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Sky-High: The Best High-Altitude Getaways in the Blue RidgeRoan Mountain in Tennessee
Sky-High: The Best High-Altitude Getaways in the Blue Ridge
This summer, head up – 4,000 feet up, or more – to parks, peaks and resorts throughout our region that put you on top of the world.
Mount Mitchell, Burnsville, N.C. The highest peak east of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell boasts panoramic views of the Blue Ridge from 6,684 feet. Hikers have two options for reaching the top: traversing the quarter-mile paved path from the summit parking lot to the overlook, or starting at Black Mountain Campground (pdf here) and climbing the strenuous 5.5-mile trail. Each trek passes diverse flora, including red spruce, yellow birch and blueberry bushes.
The mountain rises out of 1,946-acre Mount Mitchell State Park, which offers more ways to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. Picnic spots are adjacent to the parking lot and a restaurant offers large windows that showcase the landscape. 828-675-4611; ncparks.gov/visit/parks/momi
Mount Rogers, Grayson County, Va. Visitors to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area find ample ways to revel in nature: camping, mountain biking and fishing. But not to be missed (and that would be a difficult feat) is the area's namesake mountain, reaching an elevation of 5,729 feet. The NRA contains about 500 miles of hiking trails, including the Virginia Creeper Trail, Virginia Highlands Horse Trail and the Appalachian Trail, which runs about a half mile below the summit of Mount Rogers. To reach the top, hikers must take a short spur trail that veers off from the AT. 800-628-7202; fs.fed.us/r8/gwj/mr
Roan Mountain, Carter County, Tenn. Home of the world's largest natural rhododendron garden, Roan Mountain attracts many visitors to its 6,285-foot summit. A June festival at the base – once held at the top of the mountain – celebrates the beautiful blooms.
Hikers will actually find five peaks on Roan Mountain, all above 5,000 feet and all offering spectacular long-range views; the AT crosses over many of these peaks. Roan High Knob, the tallest summit, serves as the point where the Cherokee and Pisgah national forests converge and also features the Roan High Knob Shelter, the highest backcountry shelter on the AT. 423-547-3850; tourelizabethton.com
Rocky Top/Thunderhead Mountain, Blount County, Tenn. Tennessee's state song comes to mind at the mention of Rocky Top, which sits at 5,440 feet above sea level, a knob on the western portion of Thunderhead Mountain's summit ridge.
Thunderhead (5,527 feet) and its three peaks – Rocky Top is the lowest – offer views of Cades Cove and other mountains that comprise the Great Smokies. The summits are reachable via Anthony Creek Trailhead and Bote Mountain Trail, which leads to the Appalachian Trail. In spring and summer months, these paths present lush greenery, as well as blooming rhododendron and mountain laurels. 865-436-1200; nps.gov/grsm
Sugar Mountain Resort, Banner Elk, N.C. Skiing, tubing, snowboarding and ice skating are superb on 5,300-foot Sugar Mountain. Once the snow melts, a whole new world appears for summer guests, including hiking, biking and ski lift rides.
A getaway anywhere at Sugar Mountain is spent in high-elevation territory, as the base of the mountain is 4,100 feet above sea level. Sugar Mountain Golf Club's course, at 4,000 feet, provides a fun challenge with great views. Open May through October, six clay tennis courts are available at the Village of Sugar Mountain. 828-898-4521; skisugar.com
Spruce Knob, Pendleton County, W.Va. West Virginia's highest mountain, Spruce Knob sits at 4,863 feet above sea level. A component of the Monongahela National Forest, this rugged, alpine-like peak is reachable via a paved forest service road. Visitors enjoy panoramic views from the knob's stone and steel observation tower, as well as along the half-mile Whispering Spruce Trail.
The mountain also is part of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, a 100,000-acre environment where outdoor opportunities include hiking the more than 75 miles of trails around Spruce Knob or fishing for trout in Spruce Knob Lake. 304-257-4488; fs.fed.us
Snowshoe Mountain, Snowshoe, W.Va. On Cheat Mountain (at 4,848 feet, the second highest peak in the state), Snowshoe Mountain's resort may be best known for its skiing and other winter activities, but summers bring just as many outdoor opportunities. Instead of swooshing down the slopes or snowmobiling the backcountry, guests partake in downhill mountain biking, geocaching, golfing, hiking and fishing.
Lodging options at Snowshoe Mountain range from hotels and condos to cabins and mountaintop chalets. The resort's village serves as a miniature town with restaurants, shops, a market and a spa. 877-441-4386; snowshoemtn.com
Brasstown Bald, near Blairsville, Ga. Part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Brasstown Bald is easily recognizable thanks to the prominent stone observation tower on its summit. The mountain is Georgia's highest, reaching 4,784 feet.
Experienced hikers are not the only ones who can enjoy the views from the top of Brasstown Bald. The path proves strenuous, so shuttles provide access to the observation tower as well. As the elevation changes, so does the plant life. According to GeorgiaTrails.com, rosebay rhododendron dominates the base of the mountain and a dwarf forest covers much of the top. Views from the observation tower include Blood Mountain, the Cohutta Mountains and Rabun Bald. 770-297-3000
Rabun Bald, Clayton, Ga. Birding is a popular activity on Rabun Bald, Georgia's second-highest mountain, extending 4,696 feet above sea level. It's a two-mile trek along Rabun Bald Trail – part of Bartram Trail – to reach the summit. Along the way, birders may spot ruffed grouse, black-throated blue warblers or scarlet tanager.
Rhododendron and blueberry bushes thrive around the trail. At the top, an observation tower – an old fire tower now topped with a wooden platform – gives 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains, with benches along the deck perfect for picnics. 706-782-4812; gamountains.com
Yonahlossee Resort & Club, Blowing Rock, N.C. Set among the Blue Ridge Mountains at 4,000 feet, Yonahlossee Resort & Club is a quiet retreat for couples or families. The Blowing Rock-based resort treats guests to a stay in accommodations ranging from cottages to private homes, each with great views.
Activities available at Yonahlossee include tennis and swimming, as well as hiking and horseback riding among 300 acres of trails, streams and waterfalls. Guests also have access to a fitness center, spa, sauna and fine-dining restaurant. 800-962-1986; yonahlossee.com