When the lifts shut down in America’s mountain towns, out come the flip-flops, microbrews, and inner tubes. For a real recharge this summer, spend some time at altitude.
Bryson City, North Carolina
As the southern gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City sticks close to its roots with lots of killer hickory-smoked barbecue and bluegrass music (the Freight Hoppers are the town's house band). The five-traffic-light town, completely wrapped by dense forest, still has its old-fashioned ice cream fountain, called Soda Pops; its mountain-crafts shops selling corn-shuck dolls and sourwood honey; and a big, chugging locomotive that runs right through town twice a day.
But in Bryson, you also find a kayak on every roof rack. Outside town is the Deep Creek section of the park – great for trail running, day hikes to a trio of waterfalls, and tubing. Nantahala Outdoor Center is the paddling-rafting nexus of the southeast (if not the country), with a paddling school and float trips on the Nantahala. The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad excursion may sound a bit touristy (it is), but the 4.5-hour round-trip is a more laid-back way to see the backcountry.
Getting There: Fly to Atlanta; drive three hours north.
Credit: Travis Dove