Explore Great Smoky Mountains

The Classic Roadside Motel is Making a Comeback in North Carolina

International travel may take some time to return. Why not take a nostalgic road trip and enjoy the great outdoors closer to home.

In the age of Covid-19, travel will come back slowly. With international travel being disrupted and most Americans wanting to stay closer to home, local travel (within 50-150 miles of home) will happen first. Industry experts are saying 2020 will be the year of the road trip.

Discover the Road Trip

This classic rite of passage is steeped in nostalgia and shines brightly as a safe and affordable beacon of respite that a lot of people are looking for right now. On Instagram, the hashtag #roadtrip shows up over 53 million times. And with the resurgence of this trend, comes an exciting revival of the roadside motel.

The Road Behind – A History

Roadside motels became an icon of the American landscape in the 1950s and ‘60s when endless miles of blacktop was laid out for our nation’s highways. Automobile sales boomed and a growing love of car travel and wanderlust was born. In their heyday, roadside motels were chic, glamorous, and the preferred way to travel. A wholesome oasis from hectic lives, the motel (a portmanteau combining the words “motor” and “hotel”) was a welcoming place for families and couples to unwind. 

The Road Ahead – Traveling Safely

Travelers today aren’t all that different. They are coming out of the fog of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders that have followed. As they venture out, they too, are seeking the freedom of the open road. But they want to do it safely. 

The coronavirus has presented more than a few complications when it comes to travel accommodations. Staying in a big hotel means walking through crowded lobbies, navigating congested indoor communal areas, and squeezing into elevators with fellow guests.

Roadside motels, on the other hand, offer self-contained rooms that guests can drive up to and unload their belongings right from the car. It reduces the number of high-touch spots guests come in contact with and allows both guests and staff to respect social distancing rules. Plus, the properties surrounding many roadside motels offer plenty of space to spread out. Travelers can find areas for picnics, fire pits, games, and lots of fresh air with room to roam.

Take An Authentic Smoky Mountain Road Trip

Beyond just looking for a safe place to lay their heads, travelers are also looking for a genuine experience when they stay at a roadside motel. They want to feel the nostalgia of the road trip, enjoy the beauty of nature, and rediscover the simplicity of a relaxing family vacation. 

There are quite a few places in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains that are delivering on those genuine experiences that guests are craving. They’re striking the perfect balance of appealing to the needs and desires of the modern traveler while holding on to the authenticity of the overall roadside motel experience.

The Meadowlark Motel  combines a retro motor court aesthetic with a modern twist | WhereTraveler
(Courtesy The Meadowlark Motel)

The Meadowlark Motel

A great example of this balance is the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley, NC. Set against the backdrop of the Smokies, it evokes the feeling of a classic Appalachian resort but offers all the contemporary conveniences that discerning guests would expect with a few delightful surprises added in.

Owner Joseph McElroy says, “We combine a retro motor court aesthetic with a modern twist. We want guests to immerse themselves in this beautiful destination and get the full experience of a Smoky Mountain adventure.” In addition to The Meadowlark’s retro-inspired rooms, they offer live music, fishing, family games, and their BackPorch Pavilion hearkens back to the old-fashioned mountain dance halls.

Route 19 Inn

Route 19 Inn is the sort of classic lodge where you could imagine Elvis Presley staying as he toured the country back in the heyday of roadside motels. It packs a strong nostalgic punch but delivers a fresh and revitalized midcentury modern vibe.

Secluded among lush forests and mountain peaks, this 30-room motel has been expertly restored by a team of resort operators, artisans and former Disney executives and Imagineers. Amenities include things like an onsite pool, kids’ playground, charcoal grills, fire pit, shuffleboard and 2 creeks for wading and fishing.

Be sure to snap memorable photos in front of their vintage car, Tail of the Dragon Road mural and totem pole.

Creekside Lodge

Nestled at the foot of the mountains in Maggie Valley, NC, the Creekside Lodge provides a quiet respite for travelers with recently updated rooms and suites. Slip into a jacuzzi tub to relax, go for a quick swim in the pool, or enjoy the peaceful babbling of Jonathan Creek from the private deck of your room.

Attractions and activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, and live music are nearby, and many restaurants and stores are within walking distance. But you may end up sticking around the motel and enjoying cooking dinner on the grill and roasting s’mores over the fire pit.  

In addition to roadside motel nostalgia, the Tanglewood Motel in Maggie Valley, NC offers a secluded setting that boasts charming log cabins and motel rooms | WhereTraveler
(Courtesy Tanglewood Motel)

Tanglewood Motel

In addition to roadside motel nostalgia, the Tanglewood Motel in Maggie Valley, NC offers a secluded setting that boasts charming log cabins and motel rooms. Private furnished decks and patios allow for breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

Stretch your legs and explore the two acres of shaded lawn that sit quietly just off Soco Road. Rest for a while and enjoy the screened-in gazebo next to a burbling stream with small cascading waterfalls. Or grab a bite to eat and head over to the picnic area with grills and a brick fireplace for a lovely outdoor dinner.

Laurel Park Inn

Home to over 75 beautiful rose bushes, the Laurel Park Inn is – quite literally – a wonderful place to stop and smell the roses on a road trip. Conveniently located in Maggie Valley, NC, this roadside motel offers beautifully landscaped grounds in addition to large, clean rooms with parking and amenities all on one level.

A porch lined with rocking chairs conjures up nostalgic images of local mountain folk coming over to “sit for a spell” and visit. Wave hello to fellow travelers at the outdoor picnic pavilion. Or explore local area attractions like viewing the elk in Cataloochee Valley, exploring local waterfalls, and cruising down scenic byways.

With these updated versions of the classic roadside motel, travelers can live their retro road trip dreams, while staying safe and keeping their distance. Whether the motel is the destination itself, the base from which to explore the North Carolina Smoky Mountains, or an inviting haven en route to the next adventure, these motel owners are serving up simple and genuine pleasures that are sure to create unforgettable memories.