There’s just something about fall in the South that’s magical. Maybe it’s the cool, crisp air that signals the final surrender of summer’s unrelenting heat, the way the sunlight hits everything a little softer, or, the excitement and anticipation that comes along with peak leaf season. (And, yes, of course, football season.) Whatever the reason, it’s one of the best times of the year to pack up the car and explore.
From the inviting mountain towns of Western North Carolina to historic cities in Central Virginia, here are eight weekend getaway ideas to help you start planning your next fall road trips:
North Carolina Road Trips
Franklin, NC: 3h 10m
Downtown Franklin looks as though it’s straight out of a Hallmark movie with a charming main street that’s backdrop consists of the surrounding mountains, which showcase the vivid seasonal colors perfectly. The town itself is postcard-worthy and full of local coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, and museums, but it’s the town’s surroundings that truly make it a desirable destination during autumn. From scenic drives, sweeping visitas, and roaring waterfalls, you’ll find it all in Franklin.
Where to stay: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Franklin Terrace Bed & Breakfast offers overnight guests a welcomed respite after a long day exploring. The Antebellum-style building has been a community staple since it was originally built in 1887. Downtown Franklin is within walking distance.
What to do: Be sure to visit the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower, which sits an elevation of 5,342 ft. and has captivating, panoramic views of the countryside below. On a clear day you can see not only see across state lines into Tennessee, but also parts of Georgia.
Take a drive along the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, a 61-mile route that winds through the Nantahala National Forest and Cullasaja Gorge. The route will also take you past several waterfalls and scenic overlooks.
Lexington, NC: 1h
If you’ve lived in North Carolina for any amount of time then you know that the small town of Lexington is famous for its barbecue — and rightly so. Not only does the town host an annual barbecue festival that draws in more than 100,000 people every October, but it’s also home to more than a dozen popular barbecue joints. However, the Lexington has a lot more to offer visitors than just delicious barbecue. The historic downtown area is brimming with local shops and eateries, and is definitely worth exploring. And, be sure to stop by Conrad and Hinkle, an old-fashioned grocery store that opened in 1919 and is well-known for its pimento cheese that’s made fresh daily.
Where to stay: Options are limited to mostly chain hotels in the area, but one stands out among the rest for its desirable location. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lexington sits adjacent to Childress Vineyards, making it easy for guests to walk from one to the other.
What to do: Check out Lexington’s annual Barbecue Festival on Saturday, Oct. 26. (Admission is free.)
To get outdoors and take in the fall colors hike one of the trails at Boone’s Cave Park, or, take a trip along the Yadkin River on the Daniel Boone Heritage Canoe Trail that stretches to 22 miles. Several vineyards are also nearby, including Childress Vineyards, Native Vines Winery, and Junius Lindsay Vineyard.
Saluda, NC: 1h 45m
If you’re looking for a quick mountain escape that’s less than two hours away from Uptown Charlotte, add Saluda to your must-visit list. The area delivers everything from fresh mountain air and picturesque views to a lively Main Street teeming with shops and restaurants. There are also countless outdoor activities to choose between — options range from ziplining to fly fishing.
Where to stay: Located only a block away from Saluda’s Main Street Blue Firefly Inn, is conveniently within walking distance of everything the downtown area has to offer from art galleries and antique stores. Too tired to venture out after leaf-peeping? Unwind on the inn’s expansive wrap-around porch, or, warm up by the firepit. As an added bonus — past guests rave about Blue Firefly’s breakfast, which is included with your stay.
What to do: Book a zipline excursion at The Gorge, where you’ll not only get to experience an adrenaline-pumping adventure, but also get to take in Mother Nature’s dazzling fall display from a unique vantage point while soaring through the foliage-laden trees.
Waynesville, NC: 2h 30m
Switch things up from a typical mountain weekend in Asheville and opt for one of Western North Carolina’s other gems, Waynesville. As the largest town in WNC, Waynesville has a lot to offer visitors, including luxury resorts, annual harvest festivals, a variety of hiking trails, and easy access to one of America’s most iconic drives.
Where to stay: Not only is The Swag one of the most luxurious places to stay in North Carolina, but the mountaintop resort also offers sweeping views of the Smoky Mountains that are unparalleled.
What to do: Celebrate the season at the annual Apple Harvest Festival on Saturday, Oct. 19 in downtown Waynesville.
