No matter who you are, when you’re in the High Country, summer has something in store for you.
Whether it’s the college town atmosphere that Boone provides, the shops in Blowing Rock, the sights of Beech Mountain and West Jefferson or any of the other unique experiences provided by Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties, the High Country can be your getaway for a month or an afternoon.
Here’s a brief guide to enjoying the entirety of the diverse mountain community that locals are fortunate enough to call home.
BOONENo matter what activity draws you to the High Country, it’s likely that you’ll end up in Boone at some point during your visit.
Boone is the hub of Watauga County, the gathering place for people from all walks of life, whether resident or visitor, student or retiree, socialite or seeker of peace and quiet.
The town is home to Appalachian State University, one of the 17 colleges and universities that make up the University of North Carolina system and more than 20,000 students.
Interest in the school boomed after the Mountaineers’ football team won three consecutive NCAA Division I national championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The university’s presence helps create a young and friendly vibe throughout the town.
Just make sure not to cross anyone by mispronouncing the name: It’s “App-uh-latch-un.”
Adjacent to the university is King Street and the surrounding area, one of the town’s best shopping destinations. One-of-a-kind stores and eclectic boutiques dot the landscape, interspersed with legal offices and a diversity of restaurants to suit almost any taste. For more information, visit www.townofboone.net.
BLOWING ROCKBlowing Rock manages to cram a ton of beauty and fun into just three square miles.
The town’s name comes from an immense cliff overlooking Johns River Gorge, where the winds whip in such a way that light objects thrown over the rock float back to their owners.
Anyone wishing to experience the phenomenon firsthand can visit The Blowing Rock attraction, which showcases the town’s namesake and the Native American legend that surrounds it.
The trails surrounding Moses Cone Memorial Park and Bass Lake offer a scenic stroll. There’s also the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum in downtown, where you can experience art and discover history. The museum features year-round exhibits, cultural programs, art workshops, lectures and more. The picturesque town of Blowing Rock is the perfect place to have an active summer vacation — or to relax and do nothing at all. For more information, visit www.blowingrock.com.
VALLE CRUCISJust off N.C. 105 south of Boone, Valle Crucis offers simplicity and serenity in a pastoral riverside community. The valley contains the site of the only known Native American village in the immediate area. The first European settler of Watauga County, Samuel Hicks, also built a fort in the area during the American Revolution.
Today, the community offers several historic inns, restaurants, art galleries, farms and churches that provide service and comfort to all who enter. The Episcopal Church has played a role throughout the community’s history. An Episcopal bishop entered the community in 1842 and provided its name, which is Latin for “Vale of the Cross.”
The Valle Crucis Conference Center, on the National Register of Historic Places, stays busy with retreats for numerous groups, and Crab Orchard Falls is a short hike from the conference center. The original Mast General Store provides a central gathering space in the community, as it has since 1883. Residents appreciate the store for its post office, morning news and coffee, while visitors can also find gifts, apparel and souvenirs. Just down the road is the Mast Store Annex, which opened about 25 years later. Behind the annex is a gravel road to the Valle Crucis Park, a recreational area with walking paths, riverfront, picnic areas, sports fields and live music during the summer. Dining highlights include Over Yonder, which boasts some of the best cuisine in the High Country. For more information, visit www.vallecrucis.com.
TODDTodd is a town so nice it’s claimed by both Watauga and Ashe counties. The community’s main drag, Railroad Grade Road, is popular with bicyclists and walking tours, as it winds along with the New River, one of the few in the world that flows north. The Todd General Store was an old-fashioned mercantile that dated back to 1914 and was built in anticipation of the Norfolk and Western “Virginia Creeper” railroad. Todd was the last stop of the route and got much of its supplies from the train. The Todd Mercantile features the work of local artists and crafters, as well as mountain honey and other local goods, while also hosting monthly square and contra dances, with traditional mountain music by local performers. The ever-crafty Elkland Art Center, known for its colorful parades and environmentally conscious puppet shows, offers summer workshops and programs for those with a flair for creativity. The river itself provides plenty to do, from canoeing and kayaking to excellent fishing. Several companies, including RiverGirl Fishing Company and Wahoo’s Adventures, have outposts near Todd to provide gear and instruction for anyone interested in hitting the river. For more information, visit www.toddnc.org.
FOSCOENestled between Boone and Banner Elk is the unincorporated community of Foscoe. But don’t let its size fool you. The community is brimming with shopping, art, dining and outdoor fun. Shopping includes mementos and more at Bear Creek Traders, treats, snacks and other tail-wagging goodies for your furry friends at Mountain Dog & Friends, and the luxurious linens of Dewoolfson Down. If you’re shopping for outdoor fun, cast a line with Foscoe Fishing Company or pan for gold with the Greater Foscoe Mining Company.
