American history lives within the undulating mountains, the blue hills, and the verdant valleys of the Appalachians. From the rolling greens of northern Alabama and Georgia to the melodic landscapes of Tennessee and Kentucky all the way to the historically charged New England territories in Pennsylvania and New York, the Appalachian region covers a thick swathe of the United States.
So why should you visit the Appalachians? There isn't simply one answer. Read on to discover why this amazing, scenic, and excitingly wild region may be perfect for your upcoming student or graduation trip.
Between the years 1861 and 1865, the country experienced violent turmoil that ripped sons from their mothers, pitting siblings and parents against each other with guns in hand. In their own travel guide, the Appalachian Regional Commission chose 150 Civil War sites of such significance that you simply have to see on your trip. Visit Chickamauga in Georgia, the site of the last major Confederate victory, featuring numerous original artifacts from both camps spread over a stunning 5,300 acres. From there, visit the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky, a site that dates back further than the War Between the States to Native American settlements and trading posts for trackers like Daniel Boone. Kentucky has much more up its sleeve when it comes to Civil War sites including Middle Creek National Battlefield, the largest and most significant Civil War battle in eastern Kentucky. Other major sites in the region range from Antietam Battlefield in Maryland to Tupelo National Battlefield in Mississippi, General Grant's Birthplace in Ohio, and the historic town of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, where John Brown led his attack on slavery.
History in the Appalachians goes back much further, however. At one time, the United States was but a scarcely inhabited tract of land, spotted with Native Americans, pioneers, and immigrants. Trackers and trappers made use of the wildlife, building their business in the stretch of mountainous land we call the Appalachians. Daniel Boone was, perhaps, the most famous of these mountain men. While he was originally from Missouri, he would disappear into the depths of the Appalachians for long periods of time, exploring and hunting, selling deer-hides for a living. In North Carolina, Boone was said to hunt in the High Country, in an area now called Meat Camp and the Elk Knob State Park now open for visitors and modern explorers to learn about the region. Visit North Carolina's only French and Indian War site, also used by Daniel Boone and his family for protection during the Cherokee War in 1759-1761 at Fort Dobbs State Historical Site. Even older than Daniel Boone are the Native American historic sites and trails spread across the region such as the Trail of Tears and the Swannanoa Gap, a trail used by American Indians and pioneers moving across the Blue Ridge in 1776. Still more are showcased, lauded, protected, and some even remain hidden in the hills of the Appalachians, waiting for you to discover them.
Here's another reason to visit Appalachia: the vibrant, colorful, connected communities all throughout the region. The people here take pride in their heritage dating back centuries. Small towns, mountain villages, and the occasional large city give wonderful diversity to the area with mom-and-pop shops, antique venues, and historic districts mixing with modern attractions. Festivals are common and styled to the town's unique attributes and personalities. The small towns of Tennessee and Kentucky, for example, bring to life the craftsmanship and artistry of the region with fairs, they spotlight their claimed origins of bluegrass, country, and soul music with concerts, and celebrate the seasons and holidays with flair. From the Autumn Color in the Smokies festival in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival of Indiana, Pennsylvania, you truly get a vivid sense of the area's personality and pride through their biggest group gatherings, celebrating their history and heritage.
Personality and history only gets you so far with the traveling public. With competition like New York City and Los Angeles, the Appalachian region may pale in comparison - but it shouldn't. We know you want to fill your itineraries with wild, exciting, interesting, and fabulous attractions and believe it or not, you can find all that right here.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, while it may sound quaint, has an amazing collection of attractions including Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede indoor rodeo musical and her Dollywood theme park styled with rock n' roll and country flamboyance. Access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park means you can spend whole days exploring the ancient wilderness and watch the sun set over the changing fall foliage, making the forest seem as if it were on fire. Even more exciting, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you'll find the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, one of the best aquariums in the country with equal parts gorgeous exhibits and stunning woodsy backdrops.
The Appalachian Foot Trail, a 2,160 mile path leading from Georgia to Maine, is an intense experience not for the faint of heart. While it may be seriously difficult, it also leads you through some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever find in the United States and through some of the best destinations to boot. Along the trail is Asheville, North Carolina, a historic city and home to the largest private residence in the country, Biltmore Estate, an American castle built and owned by the Vanderbilt family. The estate is open as a hotel and touring attraction, making for a wonderful stop on any trip.
There's so much more to the Appalachian region than I can fit in this single blog post but hopefully you've been able to glean a facet of truth from what I've tried to say. The Appalachian mountain region, covering a stunning 205,000 acres from Georgia to New York, also encompasses 25 million lives and centuries of history. History may reign supreme but it does not crowd out the contemporary acquisitions, new traditions and personalities that make the region so unique and vibrant. The scenery and landscape certainly make it all worthwhile as a photo-perfect destination and has defined the region since time immemorial. Simply consider the possibilities and think about a trip to the Appalachians this upcoming vacation or educational trip and see where it takes you.