Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on September 20, 2023.
With so many wonderful things to do in Banner Elk, North Carolina, this is truly the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Banner Elk is a truly special small town in Avery County, near the northwest border with Tennessee.
When you first park along Main St, you’ll be blown away by the views of the mountains that surround the town. Spend an afternoon doing some shopping in Banner Elk and eating at Banner Elk’s most charming restaurants.
If you’re not hooked on Banner Elk by then, the many things to do in the High Country town and its surroundings are sure to change your mind!
Let us take you through all the activities offered in this Avery County town.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide (Categories in Bold followed by Sub-Categories):
- Where is Banner Elk?
- Annual Events in Banner Elk (Wooly Worm Festival and More!)
- The Best Things to Do in Banner Elk Throughout the Year
- Eat at these Banner Elk Restaurants
- Things to Do in Banner Elk’s High Country Neighbors! (Boone, Blowing Rock, and More)
- Blue Ridge Parkway Day Trips from Banner Elk (Nearby Stops and Hikes)
- Hiking Trails near Banner Elk
- Waterfalls near Banner Elk
- More Things to Do in Banner Elk and Avery County (Related Posts)
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Banner Elk area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
Where is Banner Elk?
To the south are Burke (Morganton and Linville Falls) and McDowell Counties (Marion and Old Fort, and parts of Little Switzerland), and to the west is Mitchell County (Bakersville, Spruce Pine, and the rest of Little Switzerland).
If you’re looking to take a day trip from our favorite Western North Carolina city, Banner Elk is 75 miles from Asheville (a 1.5-hour drive). However, we think that there are so many things to do in Banner Elk that you’ll want to stick around even longer!
The History of Banner Elk
Before we dig into the best things to do in Banner Elk, it’s important to understand the town’s background. Here are a few quick facts about Banner Elk:
- Like many other mountain towns, the Town of Banner Elk was previously inhabited by Cherokee Indians.
- The first known white settlers were Delilah Baird and John Holtsclaw, who arrived in 1825. Their son Alfred B. Baird was the first white child born in what would become Banner Elk.
- The first permanent settlement in the town was established in 1848 by Martin L. Banner.
- He moved away for a few years and his brother Lewis moved to the area in 1856. His 8 children were the first of many Banners, as the Banner family grew to 55 members. Thus, it’s fitting that the area was known as Banner’s Elk.
- The “Elk” part of the name came from the elk that actually lived in the area before overhunting and habitat loss led to their disappearance.
- A post office named Banner’s Elk arrived and opened in 1875.
- Banner’s Elk grew into a vacation retreat and to accommodate the demand for lodging, the Banner Elk Hotel was built in 1892. There are many more places to stay today, as the town continues to attract visitors from all over.
- The NC General Assembly incorporated Banner Elk in 1911.
Annual Events in Banner Elk
Before we share year-round things to do in Banner Elk, here are some of the town’s most special events. The town really comes alive in March and doesn’t rest until the end of the year, as evidenced by the whirlwind of seasonal events listed below.
- The Golden Easter Egg Hunt (March or April): Eight days before Easter, the annual Golden Easter Egg Hunt brings together families for a day of fun at the Historic Banner Elk School.
- Arts on the Greene (Summer Special Holidays and Weekends): During four weekends each summer, Art on the Greene adds art and crafts to the green space at the Historic Banner Elk School. The event is held on Memorial Day weekend, July Fourth weekend, a weekend in early August, and Labor Day weekend.
- Singing on the Mountain (June): is one of North Carolina’s oldest events, kicking off each June in Banner Elk. It’s a free gospel music festival and the longest-running of its kind in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
- Fourth of July Parade (July): Banner Elk’s Fourth of July Parade starts at the Lees-McRae College library and runs through the heart of town. Another major event in July is the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville.
- Concerts in the Park (July through August): From the beginning of July to the end of August, Banner Elk’s Concerts in the Park take over the town each Thursday evening. Bring lawn chairs and blankets to soak in an evening of live music.
- The Wooly Worm Festival (October): Taking place on the third weekend in October, the Woolly Worm Festival is probably the best-known event in Banner Elk. It predicts the weather of the upcoming winter and is accompanied by a variety of festivities.
- Ocktoberfest and Trunk or Treat (October): Other October events are Ocktoberfest at Sugar Mountain Resort (second weekend in October) and Trunk or Treat (October 31) in Banner Elk.
