Family Reunion and things to do in western North Carolina
August 4, 2023 3:37 PM   Subscribe

My Other Half and I, along with one grown child of mine, are heading to a family reunion in the Beech Mountain area of North Carolina. Other Half claims there's nothing to do there - please help me prove him wrong!

This will be a mulit generation reunion with people coming from all over the country, though I don't think we'll exceed 25 people. We are renting houses next to each other on a mountain, and I've seen advertisements for the breweries/wineries in the area. Hiking trails will interest some of us; shopping will interest others.

We'll be in the Beech Mountain/Banner Elk region.

Can you provide other tips? Flea Markets? Antique centers? Historic places? ATV rentals? Swimming or tubing? County fairs? We'll be there from August 11 to the 14th (leaving the wee hours of the 15th). Any insights/tips/suggestions will be welcome!
posted by annieb to Travel & Transportation around Beech Mountain, NC (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's loads of outdoorsy stuff to do in the area, if you are game to drive a bit. This Banner Elk tourism page will give you an overview. But I wanted to suggest that the folks who are inclined for less rugged activities head into Blowing Rock and Boone. Boone is a charming mountain college town, but fall semester doesn't start til August 21, so you'll be able to enjoy it when it's a bit quieter. Blowing Rock has lots of things to entice the shoppers, including Art in the Park on August 12.

Be warned that in the mountains, you might need an hour to drive 20 miles, and it's best to just plan for that and be patient because you'll be on windy roads, perhaps with lots of other tourists. Enjoy the journey, and so on. But when your partner says there's nothing to do there, that might mean, there's not much to do right there, but plenty to do if you drive to it.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:03 PM on August 4, 2023 [9 favorites]

Oh, and if you're up for a longer drive, Asheville really is a lovely city.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:04 PM on August 4, 2023

I made a Google Doc for a friend who was taking a solo trip there a few months ago. Caveat: I've never been but felt like doing a few hours of web research. Memail me if you'd like a link to it.
posted by knile at 5:53 PM on August 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi. If it's a clear day the view is fantastic.

Grandfather Mountain has a pretty intense rope bridge, and they filmed one of the running scenes from Forrest Gump on the road up to it.

Plenty of hiking and the like around. Second Boone, but only mention Blowing Rock because Woodlands Barbeque was the best NC style BBQ nearby.

Can't forget Jimmy Smith Park in Boone.
posted by AbelMelveny at 6:10 PM on August 4, 2023

Blowing Rock is adorable. While you're there, visit Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, the former mountain getaway of a textile baron. There are walking trails and horses to ride, and the gift shop is run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

Tweetsie Railroad is an old-fashioned "Wild West" theme park outside of Blowing Rock that might be fun for kids.

Grandfather Mountain has a pretty cool wildlife habitat and nature center in addition to the famous swinging rope bridge.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

This alpine coaster is fun. Get the 3 ride pack.

There's a bunch of whitewater rafting and tubing places around there. I don't have a particular one to recommend but a quick check of google or tripadvisor reviews should set you in the right direction for that.
posted by jeoc at 7:10 PM on August 4, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have vacationed in this area a few times, really just for the nature though. Bluedaisy is correct in that driving times can be long for short distances - I recommend finding a few things in one general area to do most days.

I strongly recommend taking one day to go up Mt. Mitchell - even on days where the weather isn't ideal, it's enjoyable to see the diversity of the landscape, plus you can drive to the top so it works for all ages/abilities. From the top there is a ridge trail that has some fun scrambling that is suitable for most kids. I went a bit past "Big Tom" on that trail - great views along the way. On that day, if you take the Blue Ridge Parkway for part of the way, you could tack on Crabtree Falls trail - very nice waterfall. Little Switzerland is also quaint, if you're into that sort of thing.

-In a totally different direction, Grassy Ridge Bald via the AT is an excellent moderate trail with fantastic views the whole way. That whole area is pretty - worth the drive.

Closer to you:
-Linville Gorge + Linville Caverns. We didn't go to the caverns as I read it wasn't the most impressive of caves, but a good option if you get a day of solid rain. The Gorge is beautiful, with a mix of trails for all levels - Hawksbill/Table Rock/The Chimneys is a fun trail with some steep drop offs - nothing my partner (who is moderately afraid of heights) couldn't handle, but I wouldn't want to bring a very young kid unless they've done that sort of thing before. Elsewhere in the Gorge are some swimming options.

