Last Updated on September 11, 2021 by Jim Ferri
By Marcia Raffel Levin
North Carolina’s beautiful “High Country” in the Blue Ridge Mountains includes some of the state’s most popular vacation spots.
On its roads during summer, you’ll often see as many Florida license-plated cars as those from the Tar Heel state.
Those roads lead drivers to numerous beautiful destinations in the western part of the state. They include Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Grandfather Mountain, Beech Mountain, and Sugar Mountain. Along with Appalachian Ski Mountain, the latter areas play a significant role in winter tourism in North Carolina. In fact, they are some of the most popular ski areas easily accessible from the Southeast United States.
It’s said – and it’s true – these year-round destinations offer the proverbial “something for everyone.” The attractive variety includes accommodations, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and a panoply of activities ranging from A (for art galleries) to Z (for zip lining!)
Banner Elk, A Case in Point
At 3,701 feet, summers are cool, and as a base camp for Grandfather Mountain, Banner Elk winters are snowy. Summertime temperatures usually top out at 79 degrees in this area of North Carolina.
Grandfather Mountain is also home to the Mile High Swinging Bridge. A walk across the bridge is always exciting – if, for no other reason, it is more than 5,000 feet high. Another reason is that the views are absolutely fantastic. (Vertigo? Fearful? You are not alone, but if you can, go for it. It is a memorable experience – a “high” point, one might say).
Area restaurants in North Carolina’s High Country include the outstanding Artisanal. Twice listed as one of America’s top 100 restaurants, it and its High-Country competitors have helped make Banner Elk a culinary hot spot in North Carolina.
These charming North Carolina mountain towns offer an eclectic mix of interesting architecture, myriad charming boutiques, and outstanding eateries. And they all appeal to tourists as well as locals.
The Outstanding Natural Beauty of North Carolina’s High Country
The beauty of the region with its climbing roads, magnificent greenery, breathtaking vistas beyond every curve, and a wide variety of accommodations and eateries combine to make the area a great destination.
The area, in fact, is guilty of having an over-abundance of exceptional natural beauty, most of it tinged with beautiful greens and blues. Ribbons of winding mountain highway wind through magnificent forests dense with graceful aging trees. Golden sunshine peeks through the trees beneath an ever-changing azure sky filled with puffy white clouds. In North Carolina’s High Country, everyone becomes a talented photographer!
If you are used to rush-hour traffic, crowded Interstate highways, and hordes of commuters, you won’t find it here. In fact, make note that Grandfather Mountain is less than 20 minutes from the only stoplight in Banner Elk!
High Country Shopping
Shopping venues range from charming boutiques, craft stores, and souvenir shops galore to mega-store Wal-Mart. In addition, music venues, art galleries, and studios are scattered throughout the area for those seeking culture in North Carolina’s High Country.
Art and culture thrive in these mountains, ranging from cello concerts to a bluegrass fiddling free-for-all. You’ll also find a broad palette of art offerings in the many art galleries and studios across the region.
Of course, as in any tourist destination, expect the ubiquitous T-shirt vendors. But, on the other hand, you’ll also find some charming boutiques, so keep an eye out for tempting high-fashion merchandise.
For example, I looked for a gray leather belt and found (and purchased) one at a shop in Boone for $14. It was very much like one I’d seen quite recently in a major upscale department store for $249.
Boone, Tweetsie and More
Boone is home to many fine and diverse restaurants, wineries, and breweries. It is also rife with entertainment choices soothing the tastes of high and low brow interests. For example, Blowing Rock’s Parks and Recreation sponsor Monday night concerts at Boone’s Appalachian State University throughout the summer.
And Boone’s main street is a mix of those shops and restaurants, galleries, and more shops. It’s not Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, but a classic example of Americana.
Another piece of Americana in the North Carolina High Country is Blowing Rock’s Tweetsie Railroad, a popular treat for our kids when they were young. Now one of those kids, who loved the Tweetsie Railroad as a kid, recently sent pictures of a magnificent more age-appropriate waterfall as a favorite High-Country spot!
