Peak Season

Fall is the perfect time to pack up the car and make the short trip to the beautiful N.C. mountains. We take you through six great escapes with crisp air, postcard-worthy views, and plenty of peace and quiet


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The Biltmore Estate’s beautiful grounds are just as impressive as the interior of the iconic home.

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With air as crisp as the locally grown apples, the nearby N.C. mountains are one of the major perks of living in Charlotte. In as little as two hours, you can be in the midst of postcard-worthy scenery with rolling, tree-covered mountains in hues of orange, yellow, and red. Snap scenic shots of rushing waterfalls or relax by trickling streams in the southern Smokies, or head to the High Country for music and heritage events, serious hiking, or a winding drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s no greater time to head for higher ground than the fall, so break out the bluegrass and hit the road.

Asheville

Distance: 130 miles, 2 hours

Where to stay: Located in the heart of downtown, the Haywood Park Hotel is a 1920s department store turned boutique hotel. (From $159, 828-252-2522, haywoodpark.com) A stay here includes all the extras (think: champagne at check-in and turndown service with chocolate truffles), and you’ll be within easy walking distance of the Civic Center, Diana Wortham Theater, Grove Arcade, and more. Asheville has a long list of charming bed-and-breakfasts all over the city and sprinkled throughout the suburbs and nearby mountains. Check the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association’s listings to find the one that best matches your travel style. (877-262-6867, ashevillebba.com)

Where to eat: An Asheville institution, Laughing Seed Café has been a fixture on Wall Street since 1993 and offers a vegetarian menu with a global fusion flair.
(828-252-3445, laughingseed.jackofthewood.com)

Swing by Table for an intimate atmosphere, and choose from eclectic menu items like grilled baby octopus with pork belly, cantaloupe, shiso, dill, and black sesame. (828-254-8980, tableasheville.com) For fine dining in an uncommon setting, head north to the small town of Weaverville and snag a table at the Weaverville Milling Company Restaurant. A working gristmill until 1965, the space now offers a rustic atmosphere along with its specialty—N.C. mountain trout. (828-645-4700, weavervillemilling.com)

Insider Tip: The city’s eclectic River Arts District, situated along the French Broad River, is home to the studios of more than 165 local artists, creating everything from sculpture to raku pottery. (riverartsdistrict.com)

What to do: The majestic Biltmore House and its always-changing tour is a must-see, especially now that your ticket includes admission to The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad. Located in nearby Antler Hill Village & Winery, the new exhibit offers a fascinating look at the lives of George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt. (877-BILTMORE, biltmore.com) The brainchild of E. W. Grove (also the founder of the grand Grove Park Inn), the Grove Arcade was originally envisioned as a mixed-use development but became a federal building during World War II. After a long period of dormancy, it was restored to its original intent in 2002 with new shops, restaurants, and apartments. (828-252-7799, grovearcade.com) Asheville has long been a mecca for beer aficionados, and Green Man Brewing Company was one of the first breweries on the scene. (828-252-5502, greenmanbrewery.com)

 

Blowing Rock & Banner Elk

Distance: 110 miles, about 2.5 hours

Local produce stands stacked with juicy mountain apples, moccasins, and boiled peanuts dot the winding climb along Highway 321 as you approach this northwestern N.C. region known as the High Country. Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, with their parks, antiques shops, ice cream parlors, and deep-rooted Cherokee and Catawba heritage, are mountain getaways, perfect for those looking for a romantic retreat, an action-packed weekend, or a little bit of both. —V. B.

Where to stay: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Green Park Inn offers Victorian style in the heart of Blowing Rock. This inn, with its iconic green horse statue parked in front, offers golf, a restaurant run by an award-winning chef, and the chance to stay where Eleanor Roosevelt, John Rockefeller, and Henry Fonda once did. (From $129, 828-414-9230, greenparkinn.com) Banner Elk Winery & Villa, nestled in lush, rolling hills surrounded by grape vines and a blueberry orchard, is a self-contained retreat. Regal rooms make relaxing easy, and a stroll through the kitchen’s garden follows a farm-to-table dinner. (From $198, 828-260-1790, bannerelkwinery.com)

Insider Tip: For a back-roads route to a popular scenic lookout, take Green Hill Road from Highway 321 near the Greek Park Inn on a winding tour past beautiful homes and stunning views until you find Thunder Hill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The viaduct bridge is also worth fighting the crowds. Best times for a view of changing leaves? The second or third weeks in October.

