Small towns big on adventure that are within 10 hours of Chattanooga

Contributed photo by Ralph Daniel Photography via / Canoeing on the Altamaha River offers solitude amid rare wildlife.
Contributed photo by Ralph Daniel Photography via / Canoeing on the Altamaha River offers solitude amid rare wildlife.

If you've already explored almost every square inch of the great outdoors just outside your front door and are itching for some adventure after months at home, outdoor recreation is the perfect socially distanced solution. And Chattanooga is driving distance to many under-the-radar small towns that are big on outdoor opportunities.

Before loading up, be sure to check the latest on closures and advisories, and make a mask part of your gear checklist.


photo Photo contributed by Visit Bentonville / Bentonville, Ark., offers both paved and trail cycling opportunities which earned the small city Silver-level Ride Center status from the International Mountain Bicycling Association.


Population: 54,909

Drive time from Chattanooga: 10 hours

There are 12 Silver-level Ride Centers in the U.S., as identified by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) for outstanding trail networks that offer something for everyone, and this sister-state town is one. What makes Bentonville unique, and a silver standout, is the accessibility of its trails. Walk out just about any front door and you'll be within an easy ride of the nearest trail, with an unparalleled urban network connecting the dots in town and beyond.


* Suggested outfitter: Phat Tire Bike Shop

* Best post-ride beer: Bike Rack Brewing Company

Even if you never left downtown you'd have access to nearly 60 miles of cycling trails, including what's been called the best urban mountain bike system in the country: Slaughter Pen. Travel a bit farther and you can tackle over 100 miles of singletrack. The paved 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway connects riders to public art, the downtown areas of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell and Rogers and, you guessed it, more singletrack.

photo Photo contributed by Visit Bentonville / The Slaughter Pen urban trail network is seen in Bentonville, Ark.

Slaughter Pen

With enough variety to keep anyone entertained, here you'll find features like wall rides, ladder bridges and skinnies amid the 20-mile machine-built wooded course located in the heart of the city. Show off your aerials with the help of the flowy park's deep rollers and tabletop jumps, or just revel in the speed you'll gain from the big-berm turns and gravity-fed downhill.

Blowing Springs

Pick up this 6-mile loop from the Razorback Regional Greenway and you'll be treated to a true woods experience as you speed past caves, waterfalls and rock ledges. But the root- and rock-studded terrain will make you work for your flow amid the sharp switchbacks and short downhill sections, so pay attention.

Back 40

Trail angels often flit among this network's undulating landscape, stocking coolers with well-earned beverages for those who traverse the 21-mile loop and crisscrossing interior trails. Accessible from Blowing Springs, the Back 40 caters mainly to intermediate and advanced riders looking to take on its steep climbs, kerst ledges, rock gardens and creek - and road - crossings. Pro tip: Bring a patch/plug kit and extra tube.

Kessler Mountain

Located about 30 miles outside of town in Fayetteville, which you can access via the regional greenway, this growing 16-mile singletrack system ranges from family-friendly to black-diamond rides. The rocky course is scenic as it loops around outcroppings and the namesake mount, with spectacular views from the top. At the base is Kessler Mountain Regional Park, 620 acres offering restrooms, soccer and baseball fields and a large playground adjacent a nearly 400-acre nature preserve.

photo Photo contributed by Visit Bentonville / Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art features world-class art and is free to visitors courtesy of the Walton family, Bentonville, Ark., natives who founded Walmart.


Snuggled in a deep ravine over Crystal Spring is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It may seem an odd mention amid cycling trails, but the surrounding hillside is sliced up by Slaughter Pen. While you could easily spend all your time out there, the fact that the museum is free - courtesy of its financiers, Walmart founders and Bentonville natives the Walton family - means you don't have to. Inside, you can see iconic images such as Norman Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter" and Andy Warhol's "Coca-Cola."


