The highlands of western North Carolina contain a nice chunk of the Appalachian range, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mountains there offer many choices for rafting, hiking and biking adventures. In wintertime, the ski resorts open for winter sports. The area is also rich in history, from the Cherokee tribes that lived here for centuries to the white settlers that created a culture all their own, remnants of which can be experienced on hikes in the park.
Bike the Blue Ridge
There are 575 miles of continuous road between Cherokee, North Carolina, and Front Royal, Virginia. Biking this scenic parkway is a popular activity in the summertime. Elizabeth and Charlie Skinner, authors of "Bicycling the Blue Ridge: A Guide to the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway," refer to this ribbon of asphalt as "the ultimate biking road," with something to offer all skill sets, from long-distance racers to recreational cyclists.
Take a History Hike
The Little Cataloochee Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is rich in history and culture. Located in secluded and picturesque Cataloochee Valley, primitive first-come, first-served campsites are available. Pack a copy of "History Hikes of the Smokies" by Michal Strutin in your knapsack to refer to while on this and other area hikes. Strutin's book will enhance your trail experience with its descriptions of historical buildings and the people who used to call this area home before the park was established.
Hit the Slopes
The are many ski resorts in western North Carolina. Even when there's no snow falling, the snow-making machines keep the slopes white to make for an awesome winter vacation. Some of the larger and more popular resorts are Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, near the town of Banner Elk. Other options include Cataloochee in Maggie Valley, and Wolf Ridge, less than an hour's drive from Asheville. All of these resorts offer lighted slopes for night skiing.
Go White-water Rafting
Western North Carolina has some of the more famous rivers for white-water rafting and kayaking to be found on the Eastern Seaboard. The Nantahala, the Ocoee and the French Broad are three of the more well-known rivers. Guided runs are available from local outfitters. Some even offer overnight trips where you camp along the banks after the day's white-water action. The highly regarded Nantahala Outdoor Center was named as one of the "Best Outfitters on Earth" By National Geographic Adventure magazine.