Where to eat: With choices like Canadian elk Denver leg (aka rump), grilled and served with roasted acorn squash and fresh berries, the Gamekeeper is not for the picky eater. Its mountain charm and upscale dishes make it a favorite among the locals. (828-963-7400, gamekeeper-nc.com) For dramatic views—and live jazz—hit up Canyons for Sunday brunch. Having evolved from a speakeasy to a brothel, dance hall, casino, grocery store, and tavern, this spot offers a wide-ranging menu, from nachos to N.C. pan-seared trout. (828-295-7661, canyonsbr.com) At Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant, fill up on standards like New York strip or share some adventurous appetizers—cornmeal-dusted oysters, braised N.C. rabbit spring rolls, or country-fried S.C. quail. (877-295-3487, crippens.com)

What to do: Move over, Punxsutawney Phil. For thirty-five years, fuzzy black-and-brown worms have been this area’s winter-weather predictor. The Woolly Worm Festival—with arts vendors, music, requisite turkey legs, and a race of the woolly worms—spawns worm-themed parties at locals’ homes. (Oct. 20-21, downtown Banner Elk, woollyworm.com) In nearby Seven Devils, Hawksnest Zip Line offers a new Eagle course, which is nearly three miles long. Fly over creeks and trees at speeds up to fifty miles per hour,  2,000 feet up. (From $70, 800-822-4295, hawksnestzipline.com) Walk  a mile in the shoes of the Cone family (who made their money in textiles) as you hike the many trails in the expansive Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.

 

Highlands & Cashiers

Distance: 160 miles, about 3.5 hours

Overshadowed by Asheville for far too long, these sleepy mountain towns are just a three-plus-hour drive from Charlotte (minus the winding one-lane U.S. 64, which takes you into the heart of both towns). Since they’re so close to Georgia, Highlands and Cashiers have been more popular with Atlantans, but with an emerging dining and retail scene coupled with some of the best hiking trails and scenic waterfalls, there’s a reason this area is no longer a secret to Charlotteans. Cashiers is the laid-back, more casual version of Highlands, which boasts high-end stores and dining, along with the four-star Old Edwards Inn. —B. M.

Where to stay: Highlands Inn boasts thirty-one rooms with cozy traditional décor and a large covered porch perfect for enjoying hot cider. Open from April to November, the historic inn offers guests a daily hot country breakfast and a nightcap. (From $139, 828-526-9380, highlandsinn-nc.com) For a more upscale visit, book a room at Old Edwards Inn and Spa. This sixty-eight-room property (which will have ninety rooms plus an additional pool come spring) provides a secluded getaway with a private pool, outdoor stone fireplaces surrounded by Adirondack chairs perfect for roasting s’mores, and several rooms with balconies overlooking Main Street. (From $280, 866-526-8008, oldedwardsinn.com) Planning an extended stay or need more room? Rent a cottage or cabin through Sotheby’s. (828-526-4104, sothebys.com) This international premier real estate company offers luxury rentals throughout Highlands.  For Cashiers properties, consider renting through Cashiers Resort Rentals, through which you can find homes that are pet friendly and boast waterfall views. (cashiersresortrentals.com)

Insider Tip: Head down U.S. 64 about six miles from Highlands and pull off at Whiteside Mountain. The two-mile trail isn’t a difficult hike; but the hike’s not the reason you’re here. During the peak of the autumn season, usually the second or third week of October, you’ll take in a colorful view that spans four states—North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Where to eat: Foodies should make a reservation at Madison’s Restaurant & Wine Garden, where Chef Johannes Klapdohr uses produce from the restaurant’s organic garden in every dish. (828-787-2525, oldedwardsinn.com/dining) For Southern cooking—i.e., shrimp and grits—head to The Orchard Restaurant. (828-743-7614, theorchardcashiers.com) The casual atmosphere coupled with locally caught fish and specialties (fried green tomatoes!) makes this a local favorite.

What to do: A trip to this area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the area’s stunning waterfalls. Stop by Bridal Veil Falls in the Nantahala National Forest and catch a glimpse of the sixty-foot-high falls. For the shopper, hit up one of Scudder’s Galleries’ nightly antique auctions. (828-526-4111, scuddersgallery.com) Bid on vintage jewelry or nineteenth-century French and English antiques, or just watch as others battle it out. For vintage finds, shop Summer Place Antiques, where interior designer Susan Young stocks her shop with rehabbed chandeliers and sconces from Western Europe, and Americana and twentieth-century antiques from New England. (828-743-9151, summerplaceantiques.com)

 

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