Distance: 150 miles, three-hour drive
Located on the fringe of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and two national forests, Maggie Valley, North Carolina has been a popular family resort town for decades. Described by many as “laid-back,” “old fashioned” and “kitschy – in a good way,” Maggie Valley is only 35 miles west of downtown Asheville and filled with vintage mom-and-pop motels, fun festivals, car and motorcycle rallies, plenty of craft shops for browsing and outdoorsy family fun.
Consider “checking out” for the weekend and leaving the family mobile devices behind (teenagers too!). Most all businesses are located along Soco Road, a five-mile stretch of US Highway 19, so navigation is no longer an excuse.
Start your mountain weekend out right with a stack of buttermilk pancakes at an authentic mountain pancake house. Since opening in 1966, Joey’s Pancake House has been a favorite breakfast stop for locals and visitors alike because of its incredibly delectable menu.
Take advantage of the amazing rivers and mountain streams. Purchase a three-day, $7.00 fishing license to fish in the designated Mountain Heritage Trout Waters in Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Forgot your fishing gear? Stop by the Maggie Valley Visitor Center and pick up a free tackle box filled with six lures/flies and borrow either a fly rod or a spinner rod.
Head to The Moonshine Grille for a mouth-watering, wood-fired Angus steak or fresh seafood with a side of local history. Enjoy the legends of the local folk such as Popcorn Sutton, known for his excellent moonshine and “Appalachian Headache Pills” (i.e., shine-soaked cherries). You’ll see how running shine turned into a national pastime that’s still enjoyed today.
Continue your white lightning education at Elevated Mountain Distilling. Bootleg moonshine has been a Great Smoky Mountain tradition for decades, thanks to pristine mountain streams. (Fun fact: their location is one of the few counties in the entire country where all their water originates within its borders!) Enjoy a free tour of their corn-to-whisky process and completely legal and legit samples of their craft creations from third generation whisky makers.
Enjoy an early dinner at Rendezvous, located inside the Maggie Valley Inn. A great place to wind down after a full day, the menu features yummy favorites like Southern fried chicken, ribs, steaks, seafood and the best hand-breaded chicken tenders in town. Bonus: Fido is welcome to join you in the outdoor tiki bar!
Wrap up your day in a traditional mountain town with some traditional Appalachian dancing at Stompin’ Ground, the clogging capital of the world. Twirl around the dance floor to live country and bluegrass music, or take a clogging lesson!
We already mentioned the plethora of mom-and-pop motels, but for a truly unique experience, book a room in a caboose on a working mountain farm with bison, llamas, goats, alpacas and more. Buffalo Creek is located in Pisgah National Forest, and also offers larger rental cabins for larger groups.
After a day spent getting in touch with your inner hillbilly with bluegrass music, moonshine and clogging and a good night’s rest, spend day two enjoying the natural wonders of the area! Hit the slopes at Cataloochee Ski Area, the southernmost ski slopes in the country. With an elevation of 5,400 feet and 18 slopes and trails ranging from beginner to expert, the ski area provides challenging fun for the entire family. Also known as one of the first ski areas to open and one of the last to close, you’re guaranteed one of the longest ski seasons in the South. Take a break to cozy up by the fire in the lodge and enjoy a delicious meal at the on-site restaurant and lounge.
Once you’ve exhausted yourself pizza- and French fry-ing your way down the slopes, take an afternoon hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Be on the lookout, though, the park is famous for its gang activity – gangs of wild elk, that is (yeah, that one was reaching a bit). For the more restful vacationers, take a guided or self-guided tour of the Backcross Chestnut Orchard at Cataloochee Ranch. A joint project with the American Chestnut Foundation, the orchard is part of an extensive effort to restore the American chestnut to the eastern woodlands. End your weekend with the drive home on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway – amazing sunsets are a daily occurrence!