- A Small Town Christmas (December): A Small Town Christmas is the last major event in Banner Elk and takes place on the first weekend of December. The weekend kicks off with the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree and is followed by a variety of Christmas-themed events over the next few days.
Please note that many of these events may be subject to change. We’ll continue to keep an eye on them and make updates as things change.
Ski Resorts and Snow Tubing in Banner Elk
If you’re planning a winter visit, all three places offer great skiing and snow tubing options. They technically surround town but we still consider them among the best things to do in Banner Elk!
Read More: Ski Resorts in North Carolina
If you’re looking for the highest ski area in the Eastern US, Beech Mountain at Beech Mountain Resort is the place for you. The peak elevation reaches 5,506 feet, and they have 17 trails for all skiers.
Beech Mountain is an excellent spot to visit during the summer too! Take the scenic chair lift up to the top and enjoy a beer at 5506′ Brewery!
As you ride the chair lift up, make sure to look down and watch the fearless mountain bikers as they conquer the trails below. There are also disc golf trails for those who prefer to hike up the mountain. Afterward, stop into the taproom for a delicious meal!
There’s also Autumn at Oz, held at the Land of Oz (near Beech Mountain Brewing’s 5506′ Taproom) at the end of summer/early fall. That Beech Mountain event is worthy of everyone’s Banner Elk itinerary, including yours!
Sugar Mountain Resort
The honor of having the largest vertical drop in the NC Blue Ridge Mountains at 1,200 feet and the biggest ski area goes to Sugar Mountain Resort! It’s one of the best things to do in the NC mountains, with 21 different slopes and 8 ski lifts.
Skiing is great, but have you tried snow tubing? Hawksnest has the largest snow tubing park on the east coast.
The lines move pretty fast, so spend your whole day perfecting your form as you tube down the slope!
Things to Do in Banner Elk Throughout the Year
While some of these things to do in Banner Elk are still seasonal (for example, skiing), you can still visit these places throughout the year.
Downtown Banner Elk
It would be a great disservice if we didn’t first mention the views of Banner Elk! At an elevation of 3,701 feet, this town boasts stunning views.
You can stroll or drive along Shawneehaw Ave (NC-194) and Main St (NC-194) to take it all in. When we visit during the winter, our ultimate favorite thing is to take in the snowy scenery.
You can also find great shopping in Banner Elk. There are lots of local shops and souvenir stores in downtown Banner elk to explore in the evenings!
We also love stopping at the Mill Pond or Tate-Evans Park for a relaxing walk. Parking can get tricky on busy weekends, but you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot if you arrive early enough.
Read More: Winter in North Carolina
Visitors of Banner Elk are welcome to explore the beautiful campus of Lees-McRae College.
You can explore the 450 acres of this campus, which sits at a total elevation of 4,000 feet. That makes Lees-McRae the highest campus on the East Coast.
There are some interesting buildings to admire while walking around Lees-McRae, which include the Banner House Museum.
If you’re in town between June and September, stop by the Banner House Museum for a tour and look into 19th-century life. The circa-1870 house is the former home of Samuel Henry Banner and his wife Jane Hyder Banner.
The wildlife alone will keep you enthralled. If you’re an animal lover, we recommend visiting the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
They take in more than 1,500 injured and orphaned wildlife patients a year and offer educational and entertaining presentations.
More Things to do in Banner Elk
Banner Elk Winery & Villa
Banner Elk Winery & Villa is the area’s original winery and a great place to start sipping. Stop by for a tasting, take home some bottles, or book an event or wedding after you’ve fallen in love with this place.
We’d also like to note that Banner Elk Winery is an excellent location for kids! They have a large pond and lots of space for supervised children to run around. And if you’re lucky, there is even some fish food around!
The Tatum family will make you feel right at home in their tasting room, and they share extensive knowledge of their delightful wines.
Read More: North Carolina’s Best Wineries and Vineyards
Family-Friendly Things to Do in Banner Elk
Apple Hill Farm
If you’re looking to unwind, Apple Hill Farm will do you good! Here, the animals run the show! The name is a little misleading, as the farm focuses more on the animals than apple-picking.
The drive up to the farm is quite relaxing. Once there, you can take a group tour or a private tour of the farm to meet and greet your new furry friends.
Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster
Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is the first of its kind in Western North Carolina, having just opened in 2020. Feel the wind against your face as you ride down their mountain in a two-person cart reaching speeds close to 30 mph.