The Tweetsie is a three-mile train ride in a children’s fun park where families can enjoy being together. Although closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the railroad has special events, and the ride itself still thrills youngsters. Its amusement park offers fun for the entire family.
Throughout the North Carolina High Country, you’ll also find hikes of varied lengths or difficulties, as well as tennis and golf. Want to try zip lining or a list of various sports that includes fishing, tubing, water rafting, and horseback riding? It is all on offer in the region.
Blowing Rock is also home, oddly enough, to a one-of-a-kind rocky tourist attraction.
A Family Affair in the North Carolina High Country
Three generations of my family have spent summer weeks at various resorts across the North Carolina High Country. My parents and their friends journeyed from South Florida to a resort in the area when I was a kid. My husband and I explored family resorts in the state, and our sons went to camp in the Hendersonville area.
This year one of my sons and family enjoyed time in Linville, about 15 miles out of Boone. They rented a lovely home – with views that are works of art by themselves – and hosted many friends and family members.
The Highlands of North Carolina enjoy high popularity with residents of Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas themselves. Summer weather is a factor, with that average high of 79 degrees and cool nights. It’s not a hard sell to draw guests from areas of high temperatures and humidity to these soothing mountain breezes.
Wright Tilley, executive director of the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority in Boone, says, “the rental house market has ‘exploded’ and these days includes an amazing variety of offerings from rustic to luxury and literally everything in between.” And in addition to rentals, many summer residents are just that – owners of second homes or condos in the North Carolina High Country.
I recently returned from a week’s visit to my kids’ rental home in Linville. I am just as impressed by the mountains, charming shops and restaurants, and variety of accommodations available to travelers as I was many years ago. The area around Boone is definitely booming. According to Tilley, “there’s no economic downturn.”
Consider, for example, one of the area’s most popular steakhouses. Unfortunately, it was booked for the next two weeks during my stay and wasn’t even offering takeout dinners. However, we didn’t go hungry since the area is filled with a great variety of restaurants…including Mexican, Asian, barbecue, and steak outlets, with many lunches and breakfast offerings.
The Attraction of the Mountains
I really do love my hometown in South Florida and honestly can’t imagine living elsewhere. But since I’ve lived in a flat state for many years, I thoroughly enjoy the sights of varied terrain.
Whether it be the mountain roads of Wales, California, Colorado, or elsewhere I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to, I’ve always been attracted to mountains and the glorious views they provide.
For example, the big pull of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the entire North Carolina High Country is the fantastic natural beauty around each curve in the road. Out each window lie incredible vistas, so very different from what I see each day – as are curving roads!
Around one of those curves, in Blowing Rock, is Chetola Resort and Spa. The name comes from the Cherokee word for “haven of rest.”
The resort offers various accommodations in a lodge, inn, and condominium on its 87 acres. Meeting and convention services are on-site, as well as a full-service spa. Chetola is also a popular site for destination weddings.
Fly-fishing, archery, and five-stand clay shooting are among the activities on offer. This, of course, is in addition to golf, tennis, horseshoes, hiking, tubing, paddle boats, and pickleball. Winter ski packages are also available and coordinated at Chetola.
It’s a bit disconcerting to equate a southern state with winter sports. But North Carolina does a great job of it, touting high elevations and cold temperatures and six full-service ski areas.
While I personally enjoy the summer weather, it is probably safe to say North Carolina has it all.
If You Go to North Carolina’s High Country:
1200 Dobbins Road
Banner Elk, NC 28604
Tel: (828) 898-5395
Open Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday, from 5:30pm – 10pm
Note: Open early May to late October only / check with restaurant re: specific dates
Chetola Resort and Spa
185 Chetola Lake Drive
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
Open every day except Tuesday and Wednesday
Admission: Adult (13+): $52 / Child (under 13) $33
Note: check https://tweetsie.com/plan-your-visit/schedule for days the park is open throughout the year