The story below is an excerpt from our January/February 2017 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
From greasy spoons to a huge old library, from mountain peaks to rivers, from walking to floating and lots in between, here are cherished go-to spots and must-do things from stars, authors, executives, musicians and many more.
Yes we all love the mountains of the South. From the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia to the rock arches of Eastern Kentucky and the South Carolina Upcountry, what’s not to love? From the Appalachian Trail’s start in North Georgia to the North Carolina/Tennessee Smokies, what’s not to celebrate?
But what do the stars say? Where do the experts go? Where do the bestselling authors hang out? And what about that unique man from Kentucky who stilt-walked across the United States: Where does he love to visit?
That’s the spirit of our Travel Guide 2017. To help you plan your new year, we have contacted a wide range of singers, superintendents, managers and more—a round-up of 32 experts with dozens of ideas—on where to make your next great vacation.
The internationally known superstar was born dirt-poor in the shadow of Great Smoky Mountains at Sevier County, Tennessee, and, there, she still maintains a private home. In Pigeon Forge, she also projects a presence as the face of Dollywood, her theme park, which began life—when she was still a teen, living at home—as Rebel Railroad in 1961. “And some of my family worked there,” she says. “I had an uncle who worked on the train as a robber. That was his job.”
At 70, Parton is both a singer and actress. Her dozens of hits include “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You” and “9 to 5.” Growing up, she says, “We would go to Gatlinburg, if we got a chance, if we had a relative who had a car, or somebody who could take us, because we lived way back up in the hills. But we thought Gatlinburg was a real special place.”
Where do you like to go? “Places we love to go and early, so we don’t have to get behind such a line of traffic? We love Cades Cove. We usually go up to our Tennessee mountain home, cook a picnic lunch, then we’ll spend a day out. And we’ll take our camper through Cades Cove. We love places like that ... We love Wears Valley. My husband and I love to go up through there. We love Townsend, Tennessee. There are always great places that we just love to visit—stop at the little markets, stop at the little stores, get a little fast foods or things and go down by the river and have a picnic.”
Jayma Mays was born in Bristol, Tennessee, on July 16, 1979 and grew up in Grundy, Virginia. She’s starred in a variety of movies and TV shows, mostly comedies, including several seasons on TV’s “Glee” and a year on CBS-TV’s “The Millers.” She now lives in Los Angeles. Her films include “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and the upcoming “American Made.”
Where do you like to go? Breaks Interstate Park on the Kentucky-Virginia border. “I loved going to that park, growing up. Like on a Sunday, after church, we would get a bucket of fried chicken and go to the Breaks. That was like a big Sunday out, and I loved it. I don’t believe in magic, but it’s a magical place.”
Behind the scenes, Cathy Robbins knows what it takes to keep the tracks a’tweeting at the Tweetsie Railroad of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the kid-friendly Tweetsie Railroad opened in 1957, using an antique steam engine pulling passenger car saround a three-mile-long track. Robbins’ husband, Chris Robbins, is the president of Tweetsie Railroad and a nephew of park founder Grover Robbins. Chris and Cathy married in 1984; Cathy Robbins has served as the park’s marketing director since 1989.
Where do you like to go? “I love the outdoors, so one of my favorite places is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is only a half a mile from Tweetsie ... I actually spend a lot of time at Moses Cone Park. I love the hiking trails around there. And we like to just drive up and down the parkway—the whole parkway—from Asheville up to Virginia.”
More than the executive director of The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, the ever-smiling Jack Hinshelwood, 60, is also a musician. He’s played guitar in a string of bands, including the Appalachian Ramblers, led by Olen and Frances Gardner. This native of Montreal, Canada, grew up in Christiansburg, Virginia, and now lives at Abingdon, Virginia.
Where do you like to go? Claytor Lake in Pulaski County, Virginia. “Claytor Lake is the lake that I grew up being familiar with—and getting out on ... The shore tends to stay nicely vegetated and is a little more attractive. It’s pretty good size and has some pretty cliffs on it. So it’s also pretty scenic.”