My love affair with Banner Elk and the rest of the High Country started kind of on accident, if I'm being totally honest! It was the 11th hour before my 30th birthday, and I'd been dropping subtle (?!) hints to my husband that I wanted him to plan a little getaway to celebrate. Lo and behold, he picked a little town called Banner Elk, which I had confused with a TOTALLY different city, and I was skeptical to say the least. Would I be bored?! What would we DO the whole time?! Flash forward to the trip itself, and it was love at first sight.
While many people are familiar with Asheville, Boone and even maybe Blowing Rock and Beech Mountain (any ski bunnies out there?) many of the other areas in the High Country are relatively unknown, which makes them all the more endearing. There is more than enough to keep you entertained, but they fly far enough under the radar that they're less crowded than their more well-known counterparts. If you're itching for a socially-distant getaway, look no further! Here is a brief overview of the main areas you'll find:
Boone: Boone is a lovable college town, home of Appalachian State University. While there is a ton to do there, the bars and restaurants can skew a little younger and more crowded. If you're swinging through town on the way up the mountain, or dropping off your favorite student, here are my quick picks for this area:
- Fresh pasta and craft beer from Basil's (you can even grab some to go along with frozen sauce for an easy dinner!)
- Pastries from Stick Boy Bakery or a quick breakfast from Boone Bagelry
- For a piece of history and classic NC, try dinner at the Dan'l Boone Inn
- Don't miss brunch at Melanie's!
- Their downtown main street is filled with adorable gift shops, coffee spots and antique stores galore.
Blowing Rock: Blowing Rock's main street is one of the cutest things I've ever seen. They have an amazing assortment of gift, clothing, outdoors and antique shopping, complete with lots of rocking chair sitting areas for patient spouses. You have to make a stop by the actual Blowing Rock (or else, did you even go?!) and get starry-eyed strolling around the Chetola Resort. For the kiddos in your life, Tweetsie Railroad is a can't-miss spot!
Valle Crucis: In my opinion, this tiny hidden gem is a quick jaunt from Banner Elk or another High Country favorite, but maybe not a full day experience. While you're here, be sure to check out the original Mast General Store and grab some grub from Over Yonder!
Beech and Sugar Mountain: These two are for all of my skiing and snowboarding peeps! Admittedly we haven't spent much time here because we haven't gotten back into skiing, but two of my favorite recommendations are on Beech Mountain- taking the ski lift to 5506', the highest ski area in America. The bar offers panoramic views, drinks and snacks, and often events like sky-high yoga. The second is easy while you're way up there, take a peek around the edges outside the bar and you'll be face to face with the Land of Oz, an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park that is open only a few times various years (and for private tours).
Banner Elk: Now on to my FAVORITE place, and the main point of me rambling through this article. Here are some places we have stayed, food and drink spots, and activities for your visit!
Where we have stayed:
Bearadise: This AirBnB was the top part of a two story AirBnB so it would be great for a group! It was very centrally located, and marketed as a "5-minute walk to Banner Elk". While this was technically true, it was down a pretty steep hill so keep that in mind if you rent this and try to make the trek! There was a fire pit, two bedrooms and one bath and a great porch. It wasn't very fancy, but perfect for the weekend!
The Vistas: We LOVE the Vistas! We stayed here our first time in Banner Elk, and again with my parents. This host owns multiple units, all of which are immaculately kept and well stocked. The location is wonderful and the views can't be beat! It's also pet friendly and most of his units are on the first floor so it's easy for all ages and species ;)
Echota on the Ridge: This was really the perfect vacation spot! It was a little treacherous getting up and down the mountain, but once you were up there, the views were breathtaking and the amenities made it well worth it! We loved the pool and walking trails, and we LIVED on the oversized porch. It was decorated beautifully, fully stocked and very clean. This one was in the middle of Banner Elk and Boone so it was nice to have the best of both worlds!
Things to do:
- Walk the trails in downtown Banner Elk
- Take a hike- from state parks to tiny, hidden mountain trails, you can't go wrong getting some of that fresh mountain air!
- Banner Elk Winery- One of our MOST happy places on earth! They have a roaring fire pit and free s'mores fixings, plentiful outdoor seating and the best signature blueberry wine (I know it sounds gross/too sweet but I'm telling you, it's a must!)
- Kettel Beerworks- this brewery is a blast! lots of space inside to play darts and shuffleboard and hang out by the fire, and a few pet-friendly tables outdoors to get some fresh air. They just added some food to the menu, including pizza, wings and soft pretzels.
- Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster- Modeled after the famous alpine coasters in Europe, this is tried and true and SO FUN. My mom and I had to give it a whirl to see if it was worth recommending, and we had an absolute blast. It starts at 770 feet, and takes you on a whirlwind of loops, drops and beautiful views. If you're with family, you may want to buy a package of tickets (they offer bulk discounts), but we felt like once was perfect for us.
- Maw's Produce is a fun stop on your way in or out of town. My pick here is the boiled peanuts and fresh veggies, but they have a good selection of pre-made food and baked goods as well!
- Skiing/snowboarding/tubing: Of course when you head to the mountains, you'll find lots of opportunities to hit the slopes! Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain are two of the most popular options.
- River tubing: If you find yourself here on one of the more rare hot days of the year, you have the option to find tons of hidden watering holes and more popular rivers for floating in the surrounding areas.
Where to Eat:
- Dunn's Deli and the Ham Shoppe are perfect stops before a day at the winery for some sandwiches to go! Dunn's also has a great breakfast selection.
- Stonewall's is your go-to for a nicer dinner on the town (think: steak, ribs and a legendary salad bar)
- Sorrento's Italian Bistro and Chef's Table share a central location with a killer outdoor dining area. Both of these are solid recommendations and cover everything from pasta, to seafood and beyond!
- Artisanal is your stop if you are a traveling foodie. It's been noted among the top 100 restaurants in America twice by Open Table!
Other helpful info:
- The roads here are pretty windy and Ubers are not plentiful, so take caution in planning your activities, especially those with alcohol involved!
- The Lowe's Food between Banner Elk and Blowing Rock might be the best I've ever been to! Their bakery, prepared foods and just general grocery options make it your only stop for groceries. If you need something slightly more affordable, there is a Food Lion just across the street.
Keep in mind this is just a small snapshot of the fun, excitement and especially relaxation you can find in the High Country. I swear our stress totally melts away the minute we begin to pass through Boone, and I hope you love these small towns as much as we do!