Pictorial guide of 10 attractions in and around Boone, North Carolina for nature lovers

Why Boone?

My family and I are neither adventure travelers nor tourists who appreciate crowded destinations. We take middle of the road approach instead. We tend to travel to observe culture, history and nature at destinations that are slightly off the beaten path. We researched and found Boone to fit our bill perfectly.

Grandfather and Grandmother Mountains dominate the sky near Boone.
Grandfather and Grandmother Mountains dominate the sky near Boone.

We got our all wishes fulfilled – culture, history, nature, family oriented adventure trips. We loved this destination and its environs and enjoyed our week-long stay thoroughly. If you travel with us through this hub, I am sure you will too.

Driving on Blue Ridge Parkway is the most pleasant experience.
Driving on Blue Ridge Parkway was the most pleasant experience.

1. Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway for ‘Lookouts’

Driving slowly, our first stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway was the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. It is a country estate in the honour of Moses H. Cone in Blowing Rock.

Adjacent to Cone Park is Julian Price Memorial Park, which is a park of 4,200 acres (17 km2) at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, named in honor of Julian Price. It is at milepost 297. While the activities in the park are walking, hiking, cross country skiing, picnicking, we went for horse riding.

Horse riding
Horse riding

There was a very picturesque Price Lake right on the other side of the Parkway. Price Lake offers memorable walk in any season, but we chose to rent out canoes for pedaling. Canoes and kayaks can be rented out at the Outfitter nearby. We saw some anglers there who had rented out fishing gear from the same outfitter.

Driving northeastward on the Parkway, we reached the Grandview Overlook. At milepost 281.4 and an elevation of 3240 feet, the Yadkin Valley is the “grand view” seen below. The beautiful mountains and valleys seem to roll on forever. It is said that Daniel Boone loved hunting in this area and would camp near a water source. Boone’s Camp Branch lies down below in the valley.

We continued driving on the Parkway and rising abruptly to more than 1,600 feet above the surrounding landscape, we saw Mount Jefferson. We got down again from the car to stretch our legs and to take in the scenery.

On the way we also stopped at ‘Predators Exhibit’ providing information about all the predators of the region – vultures, eagles, hawks, owls, black bears, coyotes, etc. However, we were out of luck as even after waiting for a few hours and consuming our lunch, we didn’t get to see any raptors.Click thumbnail to view full-size

2. Hike to the Linville Falls off Blue Ridge Parkway

Linville Falls is located on the at Milepost 316. Trails lead to views of both the upper and lower falls. A moderately difficult hike of 1.6 miles round-trip offers four overlooks.

The views from the top were gorgeous. We spent about 3 hours there just taking in the scenery and to have our snacks.

We visited the lower waterfalls that had created a beautiful scenery of two-level cascading waters, a pond, and tall trees on the circumference.

3. Visit the Visitor Center at the Grandfather Mountain State Park

They don’t call it a visitor centre but this is the first place that you should take your family to start the ‘Conquest of the Mountain’.

We started from the ‘Wildlife Habitat’. We visited the seven environmental habitats to see cougars, black bears, bald eagles, river otters and elk. One can observe the cougars during nutrition enrichment program or see otters playing underwater. One will be happy to note that environmental habitats are large enclosures that allow visitors to see animals in natural settings.

Afterward, we paid a visit to the Nature Museum that featured excellent exhibits about the natural history of the region and theater showing nature movies made on the Mountain.

One can also buy some really good souvenirs at the gift shops. Needless to mention, the two women in the family conducted a shopping blitzkrieg.

All of the above made us hungry and the restaurant with some really good food came in handy.

While we ate outside, wild birds came fluttering around to feed at the backyard feeders, which were placed there by the dozen.

Just before the dusk, all the feeders were taken away in order to protect them from the nightly visit by wild bears.

4. Enjoy the scenery at Grandfather Mountain State Park

Just after the entrance to the Park, we saw two huge rocks, which intrigued us. Stopping to investigate and have a quick photography session, we noticed that they had weights written on them.

The drive up the mountain was the most beautiful we had ever experienced. The motorcyclists provided us company throughout the way.

From the Visitor Center, we drove to the top and noted the Woods Walk picnic area located on the right about 1/3 mile up the summit road. The croaking of ravens fascinated us. When we reached the top of the mountain, it seemed we were on the top of the world. The views were beautiful.

The Mile High Swinging Bridge beckoned us to cross it and join a small crowd heading for the peak. At the peak, we went in trance at the lofty altitude.

An older gentleman showed up with two impressive St. Bernards. Being dog lovers ourselves, we had a friendly chat.

While on a return journey, as the sun still shone on the mountain, we saw many deer that seemed to be habituated to human presence.

It was an adventurous day. We never wanted to drive down the Mountain. Since we had time, the children and I decided to try the hike from the Visitor Center to the Mountain top.Click thumbnail to view full-size

5. Hike on the trails of Grandfather Mountain State Park

The Mountain offers best alpine hiking trails. We decided to take one of the smaller trails – the Bridge Trail – which started from the parking lot some distance above the Visitor Center going all the way to the top. It was described as a ‘moderate climb’ and ‘moderately difficult’

The trail passed through primarily spruce-fir woods and we loved the rosebay rhododendrons. We had to be careful watching the ground all the time as the roots of the Spruce trees meandered like a serpent over the thin layer of soil. We passed a big, neat cave shortly before going under the bridge.

We took a little respite under the swinging bridge and marveled at the work of engineering that went in putting it up. We finally passed underneath the bridge and reached the upper parking area and buildings.

6. Canoeing the New River

Don’t be misguided by the name of this river for New River is the second oldest river of the world.