Some of the High Country’s finest gourmet sandwiches and baked goods await at Eat Crow, while burgers, billiards and family fun are on cue at Country Retreat Family Billiards. Foscoe is also home to one of the views that made Grandfather Mountain famous — the ridgeline’s iconic profile of an old man reclining.
SEVEN DEVILSFrom elevations of some 5,200 feet, the town of Seven Devils straddles both Watauga and Avery counties. From many areas in the town, one has views of Grandfather Mountain, as well as Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain, Rich Mountain and Mount Rogers in Virginia.
Seven Devils is just a few minutes from Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk and Valle Crucis and can be found off N.C. 105.
One of the smaller towns in the region, Seven Devils began life in the 1960s as the Seven Devils Resort, and, in 1979, the resort became incorporated as the town.
How did it get its name? According to the Seven Devils website, “The founders wanted a catchy, unique name that would bring attention to the mountain. They noticed the repeated appearance of the number seven, including the seven predominant rocky peaks surrounding Valley Creek, as well as the many coincidental references to ‘devils.’ ‘Seven Devils’ seemed to suggest a frivolous, mischievous resort where people could experience the temptation of Seven Devils.”
In the 1960s, the town grew with a golf course, ski slope, lake, riding ground and camping area. After the resort venture experienced financial trouble, the town was incorporated. While the golf course and ski slope have been closed for a number of years, Hawksnest has become one of the town’s centerpieces. Among the attractions at Hawksnest (www.hawksnestzipline.com) is year-round ziplining. For more information and events at Seven Devils, visit www.sevendevils.net.
BANNER ELKThe mountain valley town of Banner Elk has grown from a tiny hamlet to a town offering year-round amenities and memorable vacations for the entire family.
Banner Elk is home to Lees-McRae College, a small, private, four-year coeducational liberal arts college affiliated with Presbyterian Church U.S.A. with more than 900 students from more than 20 states and countries. The old stone buildings nestled across campus make for a photographer’s delight.
The town hosts numerous shops and restaurants and stays abuzz with activities and events.
Visitors can picnic or walk in the town park, hear live music, enjoy exquisite shopping or simply relax by the mill pond and stay in one of the inns after dinner in a fine restaurant.
Banner Elk is in the heart of the High Country’s many attractions, and just a short drive will take you to numerous natural settings where you can relax and revel in nature’s beauty.
Banner Elk also offers many cultural happenings, with a celebrated summer theater program by Lees-McRae and art festivals by some of the area’s many galleries and artisans.
Visitors are encouraged to return to Banner Elk in the fall each year for its Woolly Worm Festival, which attracts close to 20,000 people annually.
Cutting between the peaks of Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain and Grandfather Mountain, the topography of the town provides natural definition and gentle undulation through the town’s boundaries.
For more information or a calendar of events, call Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce at (828) 898-8395, or visit www.bannerelk.org.
BEECH MOUNTAINAt 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain is the highest town in Eastern North America.
That means two things: When winter comes, it’s a great place to ski, and, even on the hottest day of the summer, it’s cool on top of Beech Mountain.
Even when it’s steamy in the “lowlands” of 3,000-plus feet, the temperature stays comfortable.
The rest of the world seems distant when you settle down on the front porch of a rental condominium and survey the magnificent view that is one of Beech Mountain’s trademarks.
Beech Mountain is a four-season resort. There are more than 5,000 beds available on top of the mountain. These range from rustic cabins to mountain chalets to luxury condominiums.
When it’s time to eat, you can enjoy anything from a deli sandwich to pizza to a gourmet meal by candlelight.
During the days, there are many specialty stores for shopping, a golf course, horseback riding, tennis, swimming and hiking. There are nearby canoe and raft runs that are among the best offered in the Eastern United States.
Nightlife is alive and well on the mountain. Whatever your musical taste, you can find a spot to enjoy an after-hours scene.
There’s another good thing about Beech Mountain. The mountain is so large that much of it remains in a natural state, with rich forests dotted by rolling farmland. And it’s only a short drive from the “downtown” to the country or resorts. Take your pick.
Our guess is if you spend some time in Beech Mountain, you’ll want to come back to do some real estate shopping. Or at least book a slopeside condo for the ski season.
For more information, visit www.beechmtn.com.
CROSSNORECrossnore is a town steeped in educational history. The town is home to Crossnore Academy, founded by doctors Eustace and Mary Martin Sloop.
