• Meadow Below Granite Lake



    JeffGoulden / iStock

    Save up to 50% on Hotels

    Weaverville is a census-designated place and the county seat of Trinity County, California in the United States. The population was 3,600 at the 2010 census, up from 3,554 at the 2000 census.
    Find more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to Weaverville

    Weaverville Articles

    Road Trips

    Road Trip: Northern California

    The one-lane state-park road I was driving in northern California threads cautiously for a half-dozen miles through a towering forest of coast redwoods, the tallest trees - the tallest living things-on earth. Here and there, it edges so closely between the ancient giants, some of them more than 1,000 years old, that I feared scraping both sides of the car. These stately redwoods surely qualify as a natural wonder; they certainly awed me thoroughly. But would I and my car make it unscathed to the end of the road, nosing erratically as it does through the shadowy canyon formed by their massive trunks? I had my doubts. By any measure, this short woodland path through the redwoods is extraordinary. And yet it was only one of many bedazzling sights and experiences I enjoyed on an economical, 1,200-mile drive recently that took me north from San Francisco along California's rocky coastline to the Oregon border and back south again by way of winding roads through the soaring Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada. My surf-to-summit route, one of America's most spectacular drives, is a scenic treat from beginning to end. But don't figure a great trip like this is going to bust your budget. You can see it all for yourself for much less than you might expect. For example As a onetime Californian, I plotted the drive to show my wife Sandy five of my favorite places. For me, "favorite" usually means somewhere in the remote countryside. So we headed for a sprawling, semi-wilderness region of state-and-federal park and forest lands, where lodging and dining prices tend to be very affordable. Along the way, I found many low-priced rooms that boast lovely water or mountain views. Indeed, a couple can stay in a historic, pine-shaded lodge at Lake Tahoe, one of California's most popular High Sierra retreats, for as little as $44 a night midweek during peak summer season. You might catch a glimpse of the sparkling blue lake from your balcony. Just down the road a few minutes on the Nevada side of the lake, a gambling casino advertises nightly "All-U-Can-Eat" buffets for $6.99, featuring ribs on Monday and steak on Tuesday. We're both hikers, so we broke up the drive by taking exciting day hikes. At Point Reyes National Seashore, we walked through groves of fragrant eucalyptus to a wave-splashed cove where portly sea lions frolicked among the rocks. At Mount Shasta, a 14,162-foot-high, Fuji-like volcanic cone tipped with snow, we wandered through fields of multicolored wildflowers. A maze of cliff-side paths tempted us in the coastal village of Mendocino, a logging town turned artists' colony. None of these hikes added a penny to our budget. Several times, we stopped at roadside beaches to wade in the chilly Pacific surf or investigate the squirmy marine life of tidal pools; no charge for this either. Once we watched a small whale swim past just offshore, its blowhole spouting as it glided slowly north. A terrific show, and all for free. Often we picnicked beside a tumbling stream - lunch al fresco with a million-dollar view for the price of a hunk of cheese and crackers from a local market. Now and again, a no-fee swimming hole beckoned. Getting started The San Francisco Bay Area's three major airports - San Francisco International, Oakland, and San Jose - are all convenient to this drive and are all serviced by low-cost airlines; Oakland and San Jose offer both Southwest Airlines and America West flights, while San Francisco is serviced by Southwest as well as ATA, National Airlines, and Sun Country. An Internet check indicates that auto rentals in August, peak vacation time, are least costly at San Francisco. Dollar (800/800-4000) quoted a weekly rate of $116 in mid-August for an economy car with unlimited mileage. At San Jose, the airport's lowest rate was from Payless (800/729-5377), at $116 a week. At Oakland, the best I could find was $150, quoted by Dollar. Balancing airfares against car rental rates, San Jose may be the airport for budget travelers in summer. On the road, I suggest budget-priced lodgings at each of five overnight stops. In summer, advance reservations are advised, but if you go without, you will spot inexpensive motels and lodges dotting most of this route. Somewhat isolated, they should be open to price-dickering. Room rates below are for two people per night (except where noted) during the summer high season. I chose this route for its magnificent scenery. Few drives anywhere treat you to so much for so little. Point Reyes National Seashore You may want to keep a swimsuit handy as you drive up the coast, although Northern California's beaches invite exploring rather than swimming because of frigid water and treacherous currents. (Summertime can also be foggy; September and October tend to be the sunniest months.) A case in point is Point Reyes National Seashore at Olema, a