A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

When 26-year-old Haven Jenkins, receptionist at Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel, walks through the historic building’s century-old halls, she can’t help imagining her grandmother as a child, back when the building

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When 26-year-old Haven Jenkins, receptionist at Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel, walks through the historic building’s century-old halls, she can’t help imagining her grandmother as a child, back when the building

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When 26-year-old Haven Jenkins, receptionist at Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel, walks through the historic building’s century-old halls, she can’t help imagining her grandmother as a child, back when the building

Choose Your Own Adventure at the Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel

When 26-year-old Haven Jenkins, receptionist at Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel, walks through the historic building’s century-old halls, she can’t help imagining her grandmother as a child, back when the building was Spruce Pine Elementary School, and her grandmother was a student.  

“My grandma was 74 when she passed away, but I think of her and wonder what her experience was like,” Jenkins says. “This hotel makes me feel so proud of where I come from. It’s wonderful to be a part of something with so much history.”

Newly renovated and opened in July, the Blue Ridge Boutique Hotel boasts 16 rooms (with 16 more open by next year), each named after a local landmark and featuring North Carolina mountain photography by artist Patti Grosh. If Grosh’s photo inspires you to get out and explore, the hotel makes it easy, offering a description of the destination, its distance from the hotel, and maps for how to get there.

Ready for a weekend getaway? Read on for a just a few of guests’ favorite ways to choose their own adventure.



Room 200: Bare Dark Sky Observatory    

Mayland Community College’s Earth to Sky Park is home to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory, perched 2,736 feet up on a mountain with 360-degree views. Here, the night sky puts on an unparalleled show, thanks to the pitch-black surroundings that helped the park earn certification as one of the world’s 94 certified Dark Sky Parks.

The observatory houses North Carolina’s largest telescope, a custom-built Newtonian with a 34-inch mirror. Purchase your tickets in advance to look through the telescope at one of the park’s nighttime viewing sessions, held year-round when the weather is clear. Through the telescope’s lens, you can see the Milky Way, the rings of Saturn, and even the eye of Jupiter.  

Even when the Bare Dark Sky Observatory is closed, stargazers can set up their own telescope in one of the eight viewing stations around the building. Remember, the grounds are intentionally dark, so bring a flashlight.

At Mayland Community College’s Earth to Sky Park — home to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory, which houses North Carolina’s largest telescope — the night sky puts on an unparalleled show. photograph by Mayland Community College

 

Room 205: Roan Mountain

If you like rhododendrons — that lush shrub that thrives in the North Carolina mountains, the one with big clusters of bell-shaped, deep-hued, rose-colored flowers set off by evergreen leaves — lace up your hiking boots and drive straight to Roan Mountain.

Nestled along the high ridge that defines the North Carolina and Tennessee border, the 6,285-foot Roan Mountain boasts the largest naturally growing gardens of Catawba rhododendrons in the world. The area is especially stunning in June, when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, but it’s still gorgeous in any season.

For a serious hike, start at Carver’s Gap and follow the Appalachian Trail through spruce and fir forests to the bluff in the rhododendron gardens, and roll out your blanket for a picnic in the idyllic mountain setting. Or start at the Roan Mountain Recreation Area, which offers easy access to Roan High Bluff, the mountain’s second-highest point.

For a serious hike at Roan Mountain, start at Carver’s Gap and follow the Appalachian Trail through spruce and fir forests to the bluff in the rhododendron gardens. photograph by Patti Grosh

 

Room 208: Dellinger Grist Mill

When Reuben Dellinger built Dellinger Grist Mill out of chestnut in 1859, he transported the waterwheel in eight 500-pound pieces through the mountains from nearby Morganton. Four generations later, that wheel still powers the last water-powered stone gristmill of its kind in North Carolina.

Stop by on the weekend, or email fourth-generation miller Jack Dellinger to schedule an appointment, and you can watch giant millstones grind mountain-grown corn — and hear stories of the days Jack worked for IBM to build the software used to launch the first Apollo astronauts to the moon.

When Jack retired, he returned to his homeplace in Bakersville and, one stone at a time, restored the mill that by then had sat vacant for 40 years. It was a labor of love that has paid off, especially for grit-lovers who come all the way from South Carolina to get a bag of fresh-ground Dellinger cornmeal, grits, and polenta.

Four generations after being built, the waterwheel at Dellinger Grist Mill still powers the last water-powered stone gristmill of its kind in North Carolina. photograph by Patti Grosh

 

Room 206: Quilt Trail

Spend any time driving through the mountains of western North Carolina and you’re sure to spot a wooden quilt on the side of a building or barn. Mitchell County offers eight driving trails through communities rich with these wooden quilt blocks—each with its own story.

With the Blue Ridge Boutique hotel as your starting point, you may opt for the Spruce Pine trail, which has quilts within walking distance. Start with the Maple Leaf block on the Toe River Arts Council building, and then check out the Dogwood block on the Spruce Pine Library, which honors Nuree Burns Hobson, Spruce Pine’s first librarian.  

And while the vibrant wooden blocks are the star of the show, the Quilt Trail also suggests stops along the way, such as Heirloom Jewel antique shop and Pine Crossings gallery. You can even stop at the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, which showcases more than 300 varieties of minerals and gems.

 

Room 215: Toe River

Just steps from the hotel, a picturesque walking bridge makes it easy to cross the Toe River into downtown Spruce Pine. If the river calls to you, there are plenty of ways you can answer.

The Toe River Valley Canoe Trail runs 37 miles from Spruce Pine’s Riverside Park down to Poplar, spilling over Class I, II, and III rapids along the way. If you want to navigate the rapids on a tube, canoe, or kayak, swing by Rivers Edge Outfitters at its Upper Street storefront in Spruce Pine to get the equipment you need. Drifting south, you’ll pass scenic mountain views of forests and farmland, punctuated by the occasional great blue heron, hawk, and osprey soaring overhead.

If you like to fish, check out the Spruce Pine Mountain Heritage Trout Water, a two-mile section of the North Toe River which is open for fishing between the first Saturday in June and the end of September. During this period, you can catch seven trout per day from the delayed-harvest trout water, and there’s no size restriction.

If the Toe River calls to you, there are plenty of ways you can answer — from tubing, canoeing, or kayaking to fishing and hiking. photograph by Patti Grosh

 

Room 207: Little Switzerland

For the quintessential mountain town experience, hop in your car for a 15-minute drive up to Little Switzerland. This tiny, unincorporated community packed with personality gives you a chance to check everything off your mountain weekend agenda.

Start with a cup of coffee at Books and Beans, a three-story bookstore brimming with every book you can imagine. Then take an easy hike to the 25-foot Grassy Creek Falls, a two-tiered waterfall just off the beaten path. Last stop: lunch or dinner at the Switzerland Inn — you’ll recognize the sweeping view from Grosh’s photo. Take in that same panoramic vista from the Chalet Restaurant, where you’ll have one of the best meals of your trip.

Enjoy sweeping mountain views and a quintessential mountain town experience in Little Switzerland. photograph by Patti Grosh

This story was published on Sep 08, 2021

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.