The Sloops traveled the steep dirt trails in isolated mountain valleys to bring medicine to the people and convince farmers to let their children come to school. Because of poverty and distance, the Sloop school in Crossnore eventually took in boarders and built dormitories to accommodate them.
It gained a national reputation for effectiveness in changing lives and in breaking the cycle of poverty, moonshine and child marriages of mountain families. Mary Martin Sloop eventually put these tales to paper in her autobiography “Miracle in the Hills,” which has since been used as the basis for a drama of the same name that takes place each summer in present-day Crossnore.
The Sloops built a school, hospital, dental clinic and, eventually, a boarding school to give children the basis for an improved life. They brought to Avery County the first electricity, telephones, paved road and boarding school. Through the Sloops’ advocacy, public schools flourished in Avery County.
Today, Crossnore Academy carries on the work of the original school and has reclaimed the educational foundation beneath its commitment to give hurting children a chance for a better life. The school’s teachers enable it to meet not only the special needs of Crossnore residents, but also the needs of area students who live at home and whose educational needs are best met at Crossnore.
The school is also home to Miracle Grounds Coffee Cafe & Creamery, a working vocational classroom, featuring specialty coffee drinks, homemade snacks, sandwiches, milkshakes, ice cream, Wi-Fi and more.
Crossnore is famous for its Independence Day parade and celebration, and the town’s Meeting House is home to the Crossnore Jam, a series of gatherings and concerts by local musicians on the first Friday night through the summer and fall months.
For more information, visit www.crossnorenc.com.
ELK PARKThe town of Elk Park borders the state of Tennessee and offers a unique visiting experience. From the old-time feel of Brinkley’s Hardware Store to the additional Lower Street antique shops and classic barbershop, Elk Park takes visitors back to a simpler time.
The town’s original thoroughfare, Lower Street, and many businesses originated when Elk Park hosted a train depot for the old East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, better known as Tweetsie. Elk Park thrived due to the industry and remained vibrant after the trains stopped running through town.
For more information, call Elk Park Town Hall at (828) 733-9573.
LINVILLEThe community of Linville is located just south of the intersection of U.S. 221 and N.C. 105 in Avery County. The community was founded in 1883, designed by Samuel T. Kelsey of Kansas and named for William and John Linville, who were reportedly killed by Cherokees in 1766.
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad passed through the community from 1916 through 1940, when a major flood washed away the tracks. The old rail route later became N.C. 105 in 1956.
Linville has three country clubs in the area: Eseeola, Grandfather Golf and Country Club and Linville Ridge, all open late spring to early fall.
A number of local tourist areas within a short drive share the Linville name, including the Linville River and majestic Linville Falls, Linville Caverns on U.S. 221 and the Linville Gorge wilderness area.
For visitors considering making Linville a part- or full-time home, they can visit Linville Land Harbor, where units are available for sale or rent in a cozy community featuring its own golf course and amenities.
A number of residents reside at Land Harbor part time, while others stay year-round to enjoy the beauty of the area’s four seasons.
During the winter months, Linville is only a short drive to nearby ski slopes at Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain, popular skiing and snow-tubing destinations.
Perhaps the most popular tourist attraction housed in Linville is Grandfather Mountain.
The Grandfather Mountain attraction offers picturesque views during all four seasons, animal habitats and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Grandfather Mountain State Park offers hiking trails and backcountry camping opportunities.
NEWLANDThe highest county seat east of the Mississippi River at 3,589 feet, the town of Newland was incorporated in 1913 as the county seat of the newly formed Avery County.
Its original name was “Old Fields of Toe,” because it is located in a broad flat valley and is at the headwaters of the Toe River.
Newland was a mustering place for Civil War troops. Toe is short for “Estatoe,” an Indian chief’s daughter who drowned herself in the river in despair because she could not marry a brave from another tribe.
A town of about 700 residents, Newland succeeded over three other areas for the honor of county seat. The recently renovated courthouse, originally constructed in 1913, overlooks a classic town square, bordered by shops and churches and complete with a memorial to Avery County veterans.
Adjacent to the courthouse building is the original jail, which has been converted into the Avery County Historical Museum. Exhibits in the museum, which is free to visit, include the original jail cells, numerous artifacts and information about the history of Avery County.
During the autumn and fall months, visitors can check out the farmers’ market that meets on Saturday mornings outside of Newland Elementary School, and visitors traveling out of town can picnic or hike at Waterfalls Park, a unique recreation spot sponsored by Newland Volunteer Fire Department.
