I owe the inspiration for this post to Betty at Chambersontheroad.com who posted a while back about a special vacation spot that she and her family had gone to for many years. Reading her post really struck a chord with me as my family too had a very special vacation location to go to every year—Montreat, NC—and it made me think: what would be the top 20 things to do there that I would list? Obviously, the things we have done so many times.
When we were growing up, it was the Presbyterian conference grounds (today, it is an incorporated town) and in order to pass through the gate, you had to be registered for the conference (thus the reason for the fence in this 1950s photo). That was why we went there almost every summer—our dad was a Presbyterian minister. Each summer that I can remember, he would attend a weeklong church conference in Montreat and we would tag along.
As of this posting, I am in my mid-sixties and the first time I went to Montreat was when I was 2 years old, so I have over 60 years of memories going there. My three siblings all have kids and three of us have grandkids and so we had one of those multi-generational gatherings there in 2016 (now making four generations of our family enjoying Montreat). I know upon reading this, some of my siblings and their families may want to tack on a few other things but here goes my list…
- After passing through the gate each year, the first thing you would hear would be this cold mountain stream (seems you can hear it almost anywhere you are in town). We would rock hop up the stream as far as we could go. Starting out, the goal would be to not fall into the water but after a while, we might do it intentionally to cool off.
- Growing up, we almost always camped in campgrounds built along this mountain stream. Our favorite spot was this one at the top of the hill.
- Our dad was a huge fisherman so many years we would get a day’s fishing license and try to land some rainbow trout out of Lake Susan. Since we were camping, our mom would fry up anything we caught.
- If we did not feel like fishing, we could also rent a paddle boat or canoe and take a leisurely tour of the lake. When we were young, you could actually swim in these frigid waters but no more.
- On the campgrounds was an old mica mine that we would explore. My brother and I went there just last year.
- One of our favorite activities was also hiking up to the top of Look Out Mountain. It was a fairly challenging trek and in 2019 my brother and I hiked up there more than 50 years after our first hike up.
- If you are not interested in mountain climbing, there are also many trails to hike with less steep inclines.
- If you are not into camping, you can also stay at an old historic hotel overlooking the lake, Assembly Inn. We would usually eat Sunday lunch there.
- Whether or not you are staying there, another of our favorite pastimes was to sit on the huge second floor porch and read.
- Another favorite spot for reading, and one I still enjoy was on this porch overlooking the waterfall from Lake Susan. Listening to the water rushing over the spillway was always so peaceful. Growing up, it was the porch for a bookstore but now it is a gift shop.
- On the floor above was a grill also overlooking the dam where we always looked forward to a “restaurant-grilled” burger. After lunch, we could also enjoy delicious Biltmore ice cream (sadly no longer available).
- During the day, we would walk down from the campgrounds and make crafts at one of the kid-sponsored activities. I can recall making belts, ashtrays (even though our parents didn’t smoke), and ceramics. Since it has been many years since any of us have attended a conference, I don’t even know if these activities are still available.
- Since this was our favorite place in the world, we would often explore around town taking photos of the stream, the lake, the waterfall and other special spots.
- When we came with some of our grandchildren in 2016, it was fun to revisit the playground we use to go to as kids. And like so many sites in town, it is right along the stream.
- Once we were grown and out of the house, our parents would rent a house for the week (there are many to choose from) and their favorite was Cloud 9. They would always encourage as many of us as could to come stay as well. In 2016, we rented a house large enough to accommodate the 17 of us that could go.
- While I don’t recall ever doing it myself, you could also actually attend one of the summer conferences.
- Venturing out from Montreat, is Black Mountain, a small town just a few miles south. It was always fun exploring its quaint little shops and finding precious souvenirs to take home.
- A bit further afield (about 25 miles away) is Asheville which would have its own list of more than 20 things to do. Touring Biltmore was a favorite but now thanks to the proliferation of craft breweries, you can take in a beer tour (which my brother and I have done twice recently).
- The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) runs right through Asheville and once I learned to drive and was able to buy my own small sports cars, has been a favorite driving experience of mine.
- North of Asheville and just off the BRP is Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. Growing up, our dad would drive us up there and then would grill out steaks for us on top of the mountain.
I hope my list has at least piqued your interest in making a trip to Montreat. While I know it does not hold the excitement of a theme park or the cultural experience of a large metropolitan area, it is still such a special place to not just my family, but to many, many families who have also gone there year after year. For those who venture through its almost 100 year old gate, what it does offer is a very peaceful and relaxing mountain retreat—thus its name—Montreat. So, for this reason and for all the memories we hold dear in our hearts, we will continue to go there for years to come!