Overnight Trips from Asheville
Distance from Asheville: 93 miles northeast, almost 2 hours by car
Population: 1,500, growing to 8,000 in summer
Tourism Information: 159 Chestnut St., Blowing Rock, 828-295-4636 or 877-750-4636, www.blowingrock.com
Blowing Rock, though only about 9 miles from Boone, is about as different from the sprawling college town as it can be. The little town of Blowing Rock is compact, and you get the sense that a lot of the summer residents and visitors have money to spend. Main Street and other streets of the village are lined with upscale shops and galleries. Restaurants skew to the expensive side, though there are some value eateries, too. The visitor information center is in the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (159 Chestnut St., Blowing Rock),
With an elevation near 3,600, the town is usually cool in summer, and over the course of winter you can expect up to 3 feet of snow.
Among places to stay in the Blowing Rock area, Westglow Resort & Spa (224 Westglow Circle, Blowing Rock, 828-295-446, www.westglowresortandspa.com) gets the top nod, and its restaurant, Rowland’s, is highly rated, too (though expensive, with dinner entrees starting at $35, and with a full meal, drinks and tip expect to pay at least $100 a person). Westglow Resort rates are sky high -- $850 to $1,000 a night double in-season, with meals. Spa charges can add hundreds more.
One of our favorite spots to stay and eat in Blowing Rock is The Inn at Ragged Gardens (203 Sunset Dr., Blowing Rock, 828-295-9703, www.ragged-gardens.com). It’s in the center of the village, within walking distance of most things. The rustic lobby has stone floors and a chestnut-paneled reading room. The guest rooms are cozy, and the restaurant, The Best Cellar, at several different locations has been a fixture in this area for almost 40 years. Inn rates are around $140 to $250, more for a suite or cottage, and the restaurant dinner entrees run about $20 to $45.
The Village Cafe (146 Greenway Ct., Blowing Rock, 828-295-3769, www.thevillagecafe.com) is down a short path from Main Street, with a garden patio, open only for breakfast and lunch late April to early November. The Village Cafe is moderately priced (lunch is around $10 to $15, eggs Benedict for breakfast $10), has long been popular and is often crowded. Another casual, moderately priced spot, just outside the village, is Canyons (8960 Valley Blvd., Blowing Rock, 828-295-7661, www.canyonsbr.com). The food here is just so-so, and the place needs an upgrade, but the views are terrific.
Distance from Asheville: 100 miles northeast, about 2 hours by car
Tourism Information: Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, 870 W. King St., Suite A, Boone, 828-264-2225, www.boonechamber.com or High Country Host, 1700 Blowing Rock Rd., Boone, 800-438-7500, www.highcountryhost.com
Boone is the only true college town in Western North Carolina. Appalachian State University, with some 17,000 undergrad and graduate students at the main campus, totally dominates the town. Some App State students live in nearby towns such as Blowing Rock, and some are not included in the population estimates for the town. Also in Boone is a satellite campus of Caldwell County Community College & Technical Institute, with about 1,800 students. Watauga County, where Boone is located, has a population of around 52,000.
The main street through Boone, West King Street, has small shops and restaurants and gives off a college town vibe, but the suburban areas around Boone, especially Blowing Rock Road (U.S. Highways 221/321) sprawl with fast food and motel chains. The center of the ASU campus is Sanford Mall, a grassy quad named for former North Carolina governor and Duke University president Terry Sanford. Rivers Street divides the campus into east and west sections. The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts (423 W. King St., Boone, 828-262-3017, www.tcva.org) has six art galleries and two small sculpture gardens. Admission is free.
In 2012, Boone was listed among the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. by US News & World Report.
The town is named for pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone, who in the 1770s camped in what is now the city of Boone. In the summer, an outdoor drama, Horn in the West (591 Horn in the West Dr., Boone, 828-264-2120, www.horninthewest.com) tells the Boone story. Tickets are $18 for adults and $9 for children. The adjoining 3-acre Daniel Boone Native Gardens has native plants (open daily May-October, admission $2).
At an elevation of around 3,300 feet, Boone is in what is called the High Country of Western North Carolina. The surrounding mountains offer snow skiing, boarding and tubing, rock climbing, hiking, fishing, rafting and camping, and the Blue Ridge Parkway route comes near Boone and Blowing Rock. Appalachian Ski Mountain and the snow tubing resort, Hawksnest, are near Boone. Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain ski resorts also are fairly close by.
