Overlooking the Kancamagus Highway, White Mountains, New Hampshire in fall.

7 Most Scenic Road Trips to Take in the Appalachians

A fearsome venture on foot but a soothing escapade by vehicle — the Appalachian Mountain range of the eastern United States is a majestic realm of travel and inquiry. Along its 2,000-mile course, more than a handful of automobile-friendly routes have sprouted up, granting visitors a closer look at this ancient All-American treasure. Pack the car and hit the road with family and friends, or solo, for an adventure through the Appalachians for the most scenic road trips.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Linn Cove Stunning fall colors along the Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

Spanning a spectacular 469-mile drive across Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway draws visitors with its uninterrupted stretch of natural beauty. Within this extensive terrain, the Pisgah National Forest unfurls with its well-trodden hiking trails and cascading waterfalls, which are evenly dispersed in its 500,000 acres. The scenic splendor continues towards Mount Mitchell State Park, boasting the proud title of the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Veering towards civilization, Asheville presents itself as a creative sanctuary with an active arts scene, attracting those with a passion for culture and creativity. Nearby, the 12-hundred-foot Linn Cove Viaduct is an incredible example of human engineering, blending harmoniously with its natural surroundings. Further along, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park serves as a refuge for a myriad of wildlife species, providing invaluable opportunities for fauna observation. In the midst of this natural expanse, the historic Mabry Mill stands as a memory of bygone times, its landscape appearing like a well-crafted painting.

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Car on the Skyline Drive, in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Skyline Drive, in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

Further north in Virginia, the 105-mile Skyline Drive presents another scenic journey. The path forms the backbone of Shenandoah National Park, a beloved destination known for its inviting hiking and camping spots. Here, Big Meadows unfolds as an inviting habitat for wildlife, and there are lodges and campgrounds for pilgrims to make the most of. The journey elevates at Hawksbill Mountain, the park's loftiest peak, before descending to the historical significance of Rapidan Camp, once President Hoover's summer refuge.

The journey winds through Dark Hollow Falls, where the spectacle of cascading water rewards hikers with an exquisite natural display. Skyline Drive leads to the welcoming doors of the Skyland Resort. From its vantage point, the resort presents an expansive view of the Shenandoah Valley, an unspoken promise of further exploration to come.

Route 100, Vermont

Aerial view of farm near Stowe, Vermont in autumn on Scenic Route 100
Scenic Route 100 near Stowe, Vermont.

With a stretch of 216 miles, Route 100 in Vermont paints a scenic tableau of New England's natural and cultural beauty. Anchoring this journey is the historic village of Stowe, distinguished by its iconic church standing steadfast against the mountainous backdrop. An atmosphere of tranquility pervades the area, inviting a sense of calm contemplation.

Following the road further, visitors encounter the lyrical rush of Moss Glen Falls, a roadside waterfall that adds a melodic interlude to the journey. The road then delves into the depths of the Green Mountain National Forest, a haven for hikers and birdwatchers seeking a closer encounter with nature. Shifting from green to white, the trail leads to the Killington Ski Resort, the largest ski area in the East, serving as a winter wonderland for snow enthusiasts.

History enthusiasts will find their curiosity piqued at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, a testament to the nation's past. As a sweet finale, the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury stands ready to welcome visitors with its delectable array of ice cream flavors.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Overlooking the Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee in fall
Cherohala Skyway in Tennessee.

A few states away, the Cherohala Skyway sprawls across North Carolina and Tennessee. This 43-mile National Scenic Byway, which quickly rises from 800 to 5,300 feet, starts by the gurgling Tellico River, a favored haunt for trout catching. As the road meanders, the sight of the Bald River Falls presents itself, visible and accessible from the roadside. Deeper into the drive, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest awaits, boasting ancient trees that stand as silent witnesses to centuries gone by.

At the heart of this journey is Santeetlah Lake, a watery expanse enticing with the possibility of boating and swimming. As the skyway climbs, it reaches Huckleberry Knob, providing sweeping views of the area. It finally descends into the historic town of Robbinsville, a quaint end to a mesmerizing journey.

