need to bring all the other comforts of camping with you—which is a small price to pay for such serenity.

Keowee-Toxaway State Park

Paddle-in campsites at Lake Keowee-Toxaway State Park offer amazing sunset views. Rob Glover
Paddle-in campsites at Lake Keowee-Toxaway State Park offer amazing sunset views.
Rob Glover

Lake Keowee is an oft-overlooked gem in South Carolina. Just a few miles from its larger cousin Lake Jocassee, the gorgeous surrounds and cool, calm waters of Keowee offer an amazing respite after a long work week. All the sites at the small and quiet campground of Keowee-Toxaway State Park are a pleasant stroll from the lake, but three sit right on the shoreline. You can walk to these sites, but the two-ish mile trek can create a logistics problem when toting all the trappings of a great camping weekend. Instead, load up your canoe and paddle to the site just short distance away from the park’s boat launch.

Hammocks Beach

Tucked between huge dunes, Hammocks Beach State Park’s paddle-in campground feels both hidden and open to the entire universe.
Tucked between huge dunes, Hammocks Beach State Park&rsquo’s paddle-in campground feels both hidden and open to the entire universe.

North Carolina State Parks

Reaching the row of waterfront campsites on Bear Island requires a paddle across the intercoastal waterway and through the reedy waters of a coastal swamp. What awaits is a pristine, white sand beach buffeted by large dunes and an unfettered view of ocean and sky. Hammocks Beach State Park, which encompasses Bear Island, offers a convenient launch site as well as boat rentals. The campground is rugged but includes showers and bathroom facilities.

Lake James

Perhaps known more for its super flowy singletrack or uber popular lakeside picnic facilities, Lake James State Park is also home to 30 boat-in campsites. These simple sites include only the basics: fire ring, tent pad, and picnic table. While you’ll have to bring in everything you need, including your water supply, a sunrise paddle on the tree-lined lake is well worth the effort. The closest launch to these sites is at the main visitor center in the Paddy’s Creek section of the park. Here they rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards—but they go fast. Call ahead to check for availability or bring your own.

Merchants Millpond State Park

Weaving through immense cypress trees at Merchants Millpond is an experience every paddler should have.
Weaving through immense cypress trees at Merchants Millpond is an experience every paddler should have.

North Carolina State Parks

Designated paddle trails in Merchants Millpond State Park flow alongside dense hardwood forests and through stands of immense bald cypress trees. Just beyond the millpond, Bennett’s Creek runs slow and shallow through the low-lying Lassiter Swamp. A water-level exploration of these fascinating biomes is best begun from one of the state park’s paddle-in campsites. The sites are primitive, with only pit toilets available, but the park does offer canoe rentals.

New River State Park

Not only is the ironically named New River one of the oldest in the world, it is among the most natural and interesting to explore. In recognition of these properties, the New, which runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest corner of North Carolina, is a federally designated Wild and Scenic River. A multi-day exploration of this tree-lined waterway can be done Deliverance-style (minus the, well, you know) by way of multiple canoe-in campsites managed by New River State Park. The paddle trip to these primitive campsites is a serene and scenic experience. Although the flow is calm here, it’s important to either know the river; less experienced paddlers should contact Ashe County for a list of local river guides.


Featured image provided by North Carolina State Parks

The 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail has brought boosted tourism to Greenville.

Greenville, S.C. is the perfect basecamp for countless mountain adventures. Located at the edge of the rain-soaked Blue Ridge Escarpment, where the famed mountain range tumbles low into the Piedmont, Greenville is near some of the most fertile waterfall hunting grounds in the southeast.

