A Weekend in the Appalachian Mountains {Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, & Kentucky}

Things have been a little crazy for me lately. Amid a terrible heat wave that I was sure would kill me off, I spent a week welcoming our new international students to the university with a lot of activities and workshops and tours that I was in charge of. We also celebrated my daughter’s birthday with a bunch of neighbors and friends braving the heat to come and play games with us in our backyard.

But at the end of that week came the end of my current job and the beginning of a new one. My new position will be working with the study abroad part of the office instead of the international student services part. I’m excited to learn and grow in different ways, but there is a lot to learn in this new position.

Along with my new job, I was asked to teach a course at the university focused on international students wanting to learn more about US culture and education. So this fall I will also be working as an adjunct professor in the Global Studies department. My class is made up of mostly students I was working with during the orientation week which helps to then step in and continue working with them in this capacity.

All of that is to say that my mental bandwidth has been a little stretched thin lately. So with a long weekend ahead of us, we decided to get out of town and go find some balance in the mountains. And there is no better place to do that than the Appalachian Mountains. For this visit, we decided on the northeast corner of Tennessee that also touches Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park & Carter Mansion {Tennessee}

We drove 4 hours to the northeast corner of Tennessee to the base of this part of the Appalachian Mountains. This mountain range goes about 2,000 miles down the east part of the country.

Our first stop on our Appalachian weekend was to Sycamore Shoals State Park that sits on the banks of the historic Watauga River. The first permanent settlement in this area was in 1770 and was one of the first west of the Appalachian mountains. The settlement started with the fort and then spread out from there after the Revolutionary War.

Visitors to the park can walk through a recreated fort that gives an good look at what it would have looked like at the time. The park offers demonstrations and tours for a deeper understanding of the complicated relationship between the settlers and the Native American tribes that lived here.

During the Revolutionary War the fort here served as a defense post and also a gathering area for the Overmountain soldiers fighting in the war. Overmountain men were frontiersmen who came from what was then the wild west territories and crossed over the Appalachian mountains to come and fight in the war. They were an important part of the revolution because they brought their knowledge of the land and fierce belief in freedom. The park honors those men with a statue at the entrance of the visitor center.

While we were at the park, the trees were buzzing loudly with the ruckus sound of hundreds of cicadas. We happened to see one of these musical bugs on the tree and were amazed at how big it was. Nothing says summer in the south like the buzz of cicadas.

After the park, we drove a few minutes down the road to see the Carter Mansion. A little while ago, my blogging friend The Travel Architect and I were talking about the oldest buildings in the states we live. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see Tennessee’s oldest building. The mansion was home to the Carter family who were prominent businessmen, political leaders, and military soldiers when the settlement was first established.

Beech Mountain Resort {North Carolina}

After enjoying the state park, we drove a ways until we found ourselves in North Carolina. We pulled into Beech Mountain Resort and were amazed at the incredible mountain views everywhere we looked.

Beech Mountain is the largest and most popular ski resort in the south. Since the south doesn’t really get a lot of snow, the fact that there is any ski resort is something of a wonder. Obviously, we visited in the off season where the ski trails serve for mountain bikers and hikers. Watching the mountain bikers swoop down those trails was incredible. I think next time we visit I want to take the trails like that.

During the off season, visitors can purchase an all day lift pass for $17/person. Whether that is for biking or just to take the scenic tour, it is a great way to see the mountain. We opted instead to hike up the main trail and learned just how out of practice those hiking muscles are. But even then, it felt so good to move and hike and breathe in the mountain air.

The Blue Ridge Parkway & Linville Falls {North Carolina}

We were pretty excited when we turned onto the legendary Blue Ridge National Parkway. The parkway goes from Smokey Mountain National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with a total of 469 miles to cruise between them. This parkway is one America’s most popular roads that offers incredible scenic views of the mountains.

Most people are surprised to learn that a lot of the Blue Ridge Parkway is not some big massive road, but only a two lane road that winds itself through the mountains and valleys at a slow pace that is perfect for a scenic tour.

We pulled off from the parkway so we could go and hike to Linville Falls. As we crossed the river from the visitor center we could see the first signs of fall beginning to pop out in the trees.

The hike to the falls is not difficult and it takes you through some beautiful rock ways and past lines of rhododendron bushes. The hike is about half a mile to the falls and the path is a gentle hike so people of all ages can enjoy it.

We reached the end of the trail and could look out to the falls where the peaceful river we had crossed earlier was cascading over the rocks. Even though there are signs posted everywhere about not crossing the wall and swimming in the water, it didn’t seem to stop all the people from doing that.

