If you’re looking for the best outdoor things to do near Boone, North Carolina, we’ve got you covered. Boone is known for beautiful views on the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, fun attractions like Tweetsie Railroad, and plenty of fun things to do suck as hiking at Moses Cone Memorial Park or scenic drives along the Linn Cove Viaduct.
James Richardson shares his tips for outdoor things to do near Boone. This could be a fun addition to your next boomer road trip in North Carolina. After visiting the Biltmore House in Asheville, head north for some mountain fun.
Like the country song, I’ve Been Everywhere, popularized in the 1960s by Hank Snow, talks about, I feel like I’ve been everywhere. But that is really impossible to have been “everywhere.”
Even seasoned travelers cannot have been “everywhere.” My bride of 55 years and I have been a lot of places, especially in Tennessee and North Carolina, but not “everywhere.”
Since my son moved to North Carolina early in his career, we naturally visited him and took in a lot of places in that state, particularly in the western part. He lived in Asheville (have you seen the Biltmore House at Christmas?) and we made many trips all across Tennessee and into North Carolina.
Some of our favorite spots in western North Carolina are the Blue Ridge Parkway, the eastern part of the Smokies around Cherokee, southward through Silva and Brevard, across the Cherohala Skyway, and the area around Boone.
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The Best things to do near Boone
Boone is an interesting destination because of its location centered in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and the surrounding countryside. Boone is the home of Appalachian State University and the headquarters for the disaster and medical relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.
It was humorous that when we visited Boone and went by the campus of Appalachian State, there was still a sign remembering the football game held on September 1, 2007. It commemorates the time Ap State defeated the University of Michigan, then the number 5 ranked team, at the “Big House” in Michigan.
There are several destinations near Boone that are worthy of a visit. Exploring Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Linn Cove Viaduct, are just a few of the many outdoor things to do near Boone.
Visit Blowing Rock
The mountain village of Blowing Rock, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, has plenty of amenities for visitors, including shopping, restaurants and the interesting Blowing Rock Museum, also known as the Brahm Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (website here).
But we’ve come for outdoor fun, so let’s start with how Blowing Rock got its name. The area get its name from the unusual rock formation jutting out over a gorge.
Derived from a Native American legend, Blowing Rock is an immense cliff 4,000 feet above sea level overhanging Johns River Gorge. A phenomenon occurs because the rocky walls of the gorge cause wind to sweep upwards with such force that it returns light objects thrown into the gorge. Hence, the name.
There is an Indian legend about Blowing Rock that involves a heartbroken Chickasaw maiden who mourned the loss of her Cherokee brave. It’s why the wind blows upwards. Intrigued? Read the story here.
Ride the Tweetsie Railroad
Another popular attraction in the town of Blowing Rock is the Tweetsie Railroad, a theme park and a Wild West amusement park. The main attraction of the park is the three-mile ride on a train pulled by one of Tweetsie Railroad’s two historic narrow gauge steam locomotives.
Tweetsie Railroad opened in 1957 as an excursion train ride aboard steam locomotive #12. It is the only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET & WNC).
The engine, built in 1917 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, was used to haul passengers and freight over the Appalachian Mountains between Johnson City, Tennessee, and Boone, North Carolina. Another steam locomotive was obtained from Alaska White Pass and Yukon Route in 1960. It was also built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1943 for the U. S. Army.
On its route through the scenic countryside a passengers on the Tweetsie Railroad encounter robbers and Indians on the returm trip.
The park also features a variety of amusement rides, live shows at the Tweetsie Palace Saloon, a zoo, and other attractions geared towards families with children. We enjoyed the show at the Saloon.
Tweetsie Railroad is open from early April through October. Don’t miss the select nights in late November through December for the Tweetsie Christmas event. Check the website for operating times and directions.
Stop by Mast General Store
Just west of Boone is the small town of Valle Crucis. The original Mast General Store is located there. The first store opened in 1883 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
It is the center of the small town and houses the post office. There are now ten Mast General Stores scattered throughout North and South Carolina. We thought it was a must see because we had seen signs for it around the area.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone
The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway passes between Boone and Blowing Rock. Of course, we wanted to travel a few miles on it because of the road’s scenic overlooks and points of interest.
