Following a two-month closure last year due to COVID-19, Grandfather Mountain, which is 15 minutes from Banner Elk, reopened on May 22, 2020, with all ticket sales taking place online and reduced occupancy on a daily basis.
This continues to be the policy in 2021. Guests will still be able to enjoy Grandfather Mountain’s many wonders, including the Mile High Swinging Bridge, wildlife habitats and hiking trails. However, the park will operate under a limited capacity to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.
Rather than purchasing tickets at the park’s entrance gate, visitors must purchase tickets online for a set date and time of entry. This measure limits the number of guests in the park at one time, in accordance with NC’s social gathering guidelines. As such, tickets will not be sold or available at the gate, thus visitors must book online in advance.
“The safety of our guests and staff comes first and foremost,” said Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the nonprofit that owns and operates the famed nature preserve.
Park officials have enacted operational measures to discourage crowding and encourage social distancing. Main buildings, such as the Nature Museum and Fudge Shop, are operating under reduced capacity, while enhanced health and safety measures are in place.
The Top Shop welcomes a limited number of guests at a time, while the park’s on-site restaurant, Mildred’s Grill, operates with limited capacity and tables spaced six feet apart. Mildred’s Grill continues to offer takeout service, allowing guests to dine in their vehicles or at one of the park’s 100-plus picnic sites.
High-traffic pedestrian areas, such as the Mile High Swinging Bridge and wildlife habitats, operate under a one-way directional system to ensure that guests do not come within six feet of each other — the minimum safe distance recommended by the CDC and other health officials.
The number of guests allowed to visit such areas at one time is limited, based on state social gathering recommendations, while a time limit ensures that others can participate in turn. However, guests are welcome revisit such areas during the same trip.
Time limits are not enforced for the park’s less crowded, lower-traffic areas.
The park has enhanced its already stringent cleaning procedures and placed additional sanitization stations in key areas, while boosting staff presence to direct traffic flow and encourage safe social distancing.
Guests who hold season passes through Grandfather’s Bridge Club annual membership program continue to receive free admission, although reservations must still be placed online. Current Bridge Club members whose passes were purchased prior to the closure will have their subscriptions extended by the length of the closure.
Please note that dates and guidelines are subject to change, based on current conditions and federal, state and local regulations. As such, those planning a trip are encouraged to visit www.grandfather.com for updates.
To learn more about Banner Elk’s Grandfather Mountain lodging packages, in which your host arranges park admission for you, click here.
Art on the Greene transforms the grounds of the Historic Banner Elk School into an art gallery multiple times each summer. These popular shows generally take place Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, the first weekend in August and Labor Day weekend.
In 2021, the scheduled dates are: May 29-30, July 3-4, Aug. 7-8 and Sept. 4-5.
Each show highlights works from local and regional artists, and allows shoppers to add to their art collections while supporting historic preservation at the same time. Booth rental proceeds are donated to the Town of Banner Elk for ongoing efforts to transform the historic school into a center for visual and performing arts.
“I hope attendees find our town to be a place they want to return and tell other people about,” says Kimberly Tufts, show director. “I also hope they leave with something tangible, that they find a new piece of artwork and build a relationship with an artist that enriches their life.”
The number of artists exhibiting at each show range from 40 to 60. They represent a variety of media, such as metal, glass, ceramics, wood, watercolor, acrylics and oil.
“The focus is on embracing our Appalachian heritage and really highlighting things in the hand-crafted Appalachian tradition,” Tufts says.
As a resort town perched at 3,701 feet in elevation in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Banner Elk is an ideal location for summertime art shows. High temperatures average in the upper 70s, with lots of sunny days.
“We have a rich heritage that makes us special, and I think people feel that when they’re here,” Tufts says. “Banner Elk is also a very friendly town in a beautiful location. We have wonderful restaurants and so many things to do outdoors, which make this place a destination.”
While attending the shows, folks are invited to check out the Historic Banner Elk School. The 1939 rock building was built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression. The school is home to the B.E. Artists Gallery, Ensemble Stage professional theater, Banner Elk Book Exchange and the editorial offices of a local lifestyle magazine.
Art on the Greene has no admission fee. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Food vendors are on hand, complementing the offerings at downtown restaurants within easy walking distance.
For additional information, call the show director at 828-387-0581.
For a town with less than 1,500 residents, Banner Elk has an amazing culinary scene. So amazing, in fact, that Banner Elk is known as the culinary hot spot of the NC High Country.
