Nantahala NationaL Forest Beneath these clouds seen from the Cowee Mountains overlook, more than half a million acres of land unfold to create Nantahala National Forest. Hundreds of miles of trails, abundant waterfalls, and rivers beckon in this natural wonderland also known as “The Land of the Noonday Sun.” Getting There: Cowee Mountains overlook is five miles north of Franklin at Milepost 430 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
DRY Falls Set out on Mountain Waters Scenic Byway from Highlands and stop at this waterfall that plunges 80 feet. Follow the pathway behind the veil to hear the roaring water and feel the cool spray. Along the byway, you can also pull off to view Bridal Veil and Cullasaja falls. Getting There: Dry Falls is two and a half miles west of Highlands along U.S. 64.
Lower Skinny DIP falls Leap from the rocks surrounding the falls and splash into the cool pool below. Despite the plunge’s name, you’ll need a swimsuit; the chilly water will induce shivers even on the warmest summer day. Getting There: Park at the Looking Glass Rock overlook at Milepost 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the trail opposite the parking area for a 10 minute hike to the falls.
Engine gap Though widely known for rhododendron thickets and grassy balds, the Roan Highlands are also home to the Gray’s Lily, an endangered wildflower found only on a few mountains in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. Catch it in bloom during June and July. Getting There: Connect with the Appalachian Trail at Carver’s Gap, about 14 miles north of Bakersville on N.C. 261, then trek south to reach Engine Gap.
Beech gap Stroll the lush landscape along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Pisgah National Forest. When complete, the path will stretch more than 1,000 miles, from Clingmans Dome in Tennessee to Jockey’s Ridge at the Outer Banks. This section of trail at Craggy Gardens is more than a mile above sea level. Hike a little farther to Craggy Pinnacle to take in a panoramic view. Getting There: Craggy Gardens is at Milepost 364 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.