Dirt Cheap: Blowing Springs Campground and RV Park may be located just north of town, but that doesn't mean you'll miss out on Bentonville's in-town trail system. The park is a trailhead for the Razorback Regional Greenway - as well as the Back 40 and Blowing Springs bike trails. Its namesake spring and forested backdrop offer an idyllic setting that you can also take advantage of via the park's own trails, both paved and natural. The 11 primitive and 64 RV sites are pet-friendly, and you can stay up to six months if you're a member (2 weeks if not), which also offers savings on the typical $11 or $39 cost.

Budget: The Comfort Inn and Suites downtown offers free breakfast, an indoor pool and hot tub, and spacious rooms with detached kitchenettes, some with full-size fridges. The fact that they're suites means room for all your gear, and it's a bike-friendly hotel allowing for in-room storage. The plush bedding and updated interiors are a pretty sweet deal at $60-$100 per night (there's a discount if you stay 2 nights or more), and it puts you close to the action. You can be at Slaughter Pen in 15 minutes by bike utilizing the city's urban trail system.

Luxury: One of only nine such hotels in the country, 21c is part art museum, part boutique hotel. The chic rooms range from $150-$400 per night, with upgrades including swankier suites and tailored bundles like a pet care package for four-legged companions. Without leaving the hotel you can dine on elevated takes on regional specialties at The Hive, the farm-fresh restaurant of Arkansas native and six-time James Beard Semifinalist Matthew McClure. But don't let its fancy vibes fool you: 21c is a designated bike-friendly hotel offering a bike washing station, pump or tool kits, even bike rentals. Stop by the front desk for some trail maps. Located in the heart of downtown, the hotel provides easy access to Slaughter Pen's trails and features via the Razorback Regional Greenway, which you can pick up a block from the front door.

Unique: About 15 minutes from Bentonville by car, you can stay in a cabin literally right off the trail. Trails Edge Cabins offers well-appointed yet cozy two-bed, two-bath units designed with cyclists in mind. We're talking custom mudrooms with slatted walls for your gear, secure bike storage and a bike washing station. Outside, you'll find community fire pits and hammock stands, not to mention direct access to the Back 40 bike trail. Capable of accommodating 4-8 people, the fully furnished bungalows - which include a full kitchen and laundry room - start at $165 per night.


The Pedaler's Pub

After a long ride, fill up on wood-fired artisanal pizza, griddle burgers and straightforward sandwiches at this industrial-chic spot dedicated to the local cycling community. Snag a 10% group ride discount and a spot on the large patio and kick back with a craft beer. You've earned it.

Tusk & Trotter

This "American brasserie" offers a laid-back vibe alongside award-winning dishes in a setting that used to serve as Walmart founder Sam Walton's office and warehouse. It's now the kind of place where salads benefit from fresh peaches and blackberries, burgers get an update with bison and lamb, and buttermilk fried chicken is served atop carrot cake waffles.

Blue Fish House

Owing to the on-site fish market's overnight deliveries from the Gulf of Maine, the catches here are always fresh. Wade in with something light, like one of the house sushi rolls or a cup of lobster bisque, and follow it up with a Maine lobster bake or seafood risotto.


World Champion Squirrel Cook-off Sept. 26, 2020Fried, grilled, smoked - no matter how you prefer your squirrel, you'll find it at the hands of the dozens of competing culinary teams at this annual event. Armed with backcountry secrets and cheeky names like Filet of Gray, they serve up samples of their masterpieces in the hopes of bagging the $1,000 grand prize. The event's organizers say squirrel is the cure for the year's pandemic.


Just two hours from Chattanooga is Anniston, Ala., and its Bronze-level Ride Center, Coldwater Mountain. And there, located just 2 miles from town, are 30+ miles of professional-built singletrack spread across 4,000 acres. The ever-growing intermediate-level network features cross country rides through the backwoods, gravity-fed trails, and game-upping jumps and berms. If you prefer pavement, Anniston is the terminus of the 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail through pastoral countryside. Take it all the way to the Georgia/Alabama state line and you can connect with the 62-mile Silver Comet Trail and ride to the outskirts of Atlanta.


photo Photo contributed by Turner PR / Table Rock State Park is home to Pinnacle and Table Rock mountains, South Carolina's second- and sixth-highest peaks respectively.