This mid-sized city of 65,000 is indeed an ideal choice for an active-minded weekend getaway from many Southeast hubs (it’s an easy drive from Charlotte, Charleston, Atlanta, and Asheville). In recent years, it has transformed itself from a sleepy Southern town to a vibrant community of outdoor-loving locals—starting with the remarkable restoration of the Reedy River, which flows through the heart of the city, its stunning cascades, and pedestrian-only bridge a stunning anchor for downtown. The Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 20-mile multi-use path anchors a cycling culture that invites every type of rider. And Greenville’s burgeoning culinary scene—with its European flair and sidewalk café culture—is just the way to toast a day full of adventure.

So here, we offer a few insider tips for an epic Greenville weekend getaway, with a suggested itinerary—though you’ll probably make plenty of discoveries of your own in this charming South Carolina town.


Greenville weekend getaway Swamp Rabbit Inn
The Swamp Rabbit Inn has a cheerful, cycling-centric vibe.

Blane Bachelor

Start the weekend off the right way and sneak out of work a couple hours early. Arrive in Greenville late on Friday afternoon and stop at your lodging. For your first visit, it’s a great idea to stay near the eminently walkable streets of downtown.

If there is any accommodation that exemplifies the flavor of Greenville, it’s the Swamp Rabbit Inn. A cozy, cheerful inn with a front porch full of rocking chairs and an interior designed entirely in Ikea, the b&b blends both quaint southern comfort and modern digs. Six animal-themed guestrooms offer conveniences like in-room coffeemakers and fluffy robes (though only two have in-room bathrooms). The inn offers bike rentals and is an easy walk (or bike ride) to Falls Park, the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and downtown dining. And innkeeper Wendy Lynam, a biking enthusiast who’s written a local guidebook on local routes, is always eager to help with suggestions.

Planning to bring your pooch along? The modern, brand-new Aloft hotel in downtown fully embraces the town’s dog-friendly philosophy. The hotel offers a pet package that includes toys, treats, dog bed, and bowl; adoption events are also regularly held in the lobby. Visitors of the two-legged persuasion will find games, a coffee and snack bar, and a full lounge on-site.

Greenville weekend getaway Hotel Domestique
A stay at Hotel Domestique is a must-do for any cycling enthusiast.

Courtesy of Hotel Domestique

Serious cyclists won’t want to miss a chance to stay at Hotel Domestique, a stunning, European-influenced property that’s the vision of 17-time Tour de France rider and Greenville local George Hincapie. The hotel is located in Travelers Rest, a charming town that’s an easy drive from downtown Greenville, but it’s perfectly located for epic rides through the mountains. Cycling packages and clinics are available, and Hincapie himself sometimes joins guests on rides (he’s a fixture on local roads, too, so keep an eye out for him).

After checking in, head downtown to Falls Park on the Reedy for sunset. Built along the rocky banks of the Reedy River, Falls Park is the beating heart of Greenville. The 345-foot, pedestrian-only suspension bridge over the river is a sign of the modernization that Greenville has invested in, and the tumbling cascades that anchor the park are a fitting backdrop for the town’s outdoorsy vibe.

Open spaces are an important tenet of Greenville's design
Open spaces are an important tenet of Greenville’s design

Rob Glover

It’s a quick walk between the park and The Playwright, a popular local watering hole. Everything in the Irish pub—from the bar rail to the woodwork to the etched Victorian glass that highlights each public-house booth—was handcrafted in Dublin and shipped to Greenville specifically for this space. There’s plenty of authentic Ireland on the menu, too: bangers and mash and a super-hearty lamb and Guinness pie. Speaking of the brown nectar, you won’t find a better pint poured this side of the pond.



Today’s a big day, you’ll need some quick energy. No one takes the art and science of coffee more seriously than the aptly named Methodical Coffee. Pair a locally made pastry with one of their pour-over javas.

Greenville weekend getaway Paris Mountain State Park
Whether riding or hiking, the trails at Paris Mountain State Park lead to many amazing spots.

