Getaways: Cool and colorful
Now's the time to head for the mountains
By Wanda McKinney and Tanner Latham
Kentucky's Pine Mountain State Resort Park offers hospitality, wonderful views and hiking trails.
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(Southern Living) -- Look to the hills to leave behind the summer heat and, in the coming weeks, to bask in the glory of fall. August is the perfect month to take advantage of the beautiful ridges and refreshing breezes of higher altitudes. Check out these two great destinations, and plan your own escape to the mountains.
Blowing Rock rocks
We wish we could tell you Blowing Rock, tucked into the mountains of western North Carolina, was a complete secret. The truth, however, is that many descend on this town to enjoy its cool days and the thriving autumn colors to come. Despite such popularity, its small-town charm remains intact. Here are just a few of the local gems you'll find when you visit.
Center of Activity
Stroll the sidewalks of Main Street for the best shopping around. Watch Larry and Cyndi Ziegler pour and carve candles at High Country Candles ( 295-9655), one of a cluster of shops in the Martin House, built in the 1860s. Their hand-carved ($14 to $42), jar ($17 to $22), and pillar candles ($13.50 to $29.50) come in a variety of scents. As you can imagine, Banana Nut Bread and Pumpkin Pie candles rank as the most popular choices for the approaching season.
While you're exploring, don't forget to stop at The Bob Timberlake Gallery ( 295-4855). The spot houses the famed North Carolina artist's branded lines of furniture, clothing, and artwork.
You'll have to search a little harder to find one of our favorite shops in Blowing Rock. De Provence et d'ailleurs ( 295-9989) sits in a little shopping center a block off Main Street. "If you ask someone where the French shop is, they'll point you in the right direction," suggests owner Danielle Tester. The shop (whose name translates "from Provence and elsewhere") offers antiques, soaps, figurines, dinnerware, and other home decor items.
An old-fashioned diner
For 50 years, Sonny's Grill ( 295-7577) on Main Street has served hungry diners. Inside, you'll find only a few tables and some stools around the bar. Be ready to wait, or at the very least be prepared for a tight squeeze -- especially on the weekends. Breakfast, though, is worth the wait. While Sonny's is known for the ham biscuits ($1.70 a piece), try a stack of sweet potato pancakes ($3.99). They're so wide they'll just about hang over your plate's edge.
Stay the night
When it comes to lodging, if you're thinking upscale, head for The Inn at Ragged Gardens. Richly decorated rooms and a cozy ambience combine for an elegant experience, which also includes a full gourmet breakfast and a wine-and-appetizer reception in the evening. Rates start at $170; ( 295-9703).
For a more budget-minded option, consider Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock. From basic but comfortable hotel-style rooms to multi-bedroom condos, Chetola presents a family-friendly atmosphere with children's programs and activities. Rates start at $86; (-243-8652).
Blowing Rock perfectly blends its quiet, peaceful nature with a variety of things to see and do. While it's certainly not undiscovered, this town's allure will make you happy to discover yourself there.
Crossing the Gap at Cumberland
About three hours south of Lexington, Kentucky, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park welcomes you with minimal traffic and, in October, with unforgettably brilliant foliage. First, check in at the Visitor Center, where you'll learn something of the history of the area from a terrific movie, "Daniel Boone and the Westward Movement." It relates how the barrier of the Cumberland Mountains stymied expansion in the 1700s. First animals, then American Indians and explorers, such as Dr. Thomas Walker (a physician and surveyor), discovered a passage -- or gap -- in the mountains. Once through this gap, pioneers and other travelers were free to rove the western lands unhindered.
When the movie's done, browse among the excellent crafts for sale at the Visitor Center, courtesy of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
The park at Cumberland Gap covers a little more than 20,000 acres in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. You can explore the glory of nature here with park rangers, who lead treks to different spots. If you prefer to strike out on your own, there are also 70 miles of hiking trails, which range from easy jaunts to more strenuous overnight hikes.
Pinnacle Overlook rates as one of the park's favorite destinations. You can hop onboard a park van for the ascent to 2,440 feet above sea level, or you can drive your own car.
Once you arrive at the Pinnacle, you walk 200 yards to a stunning overlook, from which you can see three states. As you gaze across the vista, think of the 300,000 people who passed through the Gap on foot or on horseback between 1775 and 1810, an era when this countryside was still a howling wilderness.
"They looked for the White Rocks," says park ranger Matthew Graham, "which is a 3,500-foot-high rock face and was a landmark for pioneers. When they saw the rocks, travelers knew they were only a day's journey away from the Gap."
Cumberland's hidden jewel
It takes a commitment of time and effort to see Hensley Settlement, perched atop Brush Mountain. To take a driving tour, reserve a spot with Wilderness Road Tours, which offers 3 1/2-hour round trips to the remote site ( 248-2817, ext. 1075). Founded in 1903, Hensley Settlement at one time held 125 people, who lived a remote life in the picturesque community. Now empty, the buildings have been preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. It's another world on that mountaintop, another time -- more Daniel Boone's than ours.
Pine Mountain State Resort Park is the oldest in Kentucky, developed in the 1920s. Featuring a golf course and 13 scenic hiking trails, it remains a popular haven, particularly in fall. The lodge provides solid accommodations, and its dining room offers a wonderful meal and a panoramic view. Rates start at $74 August 16-September 30 and at $94 in October; ( 337-3066 or  325-1712).
Pine Mountain is a good place to settle back, to marvel at this gateway to the West, and to revel in the beauty of the Appalachians, just as those pioneers did so long ago.
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