-The Tin Trout, which would pair well with a day at Linville Gorge, is really, really good - nothing fancy, but everything is really well done - I was impressed. It gets very busy and crowded fast, so I recommend arriving when it opens. Easily the best meal I've had in that area.
posted by coffeecat at 8:18 PM on August 4, 2023 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh man, that area is one of my favorite in North Carolina! I spent a summer rotation out there and have made it a point to go back 2-3 times a year since!

You can rent canoes and tubes at Zaloos in West Jefferson to float down the New River. They offer a shuttle service to bring you back where you started too!

There's also Elk Knob State Park in Todd that's a pretty easy and quick hike.

If you're up for a long and strenuous hike, you can take the Profile Trail to Calloway Peak and then from there to Grandfather Mountain and then go back the way you came. This would be an all day affair.

About an hour's drive up to Virginia will lead you to the Virginia Creeper Trail, which is an amazing bike ride. There are many bike rental places in the town who will drive you up to the start and then you finish back at the shop a glorious 17 mile downhill bike ride later. One of the most picturesque biking I've ever done, and there are nice swimming holes along the route too.

You can also check out the Mast General Store, which is a local outdoorsy shop that has its original location in Banner Elk.

The Linn Cove Viaduct is a great piece of engineering to marvel at. You can get a great view of the curve if you take the trail from the Linn Cove Visitor Center. It's a little rugged, but still pretty easy. You'll go about 1/3 to 1/2 a mile and you should see some rocks/boulders to the right through some trees. Lounge on the boulders for the view. I wish I could give better directions than this, but maybe you can find more exact ones online elsewhere!

And don't expect to get anywhere fast on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Lots of cars in summer and fall and lots of people gawking at the scenery. It's taken me over 2 hours before to go from Boone to Linville Falls when it's usually about an hour's drive.

Speaking of driving, if you find yourself in the Boone or West Jefferson areas, yes those trees on the hills are Christmas trees! Ashe County is one of the largest producers of Christmas trees (Fraser firs) in the country.

Foodwise in Boone, Stick Boy Bread has great baked goods. They do other food at their Stick Boy Kitchen location, which is pretty close to the Boone Greenway. The Greenway has a series of trees close to the beginning that are perfectly spaced out for hanging hammocks! The trails itself are also great for a post-brunch walk.

Melanie's Food Fantasy is also one of my favorite breakfast spots ever! Definitely worth the hour+ long wait. They'll text you when your table is ready so you can stroll up and down the downtown Boone area, which does have an antique shop. If you head East on King Street from Melanie's, you'll also run into the Boone Saloon which has surprisingly great chicken tenders. Keep walking a bit more and you'll hit Blue Deer, which does tasty ice cream sandwiches on freshly baked cookies!

If anyone in the family likes handmade ceramics, you're in luck because North Carolina is absolutely crawling with very talented potters and ceramic artists! There's Doe Ridge Pottery in Boone on King Street that features a variety of different artists. The craft center at the Moses Cone manor often will feature a local potter. Maggie Black Pottery is also a neat space in Banner Elk. Her studio space is in the gallery!
posted by astapasta24 at 9:15 PM on August 4, 2023 [7 favorites]

Recently stayed in Boone. It's a college town so stuff to do. Really enjoyed the Mast General Store mentioned above.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:27 PM on August 4, 2023

There's nothing particularly epic in that stretch of the mountains, but there's plenty of things to do if you're outdoorsy. I'll nth tubing or kayaking on the New River (one of the few non-Alaska US rivers that flows north) as well as the Virginia Creeper bike trail. You're a reasonable drive to parts of the Appalachian Trail.

You're a short drive to the only rain forest on the east coast.

There's plenty of breweries, meaderies, wineries, and cideries in the area. I'll also nth checking out Boone, as dropping in on college towns in the off season can be lovely. For the shopping interested part of the group, you'll be royalty.

As others have mentioned, Asheville is not a long drive and has world class breweries, food, and art. If you're interested in art, Black Mountain has a storied history and a lot of great art.

This will be a mulit generation reunion with people coming from all over the country, though I don't think we'll exceed 25 people.

My biggest suggestion, from having been on trips like this, is to say where you're going the next day and when and to stick to that schedule. Trying to accommodate everyone will just lead to sitting around all day waiting for people to figure out plans. You'll be a stone's throw from multiple great hiking trails. Pick one each day and let people decide to join you or not. If you dicker around, you'll spend hours waiting for people to make up their minds and miss out on the opportunities you have available.
posted by Candleman at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Excellent answers and ideas, everyone, thank you very much! Bookmarking this page to refer to next week. I really appreaciate all the tips!
posted by annieb at 3:33 PM on August 5, 2023

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