I've been to Asheville a handful of times, as it's roughly a 2-hour drive from Charlotte, and each time I love taking advantage of all this amazing city has to offer. From the wide selection of craft breweries, local coffee shops, and eclectic restaurants, it is truly a millennial's dream. If those are things you also value, then Asheville is the place for you.
Located in the western part of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a population slightly under 100,000 people. Known for its vibrancy, it has a large (and growing) art scene, fascinating historic architecture, and is what a foodie's dream are made of. Walking the streets you are guaranteed to see layers of art and messages of peace adorning the walls. Ample opportunities exist to experience the local culture through artisans, food, and entertainment.
And if the city life becomes too busy for you, an escape to the mountains is a stone's throw away. From the Blue Ridge Parkway to waterfall hikes to cozy cabins, the great outdoors is ready and waiting for you.
In this new mini-series, I'm going to share all that I have come to know and love about Asheville, from the food and drink to art and nature. I was quick to identify Asheville as my spirit city, and if you stick around you may just find that it has something for you too.
If you've ever been to Asheville, share your favorite spots and things to do in the comments!
When it comes to camping, there are many different styles that have emerged over the years. From the rugged backcountry sites that require multi-mile hikes in, to the more ~luxurious~ fad of glamping, complete with queen-sized beds and space heaters, and everything else in between, camping has evolved to fit the desires of many. As someone who has participated in, and enjoyed, several of those styles, it's hard for me to choose one type of camping that I prefer over all the others. It just depends on the season and what I'm really in the mood for.
On this trip, we choose a nice middle-ground camping experience. We were able to drive our cars up to our sites and take showers in the bath houses, but we also got to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and cook our own food. It was adventurous, yet comfortable- exactly what we were looking for. In fact, it matched what we were looking for so much that dare I say, it was the best campsite I could have asked for.
Located in Tugaloo State Park, we signed up for a certain type of campsite (i.e. basic, waterfront, RV, etc.) and then it was first come, first serve, so the site you ended up with depended on when you arrived and how long it took you to select a site. I choose a waterfront site, and from there, we drove around the park a few times trying to find the perfect spot. It didn't take long however, as one specific site really stood out to us. It was located on a piece of land that jutted out into the water a bit, and the site next to us was empty. While there was a camper on the other side of us, it was far back enough that we still had privacy. Our chosen site was also a quick walk over to the shower-house, meaning we had everything we needed while still feeling removed enough to enjoy the trip.
My absolute favorite part of the camping site however, was that we were surrounded by water on two sides. We saw beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and nothing beats the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore while you're laying in a hammock, watching the campfire flames crackle and pop.
We spent the nights relaxing by the fire and the days exploring the nearby state parks, written about in previous posts. The best part was that it was Gary's first time ever camping (if you don't count a glamping weekend) and he loved it; he quickly became a campfire omelette expert!
In addition to camping, Tugaloo State Park also offers swimming, water skiing, and boating in the 55,590 acre Lake Hartwell. If tent-camping isn't your style, there is a large rv/camper facility, as well as several yurts and cottages available to rent.
The quiet peacefulness and tranquil-like atmosphere quickly made this my all-time favorite camping destination. Turns out, the middle-ground is a great place to be!
Following our visit to the most beautiful waterfall in Georgia, we wanted to swing by another waterfall series. In hindsight, we should have gone there first, as anything after Toccoa Falls would be judged with a tough eye as the bar had been set high.
We drove out to Tallulah Gorge State Park for some afternoon fun. This park, set on more than 2,500 acres, features a 1,000 foot deep gorge carved out by the Tallulah River. Within the gorge are the main attractions of the park, the six waterfalls formed by the river, known as Tallulah Falls. These falls cause the river to drop 500 feet in one mile.
Activities at the park include camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, whitewater paddling, and more. There are rim trails along the park that visitors are welcome to hike, but the number of hikers allowed to make the trek down to the gorge floor is limited to 100 people a day. Permits are required but are free and can be obtained the day of at the Interpretive Center.
My favorite feature of the park was the suspension bridge that swings 80 feet above the gorge floor, offering amazing views of the gorge and falls below.