Population: 5,346

Drive time from Chattanooga: 4 hours

Referred to by many as a hidden gem, this small town just outside of spotlight-stealing Greenville is much more than a diamond in the rough - especially if you enjoy "roughing it" in the woods. Within 25 minutes of the charming downtown area, where you'll find a surprising concentration of local eateries and shops, you can be in one of five state parks, many of which are connected via sprawling trail systems that allow for overnight adventures. The downtown area also offers direct access to more leisurely recreational opportunities via the 18-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail greenway that runs right through town on its way to downtown Greenville.


* Suggested outfitter: Sunrift

* Best post-hike beer: Swamp Rabbit Brewery

Summit one of the state's tallest peaks or cool off under a cascading waterfall. Find solitude on the 77-mile Foothills Trail or hop on a popular short-distance jaunt to one of the area's many waterfalls. With Travelers Rest's easy access to so many options, it's a veritable choose-your-own-adventure.

photo Contributed photo by Dirk Hiller via Turner PR / South Carolina's Table Rock State Park rewards visitors with views regardless of whether they take one of the strenuous trails to the summits — though it is recommended that you do.

Table Rock State Park

Home to Pinnacle and Table Rock mountains, the Palmetto State's second- and sixth-highest peaks respectively, this park rewards visitors with views regardless of whether they take one of the strenuous trails to the summits (though it is recommended that you do). Table Rock's granite face, rising above the 3,000-acre playground like an ancient monument, is reflected in the still waters of Pinnacle Lake and Lake Oolenoy, and lower trails take you past babbling mountain streams and waterfalls. Spend the day exploring, or pick up the Foothills Trail, rated by Backpacker magazine as "one of the best long trails [50+ miles] in the country."

Jones Gap State Park

This park - part of the 13,000-acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area along with Caesars Head State Park - offers 60+ miles of trails between the two and connects with the Foothills Trail as well as the Palmetto Trail, a continually developing footpath across the state. In addition to cascading waterfalls, common in the area's parks, you'll also find the Middle Saluda River gurgling through Jones Gap's wooded landscape. The state's first designated scenic river is a popular spot for trout fishing and was once part of South Carolina's first state-owned fish hatchery. A fish hatchery exhibit and trout pond remain.

photo Photo contributed by Turner PR / From the main overlook at Caesars Head State Park near Travelers Rest, S.C., the Blue Ridge Mountains rise beyond, giving way to rippling hills visible into North Carolina and Georgia.

Caesars Head State Park

Waterfalls are the main draw here. Of the six accessible, the star of the show is 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. Take the popular 4-mile trail to the scenic overlook, or get a bird's-eye view from the suspension bridge across the creek above via a 6.6-mile round-trip hike. Autumn offers another reason to look up: From Sept. 1-Nov. 30, thousands of hawks migrate through the park, soaring above the patchwork quilt of changing leaves. Anyone can access views from the park's namesake overlook, an easy 0.3-mile walk from the parking lot. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise beyond, giving way to rippling hills visible into North Carolina and Georgia.

Paris Mountain State Park

This 1,500-acre escape is the closest in proximity to Travelers Rest - and Greenville, so expect crowds. They come for the outfitted campsites; 15 miles of family-friendly hiking and biking trails; four park lakes, sometimes dotted with charming pedal boats; and summertime swimming area. The Civilian Conservation Corps-built Camp Buckhorn located in the park is a popular spot for retreats and weddings.


The parks have reduced capacity due to COVID-19 precautions. Arrive early and pre-purchase your admission - valid only on the date of purchase - at, where you can see how many spots are available for your preferred park. Your emailed receipt does not guarantee you admission if the park is at capacity. You may request a refund, though entry fees are only $3-$6.


Dirt Cheap: The neighboring state parks offer campsites and cabins, many of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to stay closer to the town than the trail, the KOA Campground about 7 miles from downtown TR offers fully equipped tent, RV site and cabins starting at $47 per night. The location, awarded for its customer service and high standards, features a swimming pool, playground, pet park, ping pong, cornhole, basketball and life-size versions of classic games like checkers.

