Becky and I just got back from a very interesting trip to West Virginia. This makes a perfect summer road trip with things to do packed in all along the way.
Here is a basic write up of exactly what the Via Ferrata is:
Via Ferrata is a type of mountain climbing route which has a safety system permanently installed, making the climb suitable for persons without prior training and using minimal equipment. The climber is attached at all times to a steel cable which runs along the entire route; no climbing rope is generally required. Steel rungs, ladders, bridges and similar installations are used. This helps to keep the physical difficulty of the climbing well within the ability of reasonably fit first-time climbers, while providing access to high, vertical faces and extreme mountain terrain which would otherwise be accessible only to experienced, roped climbing parties.
Becky and I were able to climb on the Via Ferrata on a recent trip sponsored by Mountain Hardwear. I can tell you from first hand experience that this is an amazingly fun adventure for adults and teenagers. While it somewhat physical, almost anyone in decent shape can do the route. When you are on the route, you feel safe, but that exhilaration of exposure is still definitely there. The route begins by going straight up a 100 foot fin of rock, then traversing on a ledge to a spot where you go around a corner to the other side of the fin. You then traverse another ledge high above the valley floor until you arrive at a long swinging bridge. This bridge is a thrill for almost anyone. Don't worry, you're clipped in at all times, and can enjoy the thrill of a couple of hundred feet of air under your feet.
After the bridge, you climb up another fin of rock and around the other side for a long traverse to the finish followed by a walk down a trail in the valley below the swinging bridge.
This isn't for everyone, but if you have adventurous teens, and don't have time for taking classes on technical rock climbing, the Via Ferrata is for you. For more info go to: http://www.nelsonrocks.org/via.html
On the Way There or Back
I would suggest stopping at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Visit www.noc.com to see some of the programs and rafting trips they offer. This is a world class whitewater facility with a really cool atmosphere that you will absolutely love. A great idea is to stop at their Ocoee outpost on the way to the center, then head up to the main center a few hours north after your raft trip.
If you are passing through Hot Springs, North Carolina, I suggest stopping overnight at Elmer's Sunnybank Inn. You can stay overnight in this beautiful B&B and enjoy his Vegetarian fare for supper and breakfast as well. Hot Springs is right on the Appalachian Trail - so you might meet some AT Thru hikers while you're there. Also, you can do some hiking or join the Nantahala Outdoor Center Outpost for a raft trip on the French Broad. Go to: http://www.noc.com/index.php/whitewater-rafting.html and then click "French Broad" at the top.
For a nice backpacking trip on the way, I would suggest Grayson Highlands State Park. You can follow the Appalachian Trail up to areas where wild ponies run free and enjoy the beautiful views and wide open scenery. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/gra.shtml
These are just a few of the jewels to be discovered on a trip through the Southeast. I hope you have a great summer filled with adventure!