A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

The legend of The Blowing Rock, a weathered cliff 3,000 feet above the Johns River, is that the wind blows so strong there that it once threw ancient lovers back

Madison County Championship Rodeo

The legend of The Blowing Rock, a weathered cliff 3,000 feet above the Johns River, is that the wind blows so strong there that it once threw ancient lovers back

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

The legend of The Blowing Rock, a weathered cliff 3,000 feet above the Johns River, is that the wind blows so strong there that it once threw ancient lovers back

6 Blue Ridge Adventures in Blowing Rock

The legend of The Blowing Rock, a weathered cliff 3,000 feet above the Johns River, is that the wind blows so strong there that it once threw ancient lovers back into each other’s arms. Winds still swirl around this “Crown of the Blue Ridge,” one of the only towns perched on the Blue Ridge Parkway. And if you explore this quaint village, you’ll find there’s more than wind to sweep you off your feet. Blowing Rock deals in the charm and wonder of the mountains, from the joy of the natural world to the magic of a small town. 

At Main Street’s Footsloggers Outdoor and Travel Outfitters, general manager Thea Young and her colleagues help guests gear up with the equipment they need to experience the mountains for themselves. “It’s our job to make it fun to get outside and play,” she says.



Young is one of several outdoor enthusiasts eager to introduce visitors to the natural jewels in Blowing Rock’s crown. Read on to get their secrets to discovering the best waterfalls, lakes, and trails.

 

Lace up your boots to hike Glen Burney Falls

Just a few blocks from downtown and easily accessible from the Annie Cannon Gardens, the Glen Burney Falls Trail is a can’t-miss destination when visiting Blowing Rock. “One nice thing about this hike, particularly for beginners, is that it’s out and back, and you start out going downhill,” Young says. “You can get some really great views without having to hike the entire 2.7-mile trail.”

After you’ve hiked nearly a mile through the Appalachian hardwood forest, you’ll arrive at your first waterfall, The Cascades, where the creek slides peacefully down a 30-foot rock ledge.

This is a great turn-around spot, or you can keep walking toward the base of the dramatic Glen Marie Falls, a three-tiered waterfall that cascades 75 feet from its highest ledge. The forest’s deep shade feels ancient and other-worldly; maybe that’s because today’s hikers follow in the footsteps of native hunters and turn-of-the-century loggers.

 

Bike the Parkway

For long-distance touring, the Blue Ridge Parkway draws international attention, says Brian Sain, owner of Blowing Rock’s Rhoddie Bicycle Outfitters. “Blowing Rock sits at the north end of Pisgah National Forest, which is covered with miles and miles of quiet gravel roads. People are flocking here to experience them,” he says.

Cycling near the Blue Ridge Parkway. photograph by Lonnie Webster

According to Sain, one of the most popular loops in the country is the 30-mile ride on U.S. Highway 221 South to Grandfather Mountain, returning to Blowing Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway. “I live along that route and like to tell folks that a couple of summers ago, I was riding a shorter version of that loop and saw more bears than cars,” he says. “It’s a great ride to do early in the morning before anyone else gets out.”

 

Kayak Price Lake at Julian Price Park

The 47-acre Price Lake is part of a huge swath of land that insurance giant Julian Price’s family donated to the parkway back in 1946. Surrounded by lush mountain greenery, the sparkling lake begs to be explored. “The park has a livery, so if you don’t have a boat, you can schedule a canoe or kayak rental,” Young says.

Canoeing in Blowing Rock. photograph by Todd Bush

After your boating excursion, stick around for a picnic and a hike. If you’re up for a challenge, Young recommends the Tanawha Trail, which leaves near the Price Park Campground and winds along Grandfather Mountain.

When visiting with kids in tow, consider a stroll around the Price Lake Trail, an easy 2.7-mile loop that circles the lake.  

 

Go for a run at Cone Park

Once the summer home of textile magnate Moses Cone and his wife, Bertha, the grand estate of Flat Top Manor — now Moses H. Cone Memorial Park — is open to visitors year-round. Each season brings new possibilities for outdoor adventures.

“Moses Cone loved to take his horse and carriage out and go for a ride, so he built this amazing network of interconnecting carriage trails,” says Young. “A lot of folks use it for trail running. Now, it’s especially nice because the paths are so wide and it’s easy to give people their space.”

One of Young’s favorite trails is the Rich Mountain Road trail, which winds up to the top of Rich Mountain. Along the path, wooded areas are interrupted by open pasture areas, which adds to the mountain vistas’ appeal. “Throughout the hike, you can look back toward Blowing Rock or west toward Grandfather Mountain,” Young says.

The grounds of Cone Park offer endless picnic-spot possibilities. For the ultimate culinary experience, swing by the Speckled Trout restaurant and fill your basket with goodies like the Deviled Eggs and Hiker’s Platter (a selection of North Carolina artisan meats and cheeses, house pickles, house beer jam, candied walnuts, Lusty Monk mustard, and a grilled baguette). 

And when the seasons change and snow falls, come back for cross-country skiing. “When Mother Nature cooperates with enough snow, these trails are the perfect destination,” Young says.

 

Try your hand at fly-fishing

Blowing Rock is blessed with high altitude and an abundance of streams — key ingredients for great fly-fishing.

Fly-fishing is more than muscle, says Greg Tarbutton, who heads up the Sporting Reserve at Chetola Resort. It’s all about finesse — the art of coaxing your fish on the line. “I grew up on the coast with the big casters and spinning wheels,” Tarbutton says. “And while I still enjoy those, fly fishing is fun because you’re much more involved.”

Fly fishing near Blowing Rock. photograph by Blowing Rock, NC

When the stream is clear, you can see the fish swimming to your line, circling it, coming up to bite it — an exciting rush Tarbutton says is unique to fly-fishing.  

He loves fishing for rainbow trout in the Chetola Lake — “If you take your catch to our restaurant, the chef will cook them up for you,” he says — but he also recommends the South Holston, Watauga Rivers, and Boone Fork Creek.

 

Take little ones to Bass Lake Loop

“One of the great things about hiking trails in the Blowing Rock area is that there are so many trails for different abilities or desired levels of challenge,” Young says. “It’s a great place for children to get out and explore nature.”

Just shy of a mile, the Bass Lake Loop Trail is part of the Moses Cone Memorial Park Trail system. Labeled “extremely easy,” the trail offers a spectacular view of the Cone Manor House perched above the lake.

Cone Manor House at sunrise. photograph by Jim Ruff

As you walk, watch for wildflowers, like the rare Azalea Vaseyi, and a wide variety of lily species. “Throughout the whole Blowing Rock area, you see higher alpine vegetation — species that aren’t found in other places throughout the South,” says Young.

After your hike, plan to have lunch at The Village Café in downtown Blowing Rock. The historic home-turned-bistro boasts a peaceful, shaded garden patio — the perfect spot for an order of pan-sautéed trout or the pecan-crusted Montrachet salad. Or make a reservation at one of Young’s favorite restaurants, Bistro Roca. “Start with the prosciutto-wrapped figs,” she says.

This story was published on Aug 20, 2020

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.