Aerial of Chattanooga Tennessee Skyline.

8 Most Charming Cities in the Appalachians

Spanning over 206,000 square miles in thirteen states is the picturesque Appalachian Region. The area encompasses southern New York state, dips down to northeastern Mississippi, and includes all of West Virginia. With such a diverse area, there are several charming cities in the Appalachians. These cities offer visitors the chance to commune with nature in east Tennessee, explore the rich history in South Carolina, and experience the vibrant music scene in North Carolina. Since these cities are in the Appalachian Mountains, there is also plenty of outdoor adventures, scenic views, and nature to explore. From boating and paddling along stunning rivers to hiking rugged trails through the mountains and bird watching in state parks, these Appalachian cities offer something for everyone.

Asheville, North Carolina

Aerial view of the spectacular city of Asheville in North Carolina.
The spectacular city of Asheville in North Carolina.

One of the most charming cities in Appalachia is Asheville, North Carolina. The city has been a hub for great art and music for generations. A hallmark of the city’s music scene is bluegrass music, and visitors can catch live performances at the Grey Eagle and Asheville Music Hall. For art lovers, the Folk Art Center showcases unique Appalachian art and is home to the Allanstand Craft Shop, the oldest craft shop in America. Plus, a trip to Asheville is not complete without a stop at the Biltmore Estate, the largest home in America. The Biltmore also features 20 miles of nature trails and scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For outdoor enthusiasts, the city offers fishing, kayaking, and float trips in the French Broad River. There are also several great hiking and biking trails in the mountains, as well as fishing and birding at Beaver Lake. 

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Cannon overlooking Chattanooga at Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Point Park Civil War Cannon Monument near Chattanooga, Tennessee
Cannon overlooking Chattanooga at Lookout Mountain Battlefield.

Chattanooga, surrounded by the Tennessee River and picturesque mountains, embraces its nickname of "Scenic City." Located in Tennessee along the Georgia state border, Chattanooga is home to Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall in the US that is open to the public. The waterfall is within Lookout Mountain, a great place for outdoor enthusiasts to hike, bike, and even horseback ride along scenic trails. Outdoor adventures continue at Chickamauga Lake, a 58-mile reservoir that is perfect for boating and fishing. Located along the lake is Booker T. Washington Park, which offers great hiking trails, a biking trail, and bird watching. For those looking for indoor fun, a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium is a must! Plus, history and art lovers alike will want to visit the Hunter Museum of American Art, which features colonial art to present-day pieces.

Greenville, South Carolina

The stunning Reedy River at dusk in Greenville, South Carolina.
The stunning Reedy River at dusk.

One of the most picturesque cities in the state of South Carolina is Greenville. The city features a breathtaking waterfall, suspension bridge, and beautiful park, all located in the downtown area at Falls Park on the Reedy. Found along the Reedy River, the park boasts the historical Camperdown Mill, Liberty Bridge, and several walking trails. For those looking for a great place to eat and relax, you do not even have to leave the park! Passerelle Bistro is a cozy spot for French cuisine. Outdoor adventures continue on hiking paths at Cleveland Park. The city also has a thriving performing arts culture, and you can watch a performance at the Peace Center, Greenville Theater, the Warehouse Theater, and Center Stage. If you want to view local art, the Greenville Center for the Creative Arts offers a free gallery-crawl during their First Friday of the month event.

Huntsville, Alabama

The beautiful city of Huntsville, Alabama.
Downtown Huntsville, Alabama.

Nicknamed “Rocket City” because of its history with space missions, Huntsville, Alabama offers out-of-this-world adventures. Visitors are sure to have a blast exploring the US Space and Rocket Center, the largest space museum in the world. For those looking to keep their feet on the ground, Huntsville provides plenty of attractions at Big Spring International Park, such as a koi fish pond, paved walkways, and the Panoply Arts Festival in the spring. The park is also home to the Huntsville Art Museum, which houses 3,200 objects in its permanent collection. For those looking for outdoor adventures, Monte Sano State Park provides 20 miles of hiking trails, 14 miles of biking trails, and zipline adventures on the beautiful mountaintop. The Tennessee River and Flint River also run around the city, and visitors can bike or walk along the Flint River Greenway.