sprawling, semi-wilderness park that encompasses forests of wind-sculpted pines, lofty precipices, hidden valleys of ferns and huckleberries, rolling grasslands, and yes, miles of empty, wave-swept beaches. I've sunned myself on these sands, only braving the surf up to my knees. There's no charge to enter the park. On my latest visit, we opted to hike the mostly easy Bear Valley Trail, an eight-mile (round-trip) path that meanders through eucalyptus woods and broad meadows to an arched rock beside the sea. Sea lions played, and cormorants dove for dinner. As a short alternative, the ominously named half-mile Earthquake Trail leads to where the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 began. Markers show where the land suddenly shifted 16 feet. The Point Reyes Lighthouse, clinging to a rocky cliff, is reputedly one of the windiest and foggiest places on the West Coast. Find out for yourself by descending the 300 steps to its exposed perch. On the left is Drakes Bay, named for Sir Francis Drake, the English adventurer who sailed into the bay aboard the Golden Hind in the summer of 1579. Presumably he carried a heavy jacket, which you should also keep handy on this drive. Details: From San Francisco, take State Route 1 across Golden Gate Bridge to Point Reyes, about 50 miles. En route, take in the giant redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, made famous in a scene in Hitchcock's Vertigo. A few miles later, go for a dip at three-mile-long Stinson Beach, a local favorite. For bare-bones lodging, stay in the park at the 44-bed Point Reyes Hostel, overlooking a secluded valley (415/663-8811), for $16 per bed. Just outside the park in Inverness, the 35-room Golden Hinde Inn and Marina sits waterside on Tomales Bay (415/669-1389), running $90 per room weekdays/$139 weekends with breakfast. Just up the highway, the eight-room U.S. Hotel in Tomales (707/878-2742) lists a weekday rate of $99 per room but invites on-site bargaining. Better yet, try the 16-room Bodega Harbor Inn (707/875-3594) for $60 per room. It's 20 miles north in Bodega Bay, made famous in another Hitchcock flick, The Birds. Dine just outside the park in Point Reyes Station at the Station House Café (415/663-1515); a large lunch bowl of black-bean-and-turkey chili with grilled corn bread is $6.50. Information: Point Reyes (415/464-5100, Mendocino Bound for Mendocino, Route 1 snakes alongside sheer cliffs, plunging back down to a series of public beaches - among them 16-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Beach. Twisting in tight curves that drop the speed limit to 15 mph in places, the two-lane road passes countless small, rock-filled coves, hurdles deep gulches, and tunnels through thick woodlands. Waves fling themselves in fury against the rocks, shooting geysers of spray into the air. It's a nonstop spectacular the entire 135 miles from Point Reyes. The reward at Mendocino is a picture book New England-looking village with the prettiest front yard in America. Seafarers from the East Coast settled here in the nineteenth century, building solid Cape Cod and gabled Victorian homes, now beautifully preserved. The "front yard" is Mendocino Headlands State Park, a grass-covered bluff wrapped around three sides of the town as a protective greenbelt. From Main Street, the park stretches across open meadows to rocky bluffs where we stood high above the crashing surf. Afterwards, we browsed the art galleries, where coastal-themed paintings were reasonably priced. Three out of four residents (pop. 1,000) are said to be working artists, drawn by the gorgeous setting and radiant light. Details: On the way to Mendocino, stop at Fort Ross State Historic Park, a rebuilt fort that is the site of a Russian hunting and trading outpost in 1812. Though Mendocino is far from ritzy, in-town lodgings are expensive. For budget prices, stay ten miles north in the logging and commercial fishing port of Fort Bragg, which delights with a rugged appeal of its own. Good choices are the 50-room Fort Bragg Motel (707/964-4787), $49 per room weekdays/$59 weekends; the 57-room Driftwood Motel (707/964-4061), $54 weekdays/$64 weekends; and the 28-room, pet-friendly Coast Motel (707/964-2852), $48 weekdays/$58 weekends/$10 for pets. Have breakfast or lunch in Fort Bragg at popular Egghead's (707/964-5005), decorated with Wizard of Oz memorabilia with huge omlettes with potatoes and toast starting at only $5.75. From Fort Bragg, take a ride on the vintage Skunk Train (800/777-5865,, with a scenic half-day trip to the inland mountain redwoods costing $29. Information: Fort Bragg (800/726-2780, Redwood National Park Height, whether possessed by humans or trees, is imposing. Driving (and strolling) among the giant coast redwoods of Redwood National Park and three adjacent state parks, I was thoroughly awed. Many visitors liken a redwood grove-mighty trunks and overhanging branches forming a forest room-to the interior of a cathedral with its lofty arches and similarly muted light. Albeit a cathedral with a very leaky roof. In summer, morning fog often wraps a protective cloak around these giants, which thrive on the moisture. Trees can grow to 300 feet, as tall as a football field is long. The 215-mile drive from Mendocino to the park tunnels inland for awhile