Nestled sweetly in the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the sleepy retreat of Sapphire Valley, North Carolina. A mere hour away from the bubbly city of Asheville, it’s a delightful happenstance that Sapphire remains undiscovered. Miles away from civilization, this quiet town is the offbeat travelers’ dream, complete with single-lane dirt roads, 150-foot waterfalls, and more horses than cars in the local grocery store parking lot. Don’t think, however, that Sapphire only caters to the primitive: being so close to the hippy-town Asheville means vegan juice bars and bluegrass karaoke are not far out of reach. Ideally, you would have months to explore everything in this quaint town. But if you must descend back into reality sooner rather than later, here are the best things to do with your time in Sapphire Valley, NC.
In the summer, Fairfield Lake is literally swimming with parents hoisting canoes and kids practicing their cannonball formation off the docks. Even in peak season, however, the crowds that flock here are modest compared to what you might expect at more popular lakes in the region. Spanning over 55 acres, the lake’s recreational area has plenty of room for everyone to lounge, fish, swim, and paddle. The lake is known for its rampant wildlife, including bears, bass, trout, and deer grazing the hillside during the day. Take it from a local, though: the best time to get out on the water is just before sunrise. The low hanging mist of the early morning, the pastel sky, the orange sun barely peeking over the mountaintops, and the silence of just you and your kayak gliding across the water’s surface feels like a fairytale.
Bald Rock Mountain
Speaking of calm, there is something otherworldly about a 6 a.m. solo hike to the top of Bald Rock Mountain. Located on the far west side of Fairfield Lake, Bald Rock spans 1,050 acres with a maximum elevation of 4,600 ft.. It is not for the lighthearted. The first 45 minutes will have you questioning your life choices and spewing curse words into the forest, but all of that physical regret melts away when you are met with the rewarding zen of reaching the top. You have never experienced stillness until you’ve stood alone at the top of the mountain during sunrise. Not a scuffling creature, a leaf rustle, or a twig snap can be heard.
Standing at a whopping 4,930 ft., Whiteside Mountain has one of the most astounding views in the Nantahala National Forest. It’s a steep uphill climb for a mile to the top, and then another half mile loop around the cliff side to get the full effect. While most popular in the summer, when the camp kids can be found trying to earn their mountaineering badge, the best time to visit is actually the fall; fewer packs of children and the changing colors of the leaves make for the most gorgeous scenery around. The difficulty of the hike is often described as “moderate,” also known as “advanced” to the less experienced climber, but don’t let the near vertical slope deter you. If a scrappy 7-year old in a pair of Nikes can conquer the endeavor, so can you.
High Falls at Lake Glenville
Easily the main attraction in Sapphire, High Falls can be found on Lake Glenville and is a must-see addition to your itinerary. At a roaring 150 ft., the falls is a hotspot for experienced kayakers and hikers. A three-quarter mile trail leads you down 650 ft. to the base of the falls where you’ll find families picnicking for hours and watching brave kayakers launch their vessels into the rough waters. To see High Falls in its ultimate state, you have to go from 10 a.m-4 p.m.on April 25-26, June 6, July 11, July 25, August 8 and 22. This is when West Fork Tuckasegee River Bypass releases the massive water flow that is often pictured. Otherwise, there is a light trickle, which is nice, but not quite as impressive. You can also check their website to find out when the next release is to maximize your visit.
Even if the theme for your modest North Carolina retreat is the great outdoors, everyone enjoys a ride into town for burgers and beer. Especially if that town is Asheville. The streets of its downtown are littered with quirky, alt-bluegrass bands and holistic healing shops offering free palm readings with the purchase of a reiki treatment. If the city lives and breathes “Instagrammable,” why is it not overrun with influencers promoting organic hair growth supplements?
The reason is that while Asheville is its own world, it’s not plastic. It’s full of real people living the American Dream with their best intentions at heart. Running businesses, creating art, sharing ideas, and from this blossoming into a delightful little community worth seeing.
The River Arts District of Asheville is a tight knit, underground community of graffiti artists and skateboarders. Foundation Spot, aka “Foundy,” is an abandoned warehouse-turned-skate park on the bank of the French Broad River in downtown Asheville. This isn’t a place you’ll find on any “Top 10 Things to do in Asheville” listicle; making it a tourist-free, local utopia. Occasionally, you’ll find curious college kids or bold photographers looking for a gritty shot, but for the most part Foundy stays undiscovered. Although not located in Sapphire, it is worth the hour drive; especially since Asheville is such a fan favorite anyhow.
What’s your favorite hidden getaway in the United States? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!