While the walk down to the bridge is a piece of cake, climbing the stairs back to the top was excruciating. In fact, I don't know if I've ever been sweatier in my life. If you recall from a few posts ago, I mentioned that it was August, in Georgia. It was hot, humid, and at this exact point, utterly unbearable. The light drizzle that began to develop as we climbed back up did little to ease our discomfort. The light at the end of the tunnel was that our campsite did in fact have a shower house.
Tallulah Gorge State Park had a high standard to meet, and I would say it succeeded. It did not feature the beauty that was found at Toccoa Falls, but it made up for it in a rugged wilderness that all adventure-seekers yearn for.
The next stop on our Georgia road trip was one straight out of a fairytale. In fact, it is so gorgeous that it was named for its beauty, receiving the name Toccoa, which is the Cherokee word for "beautiful." And it is indeed that. Toccoa Falls is an unbelievably charming and mesmerizing waterfall in northern Georgia, less than a two hour drive from Atlanta.
One thing I've adopted as a traveler is making lists. Packing lists, shopping lists, "Restaurants to try in _____" lists, etc. I strongly encourage you to create a "Waterfall Hikes in GA" list, or, if you live in Georgia, maybe a "Georgia Day Trip" list and put this on there because you will not regret it. In fact, it is so lovely, that if I had not just gotten married a few days beforehand, I would surely choose this as my wedding venue. The best part is that it is an extremely accessible hike, taking approximately two minutes to reach.
Located on the campus of Toccoa Falls College in Stephens County, Georgia, this waterfall has a drop of about 186 feet and has been claimed to be the tallest free-falling waterfall in the Eastern United States, although that claim has been disproved by at least four other falls. In fact, it's not even the tallest waterfall in Georgia , as Amicalola Falls features seven cascades totaling 729 feet. Despite its failed claim-to-fame, Toccoa Falls is sure to top your list for one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Georgia.
Starting in the visitor center and gift shop, you will pay a small admission fee ($2/adult, $1/seniors, $6/family of 4+, children six and under are free) and then follow a 100-yard handicap accessible gravel path. You can access the falls from 8:30am-sundown. Following alongside a babbling brook, you will round a small bend, and this amazing scenery will come into view.
Once reaching the base of the falls, you can spend time wading in the shallow water, climbing the boulders for prime photo opportunities, and taking in nature's handiwork. As it so happens, chairs had been arranged for an upcoming wedding the day of our visit, providing visitors with space to relax and reflect.
Despite its renowned beauty, the falls carry a sad history. In November of 1977, after five days of constant rain, the dam at Kelly Barnes Lake, located above the falls, burst, sending 176 million gallons of water down to the campus below, flooding the space in a matter of minutes. 39 college personnel who lived in the flood path were swept to their deaths in the Toccoa Creek, causing it to be the worst natural disaster in Georgia in more than 40 years.
You can learn more about the history, the community, and the college by taking some time to explore the area. The City of Toccoa is cute, friendly, and lively. In fact, after visiting the falls, we decided to grab lunch in town, where we were warmly invited to attend a free music festival later in the evening. Check out this town of beauty and prepare to be enchanted.
The Roadtrip Chronicles continues, and with it came a night's stay at an incredibly charming and wonderfully exciting nature and adventure lodge in Whitesburg, Georgia. Historic Banning Mills features many opportunities for connecting with nature, learning about the history of the area, and experiencing the thrill of adventure. Below are five great reasons to plan a visit and see for yourself what it's all about!
1. The lodging reaches new heights
Probably the most alluring part of visiting Historic Banning Mills was the opportunity to stay in a tree-house. That was definitely a bucket list item, although now having done so, instead of crossing it off the list, I will probably only want to stay in tree-houses from now on. There's just something about crossing a swinging bridge to enter your front door, and feeling the gentle sway of the building as you move inside. Not to mention the massive tree trunk running up straight through the middle of the room! If you're interested in a more traditional lodging setting, cabins are available, as well as rooms in the main lodge building.
