Spring break trips are just around the corner! If the Bahamas are just not in the budget this year (or any year), why not take a road trip instead? If you are a nature lover, consider driving to a city with a mountain view. As much as I love my city, let’s face it: the flat terrain of Columbus is slim in the natural beauty category. So, if you need a change of scenery, check out these mountain getaways:
New River Gorge Area, West Virginia
Distance: 220 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours
Must See List:
- Visit the New River Gorge Bridge, one of the world’s longest single-span arch bridges and, also, one of the highest bridges with vehicular traffic. To view the bridge, start at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center. There are indoor exhibits, walking trails, and a beautiful overlook. For more adventure, drive down to the bottom of the gorge along a very narrow, winding road. Our family loved walking along the river, climbing on the rocks, and viewing the rafts floating by. For a fall visit: If your trip is during the annual Bridge Day event in October, prepare to witness people rappelling from the bridge as well as other extreme sports.
- Explore Charleston on the drive down. Take a small tour of the State Capitol building with its massive gold dome. Your kids will love running up and down the outside steps! Also, check out the art displays and the hands-on science exhibits at the Clay Center. Tip: Admission is free with your COSI membership.
- For amazing views of the gorge, visit the Hawks Nest Overlook at Hawks Nest State Park. There is a small gift and snack shop at the overlook as well as information on all the hiking trails. Note: Though beautiful, the trails have steep drop-offs. It is a must to hold small children, especially on the Cliffside trail.
- Go shopping or try a restaurant in the quaint “downtown” of Fayetteville. If you need a place for the kids to run around, check out the newly renovated Town Park and the Play-it-ville playground, just a half mile from downtown.
- If you have older kids, go on a family whitewater rafting trip! This is area is well known for all levels of its white water rafting. As teenagers, my brother and I had an unforgettable time rafting on the New River. Note: The rafting season begins in April.
We stayed at the Hawks Nest Lodge, and I would recommend it as long as you are not expecting any luxury. The lodge needs updates, but accommodations were clean and easy on the budget. The lodge offers stunning views of the gorge from the room balconies and the on-site restaurant. Other amenities include free breakfast, an outdoor pool, and a seasonal aerial tramway. As an alternative, though, I suggest looking for a vacation rental in the Fayetteville vicinity that suits your family’s needs.
Distance: 400 miles
Driving Time: 6.5 hours
Must See List:
- Spend the day in the popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Start at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and view the indoor exhibits. From there, take a kid-friendly hike through a beautiful forest to Cataract Falls!
- For more mountain views, take a drive deeper into the park and stop at some of the top lookout points including Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome. Tip: Since the slower mountain drive will take awhile, let your little ones nap while you soak in the views. At Newfound Gap, take a picture at the North Carolina and Tennessee state line! Hike a section of the famous Appalachian Trail that runs along the gap (just to say you did, of course). Next stop is the highest point in the park, Clingmans Dome. The steep trek to the top of the observation tower will reward you with amazing views of the Smokies! Note: The visitor center and road leading to Clingmans Dome open in April.
- Visit Ober Gatlinburg, a small amusement park and ski area located in the mountains. Take a thrilling (and a little scary) ride on the glass aerial tramway to reach the top. There are plenty of fun family activities at the park such as kid rides, a carousel, a playground, seasonal water rides, mini golf, and a small zoo. Be sure to get some delicious fudge in the indoor restaurant and shopping area! My kids loved seeing the black bears at the Wildlife Encounter. (I loved seeing them safely behind a wall instead of right in front of our car which happened on this trip!)
- Stroll along the main street in downtown Gatlinburg, visiting the cute shops and tourist attractions. Ripley’s Aquarium is amazing and worth the hefty price tag! Our family loved the shark exhibit with its moving floors and sharks swimming overhead. Note: Be aware that the downtown area has a lot of traffic and parking is costly. Try doing several activities in a row there to avoid the headache of finding a parking spot.
Find a cabin rental close to the downtown area. We rented through Chalet Village and had a fabulous experience. Our two bedroom cabin came with a perfect wraparound porch, a hot tub, and even a pool table. We also had access to three different outdoor pools, clubhouses, a playground, and tennis courts. Note: Due to the 2016 fire, some of the city’s housing inventory was lost. Properties are still in the rebuilding phase.
Asheville, North Carolina
Distance: 400 miles
Driving Time: 7.5 hours
Must See List:
- Spend the day at the dreamy (and pricey) Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States. Yep, that’s right, a 135,000 square foot house. To keep your kids engaged, give them the kids audio walking tour and tell them to “have fun storming the castle”. Beyond touring the home and extensive gardens, there are many amenities on the estate grounds including restaurants, shops, picnic areas, a playground, a petting zoo, and a winery.
- Climb to the top of a stone monolith at Chimney Rock State Park. Hike the Hickory Nut Falls Trail to see the waterfall that was filmed in “The Last of the Mohicans”. Also, try the interactive Great Woodland Adventure Trail, and view local wildlife at the Animal Discovery Den.
- For those stunning mountain views, take a drive along the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. From Asheville, head northeast on the parkway to the scenic Craggy Gardens area for great hiking trails. A friend recommends the Craggy Pinnacle Trail which isn’t too strenuous and gives a breathtaking view at the summit. If you are feeling ambitious, continue along the parkway until you reach Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. From the parking area, take the 1/4 mile paved path to an observation deck. There is also a seasonal restaurant and gift shop.
- Otters and cougars and bears, oh my! See native North Carolina wildlife at the WNC Wildlife Center. Your kids will love to pet the donkeys and goats at the petting zoo! Tip: Admission is free with your COSI membership
- Explore the independent shops and galleries in artsy downtown Asheville. Splash in the fountains at Pack Square Park, and, afterwards, get your chocolate fix at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.
- Take a family zip lining tour or try a ropes course in the trees at the highly recommended Asheville Treetops Adventure Park!
Awesome vacation rentals and hotels abound in this city! Ultimately, our family opted for a nice hotel with an indoor pool in case the weather wouldn’t cooperate. We chose a hotel within walking distance to the Biltmore Village shops and restaurants.