South Carolina State Parks

Once properly caffeinated, lace up your hiking shoes and take a short drive to Paris Mountain State Park. In less than 20 minutes, you’ll be walking the beautifully maintained but secluded trails that wind over and around the park’s namesake peak. The park’s multi-purpose trail system offers some of the best mountain biking in the area, and it’s popular with local trail runners, too. Challenging elevation changes and multiple scenic lakes overlooks make a day at Paris Mountain both an invigorating physical workout and a restful mental retreat.

If you plan to ride singletrack at Paris Mountain or any of the parks near Greenville, a quick stop at the Sunshine Cycle Shop will provide all the biking beta you need for the area.


Saluda Lake is a hidden gem just a few miles from downtown Greenville
Saluda Lake is a hidden gem just a few miles from downtown Greenville

Upstate Paddleboards

Now that you’ve got in your cardio, it’s time for lunch and a relaxing float on Lake Saluda. Just about every weekend of good weather finds German-born Jan Mueller sharing his love of paddle sports here. His shop, Upstate Paddleboard, provides lessons from certified instructors as well as board and kayak rentals. The quiet waters of Lake Saluda and the gentle Saluda River that feeds it are a bit of a secret gem of the Upstate. Saluda Lake Landing, the launch site for Mueller’s trips, offers a simple but tasty selection of lunch favorites for a quick bite in between activities.

Like much of the Carolinas, the brewing scene around Greenville is hopping. A stop at Swamp Rabbit Brewery, located in Travelers Rest, nets a sample of some award-winning German-, Belgian-, and American-style ales. The simple, spacious digs of the brewery, including an outdoor patio, are just the spot to relax with a pint on a beautiful Carolina afternoon.

Once you’ve cleaned off the day’s adventure dust, it’s time to rally and hit the town. A quick walk up to Dark Corner Distillery is the perfect beginning to an evening’s exploration of downtown. Housed in a historic building with the original copper distilling system used to produce their early batches on display, Dark Corner is the place to learn the ins and outs of the craft. Tastings are $4 and include the shot glass.

The Dark Corner Distillery is an easy downtown stop to learn about the art of spirits crafting
The Dark Corner Distillery is an easy downtown stop to learn about the art of spirits crafting

Rob Glover

Main Street is lined with a fantastic collection of food options, each taking advantage of extra-wide sidewalks for dining al fresco. The Green Room, between North and Coffee Streets, serves top-notch pub grub. For a hungry adventurer, the meatloaf with a side of almost-over-the-top truffle fries is a pretty special experience.

For a lower-key exploration of European tastes, walk a few steps below Washington Street to the sub-level confines of the Trappe Door (reservations recommended). It’s a beer geek’s paradise, with a multi-page tome dedicated to the best and hardest-to-find Belgian and Trappist beers. A palate-cleansing Moscow mule is also highly recommended: Almost everything in the light, refreshing cocktail,  including the bitters and ginger soda, are made in-house. Mussels with a variety of sauces offer a tasty start to dinner, while entrees include local and Belgian-inspired favorites—think pan-seared salmon and sautéed duck breast in cherry beer sauce. You won’t have room for dessert but get the lemon crepe anyway. It’s large enough to share but the flavor is light enough to float over even the heartiest of sauces.


Enjoy a relaxing start to the day at Coffee Underground. The multi-purpose space pours delicious versions of all the coffee house favorites. If you need a super-sized antidote to the Trappist ales, the big-as-your-head cappuccino is served in what appears to be a mixing bowl with a handle. The Sunday brunch seating area, called the Red Room, is mercifully clad in dark and comforting colors. The menu includes huge omelets and fluffy French toast.


Named for the rail line on which it was built (which, in turn, was named for the indigenous animal), the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail has been the impetus for a tourism surge in Greenville. Bike shops, restaurants, and even a brewery have benefited from the two-wheeled traffic the roughly 220-mile trail brings.

