A couple weeks ago we shared our plans for a hiking retreat in the Blue Ridge mountains… We felt a pull to get out of the noise, gain clarity, and consider our path forward. We were looking for a transformational experience and were very intentional about planning the trip to get us out of our comfort zones, allow us freedom to go with the flow, and to give us space to gain new perspectives. So, how was it? Fantastic! We learned, grew, worked on areas of personal challenge, and came back with a fresh view of our path forward.
Below we share the overall trip details… a guide for others looking for a similar experience. In the coming weeks we’ll share in-depth details about the hiking trails, some of the best food in the area, and how we used our experiences during the trip to create transformational opportunities...
We started our journey to North Carolina early Saturday morning. The drive was really straightforward… I-77 south into North Carolina and a short drive on local roads to Little Switzerland. As we drove we experienced some awesome country… Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina are beautiful… especially in the fall. We had perfect weather and arrived 30 minutes earlier than we expected… a great way to start the trip!
Switzerland Inn has 3 buildings… the main lodge with the lobby/great room, restaurants, patio bar, and guest rooms, and two smaller buildings. We stayed in one of the smaller buildings and were very pleased with our room… C-9 on the corner room with lots of windows! The room is quite large and includes a king size bed, couch, desk, large mini-fridge, and a great balcony. The view from the balcony is AWESOME! Todd enjoyed taking sunrise pictures every morning with a cup of coffee and no drive time!
Switzerland Inn also has a fitness center, heated pool and hot tub, fire pit and sitting area overlooking the mountains, spa, and ice cream store. The staff are very helpful and recommended some great hikes to us. Though Daniel wasn’t with us, we noted a lot of kids having fun… Switzerland Inn is a spot where both families and couples can all feel comfortable.
Through the week we spent time in 3 general areas… the area around Little Switzerland, Mt. Mitchell State Park, and an area about an hour north east of Little Switzerland. Though there weren’t a lot of hikes right out of Little Switzerland, we found it to be a great spot to reach some of the best hikes in the area. There’s also a town, Spruce Pine, about 15 minutes away that has some great restaurants, gas stations, and a Wal-Mart.
Though we had a general idea of the available hikes and the spots we’d like to check out, we didn’t have a plan for each day. Instead, we got up and looked at the weather, talked about the types of hikes that felt right for the day (i.e. physically challenging, waterfalls, height, etc.), and looked at our options. We had great weather and it only rained one day in the morning.
Our favorite hike hands down was at Mt. Mitchell State Park… we hiked the crest of Mt. Mitchell to the next several crests and back. It was challenging physically and technically, and offered amazing views and natural beauty. A couple other favorites were Hawksbill (about an hour north east of Little Switzerland) and Crabtree Falls (only a few miles down the road from Little Switzerland)… they are shorter hikes, but are physically challenging and offer stunning natural beauty. We’re putting together a separate post with more details on all the hikes we did.
One of the surprises of our trip was the Blue Ridge Pkwy… we had heard of it but never experienced it. The Blue Ridge Pkwy is a National Parkway that spans 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Pkwy winds through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, offering frequent scenic overlooks. The land on either side of the Parkway is owned and operated by the National Park Service and driving on the Parkway definitely has a different vibe than driving on other roads. The Parkway is more of a driving experience, packed with dramatic ups and downs, twists and turns. Before jumping in the car, there are a few things to note…
There are many areas with no cell service. Cell service goes in and out and there were times when we drove for 45 minutes without a signal. There are no towns, gas stations, or stores on the Parkway. Packing a picnic is optimal and there are lots of places to stop and enjoy. There are very few washrooms and no rest areas that we could find. We drove on about 100 miles of the Parkway during our visit and found washrooms at the Crabtree Falls picnic area around mile marker 339 and at Mt. Mitchell State Park which is technically off the Parkway.
We brought plenty of picnic supplies and enjoyed the flexibility of eating lunch and/or breakfast whenever and wherever we were each day. That being said, we love food and enjoyed trying the restaurants in the area.
Switzerland Inn offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner and has an abbreviated lunch and dinner menu in the bar. We were pleased with all of our meals at Switzerland Inn… some of our favorites were the BLT breakfast sandwich, Ahi Tuna, and the prime rib sandwich (bar menu). The Little Switzerland Café (5 minute walk from Switzerland Inn) is open for lunch and offers a great assortment of salads and sandwiches.
We had dinner in Spruce Pine twice and were very impressed with both restaurants. Tropical Grill is a cute little restaurant with authentic Columbian food. Knife and Fork is a farm to table restaurant with a new menu every day. The food was so good that we’ll share a separate post with all the details! We would have gone to Spruce Pine for dinner more frequently, but after hiking all day we didn’t always feel like going back out in the evenings.
Three days into the trip we had rain in the morning and decided to take a drive to Blowing Rock… about an hour north of Little Switzerland. There was a lot of fog and as we drove we stopped several times to check out the scenery from a different perspective.
Blowing Rock is a really cute little town and the home to a well-known attraction (the “Blowing Rock”). We stopped at the Blowing Rock but the visibility wasn’t great so we didn’t go in (it costs $7/adult and was the only place we went the entire week that had an admission charge). While the weather cleared we enjoyed walking around town and enjoyed a great lunch at the Blowing Rock Brewing Company… I had a salad with beets and squash, two of my favorite ingredients, and Todd had tacos.
As the week ended we thought about the trip home… we wanted to take a new route. We also planned to stay a night on the road, so we could take a little more time… We zeroed in on Rt. 23 which goes through eastern Kentucky and up to Columbus, OH, where we could catch I-71. We booked a room at the Holiday Inn in Huntington, WV (just across the river from OH) and got going.
Our 5 hour trip to Huntington, WV took us through the mountains of North Carolina, short stints in Tennessee and Virginia, and through eastern Kentucky. Huntington, WV is the home of Marshall University and has a great vibe. We stayed in an area downtown surrounded by several blocks of restaurants, shops, bars, and businesses… very pretty, well kept, energetic, and welcoming.
We looked on Yelp and TripAdvisor for restaurant reviews and found several highly rated spots. We looked around a bit and decided on Backyard… a funky spot with great inventive pizzas, salads, wings, some seafood, and a raw bar. Sounds like a strange mix… right? That’s what we thought, but everything we had was fantastic. We were really hungry… we had salads, wings, scallops, the seafood Fra diavolo pizza, and the truffle shuffle pizza. Our favorites were the grilled romaine salad and the seafood Fra diavolo pizza.
We got an early start for our final leg of the trip… homeward bound! As we drove we checked Yelp for a good breakfast spot on the way… we could have gone to Bob Evan’s, but what’s the fun in that? We stopped at Riverside Restaurant in Piketon off Rt. 23. The parking lot was packed and the place looked really small… would we get a seat? Yes! We enjoyed experiencing a local place in southern Ohio that was full of warm hospitality and fantastic food!
We’re back home now and reflecting on the retreat and excited about what lies ahead! We’ll share more details in the coming weeks!