Travelers wishing to visit the North Carolina mountains can do so in Banner Elk. We are open to visitors.
Located near Boone in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Banner Elk began welcoming tourists back on May 6, 2020.
Since May 22, lodging places in Banner Elk have been able to rent all of their available units. That includes the Best Western Mountain Lodge, which has instituted strict cleaning and sanitation procedures detailed in this article by the High Country Press.
Other lodging options have implemented enhanced cleaning protocol as well. For a complete list of accommodations in Banner Elk, click here.
Visitors to Banner Elk can choose from many outdoor activities, including Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster, the newest attraction in the North Carolina mountains and the first alpine coaster ever built in North Carolina.
One of the largest and best known attractions in the NC mountains is Grandfather Mountain, which is 15 minutes from Banner Elk. Grandfather Mountain is a nature preserve and park that includes hiking trails, animal habitats and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Grandfather Mountain reopened May 15 with certain restrictions, including a requirement that all tickets be purchased in advance with a reserved date and time for admittance. This allows for limits on crowd sizes.
Folks wishing to visit Grandfather Mountain and stay overnight in Banner Elk can do so via Banner Elk’s Grandfather Mountain Lodging Package. The package includes an overnight stay and two tickets to Grandfather Mountain (additional tickets can be added). When booking this package, your lodging host will make your advanced reservation for admittance into Grandfather Mountain.
Apple Hill Farm is a popular attraction in Banner Elk that is again open to guests. This working farm allows guests to interact with alpacas and llamas, as well as goats, chickens and other animals. Tours are available by reservation only. For those not yet ready to travel, Apple Hill offers virtual visits via Zoom. These 10-minute video visits with alpacas and llamas cost just $10 and have been booked by people all over the world!
More outdoor summer adventure is available at Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort.
Beech Mountain Resort opens June 5 with scenic chairlift rides, downhill mountain biking, disc golf, take-out food service and outdoor service at the 5506′ Skybar. Beech Mountain has announced operating hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Full details are available via this article by the High Country Press.
Sugar Mountain resort offers scenic chairlift rides and downhill mountain biking, including the new Easy Street trail for beginners and intermediate riders. After being open Memorial Day Weekend, Sugar Mountain will resume operations again on July 3 and operate Fridays through Sundays until Sept. 7. Additional details are available via this article by the High Country Press.
Other outdoor activities available in Banner Elk include:
Wildcat Lake – a 13-acre lake with a white-sand beach, swimming pier and fishing dock
Blue Ridge Parkway – A beautiful stretch of the Parkway is near Banner Elk
After a day of outdoor recreation, Banner Elk satisfies the appetite with an impressive collection of restaurants. This small Blue Ridge Mountain town has earned the nickname “Culinary Hot Spot of the High Country” for its cuisine. From white linen dining to upscale restaurants to casual bistros, Banner Elk can satisfy every appetite. One of our restaurants has twice been recognized among the Top 100 in America by OpenTable.com.
For a complete listing of Banner Elk restaurants, click here. To see what WBTV’s Queen City Weekend thinks of Banner Elk’s restaurant scene, check out this video …
*PLEASE NOTE: Like other places in our wonderful state, we ask visitors to practice safe measures when in public spaces. This includes the three Ws: wait six feet apart, wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds and wear a cloth face covering. Furthermore, refrain from venturing into public spaces if experiencing a fever or signs of sickness.
Lastly, if you’re not quite ready to get back to traveling, you can visit virtually with this relaxing video.
Following a two-month closure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Grandfather Mountain, which is 15 minutes from Banner Elk, has reopened as of May 22, 2020. All ticket sales have moved online.
In accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phased “reopening” of North Carolina, the nature park will strictly limit visitor numbers to follow social gathering guidelines, while implementing enhanced health and safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and federal, state and local authorities.
Grandfather Mountain held a soft reopening May 15-17 to test the new protocols, then closed May 18-21, before opening again on May 22.
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. “We will continue to follow the situation closely, while implementing a phased reopening plan closely correlated with Gov. Cooper’s.”
Park officials have enacted operational measures to discourage crowds and encourage social distancing. Buildings, such as the Nature Museum and Fudge Shop, will remain temporarily closed, with public restrooms available at the Woods Walk Picnic Area.
The Top Shop will welcome a limited number of guests at a time, while the park’s on-site restaurant, Mildred’s Grill, will offer curbside pick-up, 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, will implement 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 will be limited, based on state social gathering recommendations, while a time limit will ensure that others can participate in turn. However, guests are welcome revisit such areas during the same trip.
Time limits will be not be 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.
“It’s going to be a different experience for our Grandfather Mountain friends and family — almost like a guided tour, in a sense,” Pope said. “But guests will still be able to share the mountain’s many wonders, and in a quieter, less crowded setting. When we get to Phase 2, there will be more facilities open and more people allowed to come to the park, and the same with Phase 3.”
Guests who hold season passes through Grandfather’s Bridge Club annual membership program will 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.
Few places in the North Carolina mountains have the variety of leaf-viewing options that Banner Elk offers. Nestled at 3,701 feet above sea level, Banner Elk normally reaches peak color around the third or fourth weekend of October. Leaves typically begin changing in late September or early October, followed by a vivid progression that now often stretches into early November.
Banner Elk is surrounded by scenic peaks and native hardwoods, with many vantage points to view autumn’s splendor. One of the best vantage points is the famous Mile-High Swinging Bridge atop Grandfather Mountain. People from all over the East Coast visit in fall to take in the panoramic view from Grandfather.
There are many different ways to view fall color in Banner Elk. Some prefer to take in the splendor from kayaks and canoes on Wildcat Lake, while others take to the hiking trails in and around the town limits. The Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park offers great views and has its trail head on the outskirts of Banner Elk. Another popular place is the high-altitude Emerald Outback trail park.
Banner Elk’s famous Woolly Worm Festival conducts woolly bear caterpillar races the third weekend of October to determine which woolly worm receives the honor of forecasting the upcoming winter weather in the NC High Country. Learn more about this unique festival by clicking here.
Another nice thing about a fall visit to Banner Elk is the close proximity to peak fall color from early October to early November. A quick 15-minute drive in early October up to Beech Mountain puts you at peak color because of its 5,506-foot elevation. Or, you can drive about 30 minutes in early November down to the Linville Caverns area and view peak colors there.
When the autumnal day is done, settle into comfortable lodging and indulge in a delicious cuisine from a number of eateries. A bountiful food selection gives Banner Elk its nickname of “the Culinary Hot Spot of the NC High Country.”
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.
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.
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.
[The 2020 festival, scheduled to take place Oct. 17-18, has been canceled due to COVID-19. 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.