Early last fall when the leaves were just beginning to turn and the world was still open for exploration, my family and I enjoyed a long weekend in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. We try and visit often. It’s one of our favorites.
Though author Jan Karon has never confirmed it, many believe her fictional town of Mitford was based on Blowing Rock. She did begin writing the novels while she lived there. Also, many local attractions appear within the books. One thing is certain. Blowing Rock provides more than enough mountain town lures to fill a novel. Here are three reasons to make your way there when travel restrictions are lifted.
1. Indoor and Outdoor Fun
Blowing Rock Art and History Museum
Well curated changing exhibitions and programs make BRAHM a “must visit” no matter how often you come to Blowing Rock. The museum came to be thanks to a Charlotte art collector’s wish to find a permanent home for his collection of works by North Carolina native Elliott Daingerfield. Daingerfield was a seasonal Blowing Rock resident and a prolific figure in American art at the turn of the 20th century.
Upcoming exhibitions include Marjorie & Louis, scheduled for a summer opening. The exhibition showcases the marriage of two distinct artists and their life and work during their many years living in Blowing Rock. Marjorie was the daughter of Elliott Daingerfield. Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual: Tradition and Innovation is set to open in late August and run through January 30, 2021. Established in 1946, it’s the oldest Native American artists’ cooperative in America. The exhibition showcases the story of Qualla’s founding and development and features archeological artifacts and contemporary crafts. Visitors can also engage with Cherokee art first-hand through immersive activities.
Main Street Musts
After your time at the museum, tuck into a few of the many boutique shops along Main Street for unique gifts and locally made items. I loved the stained glass, photography, jewelry and art available at Main Street Gallery, a member-owned artist cooperative. Windwood Antiques and Carriage Trade Living are the perfect spots for antiques lovers (though you should also venture out to Blowing Rock Antique Center and Possum Hollow Antiques).
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Kilwin’s Chocolates where you’ll find freshly made chocolates, fudge and gourmet ice cream. The Backstreet Bakery offers everything from mouth-watering pastries to made-from-scratch Italian bread.
From kayaking, canoeing and tubing to caving, mountain biking and hiking opportunities, there’s something for every outdoor lover. Established in 1978, Wahoo’s provides outdoor adventures for all ages and experience levels. Want to extend your time outdoors? They even offer cabins and camping spots along the New River.
Make time for a visit to Grandfather Mountain. Located just outside of Blowing Rock in Linville, Grandfather Mountain offers 11 trails for every level of hiker. Learn more about the area’s wildlife at the Nature Museum, which houses several exhibits. Gain insight into the state’s gems and minerals (62 different kinds are on display), including Tar Hill gold specimens. Nature videos filmed at Grandfather Mountain play on loop throughout the day. Daily programs like animal encounters, interpretive talks and a junior ranger program are also on offer.
Don’t miss a walk along the Mile High Swinging Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in the country. At over a mile in elevation, it boasts stunning 360-degree views of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding scenery. Also, make sure to wake up early one morning to take in a sunrise along Linn Cove Viaduct. You won’t regret it!
Tweetsie dates back to 1882, when the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad started up in Johnson City, Tennessee. It earned its name from locals who became accustomed to the shrill “tweet” of the train’s whistles. Locomotive No. 12 was constructed in 1917 as one of the 13 narrow-gauge ET&WNC steam locomotives. When rail service to Boone ceased in 1940, all steam locomotives were sold or scrapped — except for No. 12.
Meticulously restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Tweetsie’s No. 12 continues to delight rail fans of all ages. It opened as a theme park in 1957 — North Carolina’s first — and features Western-themed rides where costumed actors provide an exciting adventure along the way. The park also features an animal park, amusement rides and live shows.
High Gravity Adventures
This fun zip line park is situated next to Tweetsie Railroad. I’ve zip lined several times over the years, and this was my best experience so far. Your canopy tour includes multiple zip lines, sky bridge and 1,700 feet of zipping. Our guides were fun and engaging. Their “small group” rule provides a smooth tour — less standing on the platform waiting for everyone else. The guides do the hand braking for you, too. It was nice to not stress about slowing myself down in time.
I highly recommend adding the Giant Swing to your tour. The giant pendulum swing pulls you up 45 feet, then you pull the ripcord to release it. I can’t remember when I’ve scream-laughed so hard. It was fantastic. We didn’t have time to do the Adventure Park, but it looked like a lot of fun. There are more than 75 challenges and three levels of climbing.
2. Great Local Eats*
The cozy dining room serves up rustic lodge vibes — not in a primitive sense, though. It’s more of an elegant casual mountain atmosphere with cloth tablecloths and softly lit with twinkling lights and table candles. Twigs boasts an extensive wine list – over 200 bottles to choose from. They also have a great craft beer selection, including many from North Carolina breweries.
The menu showcases their close relationship with local farms, co-ops and artisans. They incorporate seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Choose from menu items like fried Brussels sprouts, North Carolina shrimp cocktail, mountain rainbow trout and Joyce Farms chicken breast. Vegetarian items are also available, some of which can be prepared vegan.
Bistro Roca & Antlers Bar
Established in 2005, Bistro Roca is a true neighborhood restaurant. The Antlers Bar has been open since 1938! Their inventive American bistro menu changes with the seasons, and they source ingredients locally as much as possible.