To experience some of the most spectacular fall foliage in the state head west out of town and hop on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 443.1 — the Balsam Gap entrance. For 360-degree mountain views, continue along the parkway to Devil’s Courthouse located at milepost 422.4.
Virginia Road Trips
Burke’s Garden, VA: 3h 15m
For a quiet and relaxing getaway consider a trip to Burke’s Garden — also known as “God’s Thumbprint” for its distinctive landscape that resembles the impression of a fingerprint from the air. The unique area was created when limestone caverns collapsed leaving an isolated valley that’s completely surrounded by mountains. The valley is 10 miles in diameter, is home to only around 300 people, and seems to move at a much slower pace than the rest of the world. More often than not, you can spot a horse-drawn carriage making its way down the road. Burke’s Garden is gorgeous year-round, and its beauty is only intensified when the tree leaves turn to burnt oranges, bright reds, and deep maroons.
Where to stay: There aren’t many options when it comes to places to stay in Burkes Garden, but if you’re willing to make a short 30-minute drive, the historic Bluefield Inn is well worth the extra mileage. The inn’s veranda is the ideal spot to pull up a rocking chair and relax after a long day spent taking in the sights.
What to do: Hop on The Back of The Dragon, a scenic 32-mile drive that crosses three mountain ranges, and boasts 438 curves.
Charlottesville, VA: 4h 30m
Situated at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville, is a quintessential Virginia town that’s drenched in deep-rooted history and exudes Southern charm and hospitality. There, you can take in a history lesson at Thomas Jefferson’s stately Monticello, peruse the many shops of the Downtown Mall, or indulge in the city’s vibrant culinary scene.
Where to stay: For a luxury retreat book a room at the Boar’s Head Resort. Request a lake-view room for spectacular views of the property while it’s blanketed in rich, autumn colors.
What to do: Take a quick detour from downtown Charlottesville and visit Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards for some of the best wine, food, and hospitality in the commonwealth. The vineyard also boasts breathtaking views of Virginia’s rolling farmland that really shows off during peak leaf season.
As for must-visit restaurants, Tavola, should be at the top of your list. It’s a small, intimate restaurant that serves up incredible Italian dishes that will have you planning your next visit before you’ve even finished your meal.
To fully experience Charlottesville, purchase tickets to a University of Virginia football game. (Go Hoos)
Nelson County, VA: 3h 45m
Scenic Routes 29 and 151 wind through Nelson County, giving travelers a front-row seat to Virginia’s vibrant fall foliage. Also along the colorful routes you’ll find some of the state’s best wineries, breweries, and cideries, including Veritas Vineyard & Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyard, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Wood Ridge Farm Brewery, and Bold Rock Hard Cider.
Where to stay: Book a night, or two, at The Farmhouse at Veritas, an eight-room bed and breakfast that’s directly adjacent to Veritas Vineyards and Winery. Along with the property’s luxe amenities, guests will get to enjoy a farm-to-table, chef-prepared breakfast each morning as well as a evening wine hour.
What to do: When you aren’t busy tasting wine or enjoying a cold craft brew (responsibly), pop by one of the many pick-your-own apple orchards or pumpkin patches in the area. You’ll also find a bevy of harvest festivals to attend from the beginning of October through the end of November.
Pembroke, VA: 3h
Pembroke is the ultimate getaway for travelers looking to get outside and stay active this fall. The area is nicknamed the Gateway to the Cascades for its crown jewel, Cascade Falls, a 66-ft. natural waterfall that can be reached by a four-mile hike. Giles County — where Pembroke is located — is home to 37 miles of the New River and New River Water Trail and more than 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail and Great Eastern Trail, giving hikers plenty of options.
Where to stay: Nestled in the picturesque Appalachian Mountains on a 2,600-acre nature preserve, Mountain Lake Lodge, provides guests with plenty of options when it comes to places to stay. You can take your pick from one of the lodge’s guest rooms, cabins, or rustic cottages. The lodge’s most notable claim to fame is for being one of the main filming locations for “Dirty Dancing”.
What to do: Hike the Cascades National Recreation Trail — a four-mile loop that leads to Cascade Falls. Several other trails can be found nearby, including the War Spur Trail and Wind Rock Trail, which both cut through the Mountain Lake Wilderness and offer spectacular views from their overlooks.
Where are your favorite places to take a road trip during the fall?
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