24 Wonderful Things To Do In Banner Elk (And Nearby In The High Country!)

Last Updated on June 10, 2021

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With so many wonderful things to do in Banner Elk, this town is truly one special place. The town sits along the northwest edges of North Carolina in the gorgeous region we all know as the High Country.

When you first park along Main St, you’ll be blown away by views of the mountains that surround the town. Spend an afternoon doing some shopping and eating at Banner Elk’s 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?
  • Seasonal Things to Do in Banner Elk (Events)
  • Things to Do in Banner Elk Throughout the Year
  • Eat at these Banner Elk Restaurants
  • Explore nearby High Country Towns! (Boone, Blowing Rock, and More)
  • Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Banner Elk (Nearby Stops Included)
  • Hiking Trails near Banner Elk
  • Waterfalls near Banner Elk
  • More Things to Do in Banner Elk and Avery County (Related Posts)

This post is part of our series on the greatest places to visit in Western North Carolina. We think a visit to Banner Elk is one of the best things to do in North Carolina, so much so that we included it in our Bucket List book.

Where is Banner Elk?

Banner Elk is in Avery County, bordering Tennessee to the north and Watauga County (Boone and Blowing Rock) and Caldwell County (Lenoir) to the east.

To the south are Burke (Morganton and Linville Falls) and McDowell Counties (Marion and Old Fort), and to the west is Mitchell County (Bakersville, Spruce Pine, and 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!

Please note that many of these events may not return or function as “normal” until 2022. We’ll continue to keep an eye on them and make updates as things change.

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.

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.

June: Singing on the Mountain 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.

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.

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.

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.

Other October events are Ocktoberfest at Sugar Mountain (second weekend in October) and Trunk or Treat (October 31) in Banner Elk.

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 events over the next few days.

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.

Things to Do in Banner Elk Throughout the Year

Walk and Drive around Town

Enjoying winter views is also one of our favorite things to do in 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.

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.

Lees-McRae College

Visitors of Banner Elk are welcome to explore the beautiful campus of Lees-McRae College. You can explore the 450 acres of beautiful mountain valley that reaches a total elevation of 4,000 feet, making it the highest campus on the East Coast.

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.

Wineries and Vineyards

Grandfather Vineyard in Banner Elk NC

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.

Not far from Seven Devils (Otter Falls and Hawksnest) is Grandfather Vineyard, a special place we constantly revisit. It is THE perfect picnic spot for wine-lovers and suitable for kids and pets. The Tatum family will make you feel right at home in their tasting room, and they share extensive knowledge of their delightful wines.

We love Grandfather so much that we included it among North Carolina’s best wineries and vineyards!

Go Skiing (and Tubing)! 

If you’re planning a winter visit, all three of these following places offer great skiing options. They are also featured in our guide to ski resorts in North Carolina.

Beech Mountain

Beech Mountain Skiing NC

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.

Sugar Mountain

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! At this resort, ski on one of the 21 different slopes and use the 8 lifts to move around.

Hawksnest

Hawksnest Snowtubing Seven Devils near Banner Elk NC

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!

Go Golfing!

The Elk River Club is one of the most popular things to do in Banner Elk, partly due to its serene setting. The views are amazing, and the Elk River runs through the course, providing for a unique challenge and atmosphere.

You will also find an equestrian center, tennis courts, fishing, and more here!

Apple Hill Farm

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 tour of the farm to meet and greet your new furry friends. 

We interviewed owner Lee Rankin during one of NC Travel Chat’s first episodes for more about this fantastic place!

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.

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

Original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis near Banner Elk NC

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.

We love eating in Banner Elk and have a few places to recommend.

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

Bayou Smokehouse Restaurants in Banner Elk

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! 

Pedalin’ Pig

The Pedalin Pig Boone Restaurants

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.

There’s also a Pedalin’ Pig in Boone, which you can read about in our guide to restaurants in Boone!

Explore 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, but you could spend days exploring the other little-known places in the High Country.

Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Banner Elk

Linn Cove Viaduct Blue Ridge Parkway NC
Linn Cove Viaduct.

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 30 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.
  • 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 opinions!
  • Linville Falls (MP 316.4)
  • Little Switzerland (MP 334)
  • Crabtree Falls (MP 339.5)

If you’d like to keep going on the Parkway, check out our guide that details stops from the North Carolina-Virginia border to the southern end near Cherokee.

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.

Hit these 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.

Grandfather Mountain

Banner Elk to Grandfather Mountain: 13 miles (23 minutes)
Banner Elk to Grandfather Mountain State Park Profile Trail: 7 miles (13 minutes)

Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge
The Mile-High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain.

You have a couple of options for hiking around Grandfather Mountain. There is a state park with free entry and 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.  

Beacon Heights

Banner Elk to Beacon Heights Overlook Trails: 12 miles (20 minutes)

Beacon Heights Hiking Trails Near Banner Elk

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.

Boone Fork Trail

Banner Elk to Boone Fork Trail: 12 miles (23 minutes)

Boone Fork Trail near Banner Elk NC

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 through waterfalls, flower patches, and wooded areas!

Other favorites include Rough Ridge Trail (24 minutes away) and the Summit Trail at Elk Knob State Park (48 minutes away). We’re always uncovering more amazing hiking trails near Banner Elk and will keep sharing them with you!

Visit these Waterfalls near Banner Elk

Some of these are also technically hiking trails near Banner Elk but lead to waterfalls. Others on this list sit along the road and only require a short walk.

Here are three of our favorite waterfalls, followed by a few other falls in the area if you’re looking for some more!

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 accessible by a short yet steep one-mile roundtrip hike.

Otter Falls

Banner Elk to Otter Falls: 9 miles (17 minutes)

Otter Falls in Seven Devils near Banner Elk NC

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)

Elk River Falls near Banner Elk NC

For a refreshing swim and photogenic waterfall, head to Elk River Falls! This 85-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)

All of these are mentioned in our guide on waterfalls near Boone, Blowing Rock, and of course, Banner Elk.

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!

More High Country Things to Do

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