through several redwood groves before returning to the coast. Be sure to take the "Avenue of the Giants," a 30-mile alternate route north through Humboldt Redwoods State Park that is just a taste of the majestic redwoods ahead. At the park, headquartered at Orick, hike the easy milelong loop trail through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, dedicated to the former first lady. The needle-strewn, spongy-soft path winds through a garden of mosses and ferns flourishing under the redwoods. Afterwards, test your driving skills, as I did, among the redwoods on narrow Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Happily, I made it with no damage to me, the car, or the trees. Swimmers love the warm water of the Smith River flowing through the park. Details: From Mendocino or Fort Bragg, continue north on State Route 1 and U.S. 101. Outside Orick, Rolf's Park Café & Motel (707/ 488-3841) offers six rooms in a peaceful woodland setting at $47 each. In Crescent City, at the park's northern tip, the Gardenia Motel (707/464-2181) has 48 rooms for $45 each; or try the 65-room Bayview Inn (800/446-0583) for $59. For good eats, order the seafood platter ($8.95) for lunch at the Harbor View Grotto (707/464-3815). Information: Crescent City (707/464-3174, Mount Shasta Just shy of the Oregon border, our drive leaves the surf behind and heads for the summits, at the same time nosing south back toward San Francisco. In seemingly nonstop curves, the road - good, but lightly traveled - traces the path of the Trinity River, crossing the remote and rugged Klamath Mountains to Mount Shasta. Cool off in the river along the way as you anticipate your first view of one of the world's most majestic peaks. Only a few other mountains - Japan's Mount Fuji, Africa's Kilimanjaro - dominate their setting as mystical Mount Shasta does. A dormant volcano in the southern Cascade Range, it stands alone, unchallenged by any neighboring peak. Many locals swear the legendary mountain is regularly visited by UFOs. Park your car high on its shoulder at the tree line and hike the rocky path toward the summit a mile or two for a grand panorama. Drop back down to the base for a swim in little Lake Siskiyou ($1 per person). For $10 each, we savored a wood-burning sauna and a cold plunge into a mountain stream at nearby Stewart Mineral Springs (530/938-2222), a rustic, clothing-optional spa. In California, I do as the locals do. There are two-person tepees for $24 or campsites for $15 a day. Details: From Redwood, retrace your way south on U.S. 101 to Arcata. Take State Route 299 east to Weaverville, picking up Route 3 north. Approaching Callahan, turn east to Gazelle and take I-5 south to the cozy, New Age town of Mount Shasta. The distance is 255 miles. Stay at the 21-room Swiss Holiday Lodge (530/926-3446), $50 per room with continental breakfast, hot tub, and views; the 31-room A-1 Choice Inn (530/926-4811), $49 per room weekdays/$69 weekends; or the 20-room Shasta Lodge Motel (530/ 926-2815), $42. The Black Bear Diner (530/926-4669) boasts comfort foods of pot roast, meat loaf, and fried chicken all for $9.99 a plate. Information: Mount Shasta (800/397-1519, Lake Tahoe On this drive, every day brings stunning new sights to refresh the spirit, an incalculable benefit shared by budget and luxury travelers alike. I doubt anyone can gaze on Lake Tahoe - one of the largest, highest, deepest, loveliest (and coldest) mountain lakes in the country - without beaming in pure pleasure. The lake provides very diverse ways to spend your time here - as a 72-mile drive around it proves. No wonder it's remained popular with Californians for skiing on adjoining mountains in winter, and waterskiing and fishing in the summer. On Tahoe's more rustic North Shore, the road edges the lake beneath dense groves of massive Douglas fir trees. Public beaches tempt swimming (brrrrr!), or you can tube on the warmer Truckee River flowing out of the lake. Sandy and I stopped for an easy five-mile lakeside hike around Emerald Bay. On the South Shore, thick woods give way to glittery gambling palaces at Stateline in Nevada. Of my five favorites, which is best? I can't decide. But if you take this drive, you surely will agree with me that Lake Tahoe does just fine as the grand finale. Details: From Mount Shasta, follow State Route 89 to Lake Tahoe, about 275 miles. The road bisects Lassen Volcanic National Park ($10 per car); plan to take the gentle three-mile (round-trip) hike to Bumpass Hell to see bubbling mud spots and steaming fumaroles. From Tahoe, return to San Francisco via U.S. 50 and I-80, about 205 miles. Stay and dine on Tahoe's more scenic North Shore. First choice is historic 21-room Tamarack Lodge Motel (888/824-6323), where Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and other movie stars came to hunt, fish, and play cards; $44 per room weekdays, $54 weekends/multiday discounts. Other choices: 26-room Gold Crest Resort Motel (530/546-3301), $52 per room weekdays/$75 weekends; and 26-room Firelight Lodge (800/934-7222), $58 weekdays/$84 weekends. Dine on the buffet at nearby Crystal Bay Casino ($6.99) in Nevada or on huge Mexican platters ($8.95) at Blue Agave (530/583-8113), an 1868 log-cabin lodge reflecting Tahoe's past. Information: North Lake Tahoe (888/358-7461,