Budget: The Best Western Travelers Rest/Greenville, just one mile from TR's downtown, offers newly renovated rooms for around $100. Guests also have access to the fitness studio, outdoor pool and fire pit, and are typically treated to a free hot breakfast. Pets are welcome for $20 per day plus a refundable $50 deposit.

Luxury: Hotel Domestique is like an Old World retreat in the mountains and caters to outdoor enthusiasts and those otherwise looking for an escape. Legendary cyclist George Hincapie lives in Greenville and often trains in the surrounding hills, reminiscent of his favorite European alpine climbs. If you'd like to give it a go, the hotel will fit you with a pro-grade Scott bike, and offers guided tours or customized routes. A fleet of BMWs also waits at the ready for guest use. No matter how you choose to adventure, swing by the front desk for complimentary nutrition bars and Skratch Labs hydration mixes before returning to the saltwater pool and luxurious accommodations softened with rustic touches. The on-site Restaurant 17 - which sources its ingredients from neighboring farms and nearby streams - offers a delicious way to unwind and refuel. An European-style continental breakfast is included with the $400-$500 per night rooms.

Unique: At the bike-friendly Swamp Rabbit Inn, located just off the greenway in downtown TR, sits the LOLA Vintage Camper, offering guests a unique option in addition to the main house's four private guest rooms and detached apartments. The renovated 1969 Lamar camper is a bohemian paradise with fringe lighting, patterened pillows, a live-edge dining table and copper-cladded bathroom. It comes with a full (and fully equipped) kitchen, custom mattresses on its queen- and foldout full-size beds, and all the creature comforts of home. Outside you'll find a private patio with tiki torches, the inn's shared pool and bike rentals, and craft breweries and restaurants within walking distance.


Sidewall Pizza

This former tire shop (hence the name) slings scratch-made brick-oven pies and daily-made ice cream from local milk, both of which draw crowds. They're so popular, in fact, that Sidewall now has five satellite locations around the Greater TR area. The original is located just off the Swamp Rabbit Trail, offering an easy respite from your workout.

Whistle Stop at the American Café

Said to be the oldest café in the Upstate, this family-owned eatery's titles don't stop there. It was named "One of the Top Themed Restaurants in the State in 2017" and "One of Only 11 Restaurants in SC to Visit" in both 2017 and 2018 by Only in Your State. Dine on Southern specialties like shrimp and grits or chicken salad sandwiches in the homey diner-like interior or on the covered rooftop bar overloking Main Street.


If you're looking for something light, this family-run restaurant specializes in Vietnamese cuisine. Come for the pho (or bone broth, steamed buns, spring rolls or stirfry) made from locally sourced ingredients with an emphasis on grass-fed and finished pasture-raised products. For fuel of the caffeine variety, you can select from delicacies like bubble tea, matcha jasmine green lemonade tea and Vietnamese milk ice coffee.


Music in the ParkThe open-air amphitheater at Trailblazer Park hosts a weekly concert series May-September where you can spread out a blanket and socially distance dance. It's also the site of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market (May-September) and other family-friendly events like free movie screenings (August).


Nestled in our own patch of forested mountains, Monteagle, Tenn., may not immediately spring to mind in terms of a trip away, but it's worth a night or two. The town offers easy access to hiking, climbing and summertime swimming destinations including Savage Gulf, Denny Cove, Lost Cove and Fiery Gizzard, and the University of the South's campus offers a 20-mile trail past caves, lakes and along the bluff. The paved Mountain Goat Trail, part of the university's Perimeter Trail, connects Monteagle and Sewanee via a 5-mile leg in the growing network. Ultimatly set to stretch 40 miles from Cowan to Palmer, the trail's next section was due to be complete in mid-2020, offering more connectivity in Monteagle.


photo Contributed photo by Ralph Daniel Photography via / The Darien River is just one of many paddling opportunities around the small city of Darien, Ga.


Population: 1,896

Drive time from Chattanooga: 6 hours

Home to one of the largest estuarine systems in the world, this quaint coastal town offers a variety of options for paddlers. You can sea kayak around the surrounding Golden Isles, set off into the expansive salt marshes, or head inland to explore the swamps of the mighty Altamaha, Georgia's "Little Amazon."


