North Carolina High Country is Alive with Adventures

By Charlene & Richard Mixa

These Hills Offer Plenty of Activities and Attractions!

The Mile High Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

The Mile High Bridge at Grandfather Mountain

Activities abound in the North Carolina High Country from high adventure to just kick’n back. Nestled in the corner of North Carolina where the Blue Ridge Mountains cross three states of Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina are the towns of Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, NC. Known as the North Carolina High Country it offers cool, clear, fresh mountain air, many outdoor adventures and easy going activities. Spectacular and panoramic vistas are around every turn on these winding roads. From man-made attractions to the splendid wonders of nature, visitors of all ages will delight in all there is “to do.”

Spending three weeks in a cabin between Blowing Rock and Boone, NC, we have a grand time on our diverse mountain adventures. We do take time to relax, sit on the cabin’s deck at 4,000 feet, admire the magnificent mountain views, and relish in the cool temperatures. Recalling the beautiful words of the song “The Sound of Music”, we note these “hills are alive with the sound of music”. Come along on our adventures in these majestic mountains that can easily speak through a song. 

The Blowing Rock

The Blowing Rock

“I am a rock”–I am The Blowing Rock, North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. An immense cliff 4,000 feet above sea level overhanging the Johns River Gorge, 3,000 feet below, the Rock has the unique phenomenon of a perpetual wind that blows up from the valley below. The path from the gift shop leads us to The Rock and its enchanting Legend. A Cherokee brave and an Indian maiden fall in love. Then torn by conflict of duties and his love, the brave leaps off The Rock. The maiden’s prayers are answered when the wind blows her lover back into her arms. Scenic mountain vistas are visible from the observation tower which stretches out over the deep gorge. The short path winds through a nature trail, past a small pond, a miniature waterfall, and gardens to another overlook with more fabulous mountain views. The Blowing Rock, just on the outskirts of Blowing Rock, NC is a good and easy attraction. The views are terrific and it only takes about 30 minutes. www.theblowingrock.com or 828-295-71111 

The Mixa's at the top of Grandfather Mountain

The Mixa’s at the top of Grandfather Mountain

“Ain’t no mountain high enough”- Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge chain at 5, 946 feet. A globally recognized nature preserve it offers a multitude of activities for guests of all ages. Winding up Grandfather Mountain, the main road has many places to stop and explore. The Mile-high Swinging Bridge is a “must do!” Thrilling! In the middle of the bridge, an engineering masterpiece, the winds swirl around us. Panoramic 360 degree views from a mile-high are breath-taking. Across the bridge we scramble along the rocky ridges and cliffs viewing more mountain scenery. The Nature Museum features the finest collection of North Carolina gems and minerals, the birds of North Carolina, Native American artifacts, and the early explorers of Grandfather Mountain. Adjacent to the Museum, the Animal Habitat is home to animals common to the area. A big black bear cools off in a pond while the brown bear dozes in a cave above, the cougars stalk about, and we also spot the majestic bald and golden eagles. Grandfather Mountain has dozens of trails from gentle forest paths to strenuous hikes through its rugged terrain where wildlife is also plentiful. Only 30 minutes from Boone, NC, plan a half or a full day being sure to take a picnic lunch. Wear good shoes for walking and impromptu hikes. Check out hiking the “Profile Trail” which follows the peaks of the mountains that create the image of a Grandfather. www.grandfather.com

Tweetsie Railroad, Steam Locomotive #12

Tweetsie Railroad, Steam Locomotive #12

“I hear the train a comin’, it’s rolling down the tracks” – it’s the Tweetsie Railroad taking us back in time to the days of cowboys, Indians, train robbers and marauding renegades. Toot! Toot! All Aboard! Hopping on the famous steam engine Number 12, an historic coal-fired steam locomotive, we begin our Wild West Adventure at Tweetsie Railroad. Cowboys jump on to protect us from any potential threats. It’s a real shoot out just around the bend and we duck for cover. Breathing a sigh of relief, the train chugs up the mountain where marauding renegades are attacking Fort Boone! After all this excitement, we arrive safely back at the Depot. Using the map and daily show schedule, we roam the shops on Western Main Street and peek in the hoosegow (the jail). Next it’s southern BBQ at the Feed & Seed Restaurant. Yee Haw! The Tweetsie Can-Can Dancers and Diamond Lil kick up a lively, rowdy 1800s show at the Palace Saloon. Next on stage are the Tweetsie Cloggers with their toe-tapping mountain music and energetic high step dancing. Taking the lift to Miner’s Mountain, we find young and old seeking gems and panning for gold. Dazzling gemstones are found by many. At Deer Park are not only deer but goats, pigs, and ostriches. Mystery and illusion await us at the Mountain Magic Show before we head the midway rides, games and arcade at the County Fair. Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West Adventure with activities and events to thrill all ages. As two senior citizens we had “root’n, toot’n” time. Located between Blowing Rock and Boone, NC off US 321 it is convenient. With one admission price arrive early and stay late. Check out the entertainment to plan your day to catch the shows.www.tweetsie.com or 800.526-5740

