If you look at my map of the southeast, I have a large red thumbtack directly over my house. Around that thumbtack are a series of concentric circles with a radius of 50, 100, 150, and 200 miles, roughly equating to 1, 2, 3, and 4 hours of drivetime. Depending on my days off, whether I’m looking for a quick weekend trip or a solid 4 days of adventure, I look at my options inside those rings of concentric circles. If only a Saturday and Sunday is available, spending 8 hours of total drive time seems to be a bit of a waste. Typically I try to keep my weekend warrior trips to less than 4 hours round trip, and one of my favorite ares is the adventure triangle between Roan Mountain TN, Damascus VA, and Boone NC.
The nearest corner to York County is Boone, clocking in at only a 2 hour drive, and is the perfect launchpad for a huge array of adventures. You have snow sports at Sugar and Beech Mountain resorts, hiking at Grandfather Mountain and Elk Knob State Parks, paddling on the New River, fishing on the Watauga River, and I’m not even touching on all of the small parks scattered around the town and the Blue Ridge Parkway. My next “Must do” hike was done by a friend about a year ago. Across from Elk Knob State Park, is the “Snake Mountain Trail” which follows an exposed rocky ridgeline with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and valleys; the views from nearby Elk Knob are spectacular as well, but it’s just a single summit. Walking along the long ridge will give a different perspective with almost every step, and will probably be my next adventure this spring.
Heading west from our first point of the triangle brings you to Roan Mountain TN. A small mountain community, (containing Bob’s Dairyland and the best huckleberry ice cream you’ll find anywhere), surrounded by some of the best hiking the Appalachian Trail has to offer in the south east. Carvers Gap is one of the most heavily visited areas, right off highway 19E, and in the summer is where the annual Rhododendron Festival is held, the hills awash in bright colors from the flowering bushes. If you head north along the AT, you come to one of the most unique trail shelters possible: the Overmountain Shelter, an old barn that’s used to house hikers and probably many small field mice from nasty weather. A bit further north, you have some great options for day hikes to Laurel Falls or Coon Den Falls or paddling on the mostly uninhabited Watauga Lake. If you’re needing a more comfortable home base than a tent beside a trail, Roan Mountain State Park has the normal state park amenities: a campground, cabins, river access, a volleyball court, but it also includes a living history farm a short drive away. I only visited there once, in winter, when the gate to the access road was closed and I made the ill fated choice of walking up. While the experience of walking around the old farm was enjoyable, the experience of walking up 1300’ of elevation gain over 1.3 miles to arrive was not...I highly recommend the road being taken by car.
The peak of the adventure triangle ends in Damascus VA, unofficial “Trail Town USA”. Every year they hold an annual “Trail Days” festival to celebrate the thousands of hikers who enjoy the Appalachian Trail which runs directly through the town. If you enjoy people watching and meeting interesting characters, mark your calendar and prepare for the Southeast’s nearest thing to Burning Man. More relaxed is the other popular trail that runs through town, the Virginia Creeper Trail. A great option for all ages, you can rent a bike and shuttle up the road and ride the very gentle downhill slope along an old railbed, crossing trestles every so often across Whitetop Laurel Creek. Another great section of the AT heads north past Grayson Highlands State Park which earns every accolade you’ll ever read. With scenery feeling like it was ripped straight from the Scottish Highlands, the only difference is instead of herds of sheep wandering the craggy heights is there are herds of wild ponies. If rock climbing is more your speed, there are bouldering options as well with routes ranging from V-Beginner to V13. Long closed to climbing, it is now protected and encouraged: visit www.mountainproject.com for more information.
I’ve only scratched the surface of all the adventures possible within this easy weekend-warrior drive to the borders of 3 states. Six trips in 2 years has yet to have me bored with the area, and now that I’ve written all the options down I’m already planning a 7th. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.