* Suggested outfitter: Three Rivers Outdoors

* Best post-paddle beer: Cypress Lounge

With natural beauties like Jekyll and Sapelo islands within paddling distance of Darien's coast, it makes sense to challenge yourself with a sea tour. Due to tides, currents and geography, it's best to go with a guide, so here we focus on river adventures which are no less rewarding.

photo Contributed photo by Ralph Daniel Photography via / The Oconee River Greenway is a popular put-in spot for the Altamaha tributary.

Altamaha River

Georgia's biggest river, the Altamaha is the second-largest watershed on the East Coast; yet ask someone if they've heard of it and chances are the answer is 'no.' You're more likely to pass an alligator, bottle-nosed dolphin or even manatee - and you likely will - than another human being along its 135 miles. The river's unspoiled biodiversity and worlds-away feel led The Nature Conservancy to declare it one of the 75 Last Great Places on Earth. The undammed river welcomes all skill levels, but due to its remoteness, you should have experience paddling (and reading a map and compass). Along the way you'll find many sandbars that make perfect campsites where you can fall asleep to only the sounds of the wild. The Altamaha's concentration of more than 130 rare and endangered species is the largest in the state.

Oconee/Ocmulgee rivers

If a week isn't enough time on the river (as if there were such a thing!), tack on one or both of these tributaries of the Altamaha. If you're starting from the north - and you should in order to ride the albeit slow current - you'll encounter the 200-mile Ocmulgee followed by the 220-mile Oconee. You're more likely to share the river with other boaters (and not just paddlers) on these sections, but you'll also pass by vestiges of Native American villages and Spanish forts. If you're into fishing, the biggest largemouth bass on record was caught on the Ocmulgee in 1932.

Lewis Island Natural Area

If you'd rather just do the Altamaha's highlight reel and save time for other adventures, head 5 miles upriver from Darien and you'll find a network of canoe trails surrounding this National Natural Landmark. The undeveloped island's towering trees are thought to be more than 1,000 years old. Miraculously saved from logging due to the fact that they can only be accessed by boat - and deep, squelching mud when the river is down - they huddle together in what are the largest known groves of virgin tidewater cypress and tupelo gum trees in the state. Bring boots or waders, and consider taking a guide to help you navigate the maze-like network.


With only about 70 full-time residents - one of the last surviving Gullah Geechee communities in the nation - Sapelo Island is home to more birds than people. And with state protections in place to safeguard the island's natural habitats, you can walk the same unspoiled sandy shores as historic notables including Calvin Coolidge and Charles Lindbergh. The island allows for overnight guests via the Cabretta Campground, or you can live it up with a private stay in the still ornate Reynolds Mansion. There's enough to keep you busy. The Sapelo Island Lighthouse, University of Georgia Marine Institute, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and National Estuarine Research Reserve System are housed there - as is, reportedly, buried treasure. Separated by a small creek is the Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge, named after the infamous pirate was rumored to stop there.


Dirt Cheap: Located about 12 river miles (25 land miles) from Darien, Altamaha Regional Park offers riverside campsites at one of the only tent-welcoming outfits in the area. Surrounding the 56 equipped sites, which start at $20 per night, there are boat docks, a playground and horseshoe pit, swimming areas, a nature trail, fishing pier, pavilion and picnic spots. If you're ready for a real bed, there's also a couple of two-bedroom cabins for $75-$85 per night.

Economy: While Econo Lodges are typically what the name implies, the furnishings at this location are nicer than you'd expect. The reviews are mixed, though, with many calling out the cleanliness of the en suite bathrooms. But hey, it's not a hole in the ground. There's an outdoor pool if you haven't seen enough water, and a continental breakfast to help you recharge. And for $15 per night per pet, in addition to the base room price of $50, you can snuggle with your second mate.

Luxury: Darien Waterfront Inn offers updated rooms without the four-poster beds common at B&Bs. Each of the riverside inn's five bedrooms has its own bathroom and access to a balcony looking out over the vast marshes. The B&B's owners are happy to offer recommendations for what to do while in town, which you can discuss over the home-cooked breakfast included in the $120 per night price.

