A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Centuries ago, when Scots-Irish and English immigrants settled in the High Country, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and crystal-clear streams, did they feel like pioneers? Maybe not. They were

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Centuries ago, when Scots-Irish and English immigrants settled in the High Country, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and crystal-clear streams, did they feel like pioneers? Maybe not. They were

A Locals’ Guide to Downtown Boone

Centuries ago, when Scots-Irish and English immigrants settled in the High Country, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and crystal-clear streams, did they feel like pioneers? Maybe not. They were no doubt aware of the American Indians who had long inhabited the land, who are thought to have named the nearby river Watauga, said to mean “whispering waters,” “beautiful waters,” or “the land beyond.” And they likely felt the romanticism that word — watauga — embodied. Maybe being a pioneer is less about being first and more about embracing possibility. When those settlers plucked out a tune about their day and played it for a neighbor, they weren’t doing anything revolutionary. They were simply sharing life’s joys and sorrows through song.

Over time, those notes and harmonies became synonymous with Boone and the High Country, as if the music and the land were one and the same. That old-time music and some of those larger-than-life people — say, Daniel Boone, who hunted and forged trails — imbued this land with a can-do attitude, an attitude that Boone locals carry with them today when they make music or art, create new dishes, or share ways to conserve the land with which they, like people centuries ago, fell in love.

The unique river ecosystems and biodiversity of the High Country are partly due to the area’s high elevation and mostly forested watershed. As one of the oldest environmental nonprofits in western North Carolina, MountainTrue has helped protect species like the tangerine darter in the Watauga and New rivers. photograph by Joey Seawell


Watauga Riverkeeper
Local: Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the High Country regional director and Watauga riverkeeper for the nonprofit MountainTrue. photograph by Joey Seawell

Whenever Andy Hill has a stressful day, he dons a wetsuit top, mask, and snorkel, and floats down the Watauga or the New river. “There’s something so peaceful about immersing yourself in cold, clean water,” he says. “You feel like you’re flying.” While floating, Hill spots turtles, wildflowers, and native fish — the tangerine darter, named for its bright orange stripe, is his favorite. As the High Country regional director and Watauga riverkeeper for the nonprofit MountainTrue, Hill monitors and protects the Watauga River watershed with a group of dedicated staff and volunteers. During the summer, the program provides weekly updates on the water quality of nearby swimming holes and boat ramps on Swim Guide, a website and app that people can download to their phones. Every week, a different site’s water quality is tested for bacteria, and if the area is consistently not meeting standards, Hill and his team conduct research to find out why. They also organize paddling trips, tree plantings, wildflower hikes, trash cleanup days, and river snorkeling events. “I came to this work as a passionate fisherman, and I had no idea what was going on under the water,” Hill says. “Once I really saw what was going on, it blew my mind.”

Sign up: During river snorkeling events, participants can get a closer look at the wildlife in High Country waters. Register for events at mountaintrue.org.

164 Depot Street
(828) 278-9821

Horn in the West
June 21-Aug. 10, 2024

In this outdoor drama that has entertained folks since 1952, learn about what life was like for High Country settlers like Daniel Boone before and during the Revolutionary War.

591 Horn in the West Drive
(828) 264-2120

Brandon Holder (center) leads a group of musicians in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” on the Jones House porch, while visitors in the rocking chairs behind them clap and sing along. photograph by Joey Seawell


Jones House Cultural Center
Local: Brandon Holder

The Jones House Cultural Center hosts a weekly Old-Time Jam on the porch. photograph by Joey Seawell

Upstairs at the 1908 Jones House, Brandon Holder can often be found with a guitar in his lap, sitting in a circle with a group of kids ages 8 and older. He teaches them folk songs like “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” so that they can be proud of where they live, in a place where the sounds of fiddles and banjos are as familiar as the hill over yonder. But Holder has also taught his students how to play “Yellow Submarine” and “Smoke on the Water.” “You have to teach them what they’re interested in,” he says with a smile. Holder, the cultural resources coordinator at the historic home turned town community center, moved to Boone 13 years ago from Alabama in search of fellow young people who shared his obsession with old-time music. He thought that the area near Doc Watson’s hometown might be the place. It was. At the Jones House, Holder connects with other musicians who share his passion through events that he helps organize, like the weekly Old-Time Jam. He also continues the legacy of old-time music through the Junior Appalachian Musician program, which offers music lessons to kids at a discount thanks to a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council.

Check it out: The artwork displayed on the first floor of the Jones House in The Mazie Jones Gallery is named for Mazie Jones Levenson, who spent her childhood in the home and was integral to its preservation.

604 West King Street
(828) 268-6280

Doc Watson Day
Aug. 16-17, 2024

photograph by Joey Seawell

In 2011, a life-size bronze statue of local legend Doc Watson was unveiled on the corner of West King and North Depot streets, commemorating the artist — at his insistence — as “just one of the people.” Since then, the Jones House has held an annual celebration to pay tribute to Watson’s humble demeanor and the flat-picking style for which he became known in his folk, bluegrass, country, blues, and gospel music. There will be a free concert dedicated to his memory on the lawn at the Jones House on August 16, and a ticketed show on the historic Doc Watson stage on August 17.