An impressive array of locally-owned independent restaurants has made this resort town a dining destination. Whether you’re in search of a fine-dining white tablecloth experience, an upscale bistro, ethnic cuisine or a satisfying sandwich from a tasty deli, this town’s thriving food scene covers the spectrum.
Artisanal restaurant is the pinnacle of Banner Elk’s culinary offerings, a fine dining restaurant twice named among the Top 100 Restaurants in America by Open Table. Meanwhile, a new name on the Banner Elk dining scene is Chef’s Table, a farm-to-table eatery serving the freshest local ingredients in the High Country.
Speaking of the High Country, if you want a taste of the mountains, don’t leave without ordering fresh trout. Have it for dinner at long-time favorite Banner Elk Cafe & Lodge. Banner Elk Cafe is unique because its two kitchens offer a wide selection of lunches and dinners from two menus.
After a morning or afternoon cruising the slopes of the nearby ski resorts on Sugar and Beech mountains, stop into Dunn’s Deli to refuel. This New York-style deli serves mile-high clubs, tuna melts and cheese-steak sandwiches. Wash it all down with a cold draft.
Since 1985, Stonewalls Restaurant has been a destination for locals and visitors. Now under new ownership, the restaurant has upgraded to a chef-driven menu with plenty of culinary creations. Of course, Stonewalls remains the place for juicy steaks, slow-roasted prime rib and its well-known salad bar.
Looking for fun and affordable summer cabin vacation? Look no further than a Banner Elk cabin says one of the world’s largest travel websites.
TripAdvisor.com, with more than 375 million unique visitors monthly, named Banner Elk to its list of 15 Affordable Summer Cabin Getaways Across America. Trip Advisor analyzed user ratings for all U.S. towns that have rental properties available on its website. It then calculated the average cost of a one-week stay in July in a two-bedroom cabin rental in those cities and towns.
Banner Elk made the top five for having an average weekly cabin rental of $768, while offering “no shortage of challenging hikes and spectacular overlooks.”
TripAdvisor further commented on Banner Elk’s convenient location: “This Blue Ridge Mountain getaway is close to major attractions like Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock, and the Appalachian Trail.” It also noted, “the wine and beer scene won’t disappoint, either, with Banner Elk Winery, Grandfather Vineyard, and Flat Top Brewing Company offering delicious grapes and suds.”
“Trip Advisor is the top website in the U.S. for consumer-rated travel. It’s a big deal when a site of that magnitude recognizes Banner Elk,” says Nancy Owen, representative of the Banner Elk Tourism Development Authority. “This exposes Banner Elk to millions of people throughout North America and paints us in a very positive light. It also lets people know that, even though we have very nice accommodations, we are also reasonably priced.”
For more info on Banner Elk lodging options, go to the lodging section of this website. To read the full TripAdvisor article, click here.
Every autumn during the third weekend of October, the Blue Ridge Mountain town of Banner Elk becomes the woolly worm racing capital. That’s when this resort town welcomes visitors from near and far for the world famous Woolly Worm Festival.
The festival features two days of racing woolly worms, aka woollybear caterpillars, with crowds cheering on their favorites.
[After cancellation in 2020, the festival plans to return in 2021, conditions permitting. Those dates would be Oct. 16-17, 2021.]
Races are held throughout the day Saturday and Sunday at Historic Banner Elk School in the heart of downtown. The overall winner of Saturday’s races earns a $1,000 grand prize and the honor of predicting the winter weather for North Carolina’s High Country.
While Sunday’s races don’t involve forecasting privileges, participants still vie for prestige, along with a $500 prize.
“It’s really an all-American small town at its best,” says Mary Jo Brubaker, festival chairperson. “As a society, we go to such extremes to entertain people these days, but the down-home simplicity of this festival is wonderfully refreshing.”
The quirky weather-forecasting tradition comes from mountain lore that says the 13 segments of a woollybear caterpillar represent the 13 weeks of winter. Black bands mean cold, snowy weeks, while brown bands indicate warmer conditions. However, each woolly worm sports a different color pattern, so the festival was started in 1978 to determine which worm provides the official forecast.
All attendees are welcome to race a woolly worm. They may bring their own or purchase one from the local PTO. Races take place in heats of 25 contestants. Each worm inches its way up a string as its owner coaxes and cheers. The first to the finish line advances to the next round.
“We have families that have come year after year, and they wear family team T-shirts, like they’re a NASCAR racing team,” Brubaker says. “It’s so much fun to watch people racing the worms, and everyone’s laughing and cheering.”
In addition to races, the festival includes food, craft vendors and live entertainment.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Those interested in racing a worm must register and are encouraged to do so by 1 p.m. each day. Daily admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and younger.