By Sam Boykin
Posted: Monday, Aug. 05, 2013
Only about a two-hour drive from Lake Norman, Boone is a convenient getaway and great home base for exploring the mountains, which range in elevation from 2,000 to 6,000
feet above sea level.Explore
Home to Appalachian State University, Boone (pop. 17,122) is a thriving mountain town with a host of attractions and activities. First and foremost theres the areas natural wonders, including the 5,946-foot Grandfather Mountain (www.grandfather.com).
This popular destination is noted for its mile-high swinging bridge and extensive network of hiking trails, which provide grand views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of Grandfather Mountains newest attractions is the bald eagle Griffin, whos now part of Grandfather Mountains growing wildlife habitat, which is also home to cougars, deer, black bears, and river otters.
Another great way to experience the wild side of Boone is with Wahoos Adventures (www.wahoosadventures.com). For more than 35 years the local outfitter has offered boating and tubing trips down the areas waterways, including New River, Watauga, and the Nolichucky.
If you prefer your adventures up in the air instead of in the water, head to Hawksnest Zipline (www.hawksnestzipline.com) at nearby Seven Devils. Here you can sail over valleys and lakes and through forest canopies at speeds of up to 50 mph on one of 20 ziplines, including several mega zips, which are more than 2,000 feet long.
The new 185-acre Rocky Knob Park (www.rockyknob.wordpress.com) is another great destination for outdoor recreation. It has 8 miles of mountain bike trails and four different skill areas to accommodate riders of all ages and experience levels. Bike rentals are available from nearby Magic Cycles (www.magiccycles.com).
The Boone area is also home to several quirky family attractions, including Mystery Hill (www.mysteryhill-nc.com). Confounding visitors for more than 60 years, some say this unusual roadside destination is built over an unexplained energy source or mysterious vortex. The sprawling structure seems to defy the law of physics, as visitors feel a strong gravitational pull as soon they step inside. Balls roll uphill and water flows uphill. Mystery Hill also has several museums showcasing Appalachian heritage and Native American art.
Finally, be sure to stop by Tweetsie Railroad (www.tweetsie.com), the states first family theme park. Here the Wild West comes alive with steam engine trains, carnival ridesincluding a chairlift, Ferris wheel, and carouselalong with live shows and other fun activities such as gold panning and gem mining.Stay and Play
Boone has more than 10 hotels and nearly 1,300 guests rooms, along with rustic log cabins and a cozy bed and breakfast, all within easy driving distance of cultural attractions, shopping centers, and restaurants.
Some highlights include the Turchin Center for Visual Arts, where you can see exhibitions featuring new and historically important artwork from both local and internationally renowned artists.
For shopping, West King Street in downtown offers rows of specialty stores, gift shops, and galleries. Youll also find several great restaurants in the area, such as Danl Boone Inn, which serves heaping plates of home cooked country meals, as well as the more upscale Char Restaurant and Barserving steaks, seafood, and vegetarian plateswhich has a covered deck, sleek bar, and live music.Cashiers
Situated on the highest plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 3,487 feet, Cashiers is a tiny town that, despite its size (pop. 1,974), offers visitors plenty of adventure.Explore
The main draw here for folks who love the outdoors is Panthertown Valley, which has been dubbed the Yosemite of the East. This unspoiled, 6,700-acre stretch of land in the Nantahala National Forest has an extensive network of biking and hiking trails that wind past rivers and granite domes, providing epic views of the valley.
Greenland Creek and Panthertown Creek are the valleys main waterways. They join to form the Tuckaseegee River, which, along with nearby Chattooga and Whitewater rivers, boasts some of the best fishing in North Carolina. Local outfitter Brookings Cashiers Village Anglers is a great resource for fishing gear and trips. For a detailed guide of the areas best fishing spots, you can also consult the WNC Fly Fishing Trail (www.flyfishingtrail.com), which outlines 15 areas for landing brook, brown, and rainbow trout.
Theres also an abundance of beautiful waterfalls in and around Panthertown Valley, including Whitewater Falls, the highest east of the Rockies. Although surrounded by rugged terrain, its easy to view the 411-foot falls thanks to an observation deck thats surrounded by picnic tables and shelters.
Another top outdoor attraction is the 4,930-foot Whiteside Mountain, which is just outside Cashiers and offers some of the regions best climbing. If youre traveling to Cashiers this fall, be sure to look for the Shadow of the Bear, a natural phenomenon that occurs twice a year (also from February to through early March) when shadows thrown by the mountains peaks morph into the shape of a bear across the valley.Stay and Play
Your overnight options at Cashiers include dozens of camping sites, particularly at Panthertown Valley, or you can head to historic High Hampton Inn & Country Club (www.highhamptoninn.com). The rustic stone-and-wood mountain inn is situated on 1,400 acres overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are 117 rooms, including private cottages and cabins, as well as a full dining room, tennis courts, a 35-acre lake for swimming, boating, and fishing, and the graceful 18-hole George W. Cobb-designed golf course. The spa offers dozens of signature treatmentsfrom a stone massage to clay body masqueand features a health club with state-of-the-art fitness equipment and exercise classes.
Rooms start at about $150 a night, but you can take advantage of a number of travel packages in August, such as the golf and spa package (starting at $399 per night), which includes three daily meals and a round of golf and/or spa treatment for each guest. High Hampton Inn is also hosting several special occasions in August, including a watercolor workshop by famed artist Pat Weaver as well as a Labor Day Weekend Party, with a barbecue cookout and family-friendly games and activities.