2. You can experience the Guinness World Record-setting Zip-line Tour
The adrenaline-inducing adventure course at Historic Banning Mills holds the title for two Guinness World Records! Participate in the Flight of the Falcon, soaring over 3400 feet through the skies, taking in the gorgeous views of the woods, water, and lodge property. Not up for that much adventure? Check out Level 1 or Level 2 of their zip-line tours - still offering incredibly fun and exciting opportunities to soar through the trees, but at a much more comfortable level- perfect for beginners!
3. There's something for everyone
Do you prefer to keep things a little slower? Maybe a little closer to the ground? If flying through the air at top speed hundreds of feet about the ground isn't quite your thing- that's okay. There are outdoor activities for everyone of every age, and you don't have to be an adrenaline-junkie to participate. From climbing walls and kayaking to horseback riding and birds of prey nature events, your entire family is sure to love experiencing getting a little closer to nature, and at their own pace.
4. Ecosystem conservation is a high priority
Historic Banning Mills is more than just a retreat and conference center. It is actually a 501(c)(3) conservation center founded with the mission to "preserve the unique and pristine ecosystems of the Snake Creek Gorge and Chattahoochee watershed areas..." The staff has worked in partnership with the Trust for Public Lands and the Chattahoochee River Keepers to preserve over 1500 acres of the Snake Creek Gorge. Future goals include building an on-site Historical and Natural History Museum and constructing an eco tree walk bridge system for visitors to enjoy nature without causing disruption.
5. Relaxation comes naturally
All that adrenaline can be tiring, and eventually you'll need to relax. Check out the Day Spa and choose from a variety of spa and body treatments. Perfect for unwinding after the outdoor adventures of hiking through the woods and soaring through the sky. Enjoy some alone time or pamper yourself with a couple's massage- that way you'll be rested up for another day of adventuring!
Last time I told you guys we stopped for a night in Americus, GA, but I didn't tell you why. The reason we choose tiny little Americus is because of its proximity to our next destination.
Now, I don't know about you guys, but when I think about Georgia I think of coastlines, hot summer sunshine, and of course, peaches. Whether the colonial feel of Savannah or the urban sprawl of Atlanta comes to mind, Georgia has a lot of character.
But it also has something else. Something that I guarantee you would never imagine to exist within the state boundaries. Something so grand it has actually come to be known as Georgia's Little Grand Canyon. Yes, you read that right. A canyon. And it is in fact quite grand.
Formally known as Providence Canyon, this 1,000 acre state park features several campsites, picnic shelters, a museum, and a seasonal visitor center. The canyon is a true example of the impact humans have on the environment, as this great landscape came to be during the 1800s, after years of poor farming techniques that eroded the soil and created gullies up to 150 deep. The exposed soil leaves patterns of pink, orange, and purple stripes running through crevices.
Hikers can trek down to the canyon floor, which is often covered in a thin layer of water, indicating the water table below. This is also a trail along the canyon rim that offers amazing scenic views of the top of the canyon; it is rated easy to moderate. When visiting, you have to be very cautious not to climb the canyon walls, as they are actually composed of sand and soil, and will erode when disturbed. Visitors can also take note of the rare Plumleaf Azalea, an Azalea species that only grows in the region, and blooms in later summer after most Azaleas have lost their coloring. Mixed forest vegetation offers other chances to see plant and wildlife species in this quiet and alluring park.
The Roadtrip Chronicles continues! The next stop on our Georgia tour was in the tiny little town of Americus, 3 1/2 hours and 210 miles west of Savannah. With a population of roughly 17,000, it's a small town with a big personality. Americus is home to many well-known organizations, including Habitat for Humanity's international headquarters, the Rosaylnn Carter Institute for Giving, and the Fuller Center for Housing international headquarters. As for the reason why this little community was a destination on our journey - you'll have to stay tuned! What I can say is that it met all our needs for a quiet and charming area to relax before beginning the next chapter of our journey.
1. Visit the Historic Windsor Hotel
Built in 1892, this Victorian-style hotel was designed to draw in visitors from the north during the winter months. Special architectural features included a tower and turret, 100 rooms, balconies, and an expansive atrium lobby. After joining the Best Western family and completing recent multi-million dollar renovations, the Windsor held its grand re-opening in 2010, featuring special guests former President and Mrs. Carter. Whether you choose to stay here or elsewhere, be sure to check out the gorgeous architectural details while walking downtown.