Their wood-fired oven cooks pizzas topped with just about everything from goat cheese to guacamole. Other pizza options include Mediterranean chicken (smoked olives, almond pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, manchego, parmesan and balsamic) and Antlers (marinara, Italian sausage and mozzarella). The Beyond veggie burger was on point. It’s served with Ashe County cheddar, lettuce and tomato. Our other favorites were shrimp and grits (with bourbon red-eye gravy, sweet peppers, Benton’s bacon and scallions), shaved Brussels sprouts and braised collards.
Other restaurants worth consideration:
The Best Cellar Restaurant
Located within The Inn at Ragged Gardens, this restaurant has been a Blowing Rock favorite since 1975. Many popular dishes have been menu staples for almost as long, though new dishes are added often. Try their crab cakes or the Best Cellar Tuna. There’s a lot on their menu for veggie lovers, too — fresh vegetable pasta, as well as sides like stuffed zucchini and pan sautéed Mediterranean beets. Save room for dessert. They’re prepared fresh each day on site.
The Speckled Trout and Bottle Shop
Situated on the corner of Main Street and U.S. 221, the building housed a gas station in the 1950s. Today it’s a restaurant/bottle shop combo, where the menu celebrates the roots of Appalachian cuisine and beverage culture. Nosh on their 13 Mile Burger, served with Ashe County hoop cheese, or opt for their fresh mountain trout — almond herb, blackened or cracker crusted. Signature cocktails like Dr. Frankenstein (orange liqueur, seco port, lemon juice, tequila, mescal, scotch and orange peel) and Oh Captain, My Captain (brandy, sweet vermouth, angostura and an olive) are among several tasty tipples on their Bottle Shop menu. Add to that over 200 wines and a distinct selection of craft beers and ciders.
*If you’re lucky enough to live near Blowing Rock, these restaurants are offering edited versions of their menus for take out!
3. Charming Stays
The Meadowbrook Inn
The Meadowbrook Inn is a convenient home base for your Blowing Rock getaway. It’s just a block from the shops, galleries and restaurants situated along Main Street. Recently renovated, the property comprises 62 guestrooms fitted with coffeemakers, flat screen TVs and other amenities. VIP Suite guests enjoy open-air patios, whirlpool tubs and a wet bar. Our spacious room included a cozy fireplace with a nice sitting area for morning coffee or evening night cap.
Get your workout in at the onsite fitness center. Cool off after with a dip in the indoor pool. A complimentary High Country breakfast is served daily and coffee, tea and fruited water is available in the main lobby from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.
The hotel patio features a fire table and ample seating, making it a great place to socialize with other guests over a glass of wine in the evening. Probably the most unique feature of Meadowbrook Inn is their rooftop apiary, with two hives of Italian hybrid honeybees. It’s the first to be approved by the town. The grounds are lovely, and the educational garden on property is pretty cool, too. It provides guests a chance to see heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers that have been grown for generations. Grab some duck food at the front desk and make friends with the pond’s feathered residents. There’s a small bridge that stretches over the creek with trees and other greenery providing a nice bit of shade.
In Cherokee, the word Chetola means “haven of rest.” I can’t think of a more fitting name. Spanning some 87 acres, the resort is made up of a luxurious lodge and inn, as well as more than 100 condominiums situated in the lush mountainside.
Don’t miss a meal at Timberlake’s Restaurant – named for iconic North Carolina artist and designer Bob Timberlake. Art featured within the wood-paneled lodge include vintage fishing poles, lithographs of barns and moonlit landscapes by the artist himself. Popular menu items include shrimp scampi sautéed with kale, mushrooms, garlic and white wine served over pasta. They also serve a Southwestern rice bowl with corn, bell peppers, fresh salsa, black beans and avocado over Southwestern rice pilaf — a sure bet for plant based eaters.
The resort is also home to the only Orvis-endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge in North Carolina, and you can sign up for one of their fishing clinics. Other on-site activities include tennis and pickle ball, the use of paddle boats and kayaks, a 9-hole disc golf with a 3-hole practice course, a playground and a variety of lawn games (think cornhole, spike ball and volleyball). Guests can also take part in guided hikes, or explore on their own along well-maintained hiking trails.
Of course, if you want to make the most of this “haven of rest,” head to The Spa. The mission-style design features furnishings and decor by Bob Timberlake, Charleston Forge and local artists. Choose from relaxing treatments like reflexology, river rock hot stone massage, a Swedish massage or acupuncture. I love that they use Sacred Earth products, which are vegan. The resort’s wellness center includes an indoor heated pool, dry sauna and a Jacuzzi.
The resort also earned the AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping award. Every AAA Inspected and Approved hotel must meet expected standards of cleanliness and condition scores to receive a Diamond rating. However, properties awarded the Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping designation must significantly surpass expectations.
“Visit” Before the Visit!
Until we’re clear to travel again, you can still enjoy the many lures of Blowing Rock. The Virtual Visit: Connect at Home provides virtual hikes, museum visits and other local activities.
You can also take a tour of Chetola Resort virtually!
(Go Magazine May-June 2020)