The town of Saluda is about an hour and a half due west of Charlotte, and it’s been a popular getaway for more than a century now.
Mayor Fred Baisden says it all started with the railroad, which first came to the town in the late 19th century. “And people from Charleston, Columbia, Augusta, Florida and other places came here in the summer to get away from the heat,” he says.
Today the railroad tracks lay dormant as they run through Main Street. Baisden has been coming to Saluda since he was a boy; he finally made a permanent move from upstate South Carolina when he retired about seven years ago.
“We really like the town," he says, "it’s a great little area to be in, it’s a lot of fun, lot of things going on.”
On weekend evenings, especially, Saluda’s one-block Main street fills with people staying in the surrounding hills.
There are a handful of restaurants, and it’s not unusual to wait more than an hour for a table. John Ryan Alexander was doing just that at Green River Barbecue. He says he’s been coming up with his family from Georgia for several years, and they don’t really mind the wait.
“Every year it’s kind of like taking a trip back in time," he says. "You know, things just move at a slower pace, and that’s what we like about it the most.”
And you really do feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you walk into M.A. Pace Company, a general store that’s been open since 1899. Mayor Fred Baisden says, “it’s kind of like a museum. They’ve put a lot of old stuff in there. They’ve got Saluda High School’s basketball uniforms and stuff like that.”
The other draw for Saluda is the Green River. Its gurgling whitewater winds its way just past the town, and it’s a popular spot to go tubing. There are a couple of companies that’ll rent you a tube for a few hours and then pick you up downstream. For the more adventurous, you can get a guided kayak or raft tour on the class 3-plus rapids upstream.
Spencer Wells came down with some friends from Asheville to go tubing. He says he makes it a point to go every year.
"Yeah, it was really awesome," he says, "we ended up going for longer than we thought, but there were good variations of fast parts where you really had to be swimming around and fending for yourself, and slow parts like a lazy river. It was top-notch tubing."
The mountain road leading down to the cove popular with tubers is steep, with more than a dozen switchbacks, but visitors are rewarded with sweeping mountain views, and you can pull off to the side and pick wild raspberries that grow on just about every slope.