    Budget Travel Lists

    Asheville: The Top 25

    What you'll find in this story: Asheville, North Carolina travel, Asheville favorites, Asheville restaurants, local Asheville secrets 1. Candy by the bucket Who said the five-and-dime is extinct? There are seven Mast General Stores in North and South Carolina, where under one roof you can find coonskin caps, birdhouses, Radio Flyer wagons, and grape Nehis in glass bottles. The highlight is plucking peanut clusters and Atomic FireBalls out of barrels to fill up a one-pound bucket of mixed candy ($5.50). Built in 1882, the original Mast Store is two hours north of Asheville in Valle Crucis. It's right out of Little House on the Prairie, with sloping floors, creaky stairs, and a monstrous potbellied stove. A location opened in downtown Asheville five years ago. Hwy. 194, Valle Crucis, 828/963-6511; 15 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 828/232-1883. 2. Transplants and wanderers Asheville is full of characters who stopped by for a visit--while taking a road trip, perhaps, or hiking the Appalachian Trail--and liked the place so much that they never left. This explains the scarcity of southern accents: The city is in--but doesn't seem entirely of--the South. It's become a gathering place for outdoorsy, community-minded folks who love the quick access to nature but aren't willing to give up movie theaters, quality restaurants, and other trappings of a small city. 3. "The Beer Guy" The newspaper of record--the Asheville Citizen-Times--has a regular column devoted to ales, stouts, and porters. "You can't make a bad beer and expect to sell it in this town," says columnist Tony Kiss, also the paper's entertainment editor, who started covering the beer scene when the Highland Brewing Company, the first of the city's four breweries, opened 10 years ago. "A lot of people are interested in something more than a six-pack of Bud." Highland Brewing Company, 42 Biltmore Ave., 828/255-8240, tours available. 4. Lincoln Log sleepover The Pines Cottages, an old-fashioned motor court of 15 one- and two-bedroom cabins, is in a woodsy area just 10 minutes from downtown. Dating to the 1940s, the cabins were renovated when new owners took over in 2001. Most have kitchens and porches, and a few even have fireplaces, which can come in handy on chilly mountain nights. 346 Weaverville Hwy., 828/645-9661,, from $80. 5. Knowing where the sausage is from Down-home favorites at the Early Girl Eatery include eggs with country ham, fried catfish, and biscuits positively drenched in gravy. If that's a little too southern for you, there are also plenty of healthier options, like multigrain pancakes and sesame tofu salad. The Early Girl makes its own breakfast breads, gravy, and sausage, and whatever wasn't made from scratch on-site probably came from a local farm or river. Simple wooden tables and chairs line a long row of second-story windows overlooking downtown's Pritchard Park. The coffee mugs are big, and the young, bright-eyed waitstaff keeps them full. 8 Wall St., 828/259-9292, biscuits with gravy $2.25. 6. The banned-book list at Malaprop's In addition to titles of gay, lesbian, and transgender interest--and separate sections for graphic novels and local writers and poets--this very independent bookstore has several shelves of books currently banned by schools and libraries around the country. Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a few of the Harry Potter titles are all on someone's no-no list. Several times a week, the bookstore-and-café hosts author readings and live music. The bulletin board where locals post events, jobs, and solicitations is absolutely worth a look. One recent flyer read: 2chix lawn care--support the women's movement. 55 Haywood St., 828/254-6734. 7. Nobody wears a tie Instead, there are lots of baggy shorts, fleece vests, cargo pants, Birkenstocks, and sundresses. Everything is casual--including the typical career path. Jobs take a backseat to leisure, not vice versa. 8. Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all the other trimmings are served weekly at Asheville's favorite spot for home cooking, Picnics Restaurant and Bake Shop. The mom-and-son operation--owned and run by Ron Smith and his mother, Minnie--has a menu that changes only a little from day to day: wood-roasted chicken, collard greens, cucumber salad, mac-and-cheese. "I'll just never understand restaurants that don't use real butter," Ron says. There are a couple tables for sit-down meals, but the shop brings in a mostly to-go crowd ($27 buys a picnic basket for four with drinks, utensils, plates, and a tablecloth). It's impossible to escape without scooping up a slice of death-by-chocolate cake or blackberry cobbler from the dessert counter by the door. 371 Merrimon Ave., 828/258-2858. 9. Hazy days and quiet nights on the parkway The Blue Ridge Parkway snakes up, around, and over the Appalachians for 469 miles, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks. On the parkway, at 5,000 feet above sea level and 20 minutes south of Asheville, is the Pisgah Inn, where all of the 51 units look out over miles and miles of hazy mountain peaks. 