The Parkway connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina. The route is mostly along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We found several good spots for taking photographs at the parkway’s overlooks. In addition, we took time to investigate interesting attractions along the way.
Boomer Travel Tip
Benchmark’s Southern Appalachians Road & Recreation Atlas will introduce you to more North Carolina scenic drives and recreational opportunities.
Hike at Moses Cone Memorial Park
Moses Cone Memorial Park (website here) is located at Milepost 294 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We appreciate the marking of mileposts as it is a great way to denote locations for the points of interest.
Moses Cone was a textile magnate in the early 1900s. He and his wife built the Flat Top Manor as a summer retreat. It is so-named because of its location on Flat Top Mountain.
The park contains a visitor center, 25 miles of hiking trails, and the Parkway Craft Center. We took time to explore a portion of trails which offered some nice views of the countryside.
Get active at Julian Price Memorial Park
Adjacent to the Moses Cone Memorial Park is the Julian Price Memorial Park at Milepost 297 on the Parkway (website here). It consists of 4200 acres and sits at the foot of Grandfather Mountain.
Julian Price was an insurance executive who bought this acreage as a retreat for his employees. The park has Price Lake and a number of picnic sites and campgrounds along with a 300-seat amphitheater. It also has the largest campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
You’ll find a total of seven trails at Julian Price Memorial Park: a two and a half mile loop trail around Price Lake, the Boone Fork Loop Trail of five miles, and the Tanawha Trail of 13.5 miles. The Tanawha Trail passes under the Linn Cove Viaduct and circles Grandfather Mountain.
Admire the Linn Cove Viaduct
The Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1243 foot long concrete bridge that sits along the base of Grandfather Mountain, is an engineering marvel.
The viaduct was finished in 1983 and was one of the last projects of construction on the Blue Ridege Parkway. It is a marvel because of the difficulty of putting a bridge on the rocky slope of the mountain.
The Linn Cove Viaduct has a special memory for us. During a time that we were writing stories for several motorhome magazines, we wanted to get pictures of this iconic structure, hopefully, with a motorhome on it.
We took the Tanawha Trail, hiked under the viaduct, and found a location that afforded a good view of the curve of the road. We perched upon a rock and waited.
Our patience paid off and we captured several images of recreational vehicles on the bridge. We were fortunate in that one of those photographs was published on the cover of two national magazines (unfortunately both are now extinct.)
Walk the swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain
We did get to visit Grandfather Mountain. At 5946 feet tall, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Grandfather Mountain State Park (official website) adjoins to a privately operated section and there is a fee for that part of the mountain. The privately operated portion has several hiking trails totaling thirteen miles and a nature museum called the Wilson Center for Nature Discovery.
But the high point (pardon the pun) is the mile-high swinging bridge. It links two peaks and truthfully, it does swing.
The winds at this altitude make walking across the bridge an experience. But it is well worth the effort and the views.
Interestingly, there are no fees associated with the state park. But it should be noted that in order to guarantee admission to the privately operated portion of Grandfather Mountain, which includes the nature center, hiking trails, and the swinging bridge, guests must buy tickets online at the Grandfather Mountain website.
The website notes that on weekdays there may be a limited number of tickets available at the entrance to the park. That was confusing to us but it is worth the entry fees to see the exhibits and to walk across the bridge.
Enjoy the mountains of Western North Carolina
A visit to the mountains of western North Carolina is an ideal way to discover some beautiful scenery and escape the crowds of the nearby Smoky Mountains. Now, we love the Smokies, but there is a lot to see in this part of North Carolina.
From the extreme western tip of the Nantahala National Forest to the Pisgah National Forest just south of Boone, this section of the state is richly adorned with mountain scenery, sprinkled with waterfalls and whitewater.
There are many exciting attractions to make an interesting excursion into the mountains of Western North Carolina. We especially like to take waterfall hikes and there are a lot of those in this part of the state.
Our visit to Boone and its surrounding towns and attractions was a very worthwhile experience. We appreciated the natural beauty of the area and the number of interesting spots that we encountered.