“In a Cavern in a Canyon” inside Humpback Mountain Linville Caverns is a magnificent cave created by nature. Taking the half hour tour to explore the splendor and wonders “inside a mountain”, our guide Matthew, leads us into the depths of the cavern along a well lit, level walkway. Over one million years, water has dissolved the limestone and dolomite forming passageways into the mountain while mineral in the water creates intriguing formations. One looks like an alligator, another an Indian and one resembles George Washington. Tales of soldiers hiding out in the cave during the War Between the States are verified on a large sandbar where relics were found to support the story. TOTAL DARKNESS! Turning off the lights in the cave, we experience the unique and bazaar sensation of no light. Without light the average human would go crazy in a few weeks. Amazing, almost a 100 years ago two teenage boys survived in cave’s total darkness for several days before finding their way out. Our tour takes us through many rooms of the cave and Matthew continues to provide a wealth of information. Overall a great tour!  Since the Linville Caverns are about an hour from Boone, plan to include other activities along the way and making it a day trip. Take Rt. 105S out of Boone or the Blue Ridge Parkway south and reverse on the return trip. Off Rt. 105 stop by Crossnore to see the fresco, “Suffer the Little Children” at E. H. Sloop Chape, as well as, the Crossnore Weavers: A Working Museum and the Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery. On the Parkway stop at Linville Falls, the Linville Cove Viaduct and the Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Manor. www.linvillecaverns.com or 1-800-419-0540 

Richard on Hawksnest Zipline - FUN!

Richard on Hawksnest Zipline – FUN!

“Zip-A-Dee Do Dah, Zip-A Dee-Yah!” At Hawksnest, the longest zipline course on the East Coast, we soar over a river, forest, pond and large grassy meadow. Learning to use our dominant hand with its padded glove as a brake, we zip off to encounter the Hawk Tour of 10 cables and a swinging bridge. Zipping at up to 50 mph! Lightly squeezing the cable with the gloved “brake hand”, we slow down to land gently on the platform. It’s a blast! One cable is 1800 feet downhill and we pick up speed quickly. Another has a “swag” so maintaining our speed to have enough momentum to reach the next platform is critical. The guides Caleb, Charlie and Emily are extremely conscientious assuring all zipline guests are safe. A “must do!” Hawksnest is in Seven Devils, NC off Highway 105S, between Boone and Banner Elk. An adventure for the entire family as the minimum age is 5 years old. www.hawksnestzipline.com or 800-822-hawk 

“Up a Lazy River” flowing north from it’s beginning in the lofty peaks of the North Carolina Mountains a New River kayak excursion is a trip “up this lazy river.” Wahoo Adventures in Boone, NC has us kayaking the New River late on a Friday afternoon, finishing in Todd, NC for dinner and bluegrass music at the Todd General Store. Loading two bright orange kayaks we are quickly on this crystaline river and ready for a mild, calm adventure. Beware of rocks! Low, shallow water calls for paying attention to not get stuck. Several mild rapids add a little excitement but the beauty of the peaceful, mountain scenery makes this a serene trip. A lot of floating with some steering and a little paddling is all that’s needed. Getting out of the river at Todd, NC, the shuttle picks up the kayaks and we head over to the Todd General Store for a homemade dinner plus some Bluegrass Music. Wahoo’s Adventures has all types of water adventures to offer visitors to the North Carolina High Country. Jeff Stanley and his team our great at finding the right adventure for visitors and giving extra suggestions of things to d. www.WahoosAdventures.com or 1-800-444-RAFT 

