Travel Guide to the Mountains of North Carolina

With a rugged terrain that straddles the eastern continental divide at 4,000 feet above sea level, the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwest North Carolina includes unparalleled natural wonders and endless attractions. This is where you’ll discover the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests and the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway (“America’s Favorite Drive,”) which winds its’ way along 469 miles of scenic highway through the southern Appalachian Mountains. Spring, summer, fall and winter – each season in North Carolina’s northwest mountains offers its’ own unique beauty and myriad opportunities for family vacations and romantic adventures. The small towns and villages of this area are steeped in local tradition and strong family ties. The first inhabitants in northwest North Carolina were the Cherokee Indians and the first white settlers arrived around 1825. By the early 1900s, many people began building summer homes in the area, and today this beautiful mountainous region is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country. You’ll find plenty of summertime attractions with many championship golf courses in the area, camping, hiking, world-class fly-fishing, white water rafting, horseback riding, swimming and numerous other outdoor activities. There are 17 ski resorts in the region and western North Carolina has become one of the premier vacation destinations for winter sports in the south. After the snow melts in late spring, the mountains explode in a kaleidoscope of color with blooming wildflowers, mountain laurel and wild rhododendrons. Spring also marks the beginning of trout season in western North Carolina in the region’s many crystal clear brooks and streams. Autumn arrives early in the mountains (usually by the first week of October,) and is a wonderful time for a vacation, when you can drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and soak in all the brilliant colors of fall (don’t forget your camera!)

Some of the other attractions of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains include Grandfather Mountain (where a mile-high swinging bridge offers spectacular views,) Linville Falls and Linville Gorge, Mystery Hill and the Tweetsie Railroad. The latter is an amusement park with rides and live entertainment, including cowboys and gunslingers and a musical show with Can-Can girls. The following is a brief recap of some of the unique towns of this spectacular vacation destination:

Banner Elk is a small town nestled high in the mountains of Avery County at the 3,739-foot level. Known as the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World,” hundreds of people travel to Banner Elk each year from nearby cities to cut down their own trees for the holidays. Banner Elk is filled with art galleries, antique shops, restaurants and unique specialty shops. The town is also home to one of the most unusual festivals in the United States – the Annual Woolly Worm Festival. This event is usually held in October and includes games, lots of good food and special events. Caterpillars are raced on strings for prize money and the winner is examined by Banner Elk festival officials who then predict the upcoming winter forecast – based on the coloration of the winning caterpillar. Banner Elk is also home to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Held in July, this is the largest gathering of Scottish clans across the U.S.

Blowing Rock is another interesting village located near Banner Elk at the 4,000-foot level in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This town was established as a mountain resort for tourists in 1889 and has been drawing visitors to its slow, gentle lifestyle and cool mountain temperatures ever since. The town of Blowing Rock sits astride the Eastern Continental Divide and is the only full service community located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The main street of town is lined with beautiful little gardens, antique stores, restaurants and cafes and unique gift shops. The town is well known for its barbecue, which is featured in many of the local restaurants. Blowing Rock got its’ unusual name from the rock formation over a gorge that creates a current of air that spirals up from the valley below – it is said that snow even falls upside down here. The view of the mountains from Blowing Rock is one of the best in the region.

Boone is a charming town that was voted “Best Mountain Town” in 1998, 2000 and 2002 by Blue Ridge Country Magazine. It’s located near the Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in the immediate vicinity of four of the best ski resorts in the Southeast. There are also seven public golf courses located near the town of Boone. The town of Boone has numerous art galleries, craft shops, restaurants and antique stores. It is just a short drive to the other attractions in the area, such as Blowing Rock, the Tweetsie Railroad and Grandfather Mountain, with its famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge.

Beech Mountain has the distinction of being the highest incorporated town in the Eastern United States (at 5500 feet above sea level.) This little alpine village is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just a short drive to the town of Banner Elk and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The town of Beech Mountain is especially popular as a winter vacation destination and even offers “free-of-charge” sledding in town – next to the Town Hall. Beech Mountain has charming restaurants, quaint country inns and chalets, antique stores and unique gift shops offering local mountains arts and crafts. There is even a General Mercantile in Beech Mountain that offers just about everything you’d want.

Linville is home to the natural wonders of Linville Falls and Linville Gorge. The Linville River rushes down from high on top of Grandfather Mountain to form one of Eastern United States’ most scenic and rugged gorges. The waters descend over 2,000 feet for twelve miles before breaking into the Linville River in the Catawba Valley below. Recreation opportunities abound near Linville and include whitewater rafting, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and fishing. Linville Gorge includes 39 miles of hiking trails with an “easy-to-moderate” trail that leads to the falls. Grandfather Mountain, near Linville, is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visitors can drive to the crest of Grandfather Mountain and enjoy spectacular scenery along the way. The famous Mile High Swinging Bridge is located at the one-mile elevation marker on Grandfather Mountain.

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