828/235-8228,, doubles from $80. 10. Cloggers, hippies, and more There's a drum circle, political rally, or concert happening somewhere all the time. The City/County Plaza is popular, as is Pritchard Park, in the center of town. It doesn't have flowers or grass. What it does have is gatherings--lots of them. Skinny dudes with dreadlocks and camouflage cutoffs mill about playing the bongos or reading poetry. In summer, the park hosts a series of old silent movies accompanied by live music. 11. Jugs that smile The Appalachian Craft Center showcases work from dozens of regional artists. Particularly popular are the collectible "face jugs" (sculpted and glazed with quirky faces, $45 to $300), as well as brooms with specially carved and finished handles ($25 to $65). Kids, meanwhile, will love the simple wooden folk toys that were popular in Civil War times--and their parents will appreciate that they cost less than $5. 10 N. Spruce St., 828/253-8499. 12. Sliding Rock First-timers worry about bruising their behinds on the natural 60-foot water slide that drops into a six-foot-deep pool. A more worthy concern: The water--runoff from the mountains in the Pisgah National Forest--usually hovers around 55 degrees. Once reachable only by a trail, Sliding Rock now has a parking lot and changing house, a metal railing to help people climb up, and even a lifeguard in summer. The ride doesn't hurt a bit--or maybe the frigid waters simply numb your nether regions. Pisgah Ranger District Information Center, 828/877-3265,, $1. 13. Too-cute Main Streets With its large Victorian homes, concrete and art deco office buildings, quaint storefronts built in the World War II era, and even a modern, all-glass high-rise, Asheville's architecture is a mix of old and new that doesn't always jell. Within a half hour of the city, however, are a handful of small towns with historic districts--Black Mountain, Hendersonville, and Brevard, to name three--where buildings and the cast of characters seem little changed in half a century. In Brevard, Rocky's Grill & Soda Shop is covered in 1950s memorabilia and serves up standards like milk shakes, floats, hot dogs, and hamburgers. 36 S. Broad St., 828/877-5375, malt $3.80. 14. Fruit that sticks to the pit Open seven days a week, the 36-acre Western North Carolina Farmers Market has a café, bakery, and ice cream parlor; a store stocked with crafts and preserves; a greenhouse with plants, trees, and a 45-foot-high waterfall; and, as you'd expect, an enormous selection of fresh produce. There's even an area set aside just for melons and peaches--the latter coming in clingstone (fruit sticks to the pit) and freestone (fruit separates easily from the seed) varieties. 570 Brevard Rd., 828/253-1691. 15. When your name gets called at Tupelo Honey An Asheville institution right across from Pritchard Park, the Tupelo Honey Café certainly is eccentric. It doesn't take reservations, the hours are weird, and the line usually stretches out the door. The food is southern-with-a-twist, appealing to both sophisticates (spiced tuna with a rémoulade sauce) and classicists (peanut butter and banana on toast). Most dishes are $5 to $8, and everything oozes butter and spice. Closing time on Fridays and Saturdays doesn't come until midnight, and up to the last minute the place hops with folks treating themselves to late-night snacks of sweet potato pancakes, fried green tomatoes, and raspberry French toast. 12 College St., 828/255-4863. 16. The bowling alley in the basement The mountains of North Carolina have embraced tourism for years--in fact, the local Minor League Baseball club is the Asheville Tourists. (Fanny packs and cameras are not part of the uniform.) The city's most famous attraction, the lavish Biltmore Estate, was designed as a primary residence but used mostly for escapes to the country by the Vanderbilt family. Styled after a French château, the 250-room Biltmore House opened on Christmas Eve 1895 with its own bowling alley, countless art treasures from Europe and Asia, and a banquet hall that has 70-foot ceilings. Many visitors make a day of checking out the main house as well as the 8,000-acre estate's expansive gardens, walking paths, and winery, with serene Smoky Mountain views all around. Self-guided rafting trips booked through the Biltmore are a reasonable $20. Reserve your ride for the day after you explore the estate--that way, your admission is valid for two full days. 1 Approach Rd., 877/324-5866,, $39. 17. The great barbecue debate In these parts, barbecue means one thing: meat, usually pork, that's slowly smoked and seasoned over a fire, pulled off in shreds, placed in a bun, and served with coleslaw and deep-fried nuggets of cornmeal called hush puppies. But while chefs in the eastern Carolinas use a vinegar-based sauce, the prime ingredient in Asheville and the western Carolinas is tomato sauce. Naturally, both regions claim superiority. At the local mini-chain Little Pigs B-B-Q, you can order your barbecue either way. 1578 Hendersonville Rd., 828/277-7188. 