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Ski destinations in the American South are few and far between, thanks to mild climate and lower elevations, which is why Sugar Mountain is a diamond in the rough, pulling ski enthusiasts from surrounding states to its powdery slopes each winter. Perched high in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Sugar Mountain’s 21 trails are aimed mostly at beginners and intermediates and offer fun add-ons such as night skiing. The entire mountain is equipped with snow-making capabilities, meaning that even in warmer winters with little snowfall, you’ll still find freshly groomed runs. Sugar Mountain has more than just skiing and snowboarding, though. It’s also home to a 10,000-square-foot outdoor ice skating rink and a six-lane tubing park. The same terrain that makes Sugar Mountain a hit in winter months becomes a wonderland for adrenaline junkies who head for the trails by foot or bike when the snow melts.
The closest airport to Sugar Mountain is Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), 85 miles southwest; it offers nonstop daily flights from many destinations across the country. You’ll want to rent a car from the airport to get around the mountains, as bus and shuttle options are nonexistent. If you’re arriving in North Carolina from outside the United States, consider flying into Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), which is 111 miles from Sugar Mountain and offers nonstop routes to cities around the world. Once you’re in Sugar Mountain, you can use the Free Sugar Bus to get around between the village and the ski resort, but note that it runs only on weekends and holidays.
A rare four-seasons destination, Sugar Mountain is best known for its skiing and snowboarding in winter months, but summer brings extremely pleasant temperatures: it’s not too hot, thanks to the 5,300-foot altitude, and there’s a plethora of hiking and mountain biking options. Fall can be mild and alive with color, with peak foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains usually hitting in October. Christmas season is the busiest time on the slopes, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day weekends attract big crowds as well. Fourth of July features the Summit Crawl, a competitive foot race to the top of the mountain, while Sugar Mountain turns into Little Bavaria for the weekend-long Oktoberfest.
In nearby Linville, Grandfather Mountain looms large as one of the tallest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s also dotted with hiking trails — but just keep your eyes peeled for black bears, cougars, elk, and other wild animals with whom you may share the path. If you really want to get your heart pumping, walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge for epic 360-degree views.
This area of the Blue Ridge is peppered with waterfalls, like Crab Orchard, Elk River, and Otter, but perhaps the best-known is Linville Falls at Milepost 316.4 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take your pick of trails that will lead you past lookouts along the way, as well as loop you to the top of the impressive 90-foot waterfall.
The mountain range’s first alpine coaster will test your wits (and your stomach) as you zip around loops on carts at 27 miles per hour.