This was easily the best family adventure for us. We rented out a canoe and a kayak from an outfitter, who was located 20 km from our log house near Boone. The young lad on duty at the Outfitters Station by the New River drove us on a narrow country road, along with the canoe and a kayak, along the river upstream, about 25 kms away, crossing several bridges on the river every now and then. Apparently we were zigzagging on both the banks of the river.

From there it was all up to the three of us – father and two children – to pedal back.

We pedalled what seemed to be calm waters of a shallow river, frolicking, taking in the scenery, taking shots of the forested hills; Rayyan, my son, at his best in cracking jokes. But then it got clouded, still good as the July sun was not bothering us anymore. Before you know it, it started raining – first some drizzles, then steady pour, and finally cats and dogs. This led to a huge problem. The bridges that seemed high above the river initially, letting us pedal underneath easily, were now getting lower (or water level was rising) and getting harder to pedal under them.

Initially, we would let our canoe and kayak sail underneath by lowering ourselves as much as possible, but then finally, even that became impossible. We started portaging the canoe and the kayak downstream of the bridges.

The final mishap came when we were unable to portage our canoe and kayak downstream due to flooding waters and soggy ground that wouldn’t support our weights. We struggled for what seemed ages. A long-haired handsome country lad saw us from his home about 600 yards away and came rushing to our rescue.

When we reached our destination – back to- the outfitters station – it was just before dark.

7. Observe flora at Daniel Boone Native Gardens

Located in the downtown and easily accessible from our log house, we had about 3 hours of a refreshing and educative visit.

The gardens comprised of a bog garden, fern garden, rhododendron grove, rock garden, rock wishing well, vine-covered arbor, pond alongside the historic Squire Boone Cabin, and several grand vistas.

Looking back at the pictures, I realize that we did not have my son with me to this mini-trip. I am curious as being 12 years old then, where was he.

8. Visit the past at the Appalachian Heritage and Native American Artifacts Museum

There are two museums that are located in the same building on two different floors and help to educate visitors about Appalachian heritage and Native American artifacts. The museums are included as part of admission to Mystery Hill and provide an exciting and educational activity for all ages.

Appalachian Heritage Museum:

We walked the corridors carefully to observe the memories of life back in the 19th Century. We saw authentic antiques throughout the house that ranged from sewing machines and household furnishings to books, ledgers and personal belongings. The museum reflected the lifestyle of the Appalachian ancestors.

The Appalachian Heritage Museum was relocated to Mystery Hill in 1989. It was originally located on the campus of Appalachian State University and was formally known as Dougherty House. It was one of the first buildings erected on the school grounds in 1903. After arriving at Mystery Hill, the house was restored to its original status and renamed the Appalachian Heritage Museum.

The Native American Artifacts Museum:

We felt sad at the struggle and the fate of the Cherokee people that inhabited the Appalachian Mountains before they were forcefully made to migrate to inland reserves; hundreds of thousands died on the way.

This museum began as a labor of love for R.E. Mullins and his wife, Irene and turned into a remarkable collection of more than 50,000 Native American artifacts. We saw neatly displayed arrowheads, pottery, pipes and knives collected from 23 different states that told a magnificent story of the native Americans.Click thumbnail to view full-size

9. Marvel at the Mystery Hills

For an outside of the box fun adventure we headed to the Mystery Hill. This turned out to be an absolute fun in an eccentric place nestled in the beautiful heavily forested mountains of North Carolina.

However, at the car park, we realized that there is one ticket to the Hill and the neighbouring Appalachian Heritage and Native American Artifact Museum. We decided to visit the Museum first (see above) as we always do when visiting other lands.

At the Hill and inside the building, the gravitational pull was strong and unusual. All of us got dizzy to certain extent due to lost gravitational orientation, but my son took the worst of it. He got dizzy in the vortex room after having a few minutes of fun where the balls that you threw down the slope started rolling toward you. For those having balance issues or other disabilities, please hold the railings.†

10. Enjoy the stay at log house

We stayed in a log house in Boone during our week long stay. It was surely one of the best stays ever, much better than a 5 star resort. Log houses define the character of southern Appalachia and we wanted to be as much part of the history as possible.

According to an essay printed in the Digital Library of Appalachia, “Historical Survey of Log Structures in Southern Appalachia,” what can now be considered folk art can be traced back to mostly German, Scotch-Irish, English and Scandinavian cultures. This amalgam comprises the very essence of what modern Appalachian culture has become. The first American log homes can be traced back to 1638 in Delaware and Maryland; however, the Appalachian log cabin came from the influence of German and Scandinavian traditions in the 18th century. The masonry can mostly be traced to Scotch-Irish influence, and the design is a nod to the English. Most logs used during that time used would have been chestnut, oak, spruce and poplar.”

And according to “Historical Survey of Log Structures in Southern Appalachia,” the first homes of early settlers were often temporary, one-room structures used until nicer homes were built. The more elaborate, two-story homes had two rooms separated by a hall and a stairway that led to a long upstairs room, building an English style called “Hall and Parlor.”

Some good examples of well-restored log houses within the region are maintained by museums and historic sites, such as Daniel Boon Native Gardens.Click thumbnail to view full-size

Where to stay

Boone can be classified as a city, but to us it appeared like a well developed university town. It has a number of inns and hotels ranging from two to five stars. Also, there are a number of restaurants and international franchises that cater to the local population and the tourists.

Tanger Mall, Blowing Rock, near Boone
Tanger Mall, Blowing Rock, near Boone

My recommendation would be to stay in in a log house that you can either rent out directly from the owners or through a well reputed travel site. I would prefer the latter option in order to avoid any trouble. Also, be prepared to drive a lot to explore all the offerings. A central location is a must.†

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