48 Hours in Blowing Rock: A weekend of adventure in a Carolina mountain town

Blowing Rock.
Blowing Rock. Zainub Razvi
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A Carolina mountain legend tells of two star-crossed Native American lovers from warring tribes who confronted their clashing backgrounds and desire to be together on the windy cliffs of the Johns River Gorge. Torn between love and duty, the brave jumped from the cliff, was blown back into the arms of his love, and the Legend of the Blowing Rock was born.

This passionate tale captures the essence of its namesake, the romantic town of Blowing Rock. Victorian estates and mountain bungalows surround downtown’s eclectic mix of locally-owned restaurants, pubs, and destination shopping lining the historic main street. Authentic Blue Ridge charm? Check. Cozy B&Bs? Check. Miles of trail to some of the most scenic streams, waterfalls, and peaks in the region? You’ve got it. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and make "the Crown of the Blue Ridge" your base camp for 48 hours of outdoor adventure.

Friday Night

Grandfather Mountain.
Grandfather Mountain. Osajus

Warm up for your weekend activities with a hike on the 3.2-mile Glen Burney Trail, starting downtown in Annie Cannon Gardens and following New Year’s Creek out and back to three waterfalls.

When you’re ready to settle in, you can be as close to nature—or as close to a soft bed and warm shower—as you like, and still be minutes from outdoor recreation. Hike into one of Grandfather Mountain State Park’s 13 backcountry campsites for a peaceful evening under the stars or pitch a tent at one of Julian Price Memorial Park's drive-in campsites off the Blue Ridge Parkway. For creature comforts and a quick trip downstairs to the pub for all your meals, book a room at the New Public House & Hotel. Trying to impress that special someone? Gideon Ridge Inn will do the trick with high-end luxury, including afternoon tea, fireside farm-to-table dining, and sweeping mountain views from every window.

Saturday

Price Lake.
Price Lake. Joe Flood

Start your day with a stop at Footsloggers on Main Street to pick up maps, get directions, and make those I’m-on-vacation-so-why-not gear purchases (who can resist?). Camp Coffee, the in-store coffee house, serves up your freshly-roasted caffeine fix while you shop.

Just three miles outside downtown, a trail runner’s paradise awaits at Moses Cone Memorial Park. Explore 25 miles of wide, non-technical natural surface pathways winding across the 3,500-acre estate of denim magnate Moses Cone. Rolling hills take you past lakes and through stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel. The moderate climbs to Rich Mountain and Flat Top Tower up the cardio challenge and reward with panoramic views. Stop by Cone’s mansion after your run to check out the galleries that now showcase the work of regional artisans.

Head up the road four miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway to access miles of trails for any level of hiker. The 0.2-mile climb to spectacular views on the Beacon Heights Trail or the 2.7-mile stroll around Price Lake are both great options for novice hikers. The 5.5-mile Boone Fork Trail is more difficult, with rocky scrambles through mixed hardwoods and past waterfalls and streamside sandbars. Experienced hikers can tackle both distance and elevation on the 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail, which parallels the parkway and passes under the iconic Linn Cove Viaduct to climb Rough Ridge. Tanawha’s continuous climbs and descents take you from mountain top heather and spruce forest to creek valley rock gardens thick with ferns and mountain laurel tunnels.

Knackered from all those miles on the trail? Get your Brit fix at Six Pence Pub, where you can savor a pint alongside traditional English dishes like bangers & mash, fish & chips, and shepherd’s pie.

After lunch, travel the parkway 12 miles south of Blowing Rock to summit Grandfather Mountain for 360-degree views and spectacular ridgeline hiking. Explore the peak from the mile high, 228-foot suspension bridge, or negotiate the cables and ladders of the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail out to Calloway Peak. Starting at the base of the mountain, take the east or west trail to experience the elevation change that makes Grandfather one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the Southeast.

Saturday Night

Blowing Rock golden hour.
Blowing Rock golden hour. Patrick Mueller

After a long day on the trail, it’s time to recharge at Blowing Rock Ale House Restaurant with hearty high country fare and a flight of their award-winning flagship brews. The beer-braised pulled brisket tacos with green tomato salsa and Carolina bison burger with stout glaze are just a couple of the entrees that make beer the star. Another option is relative newcomer to the Blowing Rock dining scene, Bistro Roca offers up a pub-meets-tapas vibe with creative combinations like confit NC rabbit tamales, coconut braised chicken thighs, and wood-fired mountain trout.

Follow dinner with a time-honored tradition in Blowing Rock, a dessert stop at Kilwin’s. The sweet aromas of homemade fudge and waffle cones wafting down Main St. lead to the line that’s usually spilling out Kilwin’s front door for Mackinac Island fudge, ice cream, and cases of confections too numerous to mention, all made in-house daily.

Sunday

Rocky Knob.
Rocky Knob. Brian Greer

Start your second day in Blowing Rock with breakfast at the historic Village Café. Built in the early 1900s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the cabin originally housed workshop space for local artisans who sold their spinning, weaving, basketry, and woodworking crafts to Blowing Rock tourists. Now, the cozy interior entices you to linger over specialties like Belgian waffles, eggs benedict, and made-from-scratch fugasa toast (an Argentine sourdough recipe).

Blowing Rock offers more than a weekend’s worth of adventure, so today is all about options. Go big this morning with High Gravity Adventures' 10-zipline adventure course, ending in a 70-foot free fall you won’t soon forget. Or, if you prefer climbing, Rock Dimensions provides the expertise and equipment for a day of top-rope climbing at one of the Southeast’s premier climbing destinations, Linville Gorge. There’s also the easily-accessible Blowing Rock boulder field with about 20 problems ranging from V2-V10.

If singletrack is calling your name, head out to the tight and technical trails at Rocky Knob Park in nearby Boone. Tackle around eight miles of climbing switchbacks, rock gardens, log bridges, boardwalks, berms, and fast downhills over 185 acres of intermediate terrain. Emerald Outback at Beech Mountain offers almost seven miles of rooty single and doubletrack—all above 4,700 feet. Dramatic climbs and descents lead to expansive views, especially on the Southern Ridge Trail. Load your bike and ride the chairlift to the top from June through September.

As your weekend is winding down, don’t leave town without stopping for a bite at Canyons Restaurant. The historic tavern has served mountain travelers since the 1930s as a speakeasy, tavern, casino, and more. Enjoy burgers, Southwestern specialties like an enchilada with green chile, and sweeping views of Grandfather Mountain from the outdoor patio.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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