2. Work at Koinonia Farm
Founded in 1942 as an intentional Christian community, Koinonia Farm established itself on the principles of community, equality, and social consciousness. The families and visitors of the farm decided to focus their efforts on improving the poor-quality local housing, a movement that eventually formed Habitat for Humanity, and later, the Fuller Center for Housing. Today, visitors can stop by for a few hours, or a few nights, as they tour the farm, learn about the history, and even participate in daily farm operations. Retreats and conferences are also held at Koinonia, where visitors are invited to stay, work, and serve.
3. Volunteer with New Horizons
Americus is the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, and home to the organization's international headquarters. New Horizons, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, seeks to complete the same mission of eradicating housing and poverty issues, but works in a concentrated area, focusing on the town of Americus and surrounding communities. If you've ever wondered about Habitat for Humanity, their mission, goals, and the work that they do, visit New Horizons and experience putting the work on a local level.
4. Learn at the Global Village and Discovery Center
If you don't have time to put in a day's work volunteering with New Horizons, you can check out all that Habitat for Humanity is doing by visiting the Global Village and Discovery Center. Located at Habitat for Humanity's headquarters, this center features 15 life-size Habitat houses from around the world. Walk through the outdoor facilities and learn about the devastating effects poverty has had in communities world-wide, as well as what Habitat for Humanity is doing to provide relief.
5. Grab a drink at Thirteenth Colony Distilleries
Thirteenth Colony Distilleries is a 44,000 square foot facility in Americus and the only craft distillery in the state of Georgia. They have a range of products from whiskey to vodka to gin, and have won several gold medals for their work. Stop by for a drink (or two or three) and experience all there is to know about fine southern distilling.
Wormsloe Historic Site is a state historic site outside of Savannah, and was the next stop on our road trip through Georgia. Also known as Wormsloe Plantation, this site consists of over 800 acres, part of which was once a large estate owner by one of Georgia's colonial founders, Noble Jones. The state acquired the majority of the plantation in 1973 and opened it to the public in 1979 as a historic site. Today the area includes thousands of old live oaks, a museum, a colonial life demonstration area, and walking trails.
Having grown up in Virginia, I was quite familiar of the colonial life exhibits, such as Williamsburg and Jamestown, so I won't hesitate to say that is not the reason why I wanted to visit Wormsloe. While it was interesting to learn about colonial life in a different part of the country, the real reason I wanted to visit is actually the first thing you see before you even enter the site.
Not just a cluster or a city block, but a 1 1/2 mile long avenue that leads from the entrance gate to the heart of the historic plantation. It is one of the most well-known and picturesque areas nearby, and has an air of romance fit for a movie scene, making it one of my biggest must-sees for anyone visiting Savannah. It provided us the perfect stop about 30 minutes after leaving our B&B and we had a chance to walk the trails and learn about the history of the area before hitting the road.
If you are ever in the Savannah area, you do not want to leave without seeing this gorgeous piece of history.
In my last post I discussed the outline of a roadtrip my new husband and I took back in August. This roadtrip was a mini-moon, or as I like to say, the first of a 3-part honeymoon series (more details on that later). What we failed to realize before going into this trip was that our destination, planned activities, and time of year did not go together nicely. Georgia. In August. Hiking and camping. We were hot. Despite the heat, we had a blast and lived to tell about it.
First stop: Savannah
Where to Stay
Finding the right place to stay in Savannah was extremely time-consuming. There are endless amazing options, from Airbnbs to historic mansions to modern flats, we really struggled to find the perfect place to stay at the right price point. The struggle largely came from my never-ending desire to travel cheaply so as to do as much as possible, mixed in with the fact that this was our honeymoon and I wanted to be able to splurge at times. The heart wants what it wants and in the end I couldn't have been happier with the decision- the Historic Gastonian, part of the historic lodging series and voted the Best B & B of Savannah.
Located about two blocks from Forsyth Park, this boutique B&B is made up of two Italianate-style mansions that were built in 1868. Rated AAA Four-Diamond and recognized by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine as one of the finest places to stay in the world, I knew we picked a winner. It is also featured in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. If all the awards and recognitions are not enough to convince you, maybe the photos are.
