Saluda, North Carolina was my first real destination after I was let out of my bird’s cage in May 2020. And boy was I ready to fly far from Washington D.C. after the two-month lockdown to the Blue Ridge Mountains. And one year later, I would choose to spend my Fourth of July holidays in Saluda.
This is my kind of mountain escape. My fantasy was waking up every morning, clutching my coffee mug in my hand and rocking on my porch at my AirBnb cabin in Saluda, NC. In front of me loomed the mountains in an early morning grey haze. The property dropped precipitously down a steep slope so I was surrounded by trees. No one was near me. I felt like a forest sprite hidden from the evil sorcerer (COVID).
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Blue Ridge Mountain Escape
With a population of 618, Saluda is hardly crowded. A retro poster advertises Saluda, NC as “Gem of the Blue Ridge Mts.” During non-COVID days, it also hosts the annual “Coon Dog Day.” It’s a mountain town where artists, musicians, bakers and outfitters simply put down roots. Its sister city is Carunchio, Italy in the Abruzzo region. And who can beat that fresh mountain air or nearby Little Bradley Falls. Straddling Henderson and Polk counties, Saluda is red-brick, wholesome escapism, with a side of BBQ (tangy vinegar style).
“Saluda’s rich history and culture are the combined product of the earliest families who settled here, the legacy of the steepest mainline railway in the U.S., the summer people who came to escape lowland heat, the craftspeople who moved here to pursue their arts, and the outdoor adventure seekers who first kayaked the Green River narrows and cycled the grade. All are important parts of Saluda’s history and future and their impact is visible on historic Main Street today,” explained Lynn Casey, Coordinator for the Saluda Downtown Foundation, Inc.
“In many ways, Saluda’s one-street downtown hasn’t changed much since it was founded in 1881.”www.historicsaluda.org
“Although the train no longer runs through town, people still come from many places seeking a quieter lifestyle, one reminiscent of America’s past. The vintage buildings are now occupied by shops, galleries, and restaurants, giving the town a quaint rustic feel but with a modern flair. Most buildings on Main Street were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, based on the district’s unique historic and architectural character.”
Hibernate or Explore Region
You can hibernate in Saluda and never even venture to nearby Hendersonville or Lake Lure. Or you can treat Saluda as your “fly-in” to explore nearby Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), Great Smoky National Park and Biltmore Estate. I did both because I stayed seven nights at this mountain escape.
Located 35 miles from iconic Asheville, Saluda offers nearby cosmopolitan adventures combined with outdoor pursuits. But my favorite part is Saluda’s Main Street, which was added to the National Register of Historic Plces in 1996. On the first night when I arrived, I felt like I walked onto the set of the old-time TV show, Mayberry R.F.D. (which ran three seasons from 1968-1971). I expected to see Sheriff Taylor (played by Andy Griffin) walking down the street holding his son Opie’s hand. There is sign on one building which shows the main street with the slogan, “Remember When …”
Step Back In Time
I learn from the guide at the visitors center that the Great Depression crippled the town’s growth. Then World War II’s economic boom bypassed Saluda . . . “ yet this very stagnation was the town’s salvation from the standpoint of architectural preservation. Today the town would be recognizable to a visitor of the 1920s.”
I certainly feel like I have stepped back in time during my mountain escape. As I wander down Main Street, I gaze at the train tracks. The railroad was the primary reason for Saluda’s existence. A sign near the train tracks reads: “Saluda Grade. The steepest, standard gauge, mainline railway grade in the U.S. Opened in 1878. Three mile long. Crests here.” And old-timers certainly can remember numerous runaway trains and derailments. The railroad grade down the mountain from Melrose is the steepest mainline grade in the eastern United States.
A Walkable Town
The best way to experience Saluda is to get out of your car and walk around. I highly recommend bringing (or borrowing) a dog because you will be a celebrity. My daughter’s dog Pearson (aka Perry) joined me on this mountain escape. We took Perry into town when we needed groceries for our 4th of July BBQ.
While her husband waited outside with Perry, we raced around buying hamburger rolls, pickles, chips and onion dip. Naturally, we shopped at Thompson’s grocery store (stop 13 on the walking tour). It is a town icon.
We also didn’t need to hurry because Perry was surrounded by townfolk and visitors. They all wanted to pet her. Now this is Perry’s kind of town (a pawsome place). But I finally was convinced Saluda was a Destination for Dogs when I discovered River Dog Run (stop 16). Its mascot is a black dog enshrined on a sign outside the circa 1920 building. Naturally, we had to let Perry pose for her Instagram page (CharmCityMenagerie). And she certainly appreciated that Saluda named a street after her—Pearson Falls Road. Pawfection!
