One of the best kept secrets in the North Carolina High Country is the Apple Hill Farm, located just outside of Banner Elk.
Apple Hill Alpaca Farm is a working farm that is open to the public year round. From mid May to mid October, daily tours take place at 2 p.m. From late October through early May, tours take place only on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Throughout the year, individual tours can be arranged by appointment. Tours typical last between 60-90 minutes.
The farm covers several acres near the top of a ridge, with bucolic farm land and panoramic views. Visitors get a chance to see and interact with the animals, including alpacas, llamas, angora goats, horses, donkeys, ponies, pigs and chickens.
Meanwhile, an impressive collection of day lilies dot the landscape. And, don’t forget the apple trees!
Fiber from the angora goats is made into mohair and sold in the farm store. Also sold in the store is alpaca yarn made individually from each alpaca, so visitors can pick out yarn from their favorite alpacas with names like Billy, Meadowlark and Mojo.
Apple Hill Farm hosts regular events, such as alpaca shearing day and a Christmas celebration.
For more information, call (828) 963-1662 or click here
View the Blue Ridge Mountains via horseback at Banner Elk Stables. This Banner Elk attraction offers one-hour guided rides on rustic trails perched along the mountain ridges.
Rides are available year-round, weather permitting to people of all ages. The farm has a large stable of horses suitable for a variety of riding abilities.
Some guests get to ride atop movie stars. Horses from Banner Elk Stables have appeared on the big screen in “For Richer or Poorer,” “Shallow Hal,” “Cinderella,” “National Treasure,” and other feature films.
Grandfather Mountain is a popular tourist attraction located atop one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each year, it attracts about 250,000 tourists who spend the day hiking, observing animals, visiting the nature museum and picnicking.
One of the mountain’s best-known pastimes is a walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge. At one mile above sea level, the bridge is the highest suspension footbridge in the country. A journey to the end offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The nearby “Top Shop” provides elevator access to the bridge, making it accessible for disabled visitors.
The mountain has 11 hiking trails, varying in difficulty from an easy stroll in a meadow or woodland to a rugged trek up challenging terrain. Interpretive rangers are available year-round to lead guided hikes, bird walks and wildflower walks for groups and families. As you hike the trails, you’ll see birds, squirrels and other forest creatures.
The mountain also has seven environmental habitats, which are large enclosures that showcase animals in their natural settings. See black bears, elk, river otters, cougars and bald eagles as they play, pounce and swim. For even closer access to these native animals, behind-the-scenes tours take place on Saturdays and Sundays from April through October. You can also sign up to be a “keeper for a day” and assist with daily animal care.
The Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum contains more than two dozen exhibits about the region’s natural history. See emeralds, rubies and gold pulled from the North Carolina soil, a scale model of Grandfather Mountain and lifelike wax examples of wildflowers, berries and mushrooms that are found here.
Plan to stay for lunch. Pack your own picnic or order something to go from Mildred’s Grill. More than 100 picnic tables are scattered throughout the property. Don’t leave without a sweet treat from the Grandfather Mountain Fudge Shop.
The mountain gets its unique name from pioneers who recognized that from certain vantage points, the cliffs resemble the profile of an old man or a “grandfather.”
Grandfather Mountain is open daily year-round, weather permitting. Hours vary seasonally.
Hawksnest features four miles of zip-line cables for riders to cruise over trees, lakes and creeks, taking in panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The attraction is located just off of Highway 105 South between Boone and Banner Elk, high atop Seven Devils.
Whether you are a first-time zip-liner or you have several rides under your belt, Hawksnest is a fun place to experience the thrill of a zip line while surrounded by mountain scenery.
The most popular option is the Hawk Tour, which is ideal for beginners. The one-and-a-half-mile tour involves 11 cables; two of them stretch more than 1,500 feet and reach heights of more than 150 feet. Participants hit speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Zipping through the trees gives the feeling of riding through a tunnel. The tour also has two swinging bridges. Children as young as 5 years old can take the Hawk Tour.
The more-advanced Eagle Tour requires good physical condition due to high speeds and long distances. The nine-cable tour covers three miles and reaches speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Two cables are more than 2,000 feet long, and several are more than 200 feet high. If you’re an experienced zip-liner or an adrenaline junky, the Eagle Tour is for you.
Children must be at least 8 years old. Both tours take between one-and-a-half to two hours to complete. After your tour, enjoy the view from the observation deck at the Hawksnest mountaintop lodge.
Reservations are required for tours, and participants should arrive 30 minutes before the scheduled start. Hawksnest welcomes company team-building outings and large groups of family or friends.
Step inside Humpback Mountain with a guided tour through Linville Caverns. The active caverns reveal stalactite and stalagmite formations — points hanging from the ceiling or rising from the floor formed by the minerals in dripping water.
The caverns were first discovered in the early 1800s when fishermen from eastern North Carolina spotted trout that appeared to be swimming in and out of a rock. Their investigation led them to the caverns and an underground stream.
