Every year around May, Boone starts to crackle with anticipation. Slowly, surely, the signs appear. Hope seeps from tentatively cracked windows; mountain laurel gives way to rhododendron, boots are replaced
Every year around May, Boone starts to crackle with anticipation. Slowly, surely, the signs appear. Hope seeps from tentatively cracked windows; mountain laurel gives way to rhododendron, boots are replaced by Chacos, and the college-town hustle slows its pace. At long last, Boone throws open the doors to its most cherished, most fleeting season: summer.
Celebrating the warmer months is a single-minded, almost giddy pursuit in this mountain town, so al fresco reigns — for adventuring, dining, and soaking in the laidback local vibe. “Why would you be anywhere else?” asks Allison West of An Appalachian Summer Festival. “It’s finally summer in Boone!” Pack your bags and join us for a tour of summer in the High Country.
Nothing can bring your awe back like a trip to the mountains. Time seems to stand still as you zip-line through tree-tops, hike, bike, canoe, or kayak a nature so immense and unspoiled the city’ll seem a thousand miles away.
Boone is surrounded by stunning landscapes — some of the highest mountains east of the Rockies. For a panoramic view of it all, lace up your boots and challenge yourself to a hike at Grandfather Mountain or a walk across its iconic Mile-High Swinging Bridge.
“In the beginning of May, you can stand on the bridge and see spring still creeping up the mountain,” explains Lauren Farrell, Grandfather Mountain Education Programs coordinator. “The farther down you look into Pisgah National Forest, the softer and greener it is.” She suggests watching for pink catawba rhododendrons and flame azaleas in late May to mid-June and rosebay rhododendrons as summer sets in. Locals say the show is every bit as impressive as fall foliage.
Hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway for Julian Price Memorial Park, where you can canoe or kayak on its 47-acre lake, try your hand at fishing, or take a hike on one of the park’s 11 trails. Adjacent to the park is the Moses Cone Estate, a 23-room summer home known locally as Flat Top Manor. But it’s the grounds that reflect the values of Moses Cone, a 19th-century textile entrepreneur and conservationist ahead of his time. Cone’s joy in the natural world shaped the estate’s 25 miles of carriage trails that invite slow strolls and leisurely picnics.
There’s a time-honored Southern tradition of picnicking on fried chicken, and Proper has the best in Boone — local humanely-raised meat, dredged in flour and a bit of spice, fried ‘til crispy. Chef and owner Angela Kelly describes it as simple, authentic, and a must-have for guests: “If I stopped serving fried chicken, they’d burn this place down!” For a picnic, Kelly recommends their other Southern classics, like pimento cheese, biscuits, Carolina-style coleslaw, and cucumber and onion salad — a cooling summer favorite.
The High Country wilderness abounds with exhilarating activities to push your comfort zone. Dip your toe in at the New River — wide, winding, and ancient — ideal for a lazy tube ride through lush Appalachian scenery. Wahoos or High Mountain Expeditions make it an easy escape, and even young kids enjoy gliding down the river, spotting wildlife, and splashing in the sunny, shallow waters.
Crank up the adrenaline a notch (or 10) at Sky Valley Zip Tours, where bird’s-eye views come at 30 miles an hour and 300 feet off the ground.
If you’re more of a two-wheel adventurer, wind your way to Rocky Knob for world-class mountain biking trails. “The jump trails face west, so if you time it right you get amazing sunsets,” says trail boss Kristian Jackson, head of park stewardship. Whenever you go, be sure to savor the drops — “You get the sensation of being in the mountains, not just in the woods” — and check out the skills trail called PBJ, for pumps, berms, and jumps.
Rehash the day’s adventures at East Boone gem Booneshine Brewing, a local gathering spot with sprawling green space, yard games, and live music. Owner Tim Herdklotz recommends pairing your brew with a soft pretzel from beloved Boone bakery StickBoy Bread or the Bolick Burger, from cows fed with BooneShine’s own spent grains. But Herdklotz wants to serve up more than just super-local fare. “If we can provide great beer and great food, and if we can make people comfortable in this beautiful setting, then community’s gonna happen,” he says. “And the High Country’s gonna be a better place.”
Downtown on King Street, Boone’s gusto for summer is on full display: Buskers set an easy mood, shop owners prop open their doors, and couples linger over brunch on sunny patios. Melanie’s outdoor space is ideally situated for taking in the town-center vibe, and its eclectic, nourishing breakfast and lunch menus invite leisurely coffee and conversation. “We’re really proud of our porch as a way to help visitors experience what’s great about summertime in Boone,” manager Paul Tuttle says.
When the sun goes down, perch on the porch and rooftop deck of Lost Province Brewing for live music, creative microbrews, and woodfired pizza before heading to one of the many world-class performances that make up 2021’s An Appalachian Summer Festival.
What started years ago as a chamber music festival has become a “diverse celebration of the arts,” says Festival Director of Marketing Allison West. “This year has the added excitement of finally coming together again — safely, of course.” Southern rock darling Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit plan to headline in Kidd Brewer Stadium for a long-awaited concert that’s a fitting celebration of Boone’s summertime spirit.
Top off your evening with a nightcap at the Horton Hotel’s cozy, flame-lit Rooftop Lounge. The boutique hotel was once a Studebaker car garage, and the rooftop summer menu boasts “upscale, whimsical cocktails, regional beers, and snacky bites. “Whether you’re sitting under the sun or the stars, there’s nothing taller,” says Andrea Morton, Director of Operations. “You get the best views in Boone. It’s a perfect summer night in our mountains.”