Planning a summer road trip – Helen, Asheville and Charlotte

July 9, 2022

I thought I’d start doing something a little different on the blog by creating some content that isn’t just showcasing my work.  There’s so much more I feel like I could share that hopefully will either help or inspire you in different areas from photography to travel.   Saying that I love to travel is pretty basic – truly, who doesn’t love to travel?!   But more than the travel itself, I LOVE travel planning – especially road trips!  One of my favorite parts of planning is to find unusual or unique places to check out.   So today, I’m going to tell you a little about my process of planning a road trip and share some of the resources I use.

My in-laws live in Charlotte, so at least every year or two, we try to travel there to visit them.   We have discovered so many beautiful places in North Carolina and I feel there are so many more places to check out!   The first step to planning a road trip is to plan the route.   I use an app/website called Roadtrippers .   First, I’ll map the route from home to our destination, typically my in-laws’ house.   Then I’ll look along the route to see which cities we will pass through or near.   Roadtrippers will show you everything along the route from restaurants and lodging to landmarks and places of interest.   I’ll examine the whole route from start to finish, filtering the results for things we would be interested in such as historic places or fun activities.  Once I have these on a list of places we are interested in, I’ll start looking for places to stay, keeping in mind the distance between these places and what lodging would be most convenient for everything we want to do.

Another website that I use to find unique places to visit is Atlas Obscura.  This is a really neat website that has some truly unique places to check out, a lot of them that you won’t see listed anywhere else.   This is how I found Henry River Mill Village, a ghost town in North Carolina where parts of the original Hunger Games movie were filmed!  Now, there’s an episode on In with the Old about the restoration of this place but when we went 2 years ago, it was still just a ghost town.  The places on this website can vary from creepy cemeteries and haunted houses to museums and singing trees (there’s a singing oak tree in New Orleans).

This summer, our road trip to Charlotte included a night in Montgomery, Alabama (mostly because it was a halfway point), a stop in Helen, Georgia, and a stop in Asheville, North Carolina.  Helen is a place I visited several years ago and I have always wanted to go back.  Asheville is somewhere we stopped briefly on a past road trip and I really wanted to explore the area some more.    In addition to the other sites I listed, I usually check out Pinterest as well.  Pinterest is good for finding travel blogs that will help you find places to eat and other things to do that may not be on other sites.

So for our trip this summer, right outside of Helen, we passed right through Cleveland, Georgia.  What’s so special about Cleveland?   It’s where the Cabbage Patch Kids are born!   There is a place called Babyland General Hospital, which is basically a big museum/gift shop for the original Cabbage Patch dolls.   As someone who grew up in the 80s, this was absolutely somewhere I had to stop!   My kids weren’t so impressed!

Helen, Georgia is a really cute mountain town that looks like an alpine village.   All of the buildings and homes along and around main street look like they belong in a tiny German town somewhere high in the mountains.  It has so much charm and is so fun to explore!  There’s also a beautiful river that runs through the town where you can go tubing.   My mother-in-law has always wanted to zipline, so I found a ziplining place right outside of the town.  On our way there, we stopped at this old working mill where they still grind up cornmeal, grits, and other things.  We had a great time exploring Helen and the surrounding areas.   We had some authentic German food (which we didn’t care for), browsed tons of gift shops and just enjoyed the cooler mountain air.  We stayed at a quiet little condo with a mountain view, that I had found on Airbnb.  Airbnb is my go-to for road trip accommodations!

From Helen, we had a bit of a drive over to Asheville.   Again, I searched our route to find some neat places to stop along the way.  The first overlook we stopped at was where a famous tightrope walker once crossed Tallulah Gorge.  There was a really cute store at this location and it was absolutely beautiful!  Not long after, we passed another overlook on the side of the road, so we stopped to check that one out too.  I really love exploring the mountains, but only if I’m driving – otherwise, I’ll get car sick.

After a long and pretty frustrating drive (there were some map issues when my phone lost service and we may have driven up and down the same mountain a few times), we finally made it to Asheville!   If you want to see tons of beautiful graffiti, true works of art, you have to check out the River Arts District.   This was an old warehouse district that was transformed when the warehouses were turned into art galleries and restaurants.   There’s an indoor skatepark, graffiti EVERYWHERE, and some really cool art galleries/shops.  We really loved exploring this part of town.  I especially loved it because Hayden was just as into the art as I was, so we had fun taking some artistic photos.   By the way, I usually don’t bring my professional camera on these trips.  Sometimes I wish I had it, but I really prefer to just carry my phone with me to use for photos.   It’s much more convenient and not tied so much to my livlihood!   If something were to happen to my camera, it would definitely ruin my vacation vibes.

The kids aren’t always up for everything I want to do and sometimes, there are things that I’m so excited about that I know they will hate, so I let them skip.   Visiting Omni Grove Park Inn was one of those things.   I let the kids sleep in and headed off to check out this place on my own.   It was so beautiful and peaceful just walking around, exploring by myself.   The view from this hotel is breathtaking.   You can actually have weddings here, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains – can you imagine it??  The only downside is having to set up the phone to take a photo of myself since there’s no one around to do it for me! LOL

This large iron in Downtown Asheville (the world’s largest, I believe) was something else I found on either Roadtrippers or Atlas Obscura.   We didn’t specifically search for it, but when we walked past it, I had to take a photo of it!

Our final stop was Charlotte, where my in-laws have lived as long as I’ve known them.   We have made multiple trips here, so I’m always on the hunt for something new to do.   The kids and I had never visited the Nascar Hall of Fame, so that was the first stop of the day.  I had also promised Emelyn we would “do something with water,” so I had to do a little research.   We had several options including Great Wolf Lodge, Wet and Wild, and the Whitewater Rafting Center but I really prefer to find more unique, less main-streamed things to do.  Once I came across The Quarry, I knew I had to take them there!   The Quarry is a 25′ deep hole that filled with water from an underground spring while the original quarry was being mined years ago (I don’t remember the actual history of it but you can check it out here.)  There are tons of places to jump off into the water, rope swings, a white sand beach and a huge grassy area to relax.   The kids and I had a blast here and it’s a place I would definitely go visit again!

The final stop for me while in Charlotte was Elevation Church.   Since I started listening to Elevation Worship a few years ago, I’ve wanted to visit this church.   The last time I was in Charlotte, we weren’t there on a Sunday, so I didn’t get to go. Even though I had planned to leave on Sunday, I woke up early and headed to service at their Ballantyne campus.  It was such an amazing experience to be there, watching Elevation Worship live!   It wasn’t their whole team and Steven Furtick wasn’t preaching that day, but it was still an experience I won’t ever forget.  And from here on out, I will always plan my Charlotte trips around a Sunday service at Elevation Church!

Thanks for sticking in for that look back on our summer road trip to Charlotte.   Here are a few details (that I can remember) of places we ate, visited and where we stayed!