We’ve all heard the word hillbilly. Images come to mind of people living deep in the forest and playing banjos.
Are they backcountry rednecks or ordinary people trying to live out their lives away from the bustle of suburbia?
The Appalachian Mountains are ancient, and so are the stories they tell. Join us on our journey into Appalachia.
What Is a Hillbilly?
Positive and negative connotations get associated with hillbilly, people commonly known to live in the rural Appalachian Mountains. However, scholars believe the word originated to distinguish between people living on the mountain and those in the valley.
Another source of the word traces back to the Scottish, who helped settle the region. The Scottish origin of the word “billy” is a synonym for the word “fellow.” It meant nothing derogatory.
Over time, being described as a hillbilly could mean a person was an illiterate and uncouth countryman. After the civil war, people who retreated to Appalachia began suffering from isolation. Outsiders perceived mountain people as backward and even feared them.
TV shows like The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies portrayed hillbillies in a more positive light. While outwardly appearing slow, they possessed wisdom that outsmarted those who seemed more sophisticated.
Where Is Appalachia?
Appalachia is both a cultural and geographical area in the eastern United States. The region spans the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
The range is also known as the Smoky Mountains and reaches into Canada. Fog mixed with smoke from rustic cabins settles into the valleys and between the ridges. This leads to the affectionate nickname “the smokies.”
The cultural region associated with the hillbilly people is more closely tied to the central and southern portions of the United States. In fact, most of the 25 million people who call the area home live in rural areas. Known for literature, music, and distinctive craftwork, much of the region’s rich history originates from the Irish and Scottish who settled the region.
In a place that truly has four seasons, there’s something for everyone. The summer affords hiking, extreme sports, wildlife watching, and all the other things that come with a midyear vacation. On the other hand, ski resorts provide a quick getaway from major city centers in the winter.
There is nothing quite like spring or fall in the Smokies. With the perfect temperatures and an abundance of floral colors, we could spend all day exploring the trails and small towns of the countryside.
Pro Tip: Rumors of feral people in Appalachia have circled for centuries. Find out if feral people really exist in the USA.
RVing in Appalachia
Whether you’re interested in cultural and historical interests or whitewater rafting and rock climbing, the Appalachians won’t disappoint. Destinations will take you up strenuous hikes to mountain-top panoramas or to laidback art classes where you learn traditional basketry. Only time and your budget will hold you back.
Every season offers an event to enrich your cultural endeavors. Join the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, every October. Bristol, Virginia, is home to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Every July, fans gather for five days of eclectic world music at FloydFest somewhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The ancient Smokies have many tales to tell. So it’s hard to decide which destination will whisper to you in the cool mountain air. Here’s a little help. Our target is the Mountain State of West Virginia.
It might be known as “coal country,” but West Virginia is the only state entirely in the Appalachian Mountain range. Modern hillbillies enjoy uncrowded parks, cinematic vistas, and some of the best recreation options in the country. RVers will find enchanting hideaways in the small towns that dot the saddles and ridges.
The New River Gorge National Park in the Appalachians
John Denver sings, “Take me home, country roads. To the place I belong. West Virginia.” You may want to call this part of the Smokies your home away from home.
The New River Gorge National Park is the 63rd national park in the U.S. Located in southern West Virginia, it covers 70,000 acres between Fayetteville and Hinton. A rich geologic history underpins the area’s historic coal mines. Surprisingly, the New River is one of the oldest in the entire world.
No major airports are nearby, so travel is perfect for RVers. You can visit the park year-round. Rafting, hiking, climbing, and mountain biking are popular outdoor activities. The area’s history is rich for its Indigenous inhabitants, who date back at least 11,000 years.
There are plenty of nearby state parks to spice up your trip to explore hillbilly life if the gorge isn’t enough.
Best Hikes in New River Gorge National Park in Appalachia
It is a life goal for many outdoor enthusiasts to hike the trails of Appalachia. We’ve picked out a couple of hiking trails we think you’ll love.
Endless Wall Trail
The National Park Service (NPS) maintains the Endless Wall Trail. Part of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, it’s accessible near Fayetteville, West Virginia.
This fantastic hike takes you through a rich forest and along zigzag cliffs of vertical sandstone walls. The path is for moderate abilities if you can manage the 7.9% average slope changes over the 4.8-mile roundtrip.
For a slightly easier trek, cut the distance in half and turn around at Diamond Point, just over a mile into the trail. You’ll still experience the vista of the New River Gorge and the rapids below.
This is a family-friendly location that allows pets on leashes. Do reign in junior, though, near those steep drop-offs.
Grandview Rim Trail
The Grandview Rim Trail is also in the NPS’s New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. However, park employees recommend this destination if you can choose only one. It has six miles of easy to strenuous hiking, all affording endless scenery and opportunities to view wildlife.
Grandview contains six segments. The Big Buck and Woodland Loop Trails are the easiest. Both are under a mile round trip and offer outstanding, easily accessible views.
The Grand View Rim and Tunnel Trails are for moderate abilities. Grand View Rim is the longest segment and affords breathtaking views of the gorge. The Tunnel Trail is the shortest, taking hikers through the cooler areas of the forest. Explorers will pass intriguing tunnels and overhangs in the sandstone.
The Castle Rock and Little Laurel trails are strenuous. Though experienced trekkers will enjoy taking a two-mile road that descends 1,400 feet to the New River. On the way, you’ll pass an old coal mine.
Pro Tip: Get inspired for your Appalachia road trip by listening to these 10 Country Songs About the Road.
Best Camping Near Appalachia’s New River Gorge National Park
Want to stay overnight? We’ve found these camping locations that make your Appalachian experience that much richer.
The Army Camp is part of New River Gorge National Park. It is nestled in a bend of the New River off an unmarked dirt road. Route 41 from Prince, West Virginia, will get you there.
This is a first-come, first-served campground for tents and smaller RVs with 11 free sites. The tucked-away location includes ADA vault restrooms, asphalt pads, and river access. Cell service is spotty, though, and you must bring your own potable water.
Army Camp is family-friendly, and pets are allowed on leashes. This is a clever little location if you want rustic, out-of-the-way privacy.
Little Beaver State Park
Little Beaver State Park is an excellent option if you need something more modern. The 46 sites can handle tents, 20-Amp, and 30-Amp hookups. Bring the whole family, including your pets.
Need amenities? This site offers a full range of necessities, such as ADA-accessible restrooms with showers, laundry facilities, a dump station, and more. Sites are $40 a night, with military and senior discounts.
The location has its own recreational opportunities on Little Beaver Lake. New River Gorge National Park is about a 30- to 40-minute drive north, depending on your destination. And still, there are plenty of other spectacular West Virginia destinations within an hour’s drive.
Is an Appalachian Road Trip Worth It?
We selected only a few of the numerous outstanding locations in the Appalachian Mountains. We highly recommend spending time exploring the region. Take a step into the natural history and become your own version of a hillbilly. Rolling along the winding, twisting roads is worth it.
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