18. The four-state view An asphalt road twists up most of Mount Mitchell--at 6,684 feet, the highest peak east of the Mississippi--before ending in a parking lot that's a quarter-mile walk from the top. Hikers climb a lookout tower for views of four states (Tennessee, Virginia, and both Carolinas) and a look at the tomb of the mountain's namesake, Dr. Elisha Mitchell. A scientist and preacher, he died here from a fall in 1857. Mount Mitchell State Park, 2388 Hwy. 128, Burnsville, 828/675-4611, 19. 70,000 square feet of junk In an industrial area between downtown and the Biltmore, the Antiques Tobacco Barn (the crop used to be processed here) hosts more than 70 vendors selling hand-carved headboards, rocking chairs, stained-glass windows, dining room sets, you name it. For that matter, the entire region is crazed for collectibles: There are 53 entries in the Asheville Yellow Pages under antiques--dealers. Downtown, secondhand stores around the corner of Walnut and Rankin Streets are filled with dusty old finds. Antiques Tobacco Barn, 75 Swannanoa River Rd., 828/252-7291. 20. Sons of Ralph Asheville digs all kinds of music, and has more than two dozen venues for live tunes. No band is more beloved around here than Sons of Ralph. The lead vocalist, mandolin player, and inspiration for the band's name is 76-year-old Ralph Lewis, who's been playing "mountain music" in the region for seven decades. Ralph is accompanied by sons Marty (guitar) and Don (fiddle, banjo) and two "adopted children," Gary Wiley (bass) and Richard Foulk (drums). Their free-flowing mix of bluegrass, rock, and Cajun, with influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Hank Williams, has earned them best-band honors in an annual poll for four years running. "We don't rehearse, and we never have a set list," Ralph says with pride. They draw a good crowd for a regular gig at the Jack of the Wood, a smoke-free pub downtown. "I don't know if it's the acoustics, the audience, or what," Ralph says, "but whenever we play there, it's magic." 95 Patton Ave., 828/252-5445. 21. The hillbilly in the sky Tunnel Road, looping through the outskirts of downtown, has a Red Lobster, Blockbuster, Applebee's, and a holdout from another time: the Mountaineer Inn. The welcome sign--which includes a giant neon bumpkin in overalls and a floppy cowboy hat, plus several letters in the motel name written backward--has been a city fixture for more than 50 years. There's a nine-foot-deep pool, and the low-maintenance clientele doesn't seem to mind that it's surrounded by blacktop and looks out over the traffic on Tunnel Road. Rooms are bigger than you'd expect for the price, a decent breakfast is included, the people are friendly, and guests are always welcome to grab a hot cup of coffee in the office. 155 Tunnel Rd., 800/255-4080,, doubles from $40. 22. The really green grocers Asheville's 70,000 residents are health-conscious enough to support two organic grocery stores--not tiny boutiques, but sprawling, where's-the-milk supermarkets, each taking up more than 20,000 square feet. Originally opened in a little storefront in 1980, Earth Fare now occupies a sizable chunk of strip mall in west Asheville, and it even has a sit-down buffet and a community room for health seminars and book signings. (A second Earth Fare debuted in Charleston, S.C., in 1997, and there are now about a dozen stores in the Southeast.) Greenlife Grocery, an all-natural supermarket from Chattanooga, Tenn., quickly gained a loyal following after opening a location last July in a former A&P just north of downtown Asheville. Earth Fare, 66 Westgate Pkwy., 828/253-7656; Greenlife Grocery, 70 Merrimon Ave., 828/254-5440. 24. Scenery made for the movies Gorgeous Lake Lure, 30 miles to the southeast of Asheville, subbed in for the Catskills in Dirty Dancing. A few miles away from the lake is Chimney Rock, a towering spire with 75-mile views. For The Last of the Mohicans, Daniel Day-Lewis was filmed running through the surrounding park for the dramatic finale. Chimney Rock Park, 800/277-9611,, $14. 24. 100-year-old home base A Bed of Roses, a B&B built in the late 1800s, sits on a quiet street in the Montford historic district, a 10-minute walk north of downtown. The innkeepers have decorated the five guest rooms with antiques they've been collecting for years. 135 Cumberland Ave., 828/258-8700,, doubles from $119. 25. A pilgrimage to Pretty Place Five miles off of Highway 276, near the South Carolina border, there's a YMCA camp with a chapel that even nonbelievers can appreciate. The Fred W. Symmes Chapel, an open-air building better known as Pretty Place, sits atop a rock ledge so that the congregation can find divine inspiration in a sweeping panorama of the green valley below, home to Jones Gap State Park. The chapel is sometimes rented out for weddings and other special events, but most weekdays anyone can drive up to admire the astounding view or say a prayer. "All kinds of folks come up here to reflect and enjoy the scenery," says Doug Gregory, associate executive director of the camp. "And every year it seems a couple of people who went to the camp years ago come back and get engaged at sunrise." YMCA Camp Greenville, Cedar Mountain, 864/836-3291,

