Southeastern roundup: 3 mountain towns

While the West is known for its towering peaks and grand vistas, the South has a closer-to-home abundance of mountain getaways.  From Georgia to North Carolina to Kentucky, the Southeast's older mountains are home to pretty towns with clean air and plenty to do. Here's a look at three of them:

Dahlonega

Gold brought droves of people to Dahlonega in the mid-1800s, and it still attracts crowds a century and a half later.

Though panning has slowed, thousands flock to this gateway to the Appalachian Mountains to revisit the booming days of the gold rush and enjoy the spectacular landscape.

During the third full week of October, the town celebrates its rich history and the peak of fall with Gold Rush Days. The event, Oct. 16 and 17 this year, was voted one of the top 20 in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society. It features arts, crafts, a fashion show, gold panning contests and children’s games amidst a rich display of autumn colors.

Learn more about the area’s gold history at the Dahlonega Gold Museum. Housed in the old Lumpkin County Courthouse, the museum features historical photos, maps, gold receipts issued by the mint and a film that tells the story of the gold rush through the eyes of local residents.

“We have a ton of activities slated for this fall and winter,” Stephen Smith, tourism director for the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce, CVB, said. “Dahlonega is a short drive from Atlanta, and a large percentage of our visitors are ‘weekend warriors’ that leave the city and head to the mountains.”

A $22 Catch the Gold Fever pass provides admission to the museum, a tour of the Consolidated Gold Mine, a pan of ore for gold mining and a two-gallon bucket of ore for gem searching at Crissom Gold Mine. Passes are sold at the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Welcome Center.

Don't Miss: Dahlonega Tasting Room featuring Habersham Wines. Billed as the heart of Georgia's wine country, the Dahlonega area boasts the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in North Georgia. Don't have time to visit them all? Taste a variety of the area's best in one sitting at the Dahlonega Tasting Room.

Dahlonega Tasting Room featuring Habersham Wines. Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday: 12:30-6 p.m. 16 N. Park St. 706-864-8275, www.habershamwinery.com

Eat: Corkscrew Café. Featuring soup, sandwiches, as well as steaks and seafood, coupled with an extensive wine list. 51 W. Main St. 706-867-8551, www.thecorkscrewcafe.com

Stay: The Smith House. Newly renovated guest rooms and carriage house rooms featuring in-room coffee makers, fine linens and Internet access. From $129. 84 S. Chestatee St. 800-852-9577 or 706-867-7000, www.smithhouse.com

Info: Dahlonega Convention & Visitors Bureau. 706-864-3711 or 800-231-5543, www.dahlonega.org

Middlesboro, Ky.

If it’s a majestic view and nature you’re looking to enjoy, drive no farther than Middlesboro.

Located on the Kentucky side of the Cumberland Gap, Middlesboro is promoted as the only city in the world to be formed by an asteroid strike.

Journey into Cumberland Gap National Historic Park to enjoy the flora and fauna. Visitation peaks in July and again in October when the mountains are covered in brilliant fall foliage.

Check out the park visitors' center, then take a four-mile drive up to Pinnacle Overlook, where you’ll have a view of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia from 2,440 feet. The road to Pinnacle Overlook is periodically closed because of inclement weather, so be sure to plan ahead. Guided walking cave tours also are available.

While at the park, take a look back in time at the Hensley Settlement, a pioneer establishment that showcases life in the Southern Appalachian Mountains through historic buildings and sites.

Admission to the park is free. Cave tours are $8 for adults and $4 for children, with reservations recommended (606-248-2817). Tours of the Hensley Settlement are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Don't Miss: The Coal House -- a popular attraction in Middlesboro,  built in 1926 from 42 tons of bituminous coal. After visiting the Coal House, venture next door to view the sights of the outdoor Bell County Coal Mining Museum, which features historic mining equipment from the 1960s including a mine locomotive and coal cutting machines.

The Coal House. North 20th Street. Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4: 30 p.m.606-248-1075.

Eat: Avenue Café & Antiques. Dinner and shopping rolled into one experience with home cooking, tasty daily specials including the café's most popular item -- chicken salad with grapes, pecans and pineapples -- as well as unique antiques and gifts. 1915 W. Cumberland Ave. 606-248-3958

Stay: Cumberland Manor Bed & Breakfast. Recently restored Victorian house built in 1890 and decorated with period antiques. Sits atop Cumberland Mountains overlooking downtown Middlesboro with a view of three states. $99-$129. 208 Arthur Heights. 606-248-4299 or 866-648-4299, cumberlandmanorbedandbreakfast.com

Info: Bell County Tourism Commission. 606-248-2482 or 800-988-1075, www.mountaingateway.com

Cherokee, N.C.

Tomahawks, peace pipes, drumming, blowguns, bows and arrows – when it comes to Cherokee culture, you’ll find it all here.

View a bit of life as it was in 1760 with a visit to Oconaluftee Indian Village. There are no cars, no televisions – just pure mountain air and history. Visitors can interact with villagers as they hull canoes, make pottery and weave baskets. Don’t miss the village’s live reenactments, interactive demonstrations, “Hands-On Cherokee” arts and crafts classes and evening storytelling performances.

The village’s long-running “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama continues nightly, reworked to better portray the unique story of the Cherokee from a historical perspective. Visits to the Cherokee Heritage Museum and Gallery and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian provide an interactive and educational look into Native American history and life. Much of the Cherokee story is told through members of the tribe who lived it.

“Cherokee, North Carolina, presents some of the most significant and culturally authentic events in the United States,” Mary Jane Ferguson, director of marketing for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, said.

Don't Miss: Oconaluftee Islands Park. Fish, tube, wade or just relax in the cool river water, which originates from springs bubbling up through the greenery in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Water ranges from ankle deep for children to chest deep for adults. The park features a walking trail, picnic tables, picnic shelters and grills.

Oconaluftee Islands Park. U.S.  441, accessible by footbridge across the river. 800-438-1601, www.cherokee-nc.com

Eat: Fryemont Inn. Dinner menu includes local rainbow trout, prime rib and braised lamb shanks. The Pecan Crusted Trout with Lemon Cream is a favorite. 245 Fryemont St., Bryson City. 828-488-2159, www.fryemontinn.com

Stay: Fontana Village Resort. Featuring hotel cabins, campground, two restaurants, general store, shopping, fishing, biking and three swimming pools. $20 and up for camping; $69-$129 for lodge rooms; $119-$239 for cabins. N.C. 28 North, Fontana Dam. 800-849-2258, www.fontanavillage.com

Info: Cherokee Welcome Center. 800-438-1601, www.cherokee-nc.com

-- Provided by Demand Studio