Hello again long lost friends…after a long hiatus I’m back with a non-hiking related post. Since I haven’t been traveling pretty much at all since April of 2012, I occasionally would find myself virtual-traveling around the internet to help cope with the lack of seat time. In doing so, I started reading different travel blogs that offered their opinion of the most beautiful places they’d visited. It gave me inspiration to think about and ultimately write about my favorites. Come travel with me back into my memories…
Now Conde’ Nast traveler I am not…so I won’t be able to offer up wisdom about exotic spots in Paris, Milan, Machu Picchu, Hawaii, Fiji, England, New Zealand, or the like. Nope, I’m pretty much an average lower-48 American dude, so I’ll offer my opinion of the most beautiful places in the good ole’ lower-48 states of the USA that I can remember visiting in my roughly 40 years of travel memory. I’ve traveled a bunch in the USA, but still haven’t visited some of the country’s showcase places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mackinaw Island, the Black Hills, Manhattan, the Florida Keys, or most of the Northeast. Don’t get upset that these spots aren’t mentioned, as I’m sure they are awesome, but this is just a list of places I’ve visited and seen with my own two eyes. Feel free to argue with me on my choices.
I started out with the idea to do a ‘Top Ten’…you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to narrow down your memories to only ten! Impossible. The beauty of it is, as a not-for-profit hobby site, I don’t have to follow the rules of good journalism and can drone on as long as necessary to make my case. So I decided to split my post into two very long parts, first covering the East and then the West. Favorites are in random order, because I have too hard of a time ranking them…I’ve loved them all and am thankful for the chance to be at each and every one.
Part 1: My list - The most beautiful places in the eastern United States
I’m missing big chunks of the Eastern USA in my travels, so much of my most-beautiful list is from the South. As a blogger about hiking in the Great Smokies, I would be remiss if I did not start there…which will probably always be my favorite spot in all of the lower-48.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC
There is no way to just lump the 522,000+ acres of the Great Smokies together as one favorite. In the diverse Smokies, around every corner of every trail is another gorgeous sight. Here is a sampling of what I consider my most beautiful memories:
· Clingmans Dome – The highest point in the Smokies (6643’), and third highest in the East.
· Andrews Bald – A spectacular grassy bald on the edge of infinity
· Gregory Bald – Another spectacular grassy bald overlooking Cades Cove
· Mount Cammerer Lookout – A former fire lookout with views of the eastern Smokies
· The Jumpoff – Views and a precipitous drop-off that gives the place its name
· Charlies Bunion – A gem just off the Appalachian Trail
· Cades Cove – A gorgeous cove surrounded by mountains of the Smoky’s west side
· Hemphill Bald – A beautiful 180-degree view from the southern edge of the Smokies
· The Narrows – A remote, narrow ridge on the Appalachian Trail
The Nantahala Gorge - Wesser, NC
Another place that will always be special, and I’ve watched it grow significantly since my first visit in the late 1970’s.
Looking Glass Rock – Pisgah National Forest, NC
Spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Parkway from this pluton monolith
The Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC
First of the man-made beauties, you have to see the grandeur of this castle in pretty Asheville in person.
Alpine Helen, GA
First of the ‘not real’ selections. Yes, I know Helen isn’t really a Bavarian village. But thanks to some good foresight, some good carpentry, and a location in the splendid north-Georgia mountains, this cute little town makes my list.
Bay Lake – Walt Disney World, FL
Another of the ‘not real’ places that makes my most-beautiful list. Yes, of all the pretty natural places in Florida, I am choosing Bay Lake, at Walt Disney World, as one of my all-timers. If you travel by boat on this man-made lake and look out at the Disney lights, the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary hotels, and the monorail surrounding you, you might even agree with me.
I-81 through Shenandoah Valley, VA
Of the interstate drives I’ve done around the lower-48, the gorgeous section of I-81 through the picturesque Shenandoah Valley ranks in the top two.
Blowing Rock, NC
A delightful town in the beautiful North Carolina high country.
The National Mall - Washington DC
The reflecting pool, the grass, the monuments, the Capitol..it all works
Point Park - Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, TN
This place probably won’t land on many people’s most-beautiful list, but I loved the view of Chattanooga and the U-shaped Tennessee River meandering below this historic place.
Table Rock State Park, SC
The view of South Carolina’s Table Rock from this spot is one of my all-time favorites
Blue Ridge Parkway National Park, VA/NC
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is another ‘place’ that can’t be lumped into one favorite, and you can’t go wrong with any of its magnificent overlooks. I’ve traveled the Parkway from top to bottom, and these are a few of my favorite spots.
· Waterrock Knob – If you could only visit one spot on the Parkway, this overlook would do the trick
· Mount Pisgah – I think I like the view of the mountain better than the view from the mountain
· Richland Balsam Overlook – Great view from the highest spot on the Parkway (6053’)
· Peaks of Otter – You’d be hard pressed to find a more peaceful spot than this place in Virginia
· Mabry Mill – A pretty little mill in Virginia
· Craggy Pinnacle – Loved this place just east of Asheville
· Graveyard Fields – A strange somewhat-barren area with waterfalls
· Wolf Mountain Overlook – One of the lesser-known places you may pass right by, but a favorite view spot of mine
I love the Battery and the architecture of the buildings in this old Southern town
The Outer Banks, NC
I grew up near pristine white-sand beaches and watched the world also discover them and build their high-rise condos crowding the shoreline. But at the Outer Banks, there is still enough beach left to remember what a beach in the East used to be.
World Showcase Lagoon –Epcot, Walt Disney World, FL
Yes, another fake one..but it’s my list. Walk around at the World Showcase Lagoon at dusk and tell me you don’t agree this faux-wonderland is a beautiful place.
Sand Key Beach – Clearwater, FL
Florida’s Gulf Coast has some nice white-sand beaches, including this spot at Clearwater Pass. Unfortunately, over my lifetime the world discovered this area.
Jekyll Island, GA
Pretty little island north of the Florida border
Caesars Head State Park, SC
The view of Table Rock from this spot at Caesars Head State Park is another favorite
A beautiful town high in the Western NC mountains
Homasassa Springs, FL
Another childhood favorite, visiting the crystal-clear springs of Homasassa.
Little Round Top – Gettysburg National Military Park, PA
Another spot that probably wouldn’t make most people’s favorites list, but looking out at the view from this historically significant hill in southern Pennsylvania was beautiful to me.
Well, I’m sure there are many beautiful places I’ve forgotten, but that is my list. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. Click for my annual link to the greatest 1:17 in the history of television.
Next time: My list of the most beautiful places in the western US