Originally from Buffalo, NY, Tiff now resides in sunny Orlando, FL. She's a Checking In contributor who strives to live life to the max. Adventure paired with peace and serenity = her perfect vacation.
Everyday life can become incredibly stressful. Work, responsibilities, adulting … it’s all a lot to handle!
If you’re looking for a vacation that’ll help rejuvenate your soul and rediscover your inner peace, a mountain getaway might be just what you need…
I recently traveled with my husband to a few different mountain towns — Gatlinburg, Asheville and Lake Tahoe — all places I got to visit through Holiday Inn Club Vacations® since we have resorts in those destinations.
I absolutely fell in love with each one’s unique mountain town vibes, and I’m so excited to share my experiences and recommendations with you, so you can plan the best vacation for you and your family!
Read on to check out some great getaways where you can hike your heart out, discover breathtaking views, make unforgettable memories and take a deep breath of that fresh mountain air.
1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
If you love hiking, waterfalls and mountain air, I highly recommend planning a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina.
Two ideal vacation destinations, separated by a short and picturesque 1.5-hour drive, that you can actually combine into one trip of a lifetime!
My husband and I got to do them both for our two-year anniversary last November, starting in Gatlinburg where we explored Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
There’s truly nothing like traveling to Gatlinburg during late October or early November for a fall getaway to see the leaves change colors.
The red, yellow and orange treetops, combined with the crisp air and a warm fireplace, created the perfect autumn adventure for us!
Hiking in Gatlinburg
Experiencing the natural beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the best things to do in Gatlinburg.
The park has tons of hiking trails that range in difficulty, so you can easily find one that’s perfect for family vacations, friends trips or even solo travel.
After some googling, we chose Rainbow Falls as our first hike. We hit the trail early in the morning to catch the sunrise and completed the hike by lunchtime.
The difficulty level of this hike was moderate but well worth the climb. After approximately 2 hours of hiking, there it was, the first glimpse of the waterfall; I was in awe!
The sunlight poking through the gushing water was breathtaking. I will forever be grateful for the memories, laughter and beauty experienced on our hike to Rainbow Falls.
Pro tip: The most useful item we packed for our hikes was a hydration backpack that we wore on each one.
Mountain Coasters in Gatlinburg
One of our bucket list items for this trip was to ride a mountain coaster. We researched and compared the different options and landed on Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster.
What an incredible adrenaline rush! Eric and I had a blast as our coaster car sped through the beautiful mountainside.
Pro tip: Groupon offered great discounts on the coaster tickets.
With amusement parks like Dollywood® and Anakeesta and plenty of nearby day trips to take, there’s so much to love about Gatlinburg and you’ll definitely need a couple (or a few) trips to do it all.
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
We (of course) stayed at Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort, and we absolutely loved our one-bedroom mountainside villa.
Here are some of the highlights from our stay:
- Our villa had a full kitchen, big, spacious bedroom, jacuzzi bathtub and a cozy family room.
- Our favorite feature was the warm gas fireplace in the living room where we sipped coffee every morning and hot chocolate and wine every night.
- We had unbelievable mountain views from our balcony — absolutely stunning!
- We took this trip during COVID-19, and the team did a great job implementing the Safe Travels program to ensure cleanliness around the property and ample social distance in all public areas.
2. Asheville, North Carolina
After a few days of hiking and relaxing by the warm fireplace in Gatlinburg, we drove to Asheville for the second half of our trip.
The drive was breathtaking. And along the way, we stopped for lunch in an adorable small town called Hot Springs, NC, that’s known for, well, you guessed it, hot springs.
Arriving in Asheville, we immediately fell in love with the local vibe and vibrant culture.
Our days were spent hiking the astounding Blue Ridge Mountains, and our nights were filled with restaurant and brewery exploration.
Hiking in Asheville
If you love waterfalls as much as I do, then I highly recommend a visit to DuPont State Forest to hike or bike the trails.
One of my favorite days in Asheville included hiking to 8 beautiful waterfalls in the State Forest, and then hanging out on the lawn at Bold Rock Mills River Cidery where we enjoyed refreshing cider and jammed out to live music.
Asheville Restaurants & Breweries
Every evening we spent in Asheville was a food and drink extravaganza. This city includes an endless supply of top-notch local eateries and breweries.
Here are a few of our favorite local breweries and restaurants we tried out:
- Wicked Weed Brewing Pub
- Green Man Brewery
- Burial Beer Co.
- Bold Rock Mills River Cidery
- Corner Kitchen
- Twisted Laurel
- Pack’s Tavern
Other great things you can do in Asheville include visiting the Biltmore Estate, checking out the city’s unique street art and eating at the must-try, southern-inspired restaurant, Tupelo Honey.
Where to Stay in Asheville
We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Arras, an IHG hotel, which provided comfortable, welcoming accommodations.
Here are some of the hotel’s best features:
- It’s located in the center of downtown, which is perfect for a short walk to all the local restaurants and breweries.
- It had complimentary happy hour from 5–6 p.m. every evening. Beer and wine for all!
- It was spotless, and the team went above and beyond to ensure our safety.
- My husband and I LOVE coffee … but since they no longer provided coffee in the lobby during COVID-19 (to eliminate shared touchpoints), they actually delivered a beautiful espresso machine with keepsake mugs to our room.
3. Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Lake Tahoe is an adventurous mountain escape like nowhere else! My husband and I love Lake Tahoe so much, we traveled there twice within the last year.
