Yes, I did in fact watch The Hunger Games on the day it came out. I read the entire series in a couple weeks, searched every day for two months for new movie clips and trailers, and even took a quiz to find out which character I am. For the record, I am Tresh, which evidently means that while I am big and can appear imposing, deep inside I’m just a teddy bear. As the final credits rolled across the screen last Friday, I couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction. Yes, I considered it a great movie, but my satisfaction went much further then that. My connection to The Hunger Games ran deep because the same woods that a large portion of it was filmed in were the same woods I explored throughout my college years at Western Carolina University.

Western Carolina University was a suitcase campus. There were just over 7,000 students when I was there from 2001-2006 with many of those students living in Western North Carolina and going home on the weekends. No one could blame them for this since the little town of Cullowhee had just one stoplight, a couple restaurants, and a convenience store, which fortunately for us was one of the few convenience stores I had seen that had a Cheerwine slushie machine. And if you’ve never had Cheerwine, then you’ve clearly missed out on valuable life experiences. That left two things to do in Cullowhee: Party at fraternity  houses or hit the outdoors. Not being into the college party scene, I spent my five years of college doing the latter.

As another creek or trail would appear in The Hunger Games, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a creek I had re-filled my water bottle in or a trail I had hiked. Many of the arena scenes from the movie were filmed in DuPont State Forest. I lived within 60 miles of DuPont State Forest for over eight years and remember enjoying a visit there because of the many waterfalls. The waterfalls were so prevalent that there was even a tour called the “Tour de Falls”, which takes visitors to several of DuPont’s waterfalls, including my favorite, Bridal Veil Falls, which was also in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.

However, the part of The Hunger Games I was most familiar with was Craggy Pinnacle. Craggy Pinnacle is where scenes of the Cornucopia were filmed. This is one of the more accessible filming locations for visitors to Western North Carolina since it’s located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, northeast of Asheville as you’re driving toward Mt. Mitchell. While nearby Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the Eastern United States, the view from the summit of Craggy Pinnacle isn’t too shabby itself, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. I can think of few better ways to spend an entire day in North Carolina then a hike to Craggy Pinnacle followed by a drive up to Mt. Mitchell State Park.

As you can imagine, North Carolina tourism is using The Hunger Games as an opportunity to promote the region. There’s even a recommended 4-day itinerary. It’s too early to tell what kind of effect The Hunger Games will have on North Carolina tourism. Other popular movies that have showcased a destination, such as Lord of the Rings, have significantly impacted tourism in those places. What’s interesting about Western North Carolina is that The Hunger Games didn’t even show the most beautiful time of year in North Carolina, which is the fall months of September and October when the leaves change colors.

I often talk about day and weekend trips that allow travelers to unplug. While these types of destinations are decreasing, Western North Carolina remains a special place to me as one of those destinations where I can escape to unplug. The Hunger Games brought some much deserved attention to North Carolina, even though in my mind, North Carolina has always been a gem.

Sunset photo of Craggy Pinnacle from fsamuels on Flickr.

What’s your favorite destination that’s been featured in a movie?