The Appalachian mountain region, with its wave-like valleys, cascading peaks, and lush forests, is hands-down among the most jaw-dropping terrains in the Western Hemisphere. One of the oldest Mountain ranges in North America is said to have played host to the Moon-eyed people, a mythical group of short, bearded, white-skinned race who roamed the wilds of this region years before the English and Spanish settlers. All these imbue the Appalachian mountains with a halo of eeriness that is both mysterious and attractive. If you are tempted to explore the spellbinding majesty of the Appalachian Mountain region, the following small towns have been ranked among U.S. favorites and can serve as perfect base camps.
Once called "Wolf Hills" by a frontiersman as he passed through the area, Abingdon lies in the Blue Ridge highlands of the Appalachian Mountains, close to the border with Tennessee, about 15 miles northeast of Bristol. While one of the town's claims to fame is that it is the s largest burley tobacco market in Virginia, Abingdon also boasts a well-established reputation as a vacation destination and is often ranked among U.S. favorites. One of Abingdon's star attractions is the Barter Theatre, the longest-running professional Equity theater in the United States. Regarding its culinary landscape, a feature many vacationers highly prize, Abingdon arguably boasts more restaurants per capita than even the Big Apple. A popular go-to restaurant in Abingdon is Summers Roof and Cellar, where patrons enjoy delicious meals, complete with a full view of the facility's open kitchen — as well as the downtown area and the surrounding mountains.
If you want to understand why Damascus is the quintessential Trail town, consider that up to seven nationally known trails intersect within its limits. Few other towns in the United States can hold a candle to this remarkable feat. A beloved pit stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, Damascus boasts a population of less than 800 residents. Aside from boasting one of the finest outdoor recreation theaters in the Southeast, due to the abundance of parks and recreation areas in its backyard, including Backbone Rock Recreation Area, often called the "World's Shortest Highway Tunnel," Damascus also stages the Appalachian Trail Days Festival, a 72-hour carnival that typically sees the town's population swell from less than 800 — to more than 20,000.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
You could be a difficult person to impress if — after setting foot in Georgia's Blue Ridge town — you come back unimpressed or only slightly affected. Once a go-to health resort patronized by the well-heeled because of its pure mineral waters, and where vacationers would embark on a leisurely stroll to the mineral springs after the kind of dinner that only wealth could afford, Blue Ridge is today a first-class vacation destination first-time visitors often do not get enough of. Southern Living, for instance, ranked it as among the 2022 South's Best Mountain Towns. Besides boasting a vibrant arts scene that features popular venues such as Blue Ridge Community Theater — where movie-goers spend fright-filled evenings enjoying Appalachian ghost stories — Blue Ridge also boasts other attractions such as the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway as well as the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Beloved by vacationers of every stripe, Black Mountain is a North Carolina stunner nestled 15 miles from Asheville on the eastern edge of North Carolina's Buncombe County. Named for the eponymous mountain range, and hence encircled by heart-melting mountain views, this North Carolina treasure has been called the "Prettiest Small Town in America" by readers of TripAdvisor. Besides Black Mountain's storybook backdrop, its downtown area is vivacious and pretty — and features a delightful array of shopping and dining options. Then again, Black Mountain is home to a campus of Montreat College, and because of this, a vibrant college town suitable for the young at heart. What's more? Which other town scatters dozens of massive rocking chairs within its precincts to welcome visitors?
Hidden in the Cumberland Plateau of Central Kentucky, Berea is content to be largely unknown— or if known — underappreciated. Regardless, those who have set foot in this incredibly charming mountain town swear it is their favorite Appalachian small town. Berea boasts a population of about 16,500 and is an arts hub where both first-time and repeat visitors enjoy shopping for one-of-a-kind, locally handmade products. Berea is also famous for being home to Berea College, the first interracial college in the South and which boasts Nobel Prize winner John Fenn, a celebrated analytical chemistry professor, among its alumni. Art lovers will want to stroll through the town's Artisan Village District, or better still, the Kentucky Artisan Center, a popular gallery that features the work of more than 800 Kentucky artisans.
With one face towards Virginia and another towards Tennessee, Bristol is a unique town by every account. Secreted in the Appalachian Mountains and encircled by the picturesque South Holston Lake, one of the most visited lakes in this part of the United States, Bristol boasts an animated downtown area — and in its backyard —an outdoor paradise. This one-of-a-kind twin-state charmer also plays host to some of the finest BBQ restaurants in the state, including the popular Burger Bar, which often dazzles patrons with its old-school diner vibes and where Hiram "Hank" Williams, one of the most celebrated songwriters of the 20th century — had his last meal. One of the town's landmarks is its historic sign emblazoned with the words: "A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE."
