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July 12, 2022, 4:35 p.m.

Stay Cool in the Blue Ridge Mountains This Summer

Toms Creek Falls

As the summer heat arrives across the country, it’s the perfect time to escape to the cool breezes and welcoming towns of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here are a few of our favorite ways to beat the heat on your next summer vacation:

Waterfall Hikes

Feel refreshed as you take in the awe-inspiring beauty of a mountain waterfall and feel the spray cool your face. The breathtaking 60-foot cascade of Crabtree Falls, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, is the perfect prize at the end of a moderate 3-mile hike, and a nearby picnic area is a great place for a post-hike snack.

Hike to four-tiered Setrock Creek Falls along the easy, family-friendly trail near Mount Mitchell, and be sure to check out neighboring Roaring Fork Creek Falls. Linville Falls offers the ultimate selfie spot with its three impressive tiers and multiple overlooks for viewing.

If splashing in a cool mountain river sounds refreshing, plan a day trip to Sliding Rock in the southern portion of Pisgah National Forest.

Stay safe! While some waterfall areas may have wading areas to cool your tired toes, remember always to obey all posted signs and NEVER attempt to climb a waterfall or enter a stream above the falls. Please note that the popular Catawba Falls trail is closed for improvements in 2022.

Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains

Towering Peaks

Head for the hills and cool off while enjoying views from the highest peaks in the Eastern U.S. Mount Mitchell — famous for being the tallest point east of the Mississippi River — regularly boasts temperatures 10-30 degrees cooler than the surrounding valleys. You’ll want to pack a jacket for your drive or hike to the summit, where you can take in the 360-degree view and breathe in the exhilarating scent of the spruce forest.

Pack a picnic (bring a cooler!) and travel the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Craggy Gardens for a hike through rhododendron thickets and postcard-worthy vistas from Craggy Pinnacle. To the north, Grandfather Mountain offers unforgettable views from the Mile-High Swinging Bridge — plus wildlife habitats featuring black bears, bald eagles, river otters and cougars.

Plan an adventure in Linville Gorge — known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” — to experience 12,000 acres of mountain wilderness. Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock Mountain are two favorite hikes and are close enough to explore both in one day. Or visit Chimney Rock State Park in nearby Hickory Nut Gorge and enjoy the cool breeze and the 75-mile views from the summit.

Artesena Ice Cream McDowell County

Ice Cream & Craft Beverages

Stroll down the sidewalk in charming Marion, N.C. as you enjoy a sweet — and chilly — treat from Artesana Ice Cream Shop, Scoop Marion or Pelican’s Snoballs. Take a leisurely drive to the historic Orchard at Altapass and order a slice of apple pie a la mode — then wash it down with an icy cold apple cider.

Enjoy a cold pint of craft beer from a local brewery like Marion’s Mica Town Brewing or Taylors Brewing Co. Drive out to Whipporwill Farm in Nebo to visit this dairy-farm-turned-brewery and taste the varieties of Fonta Flora Brewery. Or cool off with a cocktail or glass of wine at a one of the local distilleries, wineries or meaderies along the High Spirits Trail.

Gem Mining

Keep cool while you hunt for buried treasure! Plunge your mined ore into a flume of cold mountain water to sift out the gold or gems hidden inside, or venture below ground at the N.C. Mining Musem (part of Emerald Village) to tour the historic Bon Ami Mine.

Learn more about the history of gold mining in the Blue Ridge Mountains and find out where you can try your hand at striking it rich today.

Stephan Pruitt Photography McDowell County Blue Ridge Traveler Lake James Nebo-15.jpg

Water Sports

Splash in the cool waters of Lake James this summer at the park’s swimming beach. Located in the Paddy’s Creek section of the park, visitors can swim for $6 each (13+; children $4/each) and lifeguards are on duty daily throughout the season.

Rent a canoe or kayak at the nearby concession stand to explore the lake and perhaps take a peek at the resident bald eagles. Look for guided instruction classes hosted by REI Outfitters — this summer’s calendar includes Learn to Stand Up Paddleboard, Learn to Kayak, and even an Overnight Kayak adventure.

If you would rather stay cool while going with the flow, rent a tube and book a shuttle service at Catawba River Outdoors for a relaxing float down the river.

Trout Fishing

Some of the biggest fans of the Blue Ridge Mountains’ cold streams are the trout that hide in the nooks and crannies of the local creeks and rivers. Book a fly fishing trip with The Catawba Angler for a guided experience, or take your rod and reel out to a quiet spot on your own. Check out our guide to the local fishing regulations.

Curtis Creek Kid Grandad.jpeg

Outdoor Dining

As the sun sinks toward the distant mountain ridges and the temperature drops along with it, there’s no better time to enjoy some local flavors al fresco.

Don’t miss the views — or the drinks — at The Chalet restaurant at the Switzerland Inn. Enjoy a lakefront sunset at the Bear Creek Marina at Lake James. Or raise a glass to a great day of adventure on Hillman Beer’s creekside patio.

Read our Blue Ridge dining guide for more flavorful inspiration.