The Coaster remains open throughout the year and is a great place to visit near Sugar Mountain.
Wilderness Run Adventure Course
Brand new in 2022, the folks at the Alpine coaster built a brand new ropes adventure course! Meant for you to explore at your own pace, and traverse the ropes, stairs, and swings as best you can.
One of their excellent guides will be up in the course with you to help you navigate and give tips on how to successfully make it to the top. And if you’re traveling with younger kids, there is a smaller course just for them too!
Sugar Creek Gem Mine
Not far from Sugar Mountain and the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster is Sugar Creek Gem Mine. You can walk in without a reservation, but you should call ahead during the busy season.
This gem mine is brimming with precious and semi-precious gemstones–it’s a guarantee that you’ll take home some beautiful stones! They also offer the opportunity to make jewelry out of your finds.
The Original Mast General Store
The Original Mast General Store is technically in Valle Crucis, but you have to go here if you’re in the High Country!
They have you covered from moon pies to outdoor gear to history lessons. We always travel out there for at least two out of those three. And if you are hungry afterward, we recommend eating at Over Yonder across the street!
Just a little bit outside of downtown Banner Elk is Wildcat Lake, a 13-acre lake that is owned and operated by Less-McRae College. The lake features beautiful white sand, a fishing dock, several play structures for kids, and picnic shelters.
Swimming is only permitted during the Summer months when a lifeguard is on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Non-motorized boats are allowed and the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission stocks the lake with bluegill, largemouth bass, and trout. North Carolina fishing licenses are required.
The Best Banner Elk Restaurants
We love eating in Banner Elk and have a few places to recommend, so we hope you brought your appetite!
Banner Elk Cafe
What’s better than one delightful restaurant right in the heart of Banner Elk’s downtown? Two restaurants!
Banner Elk Cafe & Lodge has you covered with two different menus that will surely please your palate. Their cabin-like ambiance is a delightful way to spend an afternoon after your mountain hikes, and they often have live music for entertainment!
Bayou Smokehouse & Grill
For Cajun and Texas Cuisine, you should go to Bayou Smokehouse & Grill, where you can order cajun gumbo with your smoked ribs! This is a delightful spot for groups, children, and dog-lovers as they cater to the whole family.
You can even stop by the adjoining Bayou General Store for some souvenirs!
If you’re a barbecue lover, the trip to Banner Elk would be worthwhile just to experience the fall-off-the-bone delicacies at Pedalin’ Pig! Eating here is a lovely experience for more than just the food.
Outside, there’s a pond, waterwheel, and friendly ducks to visit. With a big open dining room, it’s a great spot for groups and families.
Read More: Restaurants in Boone
Ready to Enjoy these Fun Things to Do in Banner Elk?
We’re thrilled to have experienced all these fun things to do in Banner Elk (and nearby) and can’t wait to get back to this awesome mountain town! If you’re familiar with the area, we’d love to know about your favorite spots and activities.
In case you haven’t made it yet, we’re curious to know what you’re going to do first! Either way, let us know here in the comments section, and feel free to share your Banner Elk photos in our Facebook Group!
Things to Do in Banner Elk’s Surroundings
We love the High Country and think you’ll enjoy these fun things to do in Banner Elk’s neighboring towns and landmarks!
Nearby High Country Towns
You could spend an entire week just in Banner Elk, but if you feel like venturing out, there are quite a few amazing places within an hour’s drive.
Boone and Blowing Rock are two of the biggest names nearby, each 35 minutes away and full of fun things to do. Of course, you could spend days exploring these and other lesser-known places in the High Country.
- Linville Falls (30 minutes away)
- Blowing Rock (35 minutes away)
- Boone (35 minutes away)
- Little Switzerland (55 minutes away)
- Switzerland Cafe
- Switzerland Inn
- Bakersville (1 hour away)
- Burnsville (1 hour away)
- Marion (1 hour away)
- Mount Ida
- Tom’s Creek Falls
- West Jefferson (1 hour away)
- Ashe County Cheese
- Christmas Tree Farms
- Mount Jefferson State Natural Area
- New River State Park
We will mention a few of these things to do in Banner Elk’s surroundings (i.e. things to do in NC mountains) in more detail since many are either hikes, waterfalls, and/or sit near the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Boone
Blue Ridge Parkway Day Trips from Banner Elk
The quickest way to access the Blue Ridge Parkway from Banner Elk is about 20 minutes away via Linville. You can also catch it from Moses Cone Memorial Park, located 5 minutes from downtown Blowing Rock (MP 294.1).
