8 Reasons to Visit the First Peak of the Blue Ridge This Fall
For more than a century, the historic North Carolina towns of Saluda, Tryon and Columbus have been a haven for visitors seeking to escape the daily grind and soak up the comforts of small-town life.
In the late 1800s, residents of Charleston, South Carolina, and the surrounding low country would spend their summers in the cool mountain community of Saluda and nearby Tryon and Columbus. The trio of towns is now known as the First Peak of the Blue Ridge because the southernmost edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains is visible to travelers coming from the south and east.
Today, the region still charms travelers with historic bed-and-breakfast inns and more than 150 cabins and cottages offering cozy lodging – not to mention the many one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and galleries.
“We’re a rural community of about 20,000 residents,” says Melinda Massey, Polk County’s travel and tourism director. “It’s a very peaceful place to rest and rejuvenate. We have dark skies, quiet nights, no traffic, locally owned stores and no parking hassles. Here, you can truly relax, sit on a porch, hear the crickets and see the stars. You have much of Western North Carolina within an hour’s drive, so you can still do everything you want while leaving frustrations behind.”
Make the First Peak Visitor Center in Columbus your first stop to discover a wealth of information and travel resources. Autumn brings breathtaking fall foliage, and the drive through Polk County boasts pristine views.
“The best time for fall color in Tryon and Columbus is around the first week in November,” Massey says. “Because we have an elevation change from mountains to rolling farmland, we get three weeks of peak color – the leaves start changing colors around Saluda earlier, and it works its way down. Sometimes, we still have fall color at Thanksgiving.”
Go Chasin’ Waterfalls
Hike a quarter mile through rich forests to take in the beauty of picturesque Pearson’s Falls, one of Polk County’s top natural attractions. Located off Highway 176 between Tryon and Saluda, the 90-foot waterfall is surrounded by a 268-acre botanical preserve, which contains more than 350 species of wildflowers and plants.
Prefer to drive? Visit the 150-foot-tall Shunkawauken Falls by driving up White Oak Mountain Road, which has plenty of curves and scenic views to keep things interesting. The drive up to Shunkawauken Falls takes about 20 minutes, and there are even more gorgeous views from nearby Sunset Rock.