3 Mountain Towns to Escape the Summer Heat

Embrace small-town charm, inspiring scenery and ample time in the great outdoors in these cool spots.

By Gwen Pratesi, ContributorJuly 29, 2016
By Gwen Pratesi, ContributorJuly 29, 2016, at 10:27 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

3 Mountain Towns to Escape the Summer Heat

Grandfather Mountain in fog, near Linville, North Carolina.

Whether you want to hike along the awe-inspiring Blue Ridge Parkway or unwind in a storybook bed-and-breakfast in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, these mountain towns offer pleasant temperatures and striking backdrops. (Getty Images)

With temperatures climbing into the 90s across the country, there's no better time to head for the hills. In picturesque mountain towns, where the elevation soars and temperatures plunge, you can enjoy a break from intense heat and humidity and a chance to enjoy inspiring settings, explore a wide range of local attractions and embrace the great outdoors. In fact, in-the-know travelers and generations of families have been summering in these much-loved North Carolina mountain towns for years to escape the heat. And for others, these destinations may just be the nation's best-kept secret. So, if you want some much-needed relief from scorching temperatures, flee to these cool mountain retreats.

Highlands, North Carolina

Located in western North Carolina on what is known as the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau in the Nantahala National Forest, Highlands has been called "the Aspen of the East." At an elevation of 4,118 feet, the temperatures, even in the peak of summer, rarely get above the high 70s. One of the top 10 arts communities in the U.S., this charming mountain town has a thriving cultural community with its well-endowed Bascom Arts Center, which offers performing arts and music.

Main Street, a top thoroughfare, is home to boutiques, art galleries, jewelry stores and restaurants. There are also a number of high-end antique dealers in town, one of which is Scudder's Gallery that hosts entertaining live auctions on weekends throughout the summer season. Highlands is also within an hour of some of the best outdoor recreational activities in the country including hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing and biking, golf and trout fishing in the Davidson and the French Broad rivers.

For culinary enthusiasts, Highlands offers many Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants from fine dining at Madison's or Lakeside to more casual, yet upscale options at Cypress, Paoletti's, Wolfgang's and Wild Thyme Bistro. Within a short distance, and just down the mountain in neighboring Cashiers, dinner at Canyon Kitchen's rustic open-air Jenning's barn offers a memorable evening with spectacular mountain views in one of the few box canyons east of the Mississippi.

Accommodations on the mountain include several inns and bed-and-breakfasts, but for a real treat, book a room at the European-style Old Edwards Inn and Spa. A Relais & Châteaux property, OEI (as it's known by locals), offers many types of accommodations from rooms in its historic inn to nearby guest cottages and multi-bedroom estates.

Two sister properties, Half-Mile Farm, a beautiful country inn located several minutes from town, and 200 Main, a more contemporary option, are two other choices within the OEI group. Guests at any of the locations have access to golf and the facilities at Old Edwards Club, just a short distance from town.

Blowing Rock, North Carolina

At 3,556 feet, Blowing Rock is another cool mountain destination in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The town's name originates from the area's major attraction, historic Blowing Rock, which is situated on a cliff 4,090 feet above sea level overlooking Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below. The wind is known to sweep through this rocky gorge with such power that light objects dropped from the cliff will be returned from their plummet above.

A family-friendly town, Blowing Rock is popular among hikers and cycling enthusiasts, with the entrance to the 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway located just a few miles away. Moses Cone Memorial Park and its 13,000 square-foot Colonial Revival style Flat Top Manor, a historic home built in 1901 by a wealthy entrepreneur Moses Cones, is one of the most famous landmarks in the area. There are 25 miles of carriage and hiking trails meandering through the fields and forests of this 3,500-acre estate, perfect for horseback riding or a horse drawn carriage ride, just as the Cone family would have enjoyed in the early 1900s. Another favorite attraction is the nearby Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountain range.

The storybook setting of Blowing Rock has several quaint B&Bs and inns, including Boxwood Lodge on Main Street. And for a larger hotel option, Meadowbrook Inn & Suites is just a block away. Meanwhile, Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock is an upscale 87-acre property within walking distance of the town that features inn and lodge rooms, condominiums, a spa and many on-site activities.

For a more secluded getaway, book a stay at Westglow Resort and Spa, an award-winning Relais & Châteaux property. This Greek Revival mansion and former home of renowned artist and author Elliott Daingerfield offers several different types of accommodations, but for a stay to remember reserve one of its elegantly appointed six guest bedrooms in the mansion for a romantic retreat for two. Westglow also features an impressive spa, outstanding gastronomy at Rowland's Restaurant and stunning sunset views over the Blue Ridge Mountains from its rocking chairs on the westward-facing porch.

When it comes to culinary options, local favorites for fine dining are Gideon Ridge Inn and Gamekeeper Restaurant in nearby Boone, North Carolina. More casual options include Bistro Roca and the New Public House.

Beech Mountain, North Carolina

At 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain tops the list as the coolest town in North Carolina and the highest resort area in eastern North America. While it is a popular destination in the summertime, the town is small and doesn't offer the breadth of things to see as in Highlands and Blowing Rock. Still, its elevation beats the heat. Beech Mountain especially comes alive in the winter when it transforms into a ski resort with approximately 90 inches of fresh snowfall each year. If you make it to the top in any season, be sure to have a drink or bite to eat at the signature 5506' Skybar, which offers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from its unique glass roundhouse building.

Gwen Pratesi, Contributor

Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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