Grab your bike (another spot to check out is Pedal Chic, the country’s first women-specific cycling shop; rentals also are available) and head out on the trail. It has multiple access points, but it’s a cinch to hop on from your downtown lodging. Ride as far as you like and if you make it all the way to the end, hearty burgers and a healthy dose of Americana await at the Whistle Stop at the Café.

If you turn around before that, your last stop in Greenville should be Grill Marks. The comfy burger joint does it right: Large beef patties are wipe-your-hand juicy and come with a basket of fries plenty big enough for sharing. And for the sweetest possible ending to your weekend, order up a homemade salted caramel malt. Get it to go for the short ride back to Charlotte, or linger and start planning your next trip to Greenville.


Featured image provided by VisitGreenvilleSC.com

Image for Profile Trail to Calloway Peak


Beginning off of scenic highway 105, the Profile Trail offers hikers an opportunity to witness some of the spectacular and beautiful views the high country has to offer – views famed naturalist John Muir once wrote about in 1898. You’ll start by lightly treading through the headwater streams of the Watauga River as it winds 3.1 miles through seven different types of natural communities, including northern hardwood, Canadian hemlock, and acid cove forests.

What Makes It Great

These forests also house plenty of wildlife and almost 200 different species of birds. Profile Trail hikers can spot woodland species such as Warblers (especially in spring), Scarlet Tanagers, Louisiana Water Thrushes and numerous varieties of Vireos. As the trail continues to spiral up the mountain, you’ll pass a great campsite, numerous breathtaking overlooks, and, my personal favorite, Shanty Spring (a cool and delicious fresh water spring located at about mile 2.7).

The last 0.3 miles will get your heart pumping, calves burning and put you on your hands and knees as you climb up rocks along the steepest part. Once you reach the top of the Profile Trail, you’ll have two options: left or right. Since this is “Profile Trail to Calloway Peak”, you will swing left on the Grandfather Trail. It will take you 0.4 miles along the ridgeline and up three ladders to the summit of Calloway Peak.

Calloway Peak sits at 5,946 ft with the best views of Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge and sometimes even the Charlotte skyline. John Muir described the sublime scenery from the summit as, “I couldn’t hold in and began to jump about and sing and glory in it all” and the sunsets here as, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Bring some tasty snacks, plenty of water, and good company, and it will be a hike that you won’t regret.

Who is Going to Love It

This trail is for nature, adventure, and hiking enthusiasts. You’re gaining about 2,000 ft of elevation from start to finish. You’ll want to have comfy hiking boots and a backpack full of water and your favorite snacks to stay fueled along the trail. If you have any knee or leg problems, I suggest bringing trekking poles for additional support. There are benches along the trail for when you need a breather. It is well maintained and well traveled, although the last 0.3 miles can be rocky and uneven.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There is an official parking lot for this trailhead. Since this is a hiking favorite, I would suggest getting there early to secure a parking spot; the parking lot fills up quick. If you do arrive and the lot is full, you’re able to park along the shoulder of Highway 105 at your own risk. Grandfather Mountain State Park requires hikers and backpackers to fill out a permit (they’re free and available at the information board at the trailhead).

Dogs are permitted but must be leashed at all times.

If you plan to camp, remember to camp in the designated areas, there are plenty of beautiful sites along the trail.


Featured image provided by Chelsie Mitchell

The nearly 3,500 wild acres of Elk Knob State Park, which includes the second highest peak in Watauga County, was nearly lost to developers in the early part of the 21st century. The area was being considered for the construction of a summer home community until a group of local landowners and concerned citizens, together with the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, purchased the land and deeded it to the North Carolina Department of Parks and Recreation.

Today, Elk Knob is one of North Carolina’s newest state parks, open year round for the enjoyment of hikers and naturalists who are drawn to its scenic beauty and unusual ecology. It lies within a small mountain range north of Boone known as the Amphibolite Mountains, named for their unique geological foundation.  Amphibolite, a dark, crumbling metamorphic rock, disintegrates into a rich soil that plays host to rare plant species such as Flame Azalea, Purple Fringed Orchid, and Gray’s Lily.

