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.
This downtown Banner Elk outfitter specializes in white-water rafting, kayaking, rock climbing and rappelling. The family-run business encourages getting outdoors as a family unit.
White-water rafting trips are popular group excursions. Children as young as 4 years old can participate. Groups board buses in Banner Elk head to Elizabethton, Tenn., about 45 minutes away. Edge of the World guides have a reputation for their G-rated comedy show during the bus ride. Rafting takes place on the Watauga River. The trip downriver lasts about three-and-a-half to four hours, including lunch. The outfitter is known for serving a home-cooked meal of fried chicken and all the fixings, including homemade trail mix. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are also available. Another Edge of the World signature is what is known as the Anaconda Rerun. Rafters can go through the largest rapid, Anaconda, as many times as they like.
Torrent kayaks, where riders sit on top of the craft, are also available for rafting trips. Children must be 12 years old for kayaking. Rock climbing and rappelling are open to all experience levels. Children must be 12 years old, or at least 100 pounds. The daylong adventure involves a trip to the Little Lost Cove Cliffs in the Wilson Creek Wilderness area with views of Grandfather Mountain. Instruction covers three phases: emphasizing safety, building self-confidence and respecting the mountain. One popular feature of the day is the 60-foot overhanging rappel, which allows climbers to be suspended in the air.
All equipment needed for any of the trips is included. Trips can be booked online or by phone. Discounts are available for children and large groups. The season runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Edge of the World also operates a snowboard shop. During the winter, customers can purchase boards, clothing and other gear before hitting one of the nearby slopes.
The Emerald Outback Trail Park, located near the summit of Beech Mountain, is a mutli-use trail system created by the Beech Mountain Parks and Recreation Department. The Emerald Outback is one of the highest trail parks east of the Rockies, with elevations up to 5,400 feet above sea level.
The trail system is open year-round. It consists of seven trails covering about eight miles of terrain. Five of the seven trails are rated as moderate to advanced in degree of difficulty, while two trails are rated as easy. USA Cycling’s Collegiate Mountain Biking National Championships have twice been held in the Emerald Outback.
The trails are open to mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners. They flow through lush forests and over rocky, rooty terrain. There are three scenic overlooks, as well as several other vantage points that provide long-range panoramic views.
There are three ways to access the trails: (1) via the Base Lot across from the Visitors Center in the town of Beech Mountain; (2) via the “Summit Lot” that is located higher up the mountain near the trails; and (3) via the chairlift at Beech Mountain Resort. The lift, which is equipped to carry mountain bikes, operates every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from early June through late September. Please note: there is no charge to use the trails, but there is a fee to ride the lift.
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, river otters, white-tailed deer, 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.
High Mountain Expeditions, which opened in 1986, helped pioneer whitewater rafting guide service in the North Carolina mountains. The focus is on providing reliable, knowledgeable and experienced guides.
High Mountain Expeditions has four outposts in the NC mountains, including one in Banner Elk on Tynecastle Highway. The company specializes in rafting adventures on the Nolichucky River, Watauga River and rugged Wilson Creek, as well as tubing on the gently-flowing New River.
Other expedition services include hiking, mountain biking and caving. Families are welcome, with activities for children as young as three.
Gourmet-quality food includes a hearty selection of fresh meats and cheeses, artisan breads, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, and homemade desserts. High Mountain Expeditions is also known for having good quality gear that is kept in tip-top shape.
Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park is an extreme playground for cyclists in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park occupies 185 acres just east of Boone off U.S. Hwy. 421. Eight miles of custom-built trails weave through the forest, offering a one-of-a-kind way to explore the High Country. Single-track trails accommodate all skill levels, from the moderate 1.5-mile Rocky Branch Loop to the three-quarter-mile Ol’ Hoss Trail exclusively for experts. The trails are also accessible to hikers and trail runners.
A pump track with rollers, berms and other features allows riders to learn and improve their bike-handling skills. The Rocky Knob pump track is one of the first in the country to incorporate informational signs to teach riders the skills required to master the track. Necessary skills vary from beginner to advanced, including such things as proper body position, pumping, bunny hopping, “manualing” and wheel lifts. Cyclists can practice at four skills parks on the property.
Kids enjoy the adventure playground, where they climb ladders, slip down slides and teeter across a ropes course. The park also includes a picnic shelter and bathrooms. For those who want to visit the park but don’t have a bike, two local shops in Boone — Boone Bike and Touring, and Magic Cycles — offer rentals. The park often plays host to races and special events.
In 2014, Rocky Knob Park was designated a National Recreation Trail system by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Volunteers from Boone Area Cyclists, a local nonprofit, contributed more than 3,500 hours of work to establish the park. Volunteers meet once a week for “dirty Thursday” to work on trail maintenance.
Sky Valley is a treetop zip-line adventure. Located between Boone and Blowing Rock, the property covers more than 140 acres of old-grown forest. The course includes 10 zip lines, as well as a swinging bridge over a 35-foot waterfall and a cliff jump.
The journey starts with an ATV ride through the river and up the mountain. “Ground School” is an informational session before the zip-line tour where rangers explain the equipment, give zipping instructions and allow participants to train on practice lines. Two rangers accompany each tour group.
The first three zips are warm-ups. Then comes Big Mama, a 1,600-foot zip line that’s 300 feet above the ground. That single zip takes about 40 seconds, and riders reach speeds of more than 30 miles per hour. The scenery is the star for the entire tour. Riders zip over and through trees while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Sky Valley is appropriate for beginners and experienced zip-liners. The tours are great outings for families, groups of friends or company retreats. Kids must be 10 years old to participate, and riders must weigh between 70 and 250 pounds. Those younger than 18 must have the signature of a parent or guardian. The tour takes about two-and-a-half to three hours to complete. A photographer accompanies each tour to capture memorable moments. Closed-toe shoes are required. Tours run rain or shine, so rain jackets are recommended. It’s chillier in the High Country than at lower elevations, so participants should dress in layers.
Sky Valley often partners with other area attractions, such as breweries and river outfitters, so keep an eye out for packages. Advance reservations are encouraged. More information is available at 855-475-9947 or www.skyvalleyziptours.com.
Banner Elk has approximately 1.1 miles of greenway trails. The trails begin at Tate-Evans Park in downtown Banner Elk. The park itself has a trail that loops a third of a mile around the grounds. The park also has two playground areas, wading pools, a volleyball court, picnic tables, a covered picnic shelter and an amphitheater. The park holds special events and concerts throughout the year.
The greenway trails head in two directions from the park. The lower portion goes southward and loops around just outside the park or continues along Shawneehaw Creek and the eastern edge of Lees-McRae College. The greenway creates a convenient, safe and scenic pedestrian connector between the college and the shops and restaurants downtown. Just past the Mill Pond, a footbridge leads across Elk River. Also along the trail is Banner House Museum, the restored 19th-century home of one of Banner Elk’s original settlers.
The upper portion of the greenway follows the Shawneehaw Creek north from Tate-Evans Park and runs parallel with Main Street until ending at Dogwood Road. The greenway passes right by The Banner Elk Inn, a historic bed-and-breakfast. Flat Top Brewing Company is located near the greenway’s northern end point. Whether you’re strolling downtown for a pint or getting in your daily exercise, the greenway trail is a valuable resource.
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.