Just after the falls, the water goes around a small bend and becomes a rushing river down through the rocks of the gorge. It was amazing to see it change in such a short span from slow and smooth to fast and wild just by facing a different direction.

The Cumberland Gap {Virginia, Kentucky, & Tennessee}

It was as we were leaving the parking lot of the falls that we noticed a terrible thumping noise and vibration coming from our car. We were a couple hours from our hotel and all the more from home. We decided the best thing to do was take it slow back to the hotel and get it in the shop first thing in the morning at a local mechanic.

In the morning we were at the shop as soon as they opened. They were so gracious and said they would move us to the first of the days projects since we had to get home. We waited for a few hours while they looked over the car, ordered the parts, and replaced the things that were needed. Our car is pushing 400,000 miles and has taken us all over the country. We have had to replace some parts here and there but we are determined to reach 400K if not 500K.

The car trouble had us leaving hours later than we originally planned, but still we decided to take the detour up through the tail of Virginia so that we could see the Cumberland Gap. The Cumberland Gap has served as a natural break in the Appalachian Mountains and thereby a traveling path from one side of the mountains to the other.

This path has been used by people for thousands of years and was considered the first gateway to the west. Beginning with Native Americans following the bison herds, to frontiersmen and settlers, the Cumberland Gap has seen over 300,00 people throughout its history.

The Cumberland Gap sits on the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia and from the highest peak visitors can see out to all those states. With 85 miles of trails in the 14,000 acres of land, there is not end to opportunities to connect with the legacy of all the people who have come here before.

Sadly, the car repairs had put us too late to really get out and hike some of the trails. With 4 hours of driving ahead of us to get home, we would have to come back another time to really see the Cumberland Gap.

Even with the car and the delay, the weekend had been the perfect mountain escape for a few days. There is nothing better than hiking in the mountains to soothe the soul and steady the mind and it was the restorative I needed after a crazy few weeks.

Need some more places in the Appalachians? Then you may be interested in these places:

Bristol- Tennessee & Virginia

Gauley River- West Virginia

Smokey Mountain National Park- Tennessee

Thanks for coming to this weekend in the Appalachian Mountains. May paths and rivers take you through the mountains.

35 responses to “A Weekend in the Appalachian Mountains {Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, & Kentucky}”

  1. What a lovely place to get away from the pressures of work and I totally agree that a walk in the hills clears the mind and is so good for one’s well being. Sorry to learn that you had car issues but gosh, your car is doing well to have put so many miles on the clock. I visited Shenandoah NP a long while ago but haven’t been elsewhere along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Another great post Meg.

    • Thank you Marion 🙂 It is hard to complain about car issues when the car has taken us so far for so long. How amazing would it be if we can make it to 500,000 miles! I haven’t been to Shenandoah yet but it is definitely on my list. I hope you have a great week!

  2. Love the photo, it reminds me of some of the fields and hills we have here in Normandie. My Granny used to say that green was God’s favorite color, that is why he made so much of it, and it it quite calming.

    • oh that is a lovely thought, I can absolutely see green as God’s favorite color when you see the layers of earth and trees in different parts of the world. Nothing better than beautiful hills and mountains 🙂

  3. Oh my, you have been busy! I hope you enjoy your new position and the teaching post as well; congratulations! I imagine working with international students is very rewarding. We hosted exchange students from Japan years ago and found it to be a wonderfully rewarding experience. You packed a lot into your weekend getaway! Being in nature is the best remedy for frazzled nerves. Lovely post and beautiful photos too!

    • Thank you! I’ve really loved working with the international students and having so many of them then join my class made it seem far less intimidating. It will be an interesting change for me. But getting away to the mountains was absolutely the remedy I’ve needed. 🙂

  4. What can be better then making time to escape to the hills and immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding natural environment and picturesque small-town communities of the Blue Ridge Mountains? Being in nature can help clear your head and bring you into the present moment, and is a great way to de-stress and relax. Especially as the busy-ness of returning to work can often feel overwhelming. I’m wishing you lots of success and happiness in your new job. Best of luck to you! Aiva xx

    • Thank you Aiva! 🙂 That is very perfectly and poetically said about nature. It is like a magic balm that soothes all the aliments of life. I’m already making plans to get back and see more of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I hope you have a great week! –Meg

  5. I can feel the heat through your photos, those blue skies look scorching. The car trouble is so annoying but it still looks like a really wonderful weekend away. Good luck in your new job Meg 🙂

    • Thanks Hannah! 🙂 Even with some car troubles and the heat, being in the mountains made for a great escape. It is just hard to complain about car troubles when that car has taken us so far for so long. But now it’s all ready for another great roadtrip.

