At an elevation of exactly 3,333 feet, Boone is the highest city of its size found east of Colorado. It’s home to Appalachian State University and is the unofficial capital of the North Carolina High Country that spans the surrounding mountains. Thanks to the city’s lofty elevation, it’s a refreshing respite from the summer heat found down on coastal plains, and a white wonderland of fluffy deep snow when winter starts to set in. It’s an area full of outdoor adventure and historic country sights perfect if you’re planning on bringing kids to the mountains.
About 35 minutes south of Boone, Grandfather Mountain offers everything from hiking to bridges to cougars and bears. Part of the park hosts environmental habitats, akin to a mountaintop zoo that lets visitors view animals in large enclosures in a natural setting, where otters splash and swim in ponds and eagles occupy limbs. The cougar and black bear are two of the most popular animals inside the park; families can even “adopt” an animal to receive photos and updates on its health. Atop the mountain, a network of hiking trails explores the forest surrounding the popular peak, or visitors can walk on the Mile High Swinging Bridge set 5,280 feet above sea level.
For an experience with animals you can feed and touch, go for an alpaca tour at Apple Hill Farm on the outskirts of Banner Elk. The farm is located about 25 minutes southwest of Boone, and visitors can hand-feed alpacas while stroking their bushy long hair. Here you’ll also find horses, goats, a llama and a couple of donkeys — as well as chickens flitting around a coop that’s filled with eggs for the taking.
To dig in the dirt instead of the stalls, head to one of the numerous gem mines surrounding downtown Boone. Gold and diamonds were found in these hills throughout the 19th century. Or, to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to when miners roamed these hills, take a ride on the Tweetsie Railroad outside the town of Blowing Rock. At night, head back to Boone to catch a show of award-winning “Horn in the West, “a historical reenactment and live performance of Boone’s frontier founding.
In winter, when many of the trails and lookout points are suddenly socked in with snow, break out the skis, snowboard or tube and head to Appalachian — a small mountain outside of town that’s perfect for families with children. For steeper slopes, Sugar Mountain offers the best skiing in the Southern Appalachians and is a spot for guaranteed family fun from the middle of November to March.
— Contributed by Kyle Ellison