12 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in the Appalachian Mountains

The Appalachian Mountains offer some of the most breathtaking vistas, scenic hikes, charming towns, and natural wonders in the United States. As someone who has explored much of this stunning region, I’m excited to share my top picks for the most beautiful places to visit. Read on to discover why these destinations should be on your must-see list!

Scenic Hikes in the Appalachian Mountains

One of my favorite things about the Appalachian Mountains is the abundance of incredible hiking trails that wind through lush forests and lead to cascading waterfalls. Some of the most spectacular hikes include:

  • Laurel Falls Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
  • McAfee Knob along the Appalachian Trail near Roanoke, VA
  • Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, with a steep half-mile walk to the observation deck
  • I’ll never forget my hike to McAfee Knob. The strenuous trail led through dense forest before opening up to a breathtaking view of the Roanoke Valley from the iconic rocky outcropping. With an elevation of 3,197 feet, it’s one of the most photographed spots along the entire Appalachian Trail.

    As John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains is a perfect embodiment of this sentiment. Each trail reveals its own unique wonders, from delicate wildflowers and crystal-clear streams to sweeping panoramas that will take your breath away.

    Charming Towns in the Appalachian Mountains

    Nestled among the peaks and valleys of the Appalachians, you’ll find dozens of charming small towns, each with its own distinct character. Some of my favorites include:

  • Blowing Rock, NC – known for its cozy cabin rentals and access to excellent hiking
  • Gatlinburg, TN – home to the record-breaking Gatlinburg SkyBridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America
  • Lewisburg, WV – recognized as one of the best small towns in America, with a thriving arts scene and beautiful historic architecture
  • One of the things I love most about these mountain towns is the way they seamlessly blend outdoor adventures with vibrant arts and culture, fascinating local history, and amazing food and drink. Whether you’re in the mood for a day of gallery hopping, an afternoon of relaxing in nature, or an evening of savoring local fare and craft beer, you’ll find it all here.

    During a trip to Gatlinburg, I mustered up the courage to cross the dizzying SkyBridge. At 680 feet long and 140 feet high, it offers unparalleled views of the Smokies. Listening to the distant sounds of the mountains while surrounded by a 360-degree panorama was an almost meditative experience.

    Scenic Drives in the Appalachian Mountains

    For those who prefer to take in the sights from the comfort of their car, the Appalachian Mountains offer some truly spectacular scenic drives. A few of the most iconic routes include:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway – often called “America’s Favorite Drive,” stretching 469 miles from Virginia to North Carolina
  • Newfound Gap Road – connecting Cherokee, NC to Gatlinburg, TN through the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Harriman State Park Drive – a hidden gem in New York state, winding past dense forests, shimmering lakes, and stunning vistas of the Hudson Valley
  • Cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway is an experience like no other. The road meanders past breathtaking overlooks, lush forests, and rugged mountain peaks as far as the eye can see. With a speed limit of just 45 mph, it encourages you to slow down and soak in every moment of the journey.

    National Parks and State Parks in the Appalachian Mountains

    The Appalachian Mountains are home to some of the most beloved national parks and state parks in the country. Each offers its own unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and cultural heritage. Some of the most notable include:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park – the most visited national park in the US, known for its diverse plant and animal life, stunning scenic drives, and rich history
  • Shenandoah National Park – a beautiful park in Virginia, home to a portion of the Appalachian Trail and the scenic Skyline Drive
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park – a hidden gem in Ohio, known for its rushing waterfalls, scenic railroad, and historic canal locks
  • One of my most memorable experiences in the Appalachians was watching the sunset from the top of Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At 6,643 feet, it’s the highest point in the park and offers a 360-degree view of the mist-covered mountains. As the sun dipped below the horizon, it painted the sky in a breathtaking array of oranges, pinks, and purples.

    According to park ranger Sarah Thompson, “Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its extraordinary scenic beauty and unparalleled diversity of plant and animal life. It’s home to over 19,000 documented species, including at least 100 that are found nowhere else on earth.”

    Outdoor Activities in the Appalachian Mountains

    In addition to hiking and scenic drives, the Appalachian Mountains offer a wide range of outdoor activities for adventurers of all skill levels. Some of the most popular include:

  • Skiing and snowboarding at resorts like Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia and Sugar Mountain in North Carolina
  • Whitewater rafting on the wild rivers of Tennessee and West Virginia
  • Rock climbing at iconic spots like the New River Gorge in West Virginia and Red River Gorge in Kentucky
  • One of my favorite outdoor adventures in the Appalachians was a day of whitewater rafting on the Nolichucky River in Tennessee. As our raft navigated the churning rapids, we were surrounded by towering cliffs and lush forests. The adrenaline rush of conquering each rapid was matched only by the stunning natural beauty of the river gorge.

    Natural Wonders of the Appalachian Mountains

    From the deepest caves to the tallest waterfalls, the Appalachian Mountains are full of incredible natural wonders. Some of the most awe-inspiring include:

  • Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, home to the world’s longest known cave system
  • Niagara Falls, the iconic waterfall straddling the border of New York and Canada
  • The Channels Natural Area Preserve in Virginia, known for its otherworldly sandstone formations
  • Visiting Mammoth Cave was an experience I’ll never forget. As our group descended into the cool, dark depths of the cave, we were surrounded by towering rock formations and crystal-clear pools. Our guide pointed out intricate details like ancient shark teeth embedded in the limestone and delicate gypsum flowers growing on the cave walls.

    Exploring the natural wonders of the Appalachians always fills me with a sense of awe and reverence. Standing beneath a towering waterfall or looking out over a mist-shrouded valley, I feel deeply connected to the power and beauty of the natural world. These mountains have a way of putting things in perspective and reminding us of our place in the grand scheme of things.

    As you can see, the Appalachian Mountains are full of incredible destinations for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone seeking a little peace and beauty in their lives. From the rugged peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley, there’s no shortage of stunning scenery and unforgettable experiences to be had.

    So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Appalachian adventure today! Whether you’re looking for heart-pumping outdoor thrills, serene natural beauty, or fascinating cultural experiences, you’ll find it all and more in this incredible region. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

    Photo of author

    Paul Samis