Travel

Ride the wind to Blowing Rock

A visit to Blowing Rock, in the N.C. mountains, is like being caught between a rock and a soft place. There's The Blowing Rock, the oldest outdoor attraction in the Blue Ridge – a throwback to days when such natural attractions as Chimney Rock and Ruby Falls were popular tourist destinations. And then there's the Village of Blowing Rock, which boasts specialty shops, clothiers, art and craft galleries, book stores, antique and collectible shops, and dozens of one-of-a-kind restaurants.

Distance

From Charlotte, Blowing Rock is about 90 miles. Plan on a two-hour drive, one way.

Getting there

Take Interstate 85 South to Gastonia, then U.S. 321 North to Blowing Rock. Advisory: A 16-mile stretch of U.S. 321 is undergoing construction Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon-2 p.m. To avoid potential delays and detours, consider taking Interstate 77 North to U.S. 421 West; at Boone, take U.S. 321 South to Blowing Rock as an alternate route. It will add an hour to your drive.

To see and do

Blowing Rock, the geological attraction, has been called “The Crown of the Blue Ridge” with some justification. The compact site features short walking trails, a small garden and miniature waterfall, an observation platform, and a gift shop. The centerpiece, of course, is legendary Blowing Rock, the much-photographed outcropping of jagged stone some 4,000 feet above sea level that overhangs the Johns River Gorge. Make no mistake: “Legendary” is the appropriate adjective. According to Indian lore, this was where a young Cherokee brave, in the throes of love, threw himself off the cliff. The prayers of his lover, a grief-stricken Chickasaw maiden, were answered when strong winds blew her handsome brave back to her.

Because of how the shape of the gorge affects the wind, lightweight objects that fall from the cliff can indeed be blown back. Ripley's Believe It or Not once listed The Blowing Rock as a place where snow could actually be seen falling up! That novel sight notwithstanding, the Rock is a far more pleasant place to visit when the weather is fair. On clear days, The Blowing Rock offers a majestic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Table Rock, Hawksbill, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell and Sugar Mountain.

The nearby Village of Blowing Rock, meanwhile, has just about everything you could look for in a resort mountain town. The village, founded in 1899, oozes with tourist appeal. No less than 17 ski resorts are located close by, making the town an ideal location during winter. Spring, summer and fall are enjoyable, too: The Blowing Rock Community Arts Center and The Blowing Rock Stage Company offer a variety of live performances, and the town is a short drive from such attractions as Tweetsie Railroad, Mystery Hill and the Appalachian Heritage Museum, the Moses Cone Manor, Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several gem mining operations in the vicinity as well. Blowing Rock offers juried arts-and-crafts shows one Saturday per month (May through October), concerts in the park, and such outdoor recreational activities as horseback riding, canoeing, fishing and hiking. The major attraction in autumn is the fall foliage.

Not only was Blowing Rock the inspiration for novelist Jan Karon's fictional town of Mitford, but noted authors Pearl Buck and Margaret Mitchell did much of their writing while staying here. The New River, the oldest river in North America, begins at the Blowing Rock Country Club. And the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show, begun in 1923, is the oldest continuous professional horse show in the nation; the 2008 edition was held in June and early August. Gary McCullough

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