Unique: Located about 15 miles from Darien in neighboring Townsend, "Linda's Way Eulonia" short-term rental is a small fishing camp house that's big on 'wow' factor. The interior is like a modern penthouse suite, but it's what's outside that steals the scene. Marshes stretch as far as the eye can see, and guests often see dolphins and other wildlife, not to mention spectacular sunrises, from the private balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows. There are farm animals on the property to make sure you get your wilderness fix, and you can fish and crab from the house's dock or take the complimentary kayaks out.

photo Contributed photo by Ralph Daniel Photography via / Shrimp boats create a charming backdrop in the riverfront town of Darien, Ga.


Skipper's Fish Camp

Most paddlers head here after coming off the water and snag a spot on the riverside patio. The shrimp and fishing boats just beyond signal fresh catches, and you'll find just about any kind of seafood you're craving.

Blue Bay Mexican Grill

The menu is standard fare, but reviewers rave about the family-like atmosphere and authentic and fresh flavors.

Waterfront Wine and Gourmet

Called a hidden gem, this is predominantly a boutique wine bar in an unassuming spot near the river. Whether you opt for a craft beer or one of the local wines, anchor it with a charcuterie plate or the daily special.


Deemed by Southern Living as "The #1 Thing Every Southerner Ought to Do," the Chattooga is a designated Wild & Scenic River made famous by the movie "Deliverance." One of the Southeast's longest free-flowing rivers, its descent through North Carolina and north Georgia's Appalachian Mountains creates class II-V rapids. The upper portion offers gentler currents and swimming holes, while the lower part, serviced by several outfitters, is popular for its challenging whitewater. Still, the Chattooga's approximately 50,000 annual visitors is a far cry from the Ocoee's 250,000. A permit is required to float or paddle the river, which you can self-register for through the Forest Service, though you should also have experience and backup. The river has claimed the lives of novice to expert paddlers and swimmers. Outfitters offer the safest way to navigate the churn.


photo Photo contributed by Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau / The New River Gorge Bridge is seen near Fayetteville, W.V., a popular climbing destination.


Population: 2,762

Drive time from Chattanooga: 5 hours, 40 minutes

If you expected Kentucky's Red River Gorge for this pick, that's exactly why we didn't go there. Yes, we know: It's some of the best climbing on this side of the country. But this is about discovery, right? Besides the fact that we might be able to tell you something you don't already know about the best base camp for the "other" gorge, the New River Gorge offers challenging routes to take your skills up a notch, especially if you're used to the huge holds at the Red.


* Suggested outfitter: Water Stone Outdoors

* Best post-climb beer: Freefolk Brewery

The New offers a healthy mix of trad, sport and bouldering, though most climbs run 5.9 and above so it's not best for beginners. But for those looking to stretch themselves, the more than 60 miles of hard-as-nails Nuttall sandstone cliffline offer pumpy ascents that reward with views of the gorge and famed New River Gorge Bridge, rightly one of the most photographed places in West Virginia. The gorge proper offers 1,500 routes, with an additional 1,500+ in the adjoining Gauley and Meadow gorges.

Junkyard Wall

This wall can get busy, but its more than 30 routes are some of the best in the gorge proper. The top-rated trad climbs (don't come here for sport) are Four Sheets to the Wind, a 5.9+ which offers good holds and multiple roofs, and New Yosemite, a solid 5.9 which starts with a good introduction to crack climbing followed by generous holds.

Party Buttress

Of this crag's nearly 30 climbs, many are moderates, with an average grade of 5.10b. Forget bouldering here; the routes are fairly evenly split between trad and sport. Favorites include Party in My Mind, favored by many as one of the best 5.10 trad routes around, and Freaky Stylee, a reachy 5.12a sport route with early morning sun.

Snake Buttress

Featuring several of the gorge's classic climbs, this sunny wall's 20 routes range from 5.9 to 5.13b. With a high concentration of sport climbs, head here to tackle multiple roofs on Legacy, a 5.11a, or a mix of pumpy and vertical action on the 5.12 a/b New World Order.

photo Photo contributed by Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau / The New River Gorge offers challenging routes — not the best place for beginners.