Johnson City, Tennessee

Streets of Johnson City in Tennessee.
Downtown Johnson City in Tennessee. Image credit Dee Browning via Shutterstock

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is Johnson City, Tennessee. The city offers world-class outdoor activities, small-town charm, and cultural adventures for all to enjoy. On the first Friday of each month, the city closes down East Main Street in the evening for visitors to explore art galleries, local restaurants, and artisanal vendors during the First Friday event. For history buffs, the Tipton-Haynes Historic Site provides a look at historical buildings and Tennessee families from the 1700s. For nature lovers, a trip to Winged Deer Park is a must. The park rests along Boone Lake, an arm of the Watauga River, and offers fishing and several paved walking trails. For those looking for an outdoor adventure, Buffalo Mountain Park delivers incredible hiking trails and a breathtaking overlook at Huckleberry Knob. Mountain bikers can also ride along trails of all levels at Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park.

Knoxville, Tennessee

Aerial view of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Aerial view of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Located in east Tennessee, Knoxville is a charming city that offers a unique cultural mix of music, local art, state history, and stunning nature to enjoy. Knoxville is also home to renowned museums, such as the East Tennessee Historical Society and Museum and the Knoxville Museum of Art. For those who want to experience the city as a local, Knoxville First Friday serves up musical entertainment and artworks downtown each month. However, a must-see for any visitor is the Sunsphere. Built for the 1982 World’s Fair, this unique structure offers 360 degree views of the city and the Great Smoky Mountains from the observation deck. For those looking to explore the great outdoors, the city offers several outdoor activities at Cherokee Lake, such as swimming, boating, hiking, and camping. Visitors also enjoy taking a quiet stroll through nature and viewing the mountains at Lakeshore Park along the Tennessee River.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA downtown skyline and incline.
Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At the junction of three rivers, Allegheny River, Monongahela River, and Ohio River, is the charming city of Pittsburgh. Although the city is known for its professional sports teams, Pittsburgh is also home to summer festivals, incredible outdoor adventures, and iconic bridges. Pittsburgh boasts the most bridges in the world with a whopping 446 bridges. The city also hosts several annual summer festivals, including the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival in June and the nation’s only vintage street race, the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in July. A trip to the city must include outings to the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Science Center, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. For outdoor enthusiasts, you can fish, kayak, and boat in the city’s three rivers, explore woodlands and winding trails at Emerald View Park, and discover the Allegheny Observatory and wooded trails at Riverview Park.

Youngstown, Ohio

A view of the downtown core of Youngstown.
The downtown core of Youngstown.

Located in northeastern Ohio, Youngstown offers endless opportunities for exploring natural wonders, attending festivals and concerts, and viewing American art. The town sits along the Mahoning River and is home to several lakes and parks. Milton State Park boasts a 1,700-acre reservior, gorges, and walking trails to explore. For water enthusiasts, Lake Glacier, Lake Cohasset, and Lake Newport are part of the breathtaking park and provide a large area to fish and boat. Along with the scenic views is the historic Lanterman’s Mill, built in 1845 and still operational. For history buffs and art enthusiasts, Youngstown also offers a mix of cultural attractions and history. The Butler Institute of American Art showcases works solely by American artists that date back to 1719. You can also view outdoor public art downtown, such as A Handshake for the Century by sculptor Marc Mellon.

With such a diverse area to explore, these charming Appalachian cities offer the perfect getaway for those looking to learn more about American history, experience the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, and view local art. From exploring an underground waterfall in Chattanooga, Tennessee to viewing American artwork from the 1700s in Youngstown, Ohio, these cities offer outdoor adventures and indoor historical attractions that are perfect for everyone. Whether you want to visit the oldest craft shop in America or explore the largest space museum in the world, these Appalachian cities are sure to charm any visitor.

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