Places to See
If you want to learn more about the railroads, schedule a visit to Saluda Historic Depot & Museum (circa 1910). The building features German siding, flared hipped roof and overhanging broad eaves. There is even a small train where children (and dogs) can pose to be a train conductor. The museum is one of 20 stops on a self-guided walking tour of the business district. (Saluda’s Visitors Center is stop 5.) We started at the west end of town at the corner of Main and Carolina streets.
Among the other sights are the community library (1919), Old Telephone Company (now home to Green River Brew Depot), The Purple Onion restaurant (previously a grocery store), Old Post Office and Azalea Bistro. M. A. Pace Store (stop 17) is the most intact structure in the historic district. The Pace family operated it continuously until 2010. Leon Morgan and his family now own the general store. I created a collage of some favorite places we saw (Travel Tile Photo Collage).
You definitely want to eat when you visit Saluda’s main street. There are restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and a bakery. Perry pulls at the leash when she smells BBQ. Soon we are flying up the hill. The restaurant’s mascot is a plump pig! Folks picking up carryout at Green River Bar-b-que fill up the parking lot. Across the street is the Saluda Hair Garage. It operates out of a green school bus. A yellow VW bug is adorned with the script of Footloose. And the nearby park hosts “Art in the Park” every Friday.
Small Town Charm
This mountain escape preserves its past while offering everything a tourist could seek. You can find any adventure: ziplining, waterfall rappelling, waterwater rafting, tubing, hiking or swimming. Saluda trumpets its assets proudly on a highly-flying banner on Main Street—”Blue Ridge Beauty. Living History. Small Town Charm. Established 1881.” I could definitely come back to nest here again.
Top Things To Do In Saluda
• The Gorge Zipline – Enjoy an aerial view of the protected Green River Gorge while cruising through a tree canopy along the steepest and fastest zipline in the US. It’s an incredible adventure you’ll always remember and want to do again. Contact The Gorge 828-749-2500 or https://thegorgezipline.com
• Saluda Historic Depot and Museum – Learn about the steepest standard-gauge mainline railway grade in the US. The Saluda Grade is well-known by train enthusiasts. Step back in time and learn about the treacherous construction of this railway grade and the impact to the area’s economy. Attend a train tale session on the third Friday night of the month. Museum hours are Thursday through Saturday 11 am to 5 pm and Sunday 1 to 4 pm.
• Pearson’s Falls and Glen – Take a breath and soak in nature on a quarter-mile walk through this lovely bird and wildlife sanctuary comprised of native forests and spring-fed streams to reach a magnificent 90-foot waterfall. Pearson’s Falls is open 10 am to 6 pm Sunday through Saturday. Admission is $5 per person and $1 for ages 6 to 12 and free for those under six years of age.
• Visit Historic Thompson’s Store – Grab a snack, bottle of wine or groceries from the oldest general store in North Carolina. Make sure you visit the butcher in the back and buy a pound of Charlie’s sausage, a local staple. If you can’t travel with sausage, then have breakfast at the adjacent Ward’s Grill and order Charlie’s sausage with your eggs and hash browns or grits.
• Kayak the Green River – Choose between a mellow trip down the lower Green River with a brief stop at a swimming beach, or brave the Upper Green with Class II and III rapids for a more moderate adrenaline rush. Contact Green River Adventures: 828-749-2800 or https://greenriveradventures.com
• Tubing down the Lower Green River – Spend a hot summer day tooling down the cool Green River on an innertube. Contact Wilderness Cove 828-749-9100 or www.nctubing.com or contact Green River Cove Tubing at 828-749-3781 or www.greenrivercovetubing.com
• Eat a sticky bun at Wildflour Bakery. Created for a weekly poker game in the 1980s, the sticky bun at the Wildflour Bakery is made with flour ground fresh at the bakery and rolled with sugar, butter, spices and pecans and baked to a wonderful sticky caramelized deliciousness. You also can find other pastries and fresh baked bread at Wildflour.
Source: Saluda Downtown Foundation, Inc.
Top Things To Do In Region
• Visit Biltmore Estate. The 250-room Biltmore House—known famously as “America’s Largest House”—spans 135,280 square feet. Started in 1889, it took six years to build and opened on Christmas Eve 1895. Tours are the only way to truly experience the sumptuous life of the Vanderbilt family.
• Tour the River Arts District (RAD) in Artsy Asheville. The city’s long “arts-way” (my word play on parkway) consists of working artist studios and galleries located in 23 former industrial and historical buildings. The RAD is spread along a one mile stretch of the French Broad River.
• Dedicate one day to driving a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This iconic 469-mile route takes visitors from Virginia to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It is older than the trees. The BRP takes a minimum of 11 hours to drive non-stop. The speed limit is 45 mph.
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