For dining in Boone, Vidalia Restaurant & Wine Bar (831 W. King St., Boone, 828-263-9176, www.vidaliaofboonenc.com) is a small street-front spot with creative versions of Southern dishes such as smoked chicken with potato gnocchi dumplings. Dinner entrees are around $14 to $25, and lunch is around $12. For family-style home cooking, with heaping plates of fried chicken, country ham, along with country vegetables, the Dan’l Boone Inn Restaurant (130 Hardin St., Boone, 828-264-8657, www.danlbooneinn.com), the oldest restaurant in Boone, will still fill you up. Nuanced it ain’t, but sometimes we just want to stuff ourselves with ham biscuits, overcooked green beans and peach cobbler. Dinner is $17 for adults and breakfast is $10.No credit cards, no reservations except for large groups. F.A.R.M. Café (617 W. King St., Boone, 828-386-1000, www.farmecafe.org), open Monday-Friday for lunch only, is a "pay what you can" community café. F.A.R.M. means Feed All Regardless of Means. Enjoy locally sourced Southern food with a conscience. For a casual lunch or dinner, we still like Red Onion Café (227 Hardin St., Boone, 828-264-5470, www.theredonioncafe.com), which has loads of salads, soups, pizzas, burgers and sandwiches at moderate prices, mostly $8 to $17. Lost Province (130 N. Depot St., Boone, 828-265-3506, www.lostprovince.com), popular with students, is a downtown brewpub specializing in wood-fired pizzas.
For a more upscale dinner, try the Gamekeeper (3005 Shulls Mill Rd., Boone, 828-963-7400, www.gamekeeper-nc.com), in a woodsy rural setting outside of town. The menu includes ostrich, bison and duck entrees, along with beef, pork chops and lamb. Entrees are around $22 to $30, but with appetizer or salad, drinks, dessert and tip you’ll likely pay closer to $75 to $90 a person. Another upmarket dinner option is Joy Bistro (115 New Market Centre, Boone, 828-265-0500, www.joybistroboone.com), which offers Italian and French dishes, along with good steaks burgers. Entrees range from $11 to $32.
Note that at long last Boone voted in liquor by the drink, so you can have a cocktail with dinner, not just wine or beer.
Lodging choices in Boone are mostly chain motels. Among your better options in the suburban sprawl outside downtown are Holiday Inn Express, Fairfield Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Hampton Inn, La Quinta and Country Inn & Suites.
For something more interesting, a good bet is the 15-room The Horton (611 W. King St., Boone, 828-832-8060, www.thehorton.com), a boutique hotel that opened in early 2019 in a 1920s building in downtown Boone. It has a popular rooftop bar and is within walking distance of the App State campus and shops and restaurants. Double rooms with breakfast start from $209 in high season. For a B&B, try Lovill House Inn (404 Old Bristol Rd., Boone, 800-849-9466, www.lovillhouseinn.com), run by the same innkeepers for many years. At the edge of town on 11 acres, this charming B&B has rates from around $130 to $220 a night, and all six rooms have cable TV, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning. Some rooms have fireplaces. Rates include a full hot breakfast.
Distance from Asheville: 65 miles west, about 1¼ hours by car
Tourism Information: Bryson City-Swain County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, 210 Main St., Bryson City, 828-488-3681 or 800-867-9246, www.greatsmokies.com
Note: We have included Bryson City under both day trips and here in overnight trips, because you can do it either way.
Bryson City is one of the North Carolina gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Deep Creek entrance to the park, only about 2 miles from Bryson City, is popular for river tubing and also has a nice picnic area and campground. There are three waterfalls just a short hike away from the Deep Creek entrance. Lakeview Drive, which was to have stretched some 30 miles along the north shore of Fontana Lake, was never finished. It is better known as the Road to Nowhere and takes you 6 miles from Bryson City into the Smokies, ending at a tunnel mouth. (See Great Smoky Mountains National Park section.)
The early 20th century Bryson City business district, mainly along Main and Everett streets, seems to have been mostly taken over by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (226 Everett St., 828-586-8811, www.gsmr.com) and businesses trying to cash in on it. The tourist railroad makes Bryson City its headquarters and main depot, running sightseeing train trips along the Tuckasegee River to Dillsboro and through the Nantahala Gorge to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Schedules and fares vary seasonally, and on whether you ride in open-air cars or first class enclosed cars, but adults usually pay from $51 to $67 and children 2-12 pay $29 to $38. Meals, if you want to dine on the train, are extra. Tickets on the railroad include admission to Bryson City Model Railroad Museum, good for kids though a bit commercial. Bryson City Train Depot on Everett Street, a one-story frame building, was constructed in 1895 by Southern Railway, a successor to the Western North Carolina Railroad. In the early 20th century there were four passenger trains daily between Asheville and Murphy, stopping in Bryson City. The original depot now serves as part of the headquarters of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
Horace Kephart, author of Our Southern Highlanders and who with Dr. Kelly Bennett of Bryson City helped lead the effort to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, lived in an apartment above the former Bennett’s Drugstore (32 Everett St.). The drugstore, which closed in 2010 after some 100 years in the same family, is now a used bookstore called Friends of the Marianna Black Library Book Store.