To learn more, visit joneshouse.org/docday.

Try the cast-iron cornbread with compound butter at The Beacon Butcher Bar. Owner Tina Houston restored the space, including its original river stone columns, and added personal touches like locally grown succulents and paintings by Jerry Cantwell, her husband and an App State alum and faculty member. photograph by Joey Seawell


The Beacon Butcher Bar
Local: Tina Houston

Tina Houston owns The Beacon Butcher Bar downtown. photograph by Joey Seawell

The beauty of the High Country Inn had faded before Tina Houston renovated it to create The Beacon Butcher Bar. The space’s river rock columns and cedar beams reflect the restaurant’s surroundings. Every two months, The Beacon’s food, wine, and cocktail menus change, but homemade pizzas and pastas topped with locally sourced ingredients, like mushrooms from Boone Fungi, are staples. Chefs also use under-sourced fish, including cobia, monkfish, black sea bass, and red snapper, in their dishes. “Those ingredients need to change to be sustainable,” Houston says. Her foray into the food industry started about 30 years ago with an organic food store on King Street, where she would make baked goods for coffee shops on Appalachian State’s campus. That evolved into Reid’s Café & Catering Co. — named for her daughter — in Sugar Mountain. Houston then opened The Beacon in June 2020. True to her roots, she still hops on the line to make wedding cakes for her catering company when needed.

Don’t miss: Cast-iron cornbread served with compound butter. Butter flavors incorporate seasonal ingredients like ramps or strawberries.

125 Graduate Lane
(828) 865-0087

Try an ice cream sandwich at Blue Deer on King. photograph by Tim Robison

Grab a Bite

Blue Deer on King

Mix and match homemade cookies with a scoop of Homeland Creamery ice cream to make sweet sandwiches.

352 West King Street
(828) 832-8010

Cobo Sushi Bistro and Bar

Head Chef and owner Joseph Miller, a Boone native, offers a large sushi menu and nontraditional dishes.

161 Howard Street
(828) 386-1201

Dan’l Boone Inn

For more than 60 years, folks have gathered to share family-style Southern meals in what was Boone’s first hospital.

130 Hardin Street
(828) 264-8657

F.A.R.M. Café

At this pay-what-you-can café and nonprofit, diners can donate a meal, pay the menu price or more, or volunteer time in exchange for their meal.

617 West King Street
(828) 386-1000


Located in Boone’s historic jailhouse, this restaurant serves collards, buttermilk biscuits, and cornmeal-fried catfish.

142 Water Street
(828) 865-5000

Sip a local brew and admire local art at Lost Province at Hardin Creek. photograph by Joey Seawell


Mural Art
Local: Dabney Smith

Artist Dabney Smith paints colorful murals around Boone. photograph by Joey Seawell

Whenever Dabney Smith made trips to Grandfather Mountain from her hometown of Durham, she would look up at the rocky mountain profile and think, I want to be there. Eighteen years ago, she moved to Boone to make her dream a reality. As the daughter of two teachers and as a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, the oldest art school in the country, it seemed like fate that Smith would become an art teacher and professional artist. In addition to painting colorful murals in Boone, she’s spent her career teaching art at a magnet elementary school and now at a high school in Lenoir. “I think it’s important for kids to see that you practice what you teach,” Smith says. Her most recent mural is at Lost Province at Hardin Creek, a brewery production facility and taproom. The painting depicts beer flowing from a can down a set of stairs while the mouth of another can frames the doorway to the taproom. Hops, barley, bubbles, yeast, and the molecular structures of water, ethanol, and oxygen are illustrated against colorful rows of wheat in the background. “I like that public art is for the people,” Smith says.

Check it out: See Smith’s murals at The Annex at the TApp Room and Shear Shackti, a hair salon.


Dabney Smith has designed a few beer cans for Lost Province, including (from left to right) the Bless Your Heart ale, Pink Velvet wheat ale, and Kiss My Grits lager. photograph by Joey Seawell

After a day at Watauga Lake, Common Good Co. owners Jacob and Melina Daniels found a large piece of driftwood and decided to hang it in their shop when it opened in 2019. photograph by Joey Seawell


Mast General Store

Before an outdoor excursion in the High Country, stock up on gear at this downtown Boone staple, or simply indulge in old-fashioned candy or soda.

630 West King Street
(828) 262-0000

Appalachian Antique Mall

Known as of one the largest antiques malls in the High Country, this shop features collectibles — from vintage china and retro Pyrex dishes to clocks and furniture — spread out over three floors.

631 West King Street
(828) 268-9988

Common Good Co.

With a coffee bar in the back and an art gallery upstairs, Common Good Co. often turns the task of shopping for interior home goods into a complete afternoon excursion.

685 West King Street
(828) 260-4819

Photography courtesy of DOE RIDGE POTTERY

Doe Ridge Pottery

Peruse mugs, plates, bowls, vases, and other ceramic creations glazed in a variety of vibrant hues by 15 potters. This shop is owned and operated by Bob Meier, whose studio is on-site.

585 West King Street, Suite D
(828) 264-1127

This story was published on Jul 19, 2023

Chloe Klingstedt

Chloe Klingstedt is an assistant editor at Our State magazine, a Texan by birth, and a North Carolinian at heart.