Here are some of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway stops (along with their milepost) within an hour of Banner Elk:
- EB Jeffress Park (MP 272.8): Home to the Cascades Trail, which we’ll mention in our “Waterfalls near Banner Elk” section.
- Moses Cone Memorial Park (MP 294.1): A beautiful historic home that overlooks a lake. Walking paths that lead to glorious views of the surrounding mountains.
- Rough Ridge Trail (302.8): We’ll mention Rough Ridge and a few other Blue Ridge Parkway stops in our “Hiking Trails near Banner Elk” section.
- Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304.4)
- Beacon Heights Overlook Trail (MP 305.2)
- Grandfather Mountain Overlook (MP 306.6): One of the most beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks in our opinion!
- Linville Falls (MP 316.4)
- Little Switzerland (MP 334)
- Crabtree Falls (MP 339.5)
One thing to keep in mind is that the Blue Ridge Parkway does close during periods of erratic weather, especially in the High Country. You can follow closure info on the road’s website.
Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Hiking Trails near Banner Elk
We’ve checked out quite a few hiking trails near Banner Elk but thought you should know about our favorites in the area.
Banner Elk to Grandfather Mountain: 13 miles (23 minutes)
Banner Elk to Grandfather Mountain State Park Profile Trail: 7 miles (13 minutes)
You have a couple of options for hiking around Grandfather Mountain. There is a state park side with a private park owned by the non-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
The most popular option is the swinging bridge in the ticketed area, easily accessible via elevator or car. The free state park has a more strenuous hike along the profile of the mountain for some gorgeous views.
Read More: All North Carolina State Parks Sites
Banner Elk to Beacon Heights Overlook Trails: 12 miles (20 minutes)
Another popular and kid-friendly hike is the short and easy Beacon Heights Overlook Trail. This is about a 0.5-mile round trip, but there is no shortage of majestic views. The parking area is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 305.
Roan Mountain (via Carvers Gap)
Banner Elk to Carvers Gap: 13 miles (20 minutes)
Taking a scenic drive up to Roan Mountain is one of the best things to do in Banner Elk’s surroundings. Hiking this collection of mountaintop balds and rocky outcrops is even better.
Start from the Carvers Gap entrance and you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful views of North Carolina’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Read More: The Best North Carolina Road Trips
Boone Fork Trail
Banner Elk to Boone Fork Trail: 12 miles (23 minutes)
The slightly longer 5.2-mile Boone Fork Trail is one with beautiful variety. The trail begins at Price Park Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 296) and weaves around Hebron Falls (aka Boone Fork Falls), flower patches, and wooded areas!
More Hiking Trails Near Banner Elk
Here are a few more of our favorite hiking trails near Banner Elk:
- Rough Ridge Trail (24 minutes away)
- Glen Burney Trail in Blowing Rock (35 minutes away)
- The Summit Trail at Elk Knob State Park (48 minutes away)
Waterfalls near Banner Elk
Crab Orchard Falls
Banner Elk to Crab Orchard Falls: 6 miles (12 minutes)
Only five minutes away from the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis (mentioned above) is Crab Orchard Falls. This slow serene waterfall is a beautiful place to unwind and is accessible by a short yet steep one-mile roundtrip hike.
Banner Elk to Otter Falls: 9 miles (17 minutes)
Otter Falls is a bit more strenuous at 1.2 miles but well worth it. This is one of our favorites, so be sure not to miss it! Otter Falls is located in a park comprised of four short hikes, two of which are loops.
Elk River Falls
Banner Elk to Elk River Falls: 12 miles (23 minutes)
For a refreshing swim at a beautiful waterfall, head to Elk River Falls! This 50-foot waterfall is quite a sight to see and only a half-mile hike with a few steep steps.
As promised, here are some more remarkable waterfalls nearby:
- Waterfalls Park (Roadside, 18 minutes away)
- Green Mountain Creek Falls (Roadside, 28 minutes away)
- Linville Falls (Various Hiking Distances, 30 minutes away)
- Cascades Trail at EB Jeffress Park (1 Mile Loop, 51 minutes away)
- Crabtree Falls (2.6-Mile Roundtrip Hike, 57 minutes away)