Heritage Park hosts rodeo events on weekends during the summer and is the permanent home for the county’s annual Agriculture and Heritage Fair each September.
Newland hosts an annual Christmas parade through downtown, with decorations adorning the town reflecting the area’s rich Christmas tree industry.
With a number of restaurants and boutiques downtown, Newland is a prime destination for dining and shopping, or just to stop in on a visit to nearby Roan Mountain, Tenn., or Grandfather Mountain. For more information, visit www.townofnewland.com.
SUGAR MOUNTAINIf outdoor activity is your thing, look no further than the village of Sugar Mountain.
Offering more than just great skiing, Sugar Mountain also provides its visitors with an array of ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the High Country.
The Village of Sugar Mountain provides plenty of outdoor adventure and relaxation for family summer trips, whether it’s a day or a week. Located at 5,300 feet elevation, enjoy cool breezes and spectacular views from a variety of vacation rentals, ranging from mountaintop condos to log cabins.
Their public golf and tennis club, owned and operated by the village, is a local’s favorite. Voted the No. 2 short course in the USA, the 18-hole golf course has immaculate greens and plenty of mountain views. Green fees start at just $15. The friendly pro shop and Caddyshack Café rounds out the perfect golf day.
Next door, play on six tennis courts, meticulously maintained of fast-dry, Har-tru clay. Men’s, women’s, and mixed play “friendlys’’ can be found every day of the week. Tennis lessons are available.
Another local’s favorite is the annual summer music series, Grillin’ & Chillin’. Enjoy live bands every Wednesday evening while watching the sunset over the Blue Ridge. The free concerts take place on the big outdoor deck at the village’s golf and tennis club with food available from the Caddyshack Cafe.
At Sugar Mountain Resort, the ski slopes become home to a network of downhill mountain bike trails and scenic lift rides. On most summer weekends (Friday-Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend and July through Labor Day Weekend), ride the lift up to the summit and race down 1,200 feet in elevation to the lodge. For a more relaxing option, take a leisurely roundtrip scenic chairlift ride to the top for panoramic views.
On the 4th of July, ride the lift for a birds-eye view of the fireworks. Earlier in the day, join the fun with the challenging Summit Crawl. Another popular event is the Fine Art & Master Crafts Festival on weekends in mid-July and mid-August.
Located adjacent to Grandfather Mountain and surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, the village of Sugar Mountain provides plenty of other adventures including the alpine coaster, gem mining, whitewater rafting and hiking. Unwind at 25 restaurants and two within 5 miles, along with plenty of galleries and boutiques to browse.
Whether you come for a day or stay in one of the many comfortable lodgings the village has to offer, Sugar Mountain will soon become your destination for great outdoor fun.
For more information, visit www.seesugar.com.
CRESTONLocated in the northwestern corner of Ashe County, Creston lies on the border of Tennessee. The curvy winding roads can offer travelers some of the most beautiful, scenic byways in the area.
The Riverview Community Center is located off of N.C. 88 West in Creston and is home to festivals and other events all year long. Worth’s Chapel at Creston United Methodist Church is located in Creston and was listed as a National Historic Building in 2005.
The chapel was built about 1902. The interior of the chapel is finished, in part, with American chestnut wood, harvested before the blight reached the northwestern mountains of North Carolina.
FLEETWOODLocated just off of U.S. 221 between West Jefferson and Deep Gap, Fleetwood is home to great community gatherings at the Fleetwood Community Center and the local volunteer fire department.
On your way to and from the busy towns of Boone and West Jefferson, stop by to look at local crafts, antiques and civic pride in Fleetwood.
GLENDALE SPRINGSHome of the breathtaking and awe-aspiring fresco painting by Ben Long at Holy Trinity Episcopalian Church, Glendale Springs has become revered for its budding arts scene.
The community has become a must for anyone visiting Ashe County. Proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway is an added bonus as summer sets in and fall colors begin to explode.
GRASSY CREEKJust south of the North Carolina-Virginia border, Grassy Creek is a tightly knit community that is dotted with smiling faces and countless rows of Fraser fir Christmas trees.
Check out the sights around the nationally renowned New River, where you will also find the River House Country Inn and Restaurant for delectable dinners.
JEFFERSONA rich history, dating from 1799, lies in the picturesque town of Jefferson.
Jefferson was founded prior to its counterpart, West Jefferson, and stood at the base of Mount Jefferson. The town was first known as Jeffersonton, but then became Jefferson, and was one of the first towns in the nation to bear the name of U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson.
The town is the county seat of Ashe and is home to the new courthouse, as well as the historic 1904 Courthouse.
