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linn cove viaduct in blue ridge mountains at night

Southern Routes 2015

Get On the Ground and Out of the Fast Lane

linn cove viaduct in blue ridge mountains at nightWe’ve all been frequent flyers or interstate road warriors at different times in our lives. Those may be efficient ways to get to business meetings and family vacation destinations, but you can miss a lot when vaulting over or zipping through entire regions as if they otherwise didn’t exist.

With gas prices projected to remain relatively low for the balance of the year, now is the perfect time to fill in some of those blanks. In the pages that follow, you’ll find five suggested “Southern Routes 2015” designed to get you out of the clouds and off the beaten path. There are so many towns and cities in America that are so much more than just dots on a map. Each one is a vital community full of good folks who are proud of where they live and welcome new neighbors. Many have deep family roots in those places, but—especially in the South these days—many others have migrated to those communities for a variety of reasons: milder winter weather, lower property taxes and costs of living, and closer proximity to outdoor recreation opportunities or family members who now live in the area, to name just a few.

iStock_000031427388_FullloSo pitch the idea of taking a good old-fashioned road trip over dinner tonight and the odds are that you’ll get a positive response. In our recommended “Southern Routes 2015,” we’ve highlighted some cultural amenities and seasonal events that you might want to include on your itinerary, but we hope you’ll enjoy those as an introduction, not a conclusion. Keep your travel schedule flexible, so that when you discover a town that has a good “feel” about it, you can linger for a day or two to explore the area more thoroughly.

Downtown Savannah , Georgia, along riverfront at nightWhether your road trip preference takes you to the mountains or the coast or the midlands in between, make your “Southern Routes 2015” a mission of discovery. We think you’ll like what you find and might just decide to put down some “Southern roots” of your own.

An Appalachian Mountain Odyssey

Three remarkable roads run through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina to the foothills of South Carolina. Each can be traveled separately in a weekend or strung together for a full-week highland adventure.

Skyline Drive

The historic Virginia town of Front Royal is where you’ll find the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park and the start of the 106-mile-long parkway known as Skyline Drive. More than 70 designated roadside overlooks entice you to stop and admire the views on the way to a lunch break or overnight stay near the road’s halfway point at Big Meadows. Skyline Drive’s second half is every bit as gorgeous as the first and brings you to the town of Waynesboro in the center of an emerging highland-lifestyle residential area that includes Staunton to the west and Charlottesville to the east.

Blue Ridge Parkway

ewg_house_spring12x8__largeloSkyline Drive connects directly with the northern end of the world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway and its 469 miles of mountain-view splendor. Humpback Rocks, Wigwam Falls, Whites Gap Overlook and Fallingwater Cascade are scenic highlights on the way to the Peaks of Otter, a good place to stop for a refreshment break. Then continue south to the Parkway exit near Roanoke, a small but vibrant city which bills itself as a “bicycle-friendly community” that people from all over America and more than 100 other countries now call home. The Parkway crosses the North Carolina line near Cumberland Knob and proceeds through Air Bellows Gap and by Jumpinoff Rock to an exit for the nearby mountain towns of Boone and Blowing Rock. You’ll find good overnight accommodations here and a chance to visit some of the area’s new communities that focus on environmental enhancement with sustainable designs. Further on, the Parkway stops include historic Grandfather Mountain, Linville Falls and Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Next up is Asheville, and you’ll want to linger for a couple of days in this laid-back regional hub of cultural activities, outdoor recreations and highland neighborhoods that offer stunning views. Tour the awesome Biltmore Estate and enjoy events like the 68th Annual Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands (July 16-19) while in the area.

Cherokee Foothills Byway

A teenager standing on the edge of a cliffThe Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC Highway 11) is accessible from Asheville after a mountain-gap drive down I-26 East. The scenic road actually starts near the town of Gaffney and runs for about 130 miles through Upstate South Carolina. Highlights along the route include the Jones Gap, Caesars Head and Table Rock state parks, as well as numerous roadside markets that offer local produce and crafts. Take some time to explore the area and you’ll also discover new countryside communities that offer convenient access to the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area, highland retreats near the towns of Pickens, Walhalla and Clemson, and waterfront neighborhoods around Lake Jocassee and Lake Keowee.

By J G Walker Previously published in the 2015 Spring Issue

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