Route 50, West Virginia

Autumn road along Scenic Highway US Route 150, West Virginia
Scenic Highway US Route 150, West Virginia.

Route 50, a transcontinental highway, gracefully winds its way through West Virginia, where it showcases an impressive array of natural and historical features. The Cheat River is one of these, beloved by thrill-seekers for its exciting whitewater rafting opportunities. Transitioning from aquatic adventures to more serene experiences, Cathedral State Park provides a tranquil atmosphere. It boasts ancient hemlock trees that have stood the test of time, their verdant canopy providing shelter to a plethora of woodland creatures.

As Route 50 meanders on, the historic town of Aurora comes into view. Its captivating 19th-century architecture stands as a testament to the past, holding countless stories in its well-preserved facades. Continuing the journey, Cool Springs Park emerges, offering a fascinating glimpse into bygone days with its collection of antique machinery and a time-honored general store.

Further down the highway, one encounters Rowlesburg, a town marked by its Civil War past. Visitors can step back in time as they walk its historic sites. The journey through Route 50 culminates at Mount Storm Lake, a popular location for anglers and boating enthusiasts alike, where tranquil waters and a sense of peace conclude this segment of the Appalachian road trip.

The Roanoke Valley, Virginia

Aerial shot of a highway amid the green forests and valleys in Roanoke, Virginia
Highway through the forests and valleys in Roanoke, Virginia.

Transitioning into Virginia, the Roanoke Valley beckons. Framed by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, the valley entices visitors with a harmonious blend of nature and culture. A quintessential feature is the Roanoke Mountain loop, part of the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, known for its breathtaking views that stretch across the horizon.

Roanoke City, situated in the heart of the valley, is well known for its lively arts and food culture, creating a bustling yet welcoming urban environment. A prominent feature of the cityscape is the Roanoke Star, an illuminated spectacle crowning Mill Mountain and visible from miles around.

Nature enthusiasts will be drawn to McAfee Knob, a popular point on the Appalachian Trail. The view from its peak provides a sweeping perspective of the surrounding landscape. The Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke, acclaimed for its innovative architecture, presents an engaging contrast to the city's natural attractions. Lastly, a visit to the historic town of Salem, renowned for its annual Olde Salem Days, ties together the diverse experiences the Roanoke Valley imparts to its visitors.

Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

Scenic Autumn drive on the Kancamagus Scenic Highway, White Mountain New Hampshire
Kancamagus Scenic Highway, White Mountain, New Hampshire.

Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire, unfolds across 34.5 miles of delightful scenic drive. Within its realm, Sabbaday Falls captures attention; a tranquil, accessible waterfall provides a serene spectacle. The highway meanders onwards, leading to the Russell-Colbath Historic Site. Here, a 19th-century farmhouse stands, a tangible echo of past rural life, painting a tale of years gone by. The highway, then, guides travelers towards the Swift River, celebrated for its crystal-clear waters that invite swimming and peaceful picnics. At the zenith of the Kancamagus Pass, a scenic overlook manifests, granting a bird's eye view of the valley and beyond, a memory imprinted on the mind. Further down the road, the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area reveals itself as a haven for those passionate about nature photography. As the journey reaches Lincoln, Loon Mountain Resort emerges, a beacon of year-round outdoor activities, completing this Appalachian road trip.

The vast Appalachian region of the eastern United States holds a treasure trove of experiences. The intermingling of natural beauty, cultural richness, and historical significance along these road trips serve to present an inspiring tapestry of the American landscape. From the serene expanse of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the vibrancy of the Roanoke Valley — each road delivers unique tales of the land. These Appalachian road trips are not just routes marked on a map, but they serve as enchanting passages into the heart of American history, both ancient and recent. Many civilizations and people groups have settled in these lands, and it leads one to wonder what the inheritors of the Appalachians in the distant future will be like.


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