Last Updated on March 5, 2021
Last Updated on March 5, 2021
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Many folks associate North Carolina‘s High Country with Blowing Rock, Boone, and Banner Elk, the “big three.” However, this wonderful region in the northwestern part of the state is actually made up of seven counties.
While those three big-name towns are the biggest locations here, they’re surrounded by some of our state’s most iconic attractions, too. Some attractions include the Blue Ridge Parkway, some of the best hiking trails, gorgeous waterfalls, and so much more!
Because we’ve been visiting this area for years, our guide has just about everything covered. We hope it’ll help you before and during your stay in this wonderful spot.
Here’s how we’ve organized things in this guide that covers our favorite places to visit in the High Country:
- Blowing Rock
- Banner Elk
- Surrounding High Country Towns & Counties
Counting and Organization Note
Among all the mentioned places to visit in the High Country, we’re counting towns, cities, protected areas, standalone waterfalls and hikes, and state or national parks units (ex. the Blue Ridge Parkway).
Specific spots within these places are not counted though. For example, Appalachian State University and Apple Hill Farm within their respective towns are discussed, but not a part of the count.
We’ve organized this guide alphabetically by the “big three,” followed by additional places to visit in all High Country counties.
Places to Visit in the High Country
If you’re searching for places to stay in the High Country, check out these cool Airbnbs in Boone and nearby towns.
From the moment we first arrived in Blowing Rock, we knew this wouldn’t be our only time exploring.
For starters, it’s home to some of our favorite hotels, like Green Park Inn and Chetola Resort. Visitors also keep coming back for great shopping from locally owned businesses, awesome places to eat, famous tourist attractions like the Blowing Rock, and of course, amazing scenery.
As mentioned, there are great places to stay closer to town, but if you’d like even more seclusion, check out this fun Airbnb between Blowing Rock and Boone. We loved it!
If you ever meet someone who attended Appalachian State University (or App), prepare for them to reminisce about those glorious days living in Boone. In downtown and beyond, you’ll find an amazing restaurant scene, wonderful breweries, and tons of locally-owned shops.
There’s even more to explore, and you’ll see that a weekend in Boone quickly flies by, guaranteeing a second (or third!) trip to experience everything this town has to offer.
The town is surrounded by amazing hikes and waterfalls. A few hikes that we absolutely love reside inside Elk Knob State Park in Meat Camp. We’ll mention quite a few more hikes throughout this guide, so don’t worry about missing out on hiking!
We mentioned places to stay earlier but thought you should know about the Horton Hotel in downtown Boone.
Banner Elk is in a great spot, surrounded by Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain.
Beyond their famous skiing season, this town is home to incredible eats, including the Pedalin’ Pig across from Grandfather Mountain State Park. There’s a location in Boone, too, in case you’re wondering.
Wine lovers will love the gorgeous and inviting Grandfather Vineyard (one of the best wineries in North Carolina), and we recommend the Apple Hill Farm, where we guarantee everyone will have the time of their lives. At Apple Hill Farm, just kick back and let the animals do all the talking.
Surrounding High Country Towns & Counties
As we mentioned earlier, the High Country is not just about the three biggest names in the area. Here are some fun counties and towns that you’ll find elsewhere in the region.
Note: Portions of Blowing Rock (including THE Blowing Rock) sit in Caldwell County. However, due to the remainder of the county falling outside the High Country’s geographic reaches, we’ve decided to leave it out when discussing surrounding towns and counties.
Alleghany County is home to the town of Sparta, as well as plenty of natural beauty. The New River (ironically the world’s second oldest river) and Blue Ridge Parkway both run through the county but the biggest draw here is Stone Mountain State Park, shared by Wilkes County.
The 100-foot namesake waterfalls and massive granite dome at this state park are two major reasons why we love hiking the Stone Mountain Loop, though there are additional falls and gorgeous scenery throughout the park.
We love Ashe County first for its delicious cheese, but you’ll see there’s so much more to Ashe once you visit this area.
The aforementioned New River passes through here but the namesake state park resides in Ashe County. This is a wonderful spot to visit throughout much of the year.
