20+ Wonderful Things To Do In Banner Elk (Events + Food)

Last Updated on November 14, 2022

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With so many wonderful things to do in Banner Elk, this is truly the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. 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 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?
  • 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)

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina

Where is Banner Elk?

Map of North Carolina highlighting Avery County.svg
Map Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Banner Elk is in Avery County, North Carolina (highlighted in green), 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!

Read More: 100+ Places to Visit in Western North Carolina

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.

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

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.

Read More: Winter in Boone (20 Great Activities, Snow Tubing, and More!)

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 Tubing in Banner Elk

If you’re planning a winter visit, all three of these following places offer great skiing 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

Beech Mountain

Beech Mountain Ski Resort view from top

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

Sugar Mountain Ski 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! 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!

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

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

Banner Elk Restaurants Sorrentos

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.

Tate Evans Park Banner Elk NC
Tate-Evans Park

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

Lees-McRae College

Banner Elk Lees Mcrae

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.

Banner Elk Winery

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!

Grandfather Vineyard

Grandfather Vineyard in Banner Elk NC

Not far from Seven Devils (Otter Falls and Hawksnest) is Grandfather Vineyard, a special place we constantly revisit. It has picnic tables which are great for couples, families with 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.

Read More: North Carolina’s Best Wineries and Vineyards

Elk River Club

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 golf course, providing a unique challenge and atmosphere.

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

Family-Friendly Things to Do in Banner Elk

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 group tour or a private 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!

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List

Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster

Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster ride

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.

Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster with kids

The Coaster remains open throughout the year and is a great place to visit near Sugar Mountain.

Wilderness Run Adventure Course

Wilderness Run Ropes Course full view

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.

Wilderness Run Ropes Course top view

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!

Read more: Our Favorite Boone and Blowing Rock Restaurants

Wildcat Lake

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. 

Banner Elk Wildcat Lake

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!

Read More: 13 Amazing Restaurants in Banner Elk and Nearby (+ Where to Drink!)

Banner Elk Cafe 

What’s better than one delightful restaurant right in the heart of Banner Elk’s downtown? Two restaurants!

Banner Elk Cafe

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.

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.

We will mention a few of these things to do in Banner Elk’s surroundings 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

Blue Ridge Parkway Linn Cove Viaduct Near Crabtree Falls 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 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)

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.

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.

Grandfather Mountain

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

Hiking at Grandfather Mountain

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.

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

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

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.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

Roan Mountain (via Carvers Gap)

Banner Elk to Carvers Gap: 13 miles (20 minutes)

Things to Do in Banner Elk Carvers Gap at Roan Mountain

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)

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 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:

Read More: Wonderful Hiking Trails near Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk

Waterfalls near Banner Elk

These waterfalls near Banner Elk are a mix of short to medium hikes with one roadside waterfall included.

Read More: 10 Beautiful Roadside Waterfalls in North Carolina for Everyone!

Crab Orchard Falls

Banner Elk to Crab Orchard Falls: 6 miles (12 minutes)

Crab Orchard Falls near Valle Crucis

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.

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.

Read More: 20+ Kid-Friendly Waterfalls In NC (Easy Hikes And Swimming Holes!)

Elk River Falls

Banner Elk to Elk River Falls: 12 miles (23 minutes)

Elk River Falls near Banner Elk NC

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)

Read More: 25+ Beautiful Waterfalls near Boone (within 2 Hours)

More Things to Do in Banner Elk (and the High Country)

6 thoughts on “20+ Wonderful Things To Do In Banner Elk (Events + Food)”

  1. Those views are incredible! I love the photos of the rocks ,waterfalls and beech mountains,sugar mountain resort ,

    Reply
  2. all great things but you completely missed the fact that banner elk has two successful live theatres within three blocks of each other. Lees-McRae Summer theatre, which produces wonderful, large cast musicals, and Ensemble Stage, an award winning, small professional theatre that produces small cast plays. Both theatres bring in actors from all across the country.

    Reply
  3. How could you write this article and mention the best restaurants in Banner Elk and not mention Sorrentos and the Chefs Table!! By far the best food in Banner Elk! They literally change the face of the restaurant scene in Banner Elk!
    The new outdoor stage has entertainment several times a week! And it’s definitely the most lively part of Banner Elk!

    Reply
    • Don’t worry- we’ve got a Banner Elk restaurants guide coming soon that definitely mentions Sorrentos and Chefs Table!

      Reply

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