Haywood County’s mountain setting takes city dwellers back to nature.
Atlanta may not have miles of sandy beaches fanned by ocean breezes nearby, but it does have a convenient cool alternative: the shady chill of the North Carolina mountains. The western part of the state, about two hours from Buckhead, is home to a range of destinations that mix recreation, history and charm with an escape from summer’s city sizzle.
Haywood County, on the edges of the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky mountains, is a central location for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking and biking trails snake below the thick tree canopy, leading explorers to hidden glades and waterfalls. Some paths lead into the clouds: Waterrock Knob, the 16th highest peak in the eastern U.S., boasts an elevation of 6,292 feet. For those who prefer to take in the views from the comfort of the car, scenic routes, as well as parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, crisscross the county.
Waynesville, the county seat, is a quaint town with roots that go back to the early 1800s. The downtown district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is dotted with renovated old homes. Stroll along the brick sidewalks and window-shop into wellkept storefronts, or drop by City Bakery Cafe, known for its made-on-site challah bread and oversized sandwiches. The Classic Wine Seller invites shoppers and diners to linger on Friday or Saturday nights for live music on the outdoor patio. From May through December, the first Friday of the month is dedicated to “Art after Dark,” when local galleries host artists in action, receptions and music until 9 p.m.
This month, Waynesville hosts three festivals. On May 2 and 3, crafts, music and food are part of the Ramp Festival, celebrating the locally grown wild onions. May 16 is an evening of “Quick Draw,” when local artists paint to beat the clock to raise money for art students. Downtown turns into a giant block party on May 23 with food, music, art and crafts. Other activities promote the downtown district throughout the year.
Not far from downtown, the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort and Spa offers 27 holes of 4-star golf, restaurants, spa facilities and rooms in the original lodge, dating back to the 1920s. About 12 miles outside of town is one of the area’s premier destinations, The Swag. This rustically upscale, all-inclusive retreat is renowned for its stunning setting in the clouds—5,000 feet up, overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Getting there is not for the faint-hearted: The switchback road that leads to the main lodge makes for a slow and sometimes disorienting ride (especially on an empty stomach). But reaching the summit is well worth the effort. The 250 acres of meticulously tended grounds are sprinkled with stone and wood cabins with fireplaces and hot tubs on the porches. The main lodge also has accommodations, as well as the family-style dining room where guests gather around communal tables to savor chef-prepared dishes. Barbecues and picnics are also held on the porches and patios.
Haywood is also home to the Cataloochee Ski Area, where snow lovers flock during the winter for the three lifts and 17 trails. But now in spring, the county turns into a wonderland of green mountains and valleys where visitors can rediscover nature without working up too much of a sweat, even without those balmy beach breezes.
STORY: H.M. Cauley
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Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.