Upstate offers one-tank trip adventures in every direction
One of the great things about living in Upstate South Carolina is that you’re just a short drive from the mountains or the coast, giving Upstate residents a lot of great options for one-tank trips. Located between two major Interstates, I-85 and I-26, Upstate residents can go any direction to find adventure on a tank of gas.
Going north on I-85, you can hit the Gaffney Outlet Marketplace in Gaffney, SC for some great shopping on your way to Charlotte, NC where there’s a lot to explore starting with family fun at Great Wolf Lodge. Open year-round, Great Wolf Lodge is home to an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park featuring numerous water slides, a giant wave pool and a toddler area.
A few other family destinations in North Carolina’s Queen City include the U.S. National Whitewater Center, Carowinds, Carolina Raptor Center, Lazy 5 Ranch, Sea Life Aquarium and, of course, the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Heading south on I-85 will take you to Atlanta, but you’ll want to make a stop along the way after crossing the South Carolina-Georgia line. Take Exit 173 toward Toccoa-Lavonia-Elberton, then follow the signs to Alpine Helen on GA-17. Offering the charm of Bavaria in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen is a great destination for shopping, rafting and other outdoor adventures, and the perfect spot during Oktoberfest.
Back on I-85 and before heading on to Atlanta, you don’t want to miss visiting Chateau Elan Winery and Spa in Braselton GA. With a winery, golf course and spa, Chateau Elan is the perfect spot for a relaxing weekend.
Keep heading south and you’ll reach the metro Atlanta area and some great attractions that include Stone Mountain, the Georgia Aquarium where you can swim with the sharks (but you must book that in advance), World of Coca Cola and CNN Studio. An Atlanta CityPASS allows you to see Atlanta’s top attractions at a significant savings. CityPASS admission includes:
1. Georgia Aquarium
2. World of Coca-Cola
3. CNN Studio Tours
4. Zoo Atlanta OR National Center for Civil and Human Rights
5. Fernbank Museum of Natural History OR the College Football Hall of Fame
Upstate residents take I-26 for east/west travel. I-26 southbound will dead end at Charleston, SC, one of the hottest destinations in the country. There’s no better city for history buffs…and foodies! Charleston’s charm includes its cobblestone streets, historic homes and carriage rides. First timers will want to visit Fort Sumter where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and Historic Charleston City Market.
And don’t forget the area’s great beaches. Pamper yourself at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort just 21 miles from Charleston or head to Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms or Seabrook Island for fun by the sea. And for the golfers in the group, there are about 20 golf courses in the Charleston area.
Between the Upstate and Charleston is Columbia, the state’s Capital City. Home to the University of South Carolina, Columbia destinations also include the South Carolina State House, South Carolina State Museum and Riverbanks Zoo & Garden.
Before you get to Columbia, it’s worth stopping in Newberry which lies about five miles from Exit 72 or Exit 74. Founded in the 18th century by German, Scottish-Irish and English immigrants, Newberry thrived as a cotton market in the mid-1800s. The town’s centerpiece is the Newberry Opera House, which has hosted performances since the turn of the 20th century and was among the stops of New York-based touring companies as they made their way through the South.
Along I-26 about 26 miles outside of Charleston lies Summerville at Exit 199. Located in the heart of the Lowcountry and held in the hearts of those who drink iced tea by the gallon, Summerville is the birthplace of sweet tea.
Now let’s take a ride west on I-26. Once you cross the South Carolina-North Carolina boarder, a short detour off I-26 will take you to Lake Lure, North Carolina. Among the most beautiful man-made lakes in the country, Lake Lure is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 27 miles from Asheville. Lake Lure sits in the Hickory Nut Gorge surrounded by lush mountain tops and sheer granite cliffs. Look up and you’ll see the famous Chimney Rock which has appeared in movies including Thunder Road, Dirty Dancing, A Breed Apart, The Last of the Mohicans and Firestarter. And speaking of movies, you don’t want to miss the Dirty Dancing Festival held in Lake Lure in September. The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2019 on September 13 and 14.
Now let’s hop back down to I-26 and head over to Historic Downtown Hendersonville which was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in March 1988. Hendersonville’s serpentine Main Street features planter boxes brimming with seasonal flowers and trees. Downtown boasts a wide array of shopping, antique stores, galleries, museums, an aquarium and a variety of restaurants.
Hendersonville also is home to some of North Carolina’s best breweries and the famed Flat Rock Playhouse. And the North Carolina Apple Festival is held there annually over Labor Day weekend. North Carolina’s premier family festival for more than 70 years, the outdoor fair features freshly picked apples, arts and crafts and free entertainment at the Historic Courthouse on Main Street.
Hendersonville is only a short skip and jump up to Asheville, home to the world-famous Biltmore Estate. The luxurious family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt is a marvel of elegance and charm, as magnificent today as it was more than a century ago. A self-guided house tour spans three floors and the basement. You’ll see displays of vintage clothing, accessories, art, furniture, and more that tell stories and illustrate the lives of the Vanderbilt family, their guests and employees.
While in Asheville, you’ll want to experience The Omni Grove Park Inn. When Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivered the keynote address at the opening of the historic hotel in July 1913, he likely had no idea of how true his words were when he proclaimed that The Grove Park Inn “was built for the ages.”
In addition to its historic landmarks, Asheville offers an eclectic music and arts scene, along with breweries, camping, ziplines, fishing, biking horseback riding and lots of shopping.
When you’ve seen all that Asheville has to offer, you may want to venture on up I-40 outside Asheville and head to east Tennessee. In about two hours, you’ll arrive in the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg is filled with attractions, live entertainment, outdoor adventure and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Next to Gatlinburg is Pigeon Forge, a great getaway destination offering everything from extreme adventures to Dollywood. Waterfalls, wildlife, hiking and scenic drives are just a few of the activities and attractions for Great Smoky Mountains visitors.
So, fill up your tank and make plans to visit some of these great one-tank trip destinations. You’ll be glad you did.
About the Author
Deb Metcalf has worked in the travel Industry for more than 20 years. After a 12-year stint in advertising and media sales, she now is co-owner of Travel Agents International where she began her professional career. Deb loves the excitement of helping Upstate residents take their “fantasy trip.” Deb and her husband, Barry, reside in Woodruff, SC.