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.
WAYNESVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Drive time from Chattanooga: 3 hours, 15 minutes
Waynesville is Haywood County's largest city, but with only 10,000 residents, it's still pretty small. What it lacks in population it makes up for in charm. It's an enchanting town located 31 miles west of Asheville in a valley between the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The views are astoundingly breathtaking, and Waynesville has become a popular getaway for people looking for good food, magnificent vistas, artisan shops, skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
What to Do
Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, 195 Hemphill Knob Road, Asheville
Known as "America's Favorite Drive," this scenic route will take you from Cherokee (and Waynesville), North Carolina, to Afton, Virginia, connecting to both Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. It's a journey that's a feast for the senses, but you don't have to travel the whole 459 miles to take in the unspoiled beauty through which the road winds. There are plenty of hiking, biking, picnicking and camping spots along the way.
Start your day bright and early with a visit to see the reintroduced elk in one of the most remote parts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spring and summer are the best times to get a glimpse of the elk, which appear mostly at dawn and again at dusk. A short drive out of Waynesville, the valley is rich in mountain history and beauty, with some of the original homesteads still standing and open to visitors for a history lesson on what life was like for the area's early settlers. Pick up a self-guide map from a box at the entrance, or schedule a guided visit with Cataloochee Valley Tours.
Shelton House Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts
49 Shelton St.
Built as a farmhouse in 1875, this former homestead now houses a beautifully curated collection of antiques, heritage crafts and more that help tell the story of life in the surrounding mountains. Escape both time and place with a stroll through the charming house, scenic grounds and lush gardens. The venue also hosts special events to help guests on their time travel journey, like the Blue Ridge Heritage Weekend Arts & Crafts Festival (Aug. 21-22) and Appalachian Family Christmas and the opening of the season-long Tinsel Trail (Dec. 5).
250 Pigeon Road
This award-winning semiprofessional community theater is back up and running following a yearlong closure due to COVID-19 precautions. Nestled on acreage adjacent to the Shelton House Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, it offers a rustic setting against the backdrop of Cold Mountain. Coming up, guests can also take in the theater's first outdoor show, "Billy Goat Gruff," running June 18-July 4, a family-friendly one-act Appalachian musical. And on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, the producers-only Haywood Farmers Market sets up shop in the theater's parking lot, offering fresh, local meats, fish, eggs, honey, dairy, flowers, nursery plants, preserves, baked goods, heritage crafts and more.
Shop till you drop
If your vacation isn't a vacation without shopping, no problem. Downtown Waynesville has a quaint, urban charm, perfect for walkable shopping in local boutiques and gift shops for artisan goods. You'll find everything from gently worn resale to high-end retail; candles, candies and coffees; handmade furniture and antiques.
Where to Eat
30 Church St.
In keeping with the "slow food movement," the menu here changes with the seasons and focuses on regional fare. Pastas are made in-house; aged prime beef is the only kind you'll find; and risotto balls stuffed with local goat cheese are the house specialty. Executive chef and owner Josh Monroe grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, so he knows a thing or two about Appalachian fare — as evidenced by the restaurant's numerous awards, from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator among them. Adding to that, he had formal culinary training at AB Tech Culinary Institute and, while there, was a member of the school's gold medal culinary Olympic team.
79 Elysinia Ave.
This cozy, homestyle eatery proudly boasts that it has the best barbecue this side of Texas. While that might be a matter of opinion, there's no doubt that you'll get your fix of 'que at this establishment. Enjoy mouthwatering ribs, housemade sausages and brisket hot out of the smoker with a cold brew on the deck. What a way to end a day in the mountains.
The Buttered Biscuit
1226 Dellwood Road
The name alone starts your mouth watering, and it won't stop when you look at the menu. Big, freshly made biscuits lathered with butter or smothered with gravy and served with grits and a couple of eggs sound like a good way to start your day? Or a burger for lunch doused with barbecue sauce and topped with fried onion rings? A patty melt and other sandwiches round out the menu, found on the eatery's Facebook page.
Where to Stay
Andon-Reid Inn Bed and Breakfast
92 Daisy Ave.
This inn — one of the top five bed-and-breakfasts in North Carolina — has stunning rooms with elegant furnishings in a designated historic turn-of-the-century home with high ceilings, tall windows and porches where you can sit and take in the beautiful mountain views. Breakfast might feature egg crepes with fresh tomato relish, crème brulee French toast and many other dishes that turn breakfast into a memorable event. In the afternoon, freshly baked treats are offered with complimentary coffee, tea and soft drinks.
The Yellow House
89 Oakview Drive
This big, beautiful and, yes, yellow house sits on a hilltop overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Built as a summer home in the late 1800s, it features 10 luxurious rooms on 5 acres. Relax in a jetted tub, sink into a comfy bed at night and wake up to a gourmet breakfast in the serene mountain setting. Make your stay even more special with a wine-and-cheese package or arrange for a romantic picnic to take to the mountains.
Brookside Mountain Mist Inn and Cottages
142 Country Club Drive
This place puts a modern twist on the typical B&B experience. You won't find graceful archways or gleaming wood finishes in the mid-20th-century-ranch-style-house-turned-B&B. There are also five luxury suites and extended-stay cottages that include washers and dryers. The focus at Brookside is on food — a three-course breakfast every morning served on the back patio, weather permitting — and stunning mountain views.