The former Swain County Courthouse (Main and Everett Sts.), designed by architects Frank Pierce Milburn and Richard Sharp Smith and completed in 1908, is a small but striking example of Neoclassical Revival architecture, with a gold-colored octagonal cupola. The columns at the front are Ionic. The courthouse building is now used as a senior center.
Kituwah (off U.S. Hwy. 19 between Bryson City and Cherokee, near the confluence of the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee rivers) is considered one of the “mother towns” and a mythical birthplace of the Cherokee. Kituwah was probably occupied starting around 8000 BC. British soldiers burned the town during the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1761. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee repurchased the 309-acre Kituwah site, where today only an earthen mound remains, in 1996. In 2009, Duke Energy began building a large electrical substation overlooking Kituwah, but objections by the Cherokee forced Duke to move the site.
The former Bryson City Bank, a handsome brick building completed in 1908, houses a boutique hotel and restaurant, Everett Hotel Bistro (16 Everett St., 828-488-1934, www.theeveretthotel.com). The Bistro is the best restaurant in town. For lunch, don’t miss The Filling Station Deli Sub Shop (145 Everett St., 828-488-1919, www.thefillingstation.com), in an old gas station. This joint (counter service only, with a few seats outside on the sidewalk) does sandwiches as they should be done. The Cuban, called High Test, is muy bueno. Most sandwiches and subs are around $6 to $7.
Places to stay: Everett Boutique Hotel, (16 Everett St., 828-488-1976, www.theeveretthotel.com) in the former Bryson City Bank Building, is a charming inn with 10 rooms and suites, one on the first floor, seven on the second and two on the third level (there is no elevator). Rates are high for Bryson City -- over $300 in-season for the suites -- but worth it. Fryemont Inn (245 Fryemont St., 828-488-2159 or 800-845-4879, www.fryemontinn.com), a rustic inn on a hill above Bryson City, completed in 1923, has poplar bark shakes on the outside, and a large stone fireplace and chestnut paneling inside. The inn has 37 rooms in the main lodge. The original owners were Amos and Lillian Reginia Rowe Frye, both attorneys. Lillian Frye was the first woman to graduate from the University of North Carolina School of Law and the first woman to be admitted to the bar in North Carolina. Rates at the Fryemont Inn range from around $145 to $275, including breakfast and dinner. The main lodge is closed December-March, although cottages and cabins are open year-round.
Hemlock Inn (Galbraith Creek Rd., 828-488-2885, www.hemlockinn.com) won’t suit everybody, but it you want to be out in the country and you don’t mind no-frills rooms, with no TV, phones or Wi-Fi, and country cooking served family style, you may be among those who become repeat guests here. Rates are around $200 for a double room with breakfast and dinner. There’s something of a Christian atmosphere, and alcohol can be consumed only in rooms.
Distance from Asheville: 70 miles southwest of Asheville, 1½ hours by car
Population: 4,000 in Franklin, about 35,000 in Macon County
Tourism Information: Discover Franklin, 828-524-2516, www.discoverfranklinnc.com
Franklin is an entry point into Western North Carolina from Hotlanta, so it and Macon County have seen recent growth. Frankly Franklin doesn’t offer much to visitors beyond some touristy gem mining (it bills itself as the “Gem Capital of the World,” an example of municipal self-promotion beyond rational comprehension), a Scottish Tartan Museum (86 East Main St., Franklin, 828-524-7472, www.scottishtartans.org) and a lot of fast food restaurants. But go take a look at it if you desire.
Distance from Asheville: 73 miles southwest of Asheville, about 2 hours by car
Population: 1,000, swelling to 15,000 in summer
Tourism Information: Highlands Chamber of Commerce, 269 Oak St.,
Highlands, 866-526-5841; www.highlandschamber.org
If you know people from Palm Beach or Atlanta’s Buckhead, you may run into them in Highlands. This small town, whose population swells by 10 to 15 times in summer and fall, is the tony top of the mountains, both in elevation and finance. Though no longer the highest incorporated town in the East (Beech Mountain now takes that honor at over 5,500 feet), Highlands’ elevation of around 4,100 feet gives it cooler summers than Asheville. The typical home for sale in Highlands in early 2013 listed for over $850,000, and many homes go for $1 to $2 million or more.