The Museum of Ashe County History is located in Jefferson and can be found in the 1904 Courthouse. The museum, through items collected and on display, offers a look at who the citizens of the county are, where they came from, how they got to the town, what did they do on the way and where do they go next?
Ashe County Park and Foster Tyson Park are also located in Jefferson, the former of which hosts a nationally celebrated disc golf course.
LANSINGWhether you’re looking for a town reminiscent of the past or a town that offers whispers of tomorrow, the small, friendly town of Lansing beckons to travelers from near and far to visit and relax, while browsing its shops, trying some home cooking and tasting some locally made wine.
The town, in the northwestern section of Ashe County, is 20 minutes from Jefferson and West Jefferson and only 45 minutes from Boone. Travelers can arrive in the town in less than an hour from Abingdon, Va., or Mountain City, Tenn.
The town has one stoplight, and several businesses line the street. Home-cooked meals can be found at Country House Restaurant, while pizza, sandwiches and salads, along with specialty teas and fresh roasted coffee, are available at Pie on the Mountain.
The first post office in the town was established in 1882 and served a rural community, made up of a village and outlying farms until the railroad made its appearance, according to www.lansingnc.com.
The economy and population began to take off by 1914 as the Norfolk and Western Railroad, better known as the Virginia Creeper, came to town.
A big commodity for area residents was iron ore mined from the mountains. The railroad served as an avenue to transport the ore to markets in Richmond, Va., and Pittsburgh, Pa.
During its history, Lansing had a cheese plant, clothing store, coffin shop, doctor’s office, bank and a restaurant, according to the town’s website. The cheese plant allowed area farmers to bring their goods to sell instead of having to travel into West Jefferson. The town was chartered and incorporated in 1928.
Lansing faced two devastating fires in the 1930s and 1940s and faced Hurricane Hugo later that century. Despite these setbacks, the town continued to flourish and expand.
The Works Progress Administration built the Lansing High School in 1941, using local granite stone. The old school building is being repurposed as an arts community today.
The scenic Virginia Creeper biking trail is available to visitors, as is the town’s park.
For more information about Lansing, visit www.explorelansingnc.com.
LAUREL SPRINGSAnother border community, Laurel Springs prides itself with small town charm and beauty that entices motorists from the Blue Ridge Parkway for a quick bite to eat before continuing their adventure on the scenic byway.
Although it touches Wilkes, Alleghany and Ashe counties, Laurel Springs is never more than a 30-minute drive from the listed county seats. Also, be sure to stop by the Thistle Meadow Winery for individualized tours of a family-owned wine business.
WEST JEFFERSONWith a thriving arts district and Christmas trees galore, West Jefferson makes its mark on the High Country as a destination for locals, as well as visitors.
The town was built around the Virginia-Carolina Railroad depot during the early 1900s.
According to the town’s history, the first ownership of the valley now known as West Jefferson began in 1779 when N.C. Gov. Richard Caswell granted 320 acres to Col. Ben Cleveland, who battled the British at Kings Mountain.
More than a century later, the West Jefferson Land Company surveyed the new town and fixed its limits as a square one-half mile north, south, east and west of the Virginia-Carolina Depot. The town was chartered in 1915.
The town’s initial growth came through the railroad, but early development was also spurred by the opening of the First National Bank of West Jefferson in 1915.
The bank’s branch office, built in 1962, is now home to West Jefferson Town Hall.
The town continues to thrive today and has a little something for everyone. Those visiting the town can browse one of the many art galleries, gift shops and retail stores.
West Jefferson is home to many varieties of artwork, from paintings and photographs to sculptures and quilted items. More information about the area’s art district can be found at the Ashe Arts Center, located at 303 School Ave., just off of East Main Street.
The center is home to the Ashe County Arts Council, which sponsors a variety of community programming and exhibits throughout the year.
A popular spot in the town is the Ashe County Cheese plant where visitors can see cheese made and go across the street to the Ashe County Cheese Store to purchase a variety of cheeses, from cheddar to pepper jack and the celebrated cheese curds.
Old-fashioned snacks and candies and locally made wines can also be purchased at the store. The cheese plant is open year-round and located at 106 E. Main St. in West Jefferson.
Just outside West Jefferson, in the Beaver Creek community, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church can be found. The church is the location for a fresco of Jesus on the cross by renowned artist Ben Long. A painting of Madonna with child also hangs on the sanctuary wall.
Local eateries and cafes offer all sorts of tasty treats, coffee, spirits and more, from one end of the town to the other.
For more information, visit www.visitwestjefferson.org.