  6. First of all, congrats on your new job and teaching responsibilities. That sounds really interesting, professor! Also, thanks for the shout out. I remember that discussion. Your long weekend looks dreamy. I always envy you folks who can drive a few hours and be in the mountains. That area of the country looks so inviting. I really must get down there. (We drove through from WI to FL on the interstate a couple of times when I was a kid, but that’s it.) I’m so glad they could get parts for your car on the same day. Oh, also interesting that they don’t want people in the river. I looks a lot like Gooseberry Falls State Park here in MN, and people are welcome to play in the river. Maybe the warnings are there because it turns dangerous a bit further on?

    • Thank you- I’m feeling a little nervous and a little excited about the new jobs. Luckily, most of the students in my class are ones I’ve been working with so it makes it a little less intimidating. You just can’t beat a weekend in the mountains. Of course I keep telling my hubby that we need to venture north and see the beauty of Minnesota and if we do I think Gooseberry Falls needs to be on the list. 🙂 I think not wanting people in Linville Falls has got to be because the water turns to rapids so quickly. That rushing water through the gorge made me a little uneasy just watching it.

    • Thank you- I’m excited for the new jobs but feeling a little nervous too. I think you’re right about the song! No question why the gap is so inspiring for music and adventuring alike 🙂

  7. Wow, almost 400,000 miles? That’s impressive! It too bad the car repairs got in the way of the last day, but it sounds like a fun weekend overall. I hiked to Linville Falls a few years back but it must have been a different trail because I recall seeing it from above from more of an overlook.

    • Car repairs are never a fun part of a trip, but at the same time it’s hard to complain too much since the car has taken us all over the country. I would have loved to take the overlook trail too and see the falls from a different perspective. I’ll have to put that on the list for next time. I hope you have a great week 🙂

  8. Perfect weekend Meg, apart from the car trouble, very fortunate that you found somewhere quickly. I’ve read a few stories about the people who lived in the Appalachian Mountains, they were the poorest of the poor by all accounts. But the lowest were the blue skinned people, you don’t hear about that now.

    • It would be fascinating to read the different stories of all the people who called those mountains home. I know when we’ve visited Smokey Mountain National Park you can see these small homes tucked away throughout the mountains so apart from anything else. The car trouble was not great, but we did feel so lucky to be able to get it fixed since it was a holiday and a lot of businesses were closed. I hope you have a great week Ali 🙂

  9. What a perfect place to escape to for a few days! There’s definitely something about mountain air that refreshes the soul as well as the body. And congratulations on the new job!

  10. Congrats on the new job and being asked to teach a course at the university. What better way to celebrate and recharge than by spending time outdoors. There’s always something so special about being up in the mountains. Looks like you had wonderful weather to explore some sections of the Appalachians. We visited Linville Falls a couple of years ago.

    • Thank you- I’m excited for this change in direction. Going to the mountains is always the best and just good for the soul. Linville Falls seems like a very popular spot there along the parkway and it is easy to see why. I hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  11. Enjoyed that, Meg. Beautifully photographed and interesting. Even I have heard of the Cumberland Gap! I share your pain on the car front – I keep wondering when my old VW is going to pack in. The new job sounds great – all the very best with it!

  12. Exciting new career news, Meg. Congratulations on both appointments and on managing to survive the heat wave. I love the look of the Carter Mansion, it has a certain quiet dignity and seems exceptionally well preserved. The car trouble is annoying especially since it prevented you from hiking the Cumberland Gap. However, it sounds like it could have been a lot worse if not for the understanding folks at the shop. I’m glad that this weekend away helped you to find some balance and tranquility during what was a hectic period. Hope the temps are down by this point.

    • Thanks Leighton 🙂 thankfully I managed to survive the heat and now I think fall is just around the corner. And fall in Tennessee is always a favorite. Carter Mansion surprised me with how well preserved it is and just its classic frontier look. Even with car troubles, it was a great weekend away. It’s tough to complain too much about the car needing work when it has taken us so far for so long and when the car shop is gracious enough to get us fixed up. We are determined to get our car to 500K. I hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  13. That is wonderful, those student must appreciate so much what you do for them to help them acclimate.
    That waterfall looks so beautiful and refreshing.

    • Thank you, that is so kind of you to say. I really enjoy the activities with them even when its busy. The falls were lovely and definitely refreshed my soul 🙂 I hope you have a great week – Meg

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