The soil is inhospitable to the type of heath shrubs that typically choke the ground floor of Northern Hardwood forests. In the absence of mountain laurel, blueberries, and rhododendron thickets, the forest feels wide open and expansive, a unique characteristic for the peaks of Appalachia. Rosy Bells, Trillium, Starflower, and Jewelweed carpet the ground in vivid hues during the spring and summer. You may find yourself breathing more deeply than you have in months.

Although there are some decidedly steep and strenuous sections en route to the summit of Elk Knob—the longest of the three trails currently constructed throughout the park tops out just shy of four miles round-trip—it’s generally a nicely switchbacked and straightforward route for most hikers. A gently rolling one-mile loop encircles the picnic area. Moderate trail lengths make the park a popular destination for families, trail runners, and afternoon adventurers—but don’t forget the real reason to visit Elk Knob. As one of the highest peaks in the Appalachians, the summit of Elk Knob boasts an exceptional tri-state view of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, including Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak on the East Coast, fifty miles away in the Black Mountains. The experience at the summit is one of unparalleled quiet, only interrupted by the occasional whistling of High Country winds that rush up the side of the mountain.

For Appalachian University Students like Margot Brown, the primitive camping spots along the Backcountry Trail provide an easily accessible respite from the rigors of college life: “It’s not car camping, but it doesn’t take long to get there. We can sleep out overnight and then be home for class the next morning.”

Winter adventurers will experience a summit feathered in hoarfrost, and dazzling views of rippling, white-frosted mountains without having to brave the cold for too many hours.

Elk Knob State Park is located off of Meat Camp Road in the community of Todd, North Carolina, 9.5 miles outside of Boone. Picnic tables, grills, and restrooms are available. First come first serve campsites can be found along the Backcountry Trail; there are two group sites that require reservations.


Featured image provided by Joe Giordano

Just out of frame to the left is the welcoming Spring Creek Tavern and Inn

On any given summer weekend in Hot Springs, North Carolina, pack-laden hikers and paddlers in wetsuits can be seen traversing the sidewalks of this tiny, no-traffic-light Appalachian Trail town, population 575. Acoustic music drifts from the open doors of taverns and the occasional train whistles echo through the valley.

Surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, Hot Springs is only about 25 miles (40 minutes) from Asheville, but it feels a world away. Adrenaline may be pumping on the Class III rapids of the French Broad River which runs through the center of town, but on the main drag, Bridge Street, the pace is nothing but a slow Southern town, with a certain mountain charm that has to be experienced to be understood.

Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover's Leap
Looking down at Hot Springs from Lover’s Leap

Joanne O’Sullivan

And it’s no surprise that people have been experiencing this place for over a century. The mineral springs, for which the town is named, first brought tourists here in the 1880’s, but it’s the Appalachian Trail, which literally runs down the main street here, that has given Hot Springs a reputation as an outdoor destination.

As a home base for exploring the river, the national forest, or the many nearby trails, Hot Springs has everything you need. Here are the essentials for a Hot Springs visit:

Fuel Up 

Considering the size of the town, there is an impressive number of places to eat in Hot Springs. The Spring Creek Tavern describes itself as ‘hiker friendly,’ (which means they don’t mind if you smell like sweat and dirty socks), and with 12 beers on tap as well as excellent pub standards like burgers and wraps, it’s a great place to refuel. The covered deck next to the creek has prime seating and is usually full on weekend nights. Just next door, Still Mountain Restaurant and Tavern has more of a bar-pub feel and menu, and they often have musical acts playing into the night on their outdoor patio.

If you really clean up well, Mountain Magnolia Inn is primarily a romantic B &B, but it’s also an upscale restaurant with amazing views and is open to the public.