Linville Caverns opened to the public as an attraction in 1937. Since then, the pathways have been upgraded and lighting has improved to make the cavern experience safe and enjoyable. Even during the heat of a Southern summer or the chill of a mountain winter, the caverns maintain a comfortable 52 degrees year-round.
Tour guides lead visitors into the caverns and explain their history. You can still see trout and other wildlife, such as bats, that call the caverns home. Much of the cavern tour is wheelchair accessible. Flash photography and videography (without an external light) are permitted. The tours last about 35 minutes. A gift shop and restrooms are located on site.
Linville Caverns are open daily March through November, and open Saturday and Sunday December through February.
What was once a community necessity in rural Valle Crucis is now a popular stop for tourists to journey back in time. Folks come to play checkers by the pot-bellied stove, listen to bluegrass music on the back porch or just enjoy a Moon Pie and RC Cola.
Mast General Store opened as The Taylor General Store in 1883. W.W. Mast purchased the store in 1913 and tried to stock everything local residents need from cloth and plow points to cradles and caskets. The store earned the motto, “If you can’t buy it here, you don’t need it.” Today the original store operates in the same location, with expanded space in the Mast Store Annex just down the street.
Visitors notice the creaky floorboards as soon as they step into the store. Vintage items from long ago — tins, signs, tools, dishes — are displayed on the top shelf. If you’re looking for a piece of pottery, a washboard to hang on the wall or an oil lamp to sit on the mantle, the store stocks plenty of home decor items. But the majority of the store’s products are functional, hardworking pieces. Many carry the “Made in the USA” designation.
The shoe department has a helpful staff ready to fit you with a hiking boot or walking sandal for outdoor mountain activities. You’ll find country-kitchen staples, such as cast iron skillets, herbs and spices, and stone-ground grits. Two-tenths of a mile away in the Annex, the clothing and outdoor-gear departments stock coats, sleeping bags, backpacks and camping supplies.
Another customer favorite is located in the Annex: Barrels of old-fashioned candy sold by the pound. Adults enjoy searching for childhood sweets — Cow Tales, Bit-O-Honeys, Mary Janes — and sharing them with kids and grandkids. Mast General Store now has multiple locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee; the closest to the original is eight miles away on King Street in downtown Boone
Trains are the stars of this Wild West theme park. Located between Boone and Blowing Rock, Tweetsie Railroad has entertained families with old-fashioned fun since 1957.
The park operates two vintage steam locomotives: No. 12 “Tweetsie” and No. 190 the “Yukon Queen.” As you ride the rails, keep an eye out for train-robbing bandits. Then, head to the Tweetsie Palace Saloon to watch Diamond Lil’s renowned can-can dancers, or tap your toes along with the country cloggers in the Pavilion Theater.
The Ferris wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl and carousel at the park’s Country Fair area allow kids to make memories and parents to relive childhood days.
Afterward, hop on the chairlift and enjoy the scenery on your ride up to Miner’s Mountain. The miniature Mouse Mine Train is a favorite for younger children. While on the mountaintop, you can pan for gold and explore the deer park habitat with 90 animals, including pygmy goats, turtles, miniature horses, llamas, emus, fallow deer, goats and potbellied pigs.
Back down the mountain, Tweetsie offers a variety of food from hot dogs, pizza and burgers to Tweetsie’s famous fudge made right before your eyes. Throughout the year, Tweetsie holds special events, such as the Ghost Train Halloween Festival in the fall and Railroad Heritage Weekend in late summer. No trip to Tweetsie is complete without a stop by the gift shop for a souvenir coonskin cap or cowboy hat.
Park is open from early May through October.
Wildcat Lake is a premier attraction in Banner Elk, particularly in warmer months. The 13-acre lake is the centerpiece of a public-access facility that includes a white sand beach, swimming pier and fishing dock.
The most popular activities at Wildcat Lake are swimming, fishing and boating. Lifeguards are on duty during summer hours. Boating is limited to non-motorized boats along with canoes and kayaks. Canoe rentals and paddle board rentals are available at various times of the year.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission stocks the lake with bluegill, largemouth bass and three varieties of trout. Fishing is open seven days a week from dawn to dusk, and NC state fishing licenses are required for those who wish to fish.
Many people say Wildcat Lake reminds them of an old-fashioned swimming hole, and it draws upwards of 20,000 visitors each summer.
An adjacent park (Tufts Memorial Park) provides a bath house, picnic tables and three picnic shelters, all open to the public at no charge. Alcoholic beverages and pets are prohibited.
The park is open seven days a week, weather permitting. The park and lake are owned and maintained by the Grandfather Home for Children. There is no charge to use any of the facilities, although donations are greatly appreciated.
Reservations for use of the picnic shelters are necessary and can be made by calling the Grandfather Home at 828-898-5465.
For more info on Wildcat Lake, click here
For other outdoor fun options in Banner Elk, click here