Our first trip to Tahoe was in December to embrace those winter, ski town, mountain vibes. This trip is a core memory I’ll keep in my heart forever…
From the moment I looked out the plane window and spotted the mountains, I knew it was going to be epic.
We rented a four-wheel-drive SUV from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and began our picture-perfect drive through the mountains to Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe.
I could hardly contain my excitement as we drove higher and higher up the mountain to where we were staying at Tahoe Ridge Resort.
The resort is nestled beautifully in the mountain landscape, and it really gives you that quintessential mountain getaway feel.
The resort even has viewing points where you can get a closer look at the scenery.
Skiing in Lake Tahoe
Our first stop at the resort was the on-site ski shop to rent equipment. The manager, Bert, took complete care of us and fitted us for boots, skis, helmets and everything we needed to hit the runs.
The next morning, we headed to the slopes for some of those famous Lake Tahoe skiing adventures we’ve heard about.
From Tahoe Ridge Resort, you can actually jump on a ski lift, called the Skier Express, to go directly to Heavenly Mountain’s Stagecoach Lodge and lifts.
You can literally go from the resort to Stagecoach in minutes with its Skier Express.
I’m more of a beginner skier and didn’t feel quite up to the blue run yet, so we drove a few minutes down the mountain to Heavenly Village where we boarded the ski lift and embraced the gorgeous views up the mountain.
I took a morning ski lesson as my husband hit the slopes and then we met up for lunch at the lodge for a warm cup of chili and hot chocolate.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the slopes together skiing and laughing the day away!
Exploring Heavenly Ski Village
After our ski adventures, we went out and explored the local vibes in Heavenly Ski Village. The restaurant and brewery scene in town was on point!
I especially loved sitting outside by a firepit in town, drinking my warm apple cider with a splash of rum and nodding along to the music of a local guitarist!
Hiking in Lake Tahoe
We loved our first trip to Tahoe so much, we decided to head back in April for more outdoor adventures outside the snowy season.
I’m not typically keen on revisiting the same city more than once because, well, let’s face it, there are so many beautiful places to see in this world! But Tahoe captured my heart, and I couldn’t wait to go back during a different season.
And man, what a great decision! Our late April adventure in Tahoe was epic.
I’ll tell you — April is a well-kept secret in Tahoe. It’s one of the slowest seasons in this town because spring skiing comes to a close, but in my opinion, it’s one of the best times to visit!
Fewer people and 60-degree weather? What more could you ask for?
The spring weather gave us the most beautiful hiking adventures around the lake.
The cool morning air was perfect for brisk and scenic hikes, and the warm afternoon sun was ideal for lunch and relaxation on the boulders surrounding the lake.
One of our favorite hikes was a climb up to Cave Rock for the most unbelievable view of the lake. We also loved hiking the Rubicon Trail around Emerald Bay.
If you’re looking for even more things to do in Lake Tahoe, you can also visit its sandy beaches, take a boat ride across the lake and snap some gorgeous family vacation photos at Emerald Bay State Park.
Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe
After our adventurous days and nights in Tahoe, I loved coming back to our warm fireplace and quintessential mountain villa at Tahoe Ridge Resort. More things I loved about it?
- Feeling right at home right away in our one-bedroom villa
- Enjoying our full kitchen, dining room, family room, bedroom and my favorite part — the warm gas fireplace! We really appreciated being able to brew a cup of hot chocolate and sit by the fireplace as we watched the beautiful snowfall outside.
- When we wanted to explore the local cuisine, we took the resort’s complimentary shuttle to a local restaurant called Fox and Hound and had the most delicious barbeque and beer.
How to Choose the Perfect Mountain Getaway
All 3 of these mountain towns are bucket list-worthy! So, the question becomes: Which one should you visit first?
I recommend thinking through which season and activities pique your interests the most...
Are you looking to take a winter ski vacation?
Plan a trip to Lake Tahoe for a quintessential ski trip with epic slopes, snow-covered mountains and warm drinks by the fire.
How about a fall hiking adventure?
Go with a combo trip to Gatlinburg and Asheville. The red, orange and yellow foliage combined with the cool, breezy weather make the most ideal hiking (and cider-sipping) conditions.
Gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway views near Asheville, North Carolina
Are you a foodie who loves trying local cuisine and breweries?
Asheville is your spot! The restaurants and breweries create a local vibrant culture that you won’t find anywhere else.
Planning a spring mountain getaway?
Head to Lake Tahoe for picturesque hikes around the lake and fun, sandy beach days with the most ideal weather for exploring.
Maybe a mountain town with some iconic attractions?
Gatlinburg and the Smokies have some of the country’s best hiking trails and super-fun attractions like Skybridge, Dollywood and Anakeesta.
AnaVista Tower at Anakeesta. Photo courtesy of Anakeesta.
If you’re looking for an adventurous and refreshing mountain getaway, these 3 stunning outdoorsy vacation ideas will hit the spot.
The unforgettable memories my husband and I created in Lake Tahoe, Gatlinburg and Asheville will forever have a core place in my heart.
I hope you and your family create memories of a lifetime on your mountain getaway, too! Nothing beats the peace and serenity that’s found in the mountains…
All information is subject to change. This article is a curated guide and is neither sponsored nor considered an official endorsement. Please be sure to check information directly with any/all tours, guides or companies for the most up-to-date and direct details.
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