The Great Smokey Mountains, the Appalachian Trail and the ripening vineyards of Virginia are places where autumn takes nature on a particularly deep, sugary dive from green to gold.
Road-tripping, the post Covid-19 pivot for die-hard travelers is a particularly well-suited way to see the change of season in an area of the US famous for its Colonial history, its fine wines, national parks and magic, tree-fringed trails.
Benchmark Resorts & Hotels is putting Fall Road Trips on sale this autumn with a series called The Miles of Memories Fall Road Trip Getaways.
Travelers to 22 hotels in 7 regions around the US can take advantage of up to 40 percent off rooms, restaurants, available spa services, amenities and activities with some of the deals in place until the start of ski season on December 3.
Four Benchmark properties offering this deal allow road-trippers the option of taking a 14-hour drive from Lansdowne Resort and Spa, near Washington DC to the Stonewall Resort in West Virginia, then to the Inn at Virginia Tech back in Virginia and then from there to Tennessee where Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort and Spa ends the journey.
Although all the properties are participating in the sale, there’s nothing bargain basement about the pleasures that await the savvy leaf peeper.
Start off with either a drive or a flight to Lansdowne Resort and Spa which is close to Washington D.C. and a car rental at the airport.
At Lansdowne, the package offers a waived resort fee, overnight accommodations and a $50.00 resort credit per stay.
Use that credit toward a bottle of wine at Piedmont’s, the resort’s full-service restaurant whose wine cellar is stocked with the best of Virginia’s vineyards.
Wine lovers will also want to go farther afield (but a short drive away) to the best of Virginia’s winemaking industry.
Local wineries include Chrysalis Vineyards which includes a bakery, artisan dairy room and their own products like hot sauce and jelly; Greenhill Vineyards in Loudon County and Lost Hill Winery, only 20 minutes away from the Resort.
Loudon County is also home to Middleburg, the nation’s horse and hunt capital, once a favorite riding destination for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and right in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Middleburg has a mile-long historic area with charming antique shops and taverns open for both in-and-outdoor dining. It is just the place for a glass of Virginia red wine, a dressed venison steak and a homemade piece of apple cobbler for dessert: all in keeping with the autumn theme of the trip.
Back at the Resort, Spa Minerale is currently listed as open, which means you can book a hygienic, masked massage treatment before or after dinner.
Say farewell to Lansdowne and take Route 7 to 81 then pick up Route 48, an east-west road that takes you to the Stonewall Resort in West Virginia.
Stonewall Resort’s package goodies include 25 % off lakeside lodge accommodations plus a s’mores kit for each party. The resort is located on Stonewall Jackson Lake within the Stonewall Resort State Park and offers an Adirondack central lodge and satellite cottages, many with lakeside views.
Things to do in Stonewall include lakeside dining at the Resort’s Stillwater’s which is open for both indoor and outdoor dining, swimming in the indoor and outdoor pools (both open but with limited capacity), trails, golf course and treatments at the Mt. Laurel Spa. Sixteen miles of trails in the park include a 60-foot bridge at water’s edge.
From Stonewall take I79 South to Route 19 which flows into I77. From there you’ll find The Inn At Virginia Tech in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains. The Inn features comfortable rooms, many of which have stunning mountain views. The package at the Inn features complimentary parking, breakfast for two at Preston’s Restaurant (where the Angus steak is locally sourced from area pastures) and a free appetizer at the Continental Divide Lounge.
A stay here will put you in proximity of some of Virginia’s most stunning natural scenery like the pair of two-mile trails in Jefferson National Forest which both end up at a 66-foot waterfall or the hike along Cascades National Recreation Trail following Little Stony Creek.
Really fit road-trippers can hike to see the Dragon’s Tooth, a 35-foot quartzite spire that rises over the Catawba Valley. There is a hike that goes from a trailhead off Route 311 to Catawba that runs four-and-a-half miles including a steep hand-hold-needed scale up a section of Appalachian Trail to the peak. Not for hiking newbies or those who gained the lockdown 15.
From Virginia Tech, take Route 460 South which feeds into I81 West all the way to the little town of Kodak then to Winfield Dunn Parkway (66) which ultimately takes you to your final destination on your roadtrip: Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa™ in Tennessee.
Dollywood’s Dreammore Resort and Spa’s package includes 15 % off per night and a $25 resort credit for stays from September 25 to October 31. It is located in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains, an area that Dolly Parton has made famous from (a) being from there and (b) creating Dollywood to introduce the world to the beauty of her beloved home.
Obviously, the must-see is Dollywood (currently open with mask requirement and social distancing). Buy tickets well ahead of your visit as the park is in a reduced capacity for Covid-19 status and is perennially popular, even in the pandemic. Note that the resort’s spa is currently closed but there is plenty more to do from the resort’s Song and Hearth restaurant’s comfort food to live shows like Dolly’s Stampede (a horse and musical number dinner show). There is also The Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge and Great Smokey Mountains National Park where, after a Covid-19 closure, all trails and campgrounds are now open.
One hundred species of native trees find homes in the Smokies, more than in any other North American national park. Almost 95% of the park is forested, and about 25% of that area is old-growth forest. All of this magnificent foliage will be turning red, gold and varying shades in between fulfilling Parton’s vivid description of the Great Smokey Mountains as “God’s coloring book.”