The South's Best Mountain Towns 2020
Blame it on the Hallmark channel, but most of us have, at one time or another, fantasized about a romantic escape to a mountain cabin. (Unless, of course, we just inherited Great-Aunt Harriet's 200-year-old home in the Smokies, in which case we'll be busy turning it into a B&B.) Nothing gives you that sense of "away" like a pretty little town tucked into gorgeous mountains. And when we asked readers to name their favorites, you can bet there were some beauties on the list.
Topping it was Gatlinburg, Tennessee—a huge reader favorite. Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia can also take a bow—so can North Carolina, home to FIVE of our top ten winners. The names alone are enough to draw you to these towns—Blowing Rock, Blue Ridge, Highlands... You can close your eyes and just see the spring wildflowers and fall color. Better yet, make plans to see it in person.
10. Black Mountain, North Carolina
Once home to the groundbreaking Black Mountain College, which placed a premium on arts education, Black Mountain remains a magnet for artists and craftspeople. It's part of the galaxy of cool Western North Carolina towns orbiting Asheville and has its own cluster of local spots for browsing, sipping, and dining. FYI, the town takes its name from the towering Black Mountains that overlook it.
9. Hendersonville, North Carolina
This mountain town of almost 14,000 people lies less than 30 miles south of Asheville, and you can definitely see a kinship between the two. Both have thriving downtowns, with local shops and restaurants; both have a sustainable, keep-it-local vibe; and both are surrounded by some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the state—make that the South—with the Blue Ridge Mountains, French Broad River, and Pisgah National Forest nearby. Hendersonville's Cheers! Trail has breweries, wineries, hard cideries, and even one meadery.
8. Staunton, Virginia
Located in the Shenandoah Valley, picturesque Staunton is just large enough to be interesting but still small enough to be accessible and relaxing. It's known for beautiful architecture, including five historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places; a this-is-how-its-done, walkable downtown peppered with local shops, galleries, and eateries; and a thriving arts community. Come here to visit the American Shakespeare Center and to enjoy a 10-day music festival in August.
7. Hot Springs, Arkansas
Native Americans came to this spot in the Ouachita Mountains for the natural thermal springs long before tourists flocked here during the heyday of Bathhouse Row in the early 20th century. Federally protected since 1832, the springs are part of Hot Springs National Park, which surrounds a portion of the city. Don't miss Quapaw Baths & Spa; Garvan Woodland Gardens, home of Anthony Chapel by E. Fay Jones; The Waters, a boutique hotel inside the National Park; and the first phase of the new Northwoods Trails for mountain bikes, built in conjunction with the International Mountain Biking Association.
6. Dahlonega, Georgia
Mountain color makes Dahlonega a popular fall wedding venue, but we're partial to Christmas in this endearing and welcoming wine country town. (To find out why, check out this story by Georgia native Kaitlyn Yarborough.) Visit Dahlonega at Christmas and just try not to pretend you're in a Hallmark movie. We dare you.
Check Out The South's Best Mountain Towns
5. Highlands, North Carolina
Home to just under 1,000 people, Highlands is also home to one of the South's classic resorts, the Old Edwards Inn and Spa, which is reason enough to go there. Choose from rooms and suites in the historic inn or book a cottage—there's even an "estate rental" home for larger groups. Shops and restaurants on Main Street downtown are a convenient stroll away.
4. Blue Ridge, Georgia
This north Georgia mountain village, less than 100 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, is teeny-tiny, with most of its prime offerings clustered along a few blocks of East Main Street. But Blue Ridge packs some impressive quality into a small space, from renowned Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods to the fantastic farm-to-table Harvest on Main. In the surrounding area, enjoy spectacular spots like Amicalola Falls State Park.
3. Boone, North Carolina
Artsy Boone is surrounded by enough natural mountain beauty to inspire every painter and potter for miles around. When you take a break from hiking and biking or skiing and snowshoeing, check out The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts on the Appalachian State campus downtown. Enjoy a college town's abundant food and drink, including popular favorites Melanie's Food Fantasy, Stick Boy Bread Co. Kitchen, The Cardinal, Gamekeeper (where you might find bison, elk, or trout on the menu), Proper, Lost Province Brewing Co., Booneshine Brewing Co. ... Pack Lycra.
2. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
You wouldn't expect much entertainment from a town with a population just shy of 1,300, but Blowing Rock is perched just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, with mountains and waterfalls and fish-laden lakes and streams all around. Downtown has lots of shops and dining. Book a cozy stay at the Bob Timberlake Inn at Chetola Resort or historic Westglow Resort & Spa. FYI, the town takes its name from The Blowing Rock, a cliff some 3000 feet above the Johns River Gorge.
1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Over the past couple of years, everybody's favorite mountain town has seen the opening of its spectacular Skybridge, Blake Shelton's Ole Red restaurant, the Tennessee Cider Company, locally owned Gatlinburg Brewing Company, the Anakeesta mountaintop attraction, Margaritaville... What can we say? The 'Burg is hoppin'.