In and Around Banner Elk, North Carolina

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Ok, I know I missed Travel Tuesday, but I feel like I’ve been slacking on my travel content lately and didn’t want to wait until next week to put this one up. (Side note: y’all let me know if you like the idea of Travel Tuesday or if you’d rather just see travel content as I have it.)

Anyway, I grew up in western North Carolina, about an hour from the mountains, and going up to the mountains was always an integral part of my childhood. We would take day trips or weekend trips to go up and hike, eat, and just enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful views. About two years ago, my parents decided to invest in a little cabin in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I love going up to visit, and although I don’t get up as much as I’d like to be able to, it’s always a nice treat to go home and be with my family in our little mountain abode.

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I headed up to the cabin for Memorial Day just the other week, and we had the most beautiful weekend we could have ever asked for. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, the temperature was between 65 and 75 degrees every day, and the rhododendrons were in full bloom. We hiked, we drank wine on the deck with neighbors, and we had a Memorial Day cookout to wrap up the weekend. It was wonderful.

If you’ve never been to the mountains of western North Carolina, it needs to be on your bucket list. My favorite areas are Banner Elk (where our cabin is) and the surrounding areas of Boone, Blowing Rock, and Valle Crucis. They mountain views are breathtaking, the hiking trails have something for every age, and there are great restaurants and watering holes. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite places and hidden secrets for eating, drinking, and exploring!

Eat:

Coyote Kitchen – Boone
This is the place I crave most when I’m gone. It’s in a strip mall in Boone, but don’t let that sway your opinion of it. Their style is “Southwest Caribbean Soulfood” and it is so darn good. They have these “boats,” which are personal casserole dishes layered up with protein and veggies and topped and broiled with Jack cheese. There are 10 options and my favorite is the Taos boat: rosemary chicken, cornbread, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted corn, fried plantains, Roma tomatoes, Jack cheese, chipotle cream cheese, and scallions. The combination is incredible and it’s delicious, filling, warm-you-to-your-toes comfort food.

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The Ham Shoppe – Valle Crucis
This is an unassuming wooden home on the side of the road that you probably wouldn’t think twice about if you drove by. But inside, they have some of the most delicious sandwiches that are perfect for taking on a hike or for a picnic in the park. They are huge sandwiches packed full of protein between slices of delicious fresh bread. You can create your own sandwich or order from their specialty sandwiches. My personal favorite is The Rhett with homemade pimento cheese, spinach, cucumbers, onions, sprouts, and bacon on toasted sun-dried tomato bread (although sometimes I get it on sourdough). My dad loves the Russian Mistress (never thought I’d write that sentence) with turkey breast, fresh spinach, tomato, bacon, and Swiss cheese topped with Thousand Island dressing on multigrain bread. (PS Google will tell you this place is permanently closed when you google it, but that’s not true.)

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Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar – Boone
This is my favorite fine dining restaurant, located in downtown Boone. They specialize in refined Southern cuisine, which means all your favorite Southern dishes re-imagined and made a little fancier. People go crazy for the Chicken and Waffles with creole battered fried chicken, sawmill gravy, collard greens, waffles, and whiskey infused cane syrup, but I absolutely love the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cheerwine BBQ sauce, griddled mac n’ cheese, grilled Vidalia onion chowchow, jicama, and baby greens. For a true taste of the mountains, try the oat-crusted North Carolina Trout with pecan brown butter sauce. I love how they take North Carolina staples – like Cheerwine, sawmill gravy, and trout – and incorporate them into their menu. Last time I was there we also had this fabulous lemon poundcake with lemon basil ice cream. Don’t skip dessert!

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Drink:

Blowing Rock Brewing Company – Blowing Rock
Blowing Rock Brewing is a brewpub in the adorably charming downtown of Blowing Rock. They brew their own beers in the style of “mountain artisan beers” meaning they use the fresh mountain spring water and incorporate flavors of the area. All the beers are crisp and complex. I like the High Country Ale (their flagship) and the Farmhouse Peach Ale (available seasonally). There is also really good food at the Ale House, the restaurant in the brewery. The Grilled Carolina Bison Burger with charred tomato jam, smoked mozzarella, peppered bacon, stout glaze, and grilled onions is probably the best burger you’ll find in the area. The brewery’s beers are incorporated in almost every dish on the menu. They also have fun seasonal specials like this lobster roll below with pickled okra.

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Grandfather Vineyard – Banner Elk
This is a beautiful little vineyard just down the road from our cabin, so we take full advantage of it. You can come and do tastings or just grab a bottle and enjoy a glass (or three) out on the patio or down by the bubbling stream. The vineyards are grown on the side of the mountain, which makes for some beautiful scenery. They have a variety of reds, whites, rosés, and specialty wines like ice wines and muscadine wines (a North Carolina specialty).

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Do:

Mast General Store – Valle Crucis
Take a trip to the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis one day. It’s an old-fashioned candy store and general store. We always grab our favorite candies and a Cheerwine or Peach Nehi and sit outside on the porch swings or the picnic tables out back and enjoy the beautiful weather. There’s also a little park with a nice walking trail right near the store.

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Hike: 

There is so much good hiking in the area, and while I love to hike and would gladly do some of the more challenging trails, my family likes the easy but scenic ones. Here are three of our favorites.

Rough Ridge – Boone
Rough Ridge definitely has the nicest views of these three hikes. It’s a fairly easy hike – it can get a little rocky – but the views are extremely rewarding for little effort. And you’ll see why these mountains are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s only about .3 of a mile.

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Crab Orchard Falls – Valle Crucis
These waterfalls are easily accessed from the parking lot at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Valle Crucis (don’t worry, it’s allowed – there are signs for it). It’s a short hike to the falls – a bit steep in places, but nothing dangerous. The falls are really nice and there are massive rocks and boulders that you can climb on for different vantage points. Watch out though, the rocks can be slippery if they’re covered in moss.

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Grandfather Profile Trail – Banner Elk
If you’ve seen Grandfather Mountain (see photo at top of post), you know it looks like the profile of an old man’s face from afar. Well this hike is along that profile. The entire trail is one of the most challenging, with steep hills, large rocks, and even ladders to climb, but the first mile of it is a really nice and easy hike with beautiful scenery. You walk through the woods and cross the Watauga river and other streams. It’s really quite scenic and you can say you hiked the profile trail even if you don’t do all of it. 🙂 We were told a good stopping point is when you get to the point where you have to go between two large rocks. But if you want to go a little farther, it’s 1.7 miles from the parking lot to Foscoe View. After that, things start to go uphill and get challenging quickly.

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I hope you enjoyed these tips and consider planning a trip to the beautiful state I was lucky to grow up in!

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