Bryson City, North Carolina
While only about 1,400 residents call Bryson City home, this North Carolina beauty lives rent-free in the minds of thousands of vacationers. Located close to the confluence of the Tuckasegee River and Deep Creek, about 70 miles southwest of Asheville, Bryson City looks like a scene from a movie. A nature-wrapped bastion of 19th-century brick buildings, wide sidewalks, and colorful storefronts, Bryson often plants a smile on the faces of first-time visitors. While Bryson is a year-round destination, if you come in November or December, you can enjoy the popular 75-minute Polar Express Train roundtrip, which includes a lifetime visit to the North Pole. What's more? Bryson's downtown area exudes the distinctive antiquated allure most vacationers find irresistible.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
This U.S. favorite is located about two hours northwest of Charlotte on the crest of the Blue Ridge. With such a setting, Blowing Rock often casts a spell on first-time visitors. While Blowing Rock mostly lies in Watauga County, some portions are in Caldwell County. These include the actual Blowing Rock Cliff, one of the town's star attractions. The name of this famous cliff is the stuff of a fascinating legend that will pique the interest of first-time visitors. Today, however, observant visitors to Blowing Rock Cliff will notice a peculiar current of air that flows upward from the rock — so that if you throw a light object — the object will likely swirl and return back to you — disobeying Isaac Newton's law of gravity. Do not forget to stroll through the town's Main Street and take in its alluring charm.
You can take people's claims with a pinch of salt. Human beings are often influenced by subtle biases that are complex and difficult to pin down. However, when credited travel publications, including Southern Living, call Dahlonega the Best Small Town in Georgia for 2023, you better take note. "Magical" is the word. Dahlonega, because of its picture-perfect beauty, has been picked as the setting of several Christmas movies. For instance, while the Lifetime Network's "A Taste of Christmas" featured several Georgia locales, Dahlonega featured prominently, including such sites as the Dahlonega Square Hotel & Villas located on South Park Street — as well as the now-closed Crimson Moon. If a town that serves as a setting for award-winning movies does not deserve the adjective "magical," then here is the thing: Words have lost their meaning.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Who — in her right senses — can claim that a town of probably less than 200 residents, and hence where nearly no life exists, is a U.S. favorite? Yet, if you have not heard of Harpers Ferry, you have not heard of America. This is especially true since the question of Slavery is like a hump on America's back. Here is the thing. It is John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry that would catapult the issue of Slavery into public consciousness — and, a few months later — trigger the history-defining Civil War. To many White Americans, especially Southerners, John Brown was the embodiment of trouble. It was inconceivable to many of them that a White man would be willing to die to end Slavery. Today, you can learn much of this intriguing history at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park — and set foot on spots where history was dramatically enacted.
Elkins, West Virginia
Nestled on a bend in the Tygart Valley River, about 35 miles southeast of Clarksburg, is the town of Elkins, a rustic haven that serves as the headquarters of Monongahela National Forest. Part of what has made Elkins famous and a popular U.S. favorite is the fact it plays host to the Mountain State Forest Festival. This famous festival, which features lumberjack competitions, forestry & wood exhibits, as well as amusement rides, has been an Elkins staple since 1930 (except when it was interrupted during the Second World War) — and remains one of the largest and oldest festivals in West Virginia. To the outdoor enthusiast, it should be enough enticement that Elkins is called "the gateway to the Monongahela National Forest."
Rounding off this list is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a stunner of 4,000 residents encircled on up to three sides by the heart-melting beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg's attractions are difficult to rank or number. You will be thinking of Ober Mountain, for instance, the only ski resort in Tennesse — only to remember The Gatlinburg SkyLift, where, from mid-air, riders get to inhale gasp-inducing views of the Smoky ranges and which lays claim to the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America. Then again, there will be the Gatlinburg Trolley you will want to ride for a whirlwind tour of the town — yet the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will not like to be kept on hold. Other Gatlinburg attractions that will leave you spoilt for choice include the Space Needle, the 8-mile-loop Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, and Ripley's group of attractions, including Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies — which boasts more than 10,000 exotic sea creatures in 10 themed galleries.
The mystery and the majesty of the Appalachian Mountain range are truly delightful. For an area that is insanely vast and varied, you will be hard-pressed to pick the most scenic spot. And among the small towns that dot this whimsical expanse are many that are difficult to compare, considering each comes with its grace, beauty, and charm. Regardless, such notables as Harper's Ferry, Virginia; Berea, Kentucky; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, often rank among U.S. favorite Appalachian small towns.