Head for the Hills

The North Carolina west is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts

BY Fritts Causby


The chance to make a quick escape to the mountains for a break from the heat in the summer, to see colorful foliage in the fall, or just for a change of scenery are just a few reasons why North Carolina is one of the best places to live in the continental United States.

There are simply not many areas of the country where it’s possible to live on the coast and breathe the salt air, yet still have the ability to hop in the car for a weekend getaway to the beautiful mountains that make up the western part of our state.

If the goal is to spend as little time in the car as possible and make it back early enough on Sunday to prepare for work the next day, the Boone area is perfect. It’s about a five-hour drive from Wilmington, and most of the roads are four lanes and easy to navigate, creating the potential for a virtually stress-free experience (depending on the traffic).

For those who are considering a quick trip to the mountains but don’t want to deal with the crowds at well-known spots like Tweetsie Railroad or downtown Blowing Rock, there are plenty of activities to enjoy.


What better way to get some outdoor exercise and check out incredibly scenic views than hiking? There are a variety of well-marked trails, ranging from short, flat beginner terrain to long, demanding uphill climbs. The Rough Ridge trail y at Grandfather Moun-tain should not be missed, as the tough initial climb through the forest delivers long-range views, available on many outcrops on this slowly meandering ridgeline trail. Fog can be an issue, but the clouds keep it cool and the views from the rock at the top of the trail make it well worth the trip.

Zip Lining

For thrill seekers looking to soar above the trees over lakes and creeks, the Hawksnest Zip Line could be a great way to spend an afternoon. Located on the site of a former ski resort, it features four miles of zip lines that reach heights of over 200 feet and offer speeds up to 50 mph. If that is not enough, Sky Valley Zip Tours is also located nearby, in Blowing Rock.  

Kayaking/Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Lake James State Park, located about 55 miles from Boone near Morganton, offers a scenic, approximately 6,800-acre lake with a number of boat/kayak launches, great fishing, hiking and mountain bike trails, campsites and picnic tables. Water level fluctuations associated with the production of hydroelectric power keep vegetation levels at a minimum, so the water is typically clear. Though kayak/canoe rentals are not currently available, it is still a great place to explore with your own watercraft. Kayakers can also head to Kerr Scott Reservoir, between Boone and Wilkesboro, and numerous outdoor outfitters offer paddle trips on local rivers.


Though golfing almost always offers scenic area views and relaxation, the experience is upped substantially in the mountains. The region is home to some of the most beautiful courses in the Carolinas. Significant elevation changes allow for endless views, while challenging even the most seasoned golfer’s shot control and placement. Empty, pristine courses also can offer numerous opportunities to spot local wildlife.

Mountain Biking

There are many options for mountain biking near Boone, with trails ranging from beginner, intermediate and expert to the certifiably insane. There are a number of free places to ride, including z Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park in Boone and the Emerald Outback at the top of Beech Mountain. Be advised: what is rated as intermediate on the coastal plain can sometimes be vastly different in the mountains.

ATV Tours

A guided tour on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or utility vehicle (UTV) could be a fun, unique way to see the backcountry. Two operators of ATV and UTV tours serve the Boone area, Appalachians Outdoor Adventures  and Off the Grid Mountain Adventures, which offers a three-wheeled electric scooter for the eco-minded.

Whether looking for adventure, relaxation or just a break from the everyday, the High Country of North Carolina has a lot to offer. On a quick weekend trip, it is worthwhile to splurge on a room or a vacation rental with a view, as watching the clouds move across the mountains is the perfect way to cap off a long day spent exploring or getting exercise outdoors.

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