Get Out There 

The French Broad River next to Hot Springs
The French Broad River next to Hot Springs

David Wilson

There are about a dozen rafting concessions near Hot Springs, including an outpost of the  Nantahala Outdoor Center, Blue Heron Whitewater, and Hot Springs Rafting Co. Each outfitter offers something a little different: some offer kayaks, canoes, and funyaks, some offer tubes, with guided and self-guided trips depending on the area of the river (the French Broad near Hot Springs has everything from Class I to Class IV). You can, of course, bring your own gear and check out the shuttles offered by Bluff Mountain Outfitters.

If you’re seeking a hike, the Appalachian Trail runs down the sidewalk in Hot Springs then back into Pisgah National Forest, but there are plenty of other local trails, depending on what you’re interested in. If Bluff Mountain is closed, the local library has plenty of information. One of the most popular hikes in Western North Carolina is just 20 minutes from town at Max Patch, a Southern Appalachian bald with 360-degree views and great picnic opportunities.

Wind Down

After a long day on the trail or fighting the rapids, the outdoor mineral baths at Hot Springs Resort and Spa might be just what you’re looking for. The tubs are spaced far enough apart to allow for privacy, and the optional spa services menu includes everything from integrative massage to hot stone and mud bath therapies. The resort also has tent and RV camping sites along the river, plus cabins.

If you’d rather unwind with a drink, Iron Horse Station might be more your speed. The restaurant and tavern offer a varied menu, wine, beer, and acoustic music. It’s located in a historic building across from the railroad track and there are upscale hotel rooms located upstairs.

Bunk Down

Hot Springs Cabin
Hot Springs Cabin

David Wilson

In addition to the other lodging options mentioned, there are a number of local campgrounds. Appalachian Trail hikers favor the Sunnybank Inn, operated by Elmer Hall, a man who has hosted hikers for over 30 years. If you’ll be heading toward Max Patch and want a more private retreat, try Kana’Ti Lodge, a small eco-lodge with spectacular surroundings.

If you’re looking for a perfect outdoor weekend getaway in the southeast, Hot Springs should definitely be at the top of your list. 


Featured image provided by David Wilson

Doughton Park, located between milepost 238 and 246, is the largest recreation area along the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway. It also happens to be one of the most spectacular locations to soak up fall color changes in the area.

It’s easy enough to stop at a lookout along the BRP and get the view you came for at Doughton — the scenic highway follows the ridge at the top of the park, putting you in a perfect position to peruse the panorama. But to get fully immersed in the landscape, walking some of the 30 miles of trails is the way to go.

The trail system at Doughton is pretty simple. The longest trek runs for about 16.5 miles and creates a ring around the entire park. If time allows, this is the best way to experience all the amazing views the park has to offer.

To make the walk a little easier and more in line with a day-hike time budget, use the trails that cut through the center of the park. The Grassy Gap fire road links to the Bluff Ridge primitive trail. Bluff Ridge is 2.8 miles of nearly straight uphill climbing, terminating on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A shelter sits right near the end of the trail and is a great place for lunch with a view.

While hiking is the main attraction, Doughton Park also offers some other amenities. The campground holds 60+ tent sites and 25 RV sites. Rainbow and brook trout can be found swimming in Basin Cove Creek, just waiting for skilled anglers. And cross country skiing is allowed when the park is accessible in winter (even when other parts of the BRP are closed).

Back in the day, the late 1800’s that is, the area was home to the bustling Basin Cove community. In 1916, however, a flood claimed most of the structures in the area. Two notable survivors are the Brinegar Cabin (circa 1885) and the Caudill Family Homestead. Both are accessible by trail and offer a glimpse into how this very tough breed of settlers once spent their days.

Luckily you don’t have to work nearly as hard as the Caudill’s to get your dinner. Once you’ve finished stuffing your eyes with panoramic scenery, it’s time to stuff your belly with some classic Carolina feed. Featured on BBQ with Bobby Flay, the Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery is the perfect place to help you balance out all the calories you burned at Doughton. Pulled pork is the star of the show, but this North Wilkesboro eatery also offers ribs, chicken, country ham, fish and a whole pile of other choices including their signature side dish, Brushy Mountain Caviar.

