Since the 1800s, multiple generations of Southern families have enjoyed the Carolina Mountains, spending summers in cabins and boarding houses in one of the small towns. (Mom and the children stayed all summer; Dad traveled up by train each Friday after work.)
Life was simple, and entertainment included hikes, swimming in streams and enjoying cooler temperatures. Today, the entertainment is more sophisticated, but those simple pleasures remain favorites.
Some folks are summer visitors, while others are mature families choosing to establish new roots where the quality of life is better than in the cities and suburbs they left behind. Still others seek the feel of the north woods, without the accompanying weather.
HEALING THE MIND AND BODY
In the late 1700s, Native Americans converged in the area around Asheville, particularly around Hot Springs, to partake of the healing waters. (Hot Springs is still a fun destination. Sitting in giant hot tubs with water from the ground bubbling around you and a canopy of trees overhead is guaranteed to make stress disappear.)
In the 1800s, physicians measured temperature and barometric pressure to determine optimal healing climate and the mountain town of Asheville emerged as the best. From the late 1880s to the 1930s, Asheville became known as a curative retreat to treat tuberculosis.
Today, the area is still widely regarded as a health center, where people come for healing. Mission-St. Joseph’s Hospital and many doctors in the area have made Asheville a prime medical center for Western North Carolina.
For those seeking alternative remedies, the Asheville area is called the “New Age Mecca of the East” by many people, primarily due to its many yoga centers, acupuncturists and other alternative health care practitioners.
LINK : Directory of yoga centers in the Carolina.
The Southern Appalachian Mountains that run through the Carolinas are loaded with trout, small mouth bass, and just enough muskies to keep folks returning for more. With thousands of miles of streams and acres of lakes, there are more than enough places to cast a fly, and thousands of men, women and children who enjoy the sport.
Trout rivers like the Davidson, the Tuckaseegee, the Chattooga, and the French Broad give anglers bountiful runs and pools in which to fish. With many more small streams, there’s a lifetime of fishing to be enjoyed.
Lakes Jocassee and Glenville hold a large population of both native and stocked trout. Find the small mouth bass in those two lakes, along with the French Broad, and the “Tuck,” and the fly-fishing is heating up. Just to top things off in these mountains, you’ll find a few muskies in the French Broad, to put you in business.
LINK : Discover more about fly fishing
WHITE WATER RAFTING
There’s a vibrant subculture of families who enjoy testing their mettle on Carolina whitewater rivers. There are age requirements dictated by the U.S. Forest Service, so plan accordingly if very young children are in your party. The good news is that even the novice can find a river that fits their skill level. For some, it’s simply being outside, enjoying the scenery from a raft. Others prefer a bouncy ride and intense action.
There are a number of great outfitters, but Nantahala Outdoor Center has been recognized by both National Geographic and Good Morning America. They offer a number of river trip options, broken down into family-friendly or action-packed categories.
Rivers to seek out include Nantahala, the French Broad, Cheoah and Chattooga. Most have accommodations nearby and good mountain restaurants for afterwards. In our experience, guides are knowledgeable and safety-conscious. The water can be bone-chilling, but the thrills are authentic and invigorating.
LINK : Read more about the Nantahala area.
It’s mostly man-made, but the good news is that the roads aren’t often impacted, so snow-skiing in the North Carolina mountains can be almost effortless.
The area’s largest, best-known resorts are Ski Beech, Sugar Mountain and Appalachian Ski Mountain, which offer some of the best views in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rounding out the cluster is Hawksnest Golf and Ski Resort, a fun and funky little area.
LINK : Read more about our one tiny winter sport
Mountain-inspired cuisine includes trout, of course, as well as apples, cornbread and ramps (a type of wild garlic). The chefs who pay homage to food with Carolina roots often have a well-seasoned cast iron pan in their kitchens. Their recipes may include slow-cooked, well-seasoned vegetables. Corn in the form of bread, pudding and succotash is another staple in the Appalachian Mountains.
But despite these somewhat humble descriptions, mountain cuisine is anything but mundane. Many local chefs honor the farm-to-table tradition, sourcing fresh cheese, herbs and free-range eggs for their delectable delicacies.
Ashten’s in Southern Pines won “Best Dish in NC” for 2010 in the fine dining category. Word is, their asparagus strudel wowed the judges. They consider themselves “comfortably elegant” and offer cuisine that’s global with a Southern twist.
The Table at Crestwood is in Boone, NC, and offers a creative mix of Southern fare with a European touch. They were awarded second place in the “Best Dish in NC” competition with their sweet potato and Tasso dish.
Simplicity Restaurant at the Mast Farm Inn features corn and potato chowder, Champagne chestnut chicken and mixed greens with local Gouda bleu cheese.
The Grove Park Inn Blue Ridge Dining Room is another restaurant with a long history of providing excellent food in the Asheville area.
There are tiny grocery stores tucked among these hills that offer specialty meats and cheeses and jams and jellies from local produce. And in season, apple orchards offer pick-your-own options to let you bring a bit of mountain goodness home.
LINK : List of area farmers markets in the Carolinas
IN GOOD COMPANY
Many families have built summer/ retirement homes in the shadows of Mount Mitchell and the peaks of Grandfather Mountain to the north, in Murphy and Cherokee to the west, in Cashiers and Highlands just two hours north of Atlanta, and in South Carolina’s mountain counties, an easy drive from Charleston, Columbia and the Upstate.
The region is served by local airports and a central regional facility in Asheville. National and international service is easily accessed by connection from these airports or from major hubs. Interstate and modern four-lane highways now penetrate even the most rural areas.
Comprehensive, specialized medical centers are located in Asheville and Greenville, SC, and even more highly specialized facilities are close.
Visitors seek out these mountains for relaxation and renewal. Many have found a sense of peace, and the opportunity to re-script their lives.
LINK : Read more about mountain living.