    Budget Travel Lists

    10 "Hidden Gems" You'll Love This Summer!

    Psst. Can you keep a secret? If you're looking for a world-class vacation minus the crowds, Budget Travel has got a hot tip. Well, actually we've got 10 of them. Over the past year we've visited some of America's most amazing parklands and unique small towns. Stretching across the U.S., our list of beautiful hidden gems includes ocean spray, lapping lakeshores, forests, mountains, and some of the nicest hosts you'll ever meet. What all these places have in common is that you might have never heard of them without BT's spilling the beans. Enjoy! SEE 10 BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN PARKS! 1. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK  Nevada One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip. Where to stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites cost $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; There is a $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (, doubles from $85). 2. BEAUFORT  North Carolina Captain Horatio Sinbad is what you might call a friendly pirate. He's got six cannons on his 54-foot brigantine, the Meka II, but he's also got Wi-Fi. He's got a gold tooth and a gold hoop in his left ear, but his mate lovingly wears the matching earring on a chain around her neck (and brings him coffee on deck). He makes his living as a pirate, sailing the East Coast to lead mock invasions—"historical entertainments," as he calls them—then dutifully returns to Beaufort, N.C., every chance he gets. "The water is clean, the fishing is great, and the people are friendly," he says. "This is home port for me." If you'd just dropped into Beaufort, you might be surprised to find that a pirate has weighed anchor there. Perched on an especially serene stretch of the North Carolina coast, the town has an air of Southern gentility about it, with restored 17th- and 18th-century buildings that flank the local historical society. Feeling a shiver in your timbers? A cup of rich gumbo and a slice of salty, pillow-soft French bread at the Beaufort Grocery restaurant and bakery will warm you up nicely (117 Queen St.,, cup of gumbo $4.25). There's even a thriving health-food store, the Coastal Community Market (606 Broad St.,, locally made hummus $4). And yet Beaufort's got a wild side, starting with the undomesticated horses you'll see roaming just across Taylors Creek. Blackbeard himself sailed those waters, and his spirit pops up at the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front St.,, admission free), the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant (510 Front St.,, crab-stuffed shrimp $15), and beyond. If he were alive, you'd almost certainly find him on a stool at the Backstreet Pub, a dive-bar-like joint that also serves as a live-music venue and a lending library for sailors. Owner Liz Kopf likes to call her place the funkiest bar from Maine to Venezuela: "I always say there are more characters per capita in here than anywhere in the state" (124 Middle Lane,, beer $2 on Mondays and Tuesdays). Where to stay: Confederate jasmine and animal topiaries frame the Langdon House B&B (135 Craven St.,, doubles from $108).  3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK  Michigan Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, this nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago. Where to stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (, doubles from $115). 4. HAMMONDSPORT New York Hammondsport, N.Y., may well be the recycling capital of America. Not garbage recycling (though they do that, too). We're talking about the vintage seaplanes restored and flown by the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (8419 State Rte. 54,, admission $8.50). The birdhouses made of scrap wood in front of the Aroma Coffee Art Gallery (60 Shethar St., 607/569-3047, birdhouses from $40). Even the cypress paneling in the Bully Hill Vineyard's lower dining room came from old wine barrels (8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Dr.,, smoked pulled pork sandwich $13). "When my husband and I came back to live here, the first thing he did was start restoring old boats," says Nancy Wightman, whose husband, Ed, grew up in the Finger Lakes region. "It's not just about loving history. You get the sense that's who the people here are." It's tempting to say that there's something in the water, but Hammondsport's passion for the past really comes via the wine. The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, opened in 1860, was the first in the Finger Lakes region (8260 Pleasant Valley Rd.,, bottles from $6). In 1962, a Ukrainian viticulturist further transformed the local wine industry at his Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by successfully planting European grapes in the colder New York climate (9749 Middle Rd.,, bottles from $9). Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. That's literally true of Dr. Frank's, which sits on an impossibly green piece of land overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. The vineyard is run by Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson. "I enjoy hearing stories about children sitting on my grandfather's knee 40 years ago," says Fred. "That's very rewarding." Also rewarding: After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank's are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are. Sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back on the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro—spring for one of the plus-size meals, such as linguini and clam sauce (31 Shethar St.,, linguini with clam sauce $19). "We're pretty darn proud of what we've built here," says Mayor Emery Cummings, who has lived in Hammondsport for every one of his 54 years, "and we're hoping to keep it the way it's always been." Where to stay: You'll find a spiral staircase, crown moldings, and bits of vintage wallpaper in the octagonal 1859 home that has been converted into the Black Sheep Inn (8329 Pleasant Valley Rd.,, doubles from $149).  5. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA  Illinois There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (, canoe rental $15 per person per day). Where to stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (, doubles from $100). 6. WEAVERVILLE  California You expect certain trappings in any Gold Rush town. A saloon, a main street, maybe a hitching post. Also a 138-year-old working Chinese temple. No? You'll find one in Weaverville, where the Joss House State Historic Park is a testament to the town's unsung history of tolerance (630 Main St.,, admission $4). Chinese immigrants, facing discrimination in ports such as San Francisco, were welcomed here and ultimately accounted for up to 25 percent of the Rush-era population. "Some of our staff looks at this place as a museum piece you just have to keep clean and take care of," says guide Jack Frost. "But Chinese people who work in the parks system say it's a national treasure." Maybe it's the mining connection, but Weaverville is a place where you often strike it rich in unexpected places. The 1854 drugstore and bank are now home to the La Grange Cafe, which features a wildly creative menu of boar, rabbit, and buffalo-as well as an impressive wine cellar in the old bank vault (520 Main St., 530/623-5325, buffalo burger $11). Mamma Llama Eatery & Cafe hosts a surprisingly funky roster of live musicians: Gypsy jazz, junkyard percussion, even didgeridoo (490 Main St.,, hoagie $5.75). Where to stay: One place that hews to a more period Old West experience is the 132-year-old Weaverville Hotel, which features four-poster beds, clawfoot tubs, and a peaceful Victorian library (481 Main St.,, doubles from $99). 7. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK  West Virginia Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream. Where to stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84). 8. DAMASCUS  Virginia If you decide to drive to Damascus, you'll likely be in the minority. This is hiking and cycling heaven, where seven major trails intersect, including the undulating Virginia Creeper and the granddaddy of them all: the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. In a nifty bit of irony, six of the seven trails converge in a parking lot, at Mojoes Trailside Coffee House (331 Douglas Dr.,, lattes from $3.50), where most mornings you'll find a clutch of locals and through-hikers chatting about travel plans. Breakfast is the big meal in town, and the more energy-boosting calories the better. Yet the carbo-loading, hard-core trekkers you'll find in Damascus don't always look as you'd expect. "Mamaw B." (her adopted trail name) was in town beginning her usual 15- to 18-mile hike. She's 71 and has been backpacking for 31 years. "The secret to good health is to remain active and to always have something to look forward to," she says, as she sets off from Mojoes toward-where, exactly? She just smiles and points north. Where to stay: The Lazy Fox Inn is famous less for its trailside location than for its legendary country breakfast that includes cheese grits, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and sausage (133 Imboden St.,, doubles with private bath from $85).     9. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK  Missouri The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a day-trip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views. Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (, doubles from $149). 10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK Pennsylvania If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show above, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge—a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year. Where to stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 p.m. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (

    Budget Travel Lists

    Budget Travel's Coolest Small Town Results 2012? It’s a Tie!