Main Street downtown is lined with boutiques, gift shops, antique stores and upmarket restaurants. The little town has four different theater groups, ten golf courses (mostly private), a chamber music series and several spas.
For upscale dining, think about Ristorante Paoletti (440 Main St., 828-526-4906, www.paolettis.com), the Italian favorite in Highlands for about three decades; Wolfgang’s (474 Main St. 828-526-3807, www.wolfgangs.net), with an eclectic menu and, like Paoletti’s, an excellent wine list; or, out of town on Harris Lake, Lakeside Restaurant (Smallwood Ave, Highlands, 828-526-9419, www.lakesiderestaurant.info) with excellent steaks and other items. Cyprus Restaurant (470 Dillard Rd., Highlands, 828-525-4429, www.cyprushighlands.com) is a happening spot with an eclectic “international” menu, with dishes from Cambodia, China, Mexico, India, Japan and elsewhere, along with American entrees such as a cowboy ribeye and Prime New York strip. Figure you’ll drop $75 or so per person, or more, at any of these spots.
The top place to stay in Highlands is the totally redone Old Edwards Inn (445 Main St., Highland, 866-526-8008, www.oldedwardsinn.com) with a variety of upscale options including the restored historic main inn, nearby cottages and houses. The inn’s main restaurant, Madison’s, is very good, and the inn has a nationally recognized spa and golf packages. Rooms in season start at round $300, and the inn is often fully booked weeks in advance. Just across Main Street yet far less fancy, but with character and affordable prices, is the historic 130-year-old Highlands Inn (420 Main St., Highland, 828-526-9380 or 800-964-6955, www.highlandsinn-nc.com), with rates starting at $139.
Highlands also has a number of good B&Bs, including 4½ Street Inn (55 4-1/2 St., Highlands, 828-526-4464, 888-799-4464, www.4andahalfstinn.com) and Colonial Pines Inn B&B (541 Hickory St., Highlands, 828-526-2060 or 866-526-2060, www.colonialpinesinn.com). Both are reasonably priced.
While in Highlands, take a quick side trip to Cashiers (pronounced CASH-ers), about 20 minutes or 10 miles away, an even tinier village (year-round population just 250). High Hampton Inn (1525 NC 107 South, Cashiers, 888-647-0820, www.highhamptoninn.com) may be too old-fashioned and 1950ish for your tastes, but some families have been coming here for generations. Frankly, we are charmed by the 1,400-acre mountain resort with the main inn, shingled in poplar and chestnut, dating from 1932. There is a golf course and tennis courts. Motorcycles and RVs aren’t permitted on the property. Note: High Hampton is under new management and is currently closed for a thorough makeover. There’s good food at The Orchard (905 NC 107, Cashiers, 828-743-7614, www.theorchardcashiers.com) and, for less money, at Cornucopia (16 Cashiers School Rd. off NC 107, Cashiers, 828-743-3750, www.cornucopianc.com).
Distance from Asheville: 90 miles southwest of Asheville, about two hours by car
Tourism Information: Graham County Travel and Tourism, 387 Rodney Orr Bypass
Robbinsville, 828-479-3790 or 800-470-3790, www.grahamcountytravel.com
The little town of Robbinsville itself has little to recommend it to visitors. However, Robbinsville is the county seat of Graham County, two-thirds of which is national park or national forest. Two-thirds of Graham County is National Forest lands. Graham County is the home of the wonderful Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest with its ancient virgin trees and the Nantahala National Forest, and it borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail crosses the county. Fontana Lake and Lake Santeetlah are both a short drive from Robbinsville. The county has several scenic roads, including the “Tail of the Dragon” (Highway 129) with 318 curves in 11 miles and the 50 mile-long Cherohala Skyway.
The classic place to stay in Graham County is Snowbird Mountain Lodge (4633 Santeetlah Road, Robbinsville, 828-479-3433 or 800-941-9290, www.snowbirdlodge.com), a mountainside lodge that dates to 1940. The main lodge building is built of stone with paneling of chestnut, cherry, sourwood, maple and other native woods. The dining room serves excellent meals. Another option is Peppertree Fontana Village Resort (300 Woods Rd., Fontana Dam, 828-4982211 or 800-849-2258, www.fontanavillage.com) in the Nantahala National Forest near Fontana Lake. The resort, parts of which were originally constructed during World War II to house workers building Fontana Dam, has a variety of accommodations including cabins, rooms in the main lodge and an RV and tent campground. There is also a marina with boat rentals.
All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.
We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.