"The Last Supper"  Frescoe at Holy Trinity

“The Last Supper” Frescoe at Holy Trinity

“Going to the Chapel” in Ashe County to see the Frescoes of Ben Long in the chapels of St. Mary’s and Holy Trinity. A fresco is a complex process of mixing sand and lime, placing the mix on a wall and painting it while it is still wet. Michelangelo used fresco for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.   Italian trained in fresco painting, Ben Long’s first three frescoes were of “Mary Great with Child,” “John the Baptist” and “The Mystery of Faith” at St. Mary’s in West Jefferson, NC. Holy Trinity has the intense and moving fresco of the twelve disciples at “The Last Supper”. We sit in awe at the beauty, mystery, complexity and spiritual aspect of each of these fresco paintings housed in these quaint small chapels. A recording explains the fresco process, the communities’ enthusiastic involvement, and an in-depth description of all that is depicted in these divine frescoes. At Holy Trinity a down stair’s room has frescoes by Ben Long’s students and other religious paintings and statues. The frescoes are well worth seeing and are about 40 minutes from Boone. A suggestion is go to St. Mary’s outside West Jefferson, then have lunch in this charming town and a visit to the Ashe County Cheese Factory. Next head over to Holy Trinity at Glendale Springs then return via the Blue Ridge Parkway. www.churchofthefrescoes.com

“I’m the son of a preacher man” actually Father Tim is the preacher man and comes to life in An Evening with Father Tim.” Thisstaged reading takes us through the life, loves, challenges, and convictions of this Episcopal priest in a small mountain town. Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a fictional town of Mitford, the play is based on the Mitford series books by Jan Karon. Mitford is supposedly based on the residents and town of Blowing Rock, NC. Stephen T. Ware, as Father Tim, is dynamic in this one man show as he takes us through this inspiring tale of a small town priest, his deep abiding faith and the intertwining lives of people in the community. Marian & Robert Hayes Performing Arts Center is a beautiful theater which is home to the Blowing Rock Stage Company, Theatre, musical performances, dance and classic film series. Check their website for other productions when visiting the area. www.hayescenter.org 

Cruising down the Virginia Creeper Trail

Cruising down the Virginia Creeper Trail

“In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” on the Virginia Creeper Trail delight on an invigorating mountain bike ride. A National Recreation Trail the total trail is 34 miles long connecting Abingdon, VA with the Virginia-North Carolina border and was previously the Virginia Creeper railroad line. Getting our sturdy mountain bikes at the Blue Blaze Bicycle and Shuttle Service, we load the van for a 30 minute shuttle ride to Whitetop Station. Getting on the bikes it’s 17 miles downhill on the Virginia Creeper Trail. Don’t peddle, just coast! The trail is a gentle downhill slope! An easy, scenic and shady ride it passes through a mountain forest, grassy meadows, over bridges, and along cliffs among flowering Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron. Stops are available along the trail for refreshments, bathroom facilities and picnicking. Reaching the bottom of the trail in Damascus, we roll into Blue Blaze Bicycle to return the bikes. An enjoyable afternoon and non-stressful mountain bike experience! Damascus is an hour from Boone, but well worth the ride to experience the Virginia Creeper Trail. All ages will have a great time biking the trail. Pack a picnic lunch and make an afternoon of it taking time to stop and explore vegetation, foliage and the creek along the trailside. www.blueblazebikeandshuttle.com or 800-475-5095 and www.damascus.org

Backbone Rock Tunnel - "The World's Shortest Tunnel"  outside Damascus, VA

Backbone Rock Tunnel – “The World’s Shortest Tunnel” outside Damascus, VA

So much to do and so little time! These just highlight the many activities of the North Carolina High Country and all that these mountain towns offer. With the Blue Ridge Parkway along the mountain top magnificent scenery is easy to find, as well as easy and challenging hikes. Each town is unique from upscale shopping in Blowing Rock to the Mast General Store, an old fashion general store in Valle Cruces and Boone. Fishing is plentiful in rivers and streams, as well as gem mining, museums, farmers markets, and even wineries. And yes, “These Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music” with many weekend concerts, festivals and shows.

If you go:

Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, 7738 Valley Boulevard, Blowing Rock, NC 28605; 877.750.4636 or 838.295.4636; www.visitblowingrock.com

Boone & Watauga County Tourism; www.exploreboonearea.com

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.