Saving room for dessert is a requirement. As the name suggests, Brushy Mountain makes their own ice cream which is then generously applied to shakes, sundaes, and cakes.

If you want a peek at peak Blue Ridge leaf season from the top of a peak, then Doughton Park in late October and early November is where you need to be.


Featured image provided by Rob Glover

Image for Shining Rock

In the heart of the Shining Rock Wilderness, high atop the Great Balsam Mountains, stands a peak of other-worldly beauty. Locals consider Shining Rock to be the “crown jewel” of the Appalachians. An elaborate network of Quartzite Rock formations adorn the summit and dazzle the eyes of the beholder. These “crystalline cliffs” peak through the canopy of a rich coniferous forest creating view-points of heavenly proportions.  Several iconic trails, from varying trailheads, can provide access to this wonderland. If you desire an eye-pleasing adventure, embark on a vigorous day hike, or plan an overnighter, to come to enjoy the splendors of Shining Rock.

What Makes It Great

The most picturesque route to Shining Rock involves a section of the Art Loeb Trail which traverses a string of mountaintop “grassy balds.” The start of this adventure begins from the Black Balsam Knob trailhead on road 816 off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Heading north and following the white blaze of The Art Loeb Trail hikers will enjoy a five-mile ridgeline hike with long range views and fascinating flora. The first section of trail summits both Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain before dropping into Ivestor Gap. A traverse around Grassy Cove Top leads to Flower Gap, a strikingly beautiful campsite, and then on towards Shining Rock Gap. A consistent water source gurgles from the mountain just before reaching Shining Rock Gap. The water runs clear and cold but filtration is still suggested. A variety of quality campsites for tents and hammocks are dispersed under the rhododendron canopy at Shining Rock Gap.

Just north of Shining Rock Gap lies a network of unmarked trails that lead to the actual summit of Shining Rock. Exploring several of these trails is a worthwhile endeavor as each leads to its own wonderful scramble and viewpoint atop the quartzite formations. A sunny day atop these shining rocks is an experience everyone should have in their life. Reflections of light and picturesque views amongst the canopy of a fragrant evergreen forest make this mountaintop experience feel heavenly.

Another popular route to Shining Rock begins at the Big East Fork Trailhead and uses the Shining Creek Trail to gain the ridgeline at Shining Rock Gap. This route follows a pristine wilderness creek and climbs 3,000’ vertical to reach Shining Rock Gap.

If you are looking for a full day, leg burner, of a hike; access Shining Rock from the northern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail at Camp Daniel Boone. On this rigorous section of trail, hikers will climb up to deep gap, below Cold Mountain, then traverse “The Narrows” section of The Art Loeb Trail on their way to Shining Rock.

Who is Going to Love It

View seekers are in for a treat on this ridgeline hike. Nearly every step of the trail has access to long range views. Flowering plants on the grassy balds make late spring and early summer a beautiful time to visit for nature lovers. Fall colors and ripe blueberries highlight early autumn atop the Great Balsam Mountains. Stargazers will love visiting Shining Rock for an up-close view of astrological events. The remote location, lack of ambient light and high altitude at Shining Rock make this place a great venue for seeing the shows of the universe. The Quartz rocks on the summit create some dazzling light shows ideal for photographs. Plan your visit to coincide with a full moon and watch shining rock glimmer in the glow of the moon.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Getting to the Black Balsam trailhead from Asheville involves a picturesque drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The area is very dog-friendly and no fees or permits are required to hike or camp at Shining Rock.

The Shining Rock Wilderness is subject to some special regulations given its Wilderness designation, make sure to follow the special guidelines to ensure a wilderness opportunity for future visitors.


Featured image provided by Steven Reinhold