    In this season of elections and campaigns in politics, Hollywood, American Idol–land, and beyond, the closest contest of all may well have been Budget Travel magazine’s 7th "Coolest Small Towns." It was so close, in fact, that we have declared a tie between Beaufort, N.C, and Hammondsport, N.Y. Hammondsport and Beaufort had been locked in fierce battle for much of the month-long vote, seesawing back and forth for the top spot. In the final hours of online voting, toward midnight of Jan. 31, the traffic was so intense that it crashed the Budget Travel website. The site had been programmed to cut off voting at the stroke of midnight and declare a winner, and at precisely 12 a.m. it did—picking Beaufort, which was technically ahead by a few votes at that time. However, since voters in several parts of the country had been locked out due to the site crash, Budget Travel editors decided it was impossible to determine which town would have won had all things been equal for all voters. "We have to declare a tie," said Lisa Schneider, the general manager for digital products. "It’s the only thing that’s fair under these circumstances." In the end, more than 360,000 votes were cast, with Beaufort and Hammondsport receiving 36.2 and 36.0 percent of the vote respectively. Third place went to Weaverville, Calif., with 13.0 percent. The contest is open to towns with populations under 10,000. Last year’s winner was Lewisburg, W.Va. This year’s nail-biter was helped in no small part by the rising influence of social media networking as a virtual get–out–the–vote tool. The BT Coolest Small Towns page earned over 70,000 likes on Facebook and was Tweeted more than 3,300 times (including a Tweet by best-selling novelist Nicholas Sparks that said: "Everyone please vote Beaufort, NC! If it wins I will giveaway a few signed novels!" Sparks lives in New Bern, N.C.). On Facebook, readers and fans from all over the country banded together, proclaiming their love and support for their favorite small towns, sharing videos of their towns, and even dedicating their Facebook profile pictures to the cause (we're talking to you, Kim Price, Erin Cassidy, and Morgen McLaughlin). Mindful of the bragging rights—not to mention the potential marketing payoff—officials in several of the nominated towns campaigned tirelessly for their home bases. Local mayors gave repeated newspaper interviews. "There were 647 towns that were nominated and we made the top ten!" said Beaufort mayor Richard Stanley. New York State Senator Thomas F. O'Mara released a statement in support of Hammondsport, the only town in New York that made the top ten. Local media in all the top–10 towns joined in the chorus, sometimes gently, sometimes not. "No offense to the current leader, Hammondsport, N.Y., but Weaverville has a charm all its own and certainly deserves the notice," read an editorial in the Record Searchlight newspaper in Redding, Calif. But mostly, the towns were just grateful for the attention, no matter how the race finished. "It's an honor to be recognized in the top 10," said Jerome, Ariz. Mayor Jay Kinsella. Jerome finished in 8th place, with almost 5,600 votes—not bad for a town with only 378 residents. —Marc Peyser and Kaeli Conforti MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Why Don’t Americans Take More Vacation? To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap Caribbean Deals You Don't Want to Miss


    More Places to go

    DESTINATION IN California


    Eureka (Wiyot: Jaroujiji, Hupa: do'-wi-lotl-ding, Karuk: uuth) is the principal city and county seat of Humboldt County in the Redwood Empire region of California. The city is located on U.S. Route 101 on the shores of Humboldt Bay, 270 miles (435 km) north of San Francisco and 100 miles (161 km) south of the Oregon border. At the 2010 census, the population of the city was 27,191, and the population of Greater Eureka was 45,034.Eureka is the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, and the westernmost city of more than 25,000 residents in the 48 contiguous states. The proximity to the sea causes the city to have an extremely maritime climate with very small annual temperature differences and seasons mainly being defined by the rainy winters and dry summers, whereas nearby inland areas are much hotter in summer. It is the regional center for government, health care, trade, and the arts on the North Coast north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Greater Eureka, one of California's major commercial fishing ports, is the location of the largest deep-water port between San Francisco and Coos Bay, a stretch of about 500 miles (805 km).The headquarters of both the Six Rivers National Forest and the North Coast Redwoods District of the California State Parks System are in Eureka. As entrepôt for hundreds of lumber mills that once existed in the area, the city played a leading role in the historic West Coast lumber trade. The entire city is a state historic landmark, which has hundreds of significant Victorian homes, including the nationally recognized Carson Mansion, and the city has retained its original 19th-century commercial core as a nationally recognized Old Town Historic District. Eureka is home to California's oldest zoo, the Sequoia Park Zoo.