Editor's note: This is part of a series on small towns within driving distance of Chattanooga that are big on charm and amenities while still offering space to spread out.
Filled with friendly locals and overloaded with charm, small towns make the perfect getaway for those looking for a change of pace, a place to ditch city life for just a bit. And during the pandemic, they've become popular with travelers looking for a way to escape.
According to Airbnb's 2021 U.S. Travel Report, 51% of respondents said they are "more interested in being isolated beyond major tourist areas than they are in being surrounded by people and energy (24%)." Sixty-two percent said they wanted to vacation within driving distance of home.
Vrbo, another short-term rental site for homeowners around the globe, also notes that its customers are preferring to escape to destinations closer to home, seeking nature-oriented experiences when they do.
Drive time from Chattanooga: 45 minutes
Located atop Lookout Mountain, Mentone is commonly touted as a place where time stands still. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that this scenic mountain town is as quirky as it quaint.
What to Do
DeSoto State Park
7104 DeSoto Parkway NE, Fort Payne, Ala.
Office: 256-845-5380 | Campground: 256-845-5075
Featuring more than 3,000 acres of forest, rivers and mountain terrain, this state park offers kayaking, fishing, rappelling, bouldering and 25 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails just outside of Mentone. The park regularly hosts Yoga on the Mountain hikes, and is home to an aerial park featuring six ziplines that take guests up into the lush tree cover. The park's crown jewel, DeSoto Falls, is a 104-foot cascading waterfall, one of the tallest in the state. Stop off at the designated picnic area for lunch overlooking the falls, or get even closer by using the small-watercraft launch. You can rent a kayak at the Miller's Bend Paddle Shack located in the DeSoto Falls Picnic Area.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
4322 Little River Trail #100, Fort Payne, Ala.
Located adjacent to DeSoto State Park, the gem of this specially designated 15,000-plus-acre tract is the Little River, which has eroded the sandstone rock to create a unique landscape. Sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East, Little River Canyon is one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River and the deepest in Alabama, according to the National Park Service. There are a number of ways to enjoy the pristine waters of this designated Wild and Scenic River: swimming, fishing, whitewater paddling. The park also offers 23 miles of backcountry roads for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding, as well as several fairly short hiking-specific trails of varying difficulty. Be careful of hunters — and the area's many endangered plants — in season.
Cloudmont Ski & Golf Resort
721 County Road 614
The southernmost ski resort in the U.S., this quirky stop boasts two 1,000-foot beginner to intermediate slopes that are accessible when (and if) overnight temperatures drop to 28 degrees or colder, thanks to the help of snow machines. In the warmer months, Cloudmont offers golfing and horseback riding. Guided one- or two-hour rides take guests through wooded wilderness for views of DeSoto Falls and Veil Falls. A farmhouse and several chalets/cottages welcome guests to make a weekend out of it. All the sporting equipment needed can be rented on-site.
Mentone Scenic Boat Cruise
128 Berry St.
Let a local tour you around the river on a roughly one-hour cruise from DeSoto Falls. Guests rave about the informative and relaxing experience, "a must-do while in Mentone," many agree. The pontoon boat offers both group and private tours starting at $25 per person.
*** If you only do one thing
Mentone Brow Park
200-286 N. Cool St.
One of the few spots in town to take in the view from the brow of Lookout Mountain, this public park offers the best sunset view in the city, along with a pavilion and walking path. If you really want to make it memorable, stock up at the Mentone Farmers' Market, held on Saturdays year-round, and pack a picnic. DeKalb County is a dry county, so be sure to bring your own bottle if that's part of your preferred picnic supplies.
Where to Dine
Located in the heart of the city, Wildflower's menu fluctuates but typically features staples like choice filet mignon and wild-caught salmon. Famous for its tomato pie, and with a cozy atmosphere to match, it was once voted best cafe in the state by Alabama Magazine. Live music on the weekends adds to the draw, and a country store at the front offers a chance to snag a souvenir. Reservations are suggested.
Where else can you fill up on gas, burgers and beer, groceries and souvenirs? This quaint local market serves lunch, dinner specials like Taco Tuesdays, and adult beverages, as well as items for your everyday convenience. One of the few places in town to grab an evening bite on Sundays, the menu offers barbecue, a small selection of sandwiches and salads, bar-type appetizers and pizza.
The Hatter Cafe
This quirky "Alice in Wonderland"-themed breakfast and lunch spot doesn't play around when it comes to good food. The breakfast menu is fairly small, but splits the difference between tradition (think pancakes and biscuits) and fresh takes like creamy avocado egg toast and challah French toast. The bacon, sausage and country ham are locally sourced, and the tea is a full-service affair. Lunch offers a more substantial selection, ranging from simple sandwiches to meatloaf pie to gourmet salads. The carefully curated decor adds a touch of whimsy amid the crocheted place settings and china servingware. Next door, the Country Inn carries the ambiance through in its two private king-size rooms.
Where to Stay
Originally built in the 1920s, this B&B's 12 rooms each feature a private bath with a clawfoot tub and/or shower. Located in the middle of all the town has to offer, it still feels worlds away with its rocking chair porch overlooking nature. The charmingly decorated rooms pay homage to the building's history, and a night comes standard with a home-cooked Southern breakfast the next morning.
Winston Place Bed & Breakfast
353 Railroad Ave, Valley Head, Ala.
Listed on the National Register, this stately B&B dates back to 1831, and is located just outside of Mentone. The four spacious guest rooms and one two-room suite match the elegance of the columned front facade. The professionally decorated rooms have been featured in multiple publications. Each includes a private bath and some have access to the sun porch, the perfect place to welcome the day before heading down to the included breakfast.