West Jefferson is a fabulous town in the county and home to breweries, a cheese factory, and more. Speaking of more, we hope you’ll be in town when their amazing Christmas tree farms start their “Choose and Cut” season. While there are Christmas tree farms throughout North Carolina, especially in Boone and elsewhere in the High Country, Ashe County is the highest producing county of Christmas trees in the US.
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is also in Ashe County. You can drive to the summit and enjoy beautiful views of its surroundings.
We mentioned Banner Elk but thought we’d share more of Avery County. Parts of Pisgah National Forest and Grandfather Mountain State Park are also here, with the latter’s Profile Trail bringing in folks from all around for epic hikes.
And speaking of Grandfather, the mountain is accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Little Parkway. Some of our favorite parts in Avery County include Linn Cove Viaduct and Beacon Heights, with the latter part of the Tanawha Trail (Rough Ridge and Boone Fork).
Newland is a nice town and the county seat of Avery. Just a short drive from their downtown is Waterfalls Park, which is located just off NC-194. Speaking of waterfalls, Elk River Falls is also in the county and offers epic views after a fairly short walk.
The unincorporated community of Linville Falls sits at the junction of Avery, Burke, and McDowell. We love exploring the fun here (including Linville Falls Winery) and the surrounding Linville Gorge Wilderness that veers into Burke County.
Mitchell County is named for Elisha Mitchell (of Mount Mitchell fame) and home to the world-renowned Penland School of Craft.
Its county seat is Bakersville, one of many arts-heavy communities in the area. Mica Gallery is one of a few galleries that showcase local artists from here and surrounding counties.
Spruce Pine is another great community in Mitchell County and the hosts of the popular SPACE (Spruce Pine Alien Conference and Expo) in June.
Also in Mitchell County is Little Switzerland, shared by McDowell County. While small in size, Little Switzerland is a beautiful area home to an awesome general store, the impeccable Switzerland Inn, and nearby Grassy Creek Falls.
The latter was recently declared closed by some, but we’re still hearing reports of visits and didn’t see any “closed” signs when passing through recently. We hope you respect all of their natural places, and please be sure to leave no trace of your visit when here.
We’ve mentioned all the fun in Blowing Rock and Boone but think you’ll also enjoy the fun towns that surround those two Watauga County Heavyweights.
You’ll pass through parts of Avery County on your way to Beech Mountain, but it’s very much part of Watauga County. This place is known for skiing but also various outdoor recreation, including fishing and cycling. Plus, Land of Oz has returned for seasonal, magical fun.
Seven Devils started as a resort and has since grown into a burgeoning town, offering a retreat for all who visit. Otter Falls is another wonderful spot to visit any time of day, though it does get busy so plan ahead!
And then there’s Valle Crucis, which is home to the original Mast General Store and Crab Orchard Falls, the latter accessible from the Valle Crucis Conference Center.
Wilkes County is also known as the Moonshine Capital of the World and home to the first-ever NASCAR track. It shares portions of Stone Mountain State Park with Alleghany County and parts of Elkin with Surry County.
Wilkesboro is the county seat and North Wilkesboro is the biggest town. Although there are a plethora of fun things to do there, most folks know Wilkesboro for Merlefest. This tribute to Doc Watson’s son brings in huge acts and crowds to Wilkesboro Community College every April.
Burnsville is the biggest town and seat of Yancey County, filled with interesting historic buildings and businesses. We loved driving around and seeking out Barn Quilts but think you could enjoy staying put in town just as much.
Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, towers over it and the remaining Black Mountains from the south. The trail to the top is paved, with an observation tower waiting at the top for all to climb and stare into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Ready to Explore the High Country?
As we continue exploring the High Country, more travel guides will keep popping up. There’s so much more to explore in Banner Elk, and we look forward to sharing it with you. Follow us on social media for more travel updates about this spot, elsewhere in the High Country, and beyond in North Carolina.
Have you ever visited the High Country? We’d love to know which spots are your favorites to visit? If you’re still planning your first trip, we’d also be interested in knowing where you’re going first!