Though canceled for 2020, the annual Bridge Day offers a thrilling descent from the tallest bridge in the state. Typically, on the third Saturday in October, BASE jumpers and approved rappellers can soar the nearly 900 feet to the New River below. For everyone else, there's a nearly 700-foot zip line.


Dirt Cheap: The 44-acre Rifrafters Campground is located just 2 miles from the iconic Red River Gorge Bridge. The family-run outfit offers laundry and a small convenience store, plus rustic cabins with multiple bunk beds if you're coming as a caravan. There are also several large group spots among the 15 total campsites (plus 24 RV sites), some of which are more backcountry than bath house-centric. Still, each is outfitted with a fire ring and picnic table and many have electricity and water. Rates here are per person per night: $17 with electricity and water or $15 without. Cabins run $44-$64 for a couple, with additional charges for extra guests. Weekly rates offer a discount.

Economy: The Quality Inn is the only commercial lodging in town, so unless you snag a spot at one of the two bed-and-breakfasts, or dozen short-term vacation rentals, you'll pay the $85+ to stay here. (If you want to bring your crag dogs, add $15 per pet, per night.) In return, you'll get a hot breakfast; access to the fitness center, outdoor pool, covered grilling area and basketball and volleyball courts; and a premium mattress, microwave, mini-fridge and coffee maker standard in each room. Cheap places to grab a bite within walking distance abound. Chief among them is Elliott's Whitewater Bar & Grill, which offers straightforward bar food within stumbling distance.

Luxury: Eclectic and contemporary, these fully outfitted apartments don't sacrifice on "cozy." The historic building's four modern retreats are located across from the courthouse, offering the best of both worlds as a base camp for the great outdoors. Owned by a couple of "epic road trippers," the kinds of touches that make you say, "I want to live here," are included in each, with a special focus on local art. Each winter, they offer one of the flats for an artist residency, and they've partnered with a West Virginia artist for a standard souvenir option that is anything but. Submit a photo of your traveling troupe, and he'll create a custom illustration of you in front of the gorge's famed bridge. Stays average around $200 per night for two adults and two children.

Unique: Between its 10-person hot tub, heated saltwater pool, exposed ductwork and studded leather couches, "The Aviator's Lounge" vacation rental offers a taste of the good life, but that's not what makes it unique. The loft-style living space is located above a hangar adjacent the historic Fayetteville air strip. You can schedule a biplane ride for an additional fee, or just watch the takeoffs with your morning coffee. Between its three bedrooms and loft space, you can comfortably sleep 10, with plenty of couches for overflow. "The Aviator's Lounge" will set you back an average $500 per night, so pile in.


photo Photo contributed by Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau / The Cathedral Cafe is located in Fayetteville, W.V.

Cathedral Cafe

Come for the ambiance, stay for the breakfast/brunch. This former church will nourish your soul and stomach with items like French toast croissants and smoked salmon and dill scrambled eggs. The reasonable prices are perhaps the result of the owner's former life as a raft guide, and you can also pick up gift packs including fair trade Mexican coffee, organic hot chocolate and more.

Wanderlust CreativeFoods

This small-batch restaurant is big on flavor without the pretense of "gourmet." The menu is a veritable world atlas, with dishes like tikka masala to penne a la vodka to Gulf shrimp in a sherry reduction sauce - all of which get rave reviews. The portions aren't huge, but neither are the prices; and satisfaction is worth it.

Maggie's Pub

Part local pub, part eclectic fort, part hipster hangout, this is the spot for a well-earned cocktail (or beer) and socially distanced outdoor seating. The food menu is small, so don't overdo it, though.


OK, OK. If you add about 3 hours to your trip you can hit the Red, too. If you want to carve out your own little piece of climbers' paradise, head to the north end near Slade, Ky. Trad rules the walls here, so it's typically less crowded. The Muscle Beach area offers camping with pit toilets, and some boulder problems alongside the mostly single-pitch routes. If you like offwidths, tape up: This crag has the best concentration.

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