Seeing as though we were on our honeymoon, I naturally selected the Honeymoon Suite and it's probably one of the best decisions I ever made. It is 850sq ft of luxury with an adjoining private balcony where we were able to eat our made-to-order hand-delivered breakfast, surrounded by live oaks.
What to See
The Central Park of Savannah, Forsyth Park, is comprised of 30 acres located right in the middle of the historic district. While the most notable feature is the large fountain at a crossroads of paths lined with live oaks, the park has a lot to offer. A child's play area, tennis and basketball courts, large fields for soccer, frisbee, and the Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club, and a Fragrant Garden for blind visitors are all highlights of not only the park, but the diverse community that comes to enjoy the area.
Anyone who visits Savannah will inevitably fall in love with the architecture, but when you travel to the city with an actual architect, the love affairs goes to a whole new level. My new husband was absolutely enthralled with the endless rows of houses, dating back to colonial periods and featuring Italianate, Greek and Gothic Revival, Victorian, and more. Now I will be perfectly honest and say that most of those things mean nothing to me outside of the fact that the buildings are large, ornate, and beautiful. My favorite part was that the city embraced the natural elements, leaving walls covered in ivy and stoops blanketed with moss.
Probably the most identifying sign of a Savannah sidewalk is the drooping, swaying branches of the live oaks, covered with moss and providing shade to the heat-soaked streets. At first I thought these were going to be a sight that I had to seek out. I quickly came to realize that was not the case and that they are a dime a dozen. However, they are impossible to grow tired of and we enjoyed the view as we sat on our private balcony and admired their swinging vines.
Where to Eat
As I mentioned earlier, we had made-to-order breakfasts each morning of our stay. This meant that we were very full and didn't seek out a lot of food options. What we did seek out were periodic snacks to keep us going until the next large breakfast. My favorite place we stopped in for a bite was Jazz'd, a basement tapas bar that featured dim lighting, sultry live music, and a full menu of food and drink.
Pro Tip: If you're looking for a quick bite to eat or some shops to stroll through, check out City Market. Around since the 1700s, this open-air market features four blocks of shops, restaurants, and art. Grab some gelato, pick a bench, and watch this amazing city pass by.
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Savannah, Georgia will forever be one of the most classic, romantic, charming cities in the United States. Its proximity to the coast, as well as its colonial history, has provided it with a unique and gorgeous architectural style that has characterized the city over the last several centuries.
For us, Savannah means so much more...
Recently, we got married!
Because we like to think of ourselves as different, and we often take the road of “we’re going to do what we want to do even if it’s not the normal way of doing things,” we decided to embark on Phase 1 of a multi-series honeymoon. Phase 1 was relatively low-key and consisted of a road trip through Georgia, with the origin being the beautiful city of Savannah. Beyond Savannah, the road trip consisted of multiple strategically mapped points of interest that included a lot of hiking, camping, and overall ~adventure~
While I am a planner, and I enjoyed spending hours and hours planning this trip, I did not plan it down to every minute of every day, as we do enjoy the spontaneity that comes with visiting a new city, as well as the fact that we fully recognize that schedules do not always go as planned and it’s typically better to leave room for error than find ourselves in a bind.
Despite all my planning, research, and careful mapping, I somehow overlooked a very important fact. It was actually several facts that, when combined, create one quite uncomfortable situation. These facts were as follows:
Activities: Hiking, camping
Enough said. Savannah is hot, but even more than that, Savannah is HUMID. And when you try to do strenuous outdoor activities in August in an average Savannah climate, you find yourself a little bit uncomfortable.
Despite the heat, the sweat, the smokey campfires, and the general lack of access to a cool and comfortable climate (at least our campsite had showers!) we remained in positive spirits the entire trip, which was a good starting point for our marriage!
If you want to follow along as I unpack the details of a Georgian honeymoon road trip through August, subscribe to email updates from the blog! This little mini-series is going to feature some AMAZING, as well as little-known highlights that you would not even believe exist in Georgia, and you may even want to check them out for yourself!
I travel and then I write about it. I hope you enjoy my experiences, and can learn from my trial and errors!