A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

The first hike that 10-year-old Ryan Crawley took with his grandfather made a lasting impression. Decades later, after traversing many more trails together and eventually following in his grandpa’s footsteps

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The first hike that 10-year-old Ryan Crawley took with his grandfather made a lasting impression. Decades later, after traversing many more trails together and eventually following in his grandpa’s footsteps

Trailblazing in Blowing Rock

The first hike that 10-year-old Ryan Crawley took with his grandfather made a lasting impression. Decades later, after traversing many more trails together and eventually following in his grandpa’s footsteps to trek the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail, Crawley is the lead hiking guide at Blowing Rock’s Speckled Trout Outfitters.

“I love the feeling of getting away from screens, getting away from technology, having the truly undivided attention of people you’re with, out in the woods,” he says.

Whether you crave a long-distance ramble connecting with friends, a leisurely stroll learning about the area’s history, or a challenging climb to Grandfather Mountain’s rocky peaks, Blowing Rock is just the place to find your next adventure. In honor of North Carolina’s Year of the Trail, we’ve created a roundup of all sorts of trails to blaze. Read on to find your perfect path in North Carolina’s High Country.


Stroll around Price Lake on the family-friendly Julian Price Trail. Photography courtesy of Blowing Rock TDA

A Walk in the Park

For an easily accessible trail that’s great for the family, check out Price Lake Loop at Julian Price Park. “It’s what I like to call a quick snatch and grab,” Crawley says. “You can get out of your car quickly, walk in, and have a great time on it right away.”

Complete the 2.2-mile walk in less than an hour, or take your time, stopping to enjoy views of Grandfather Mountain. This wide, wooded path circling the lake is relatively easy. Just mind the tree roots and take care navigating occasional boulders. While you wind through the shade of hardwoods and dense rhododendron — pausing under the open sky at the lake overlooks — keep watch for signs of beavers who make these waters home.


Hike to the top of Grandfather Mountain via the Daniel Boone Scout Trail. Photography courtesy of Blowing Rock TDA

Take a Hike

Perhaps you seek a path less traveled among the miles of trails in this mountainous wonderland. Although you’d be hard-pressed to stumble upon an undiscovered trail in an area as outdoor-centric as Blowing Rock, “there are great trails here that people visit all the time and take care of so it doesn’t feel like you’re in Disney World,” Crawley says.

Access one of these, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail, by taking Tanawha Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once you’re on Daniel Boone Scout Trail, you’ll pass a Cessna plane that crashed into the mountainside 45 years ago before you arrive at the top of Grandfather Mountain.

Allow six to eight hours for this moderate to challenging hike, and be prepared for spectacular views from the 5,950-foot summit.

Want to hike the trails with an experienced guide? Crawley and the crew at Speckled Trout Outfitters lead private hikes around Blowing Rock. They specialize in matching the right trip to the right person, with the goal of leading safe hikes that meet hikers’ expectations and experience levels.


The Way to Waterfalls

It’s hard to resist the wonder of waterfalls, but they can prove challenging to reach. Elk River Falls, a relatively easy one to navigate, offers great picnicking, sunbathing, and swimming.

The short quarter-mile trail within Pisgah National Forest takes you to a wide swath of water tumbling an impressive 65 feet into a sparkling pool below. Although it’s unsafe to swim below the falls, feel free to cool off in calmer waters beyond the boulders.

For more of a challenge, follow the 1.9-mile Boone Fork Trail to Hebron Falls. Before setting off at the trailhead at the Price Park Picnic Area, keep in mind that open steps help hikers cross the rocky terrain, and ladders allow access at steeper spots.

You’ll cross streams, pass through rhododendron tunnels, and wind by large rock formations on your journey. The rushing river accompanies you part of the way, and the sound of water flowing in the rocky creek bed signals your arrival at a series of cascades over large boulders. With care, you can climb onto these boulders to soak in the sun.


Explore the reconstructed Edgewood Cottage, which once served as the summer home and studio of artist Elliott Daingerfield. Photography courtesy of Blowing Rock TDA

Promenade With the Past

For a different type of trail, use the CLIO smartphone app to take a self-guided tour of 11 historic sites from the late 19th and early-20th centuries within Blowing Rock’s bustling town center.

Begin your stroll at the 1903 Miller Robbins House, now a visitor center and home of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. Another stop, the reconstructed Edgewood Cottage, once the summer home and studio of renowned American artist Elliott Daingerfield, fittingly serves as a gallery for the town’s summer Artists in Residence program. From fall through spring, the cottage transforms into a museum.

On June 1, the new Blowing Rock History Walk will add another retrospective trail to downtown. You’ll find the first of its 21 stonework stations at the intersection of Main and Laurel Lane. Each stop along the one-and-a-half-block tour will display a bronze plaque with a written description focusing on one aspect of the town’s past.

Topics include the area’s early inhabitants and the impact of the Lenoir-Blowing Rock Turnpike on the small village, to name a few. QR codes will link to in-depth articles for those wanting to learn more.

Within Broyhill Park, 11 of the walk’s stops surround the lake. Each of these lakeside stations includes seating — a perfect place for a picnic amidst the serene surroundings.


On Course for Crafts

Located within the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, Blowing Rock is home to craftspeople continuing Appalachia’s rich tradition of arts and crafts. Their handiwork appears at several stops on the Blue Ridge Craft Trails.

Main Street — with its four stops — is a great place to start your tour. You’ll find The Mountain Thread Company and High Country Candles in the historic Martin House, one of the oldest remaining buildings in town. See artisans at work at The Mountain Thread Company as they create quilts, rope baskets, and fabric arts in the sunny shop and studio. At High Country Candles, intricately carved candles, wax-filled jars with mountain-inspired scents like Blackberry Sage, and colorful pillars fill the shelves.

Also on Main Street, Bolick and Traditions Pottery displays handmade functional pottery — plates and pitchers to unique condiment holders and dip chillers — and folk-art face jugs representing six generations of pottery heritage.

Walk a little farther to Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, which showcases the region’s historical and contemporary artwork. Pottery, impressionist works, photography, and crafts complement the history and landscape paintings in its galleries.

The last stop, Southern Highland Craft Guild, located at Moses Cone Memorial Park within the historic Flat Top Manor, is open spring through fall. The guild features hundreds of regional artists in its mission to keep mountain craft traditions alive.


Horsing Around

Meet a new trail buddy during a ride with Vx3. Photography courtesy of Blowing Rock TDA

Moses Cone Memorial Park also contains a network of carriage roads that make ideal trails for horseback riding, according to Tim Vines, owner and operator of Vx3 Trail Rides. “There’s nothing motorized, and no bicycles are allowed on the trail, which is a horseback rider’s dream,” he says.

The Watauga County native prefers the section of the park north of the Blue Ridge Parkway because it tends to be overlooked by visitors. Here, the gravel carriage roads, built by the Cones in the early 1900s, feel more secluded as they wind up mountains, crossing open meadows and pastures.

Past Trout Lake, riders can continue to a picnic area on Rich Mountain. In the other direction, you’ll pass the Cone Cemetery before reaching a fire tower perched on Flat Top Mountain. Climb the tower for a peek above the treetops to view the surrounding terrain, undulating toward a horizon rimmed with silhouettes of distant peaks.


Race down a trail during a mountain-biking adventure. Photography courtesy of Blowing Rock TDA

Mountain Bike Maneuvers

Although the Blowing Rock area hasn’t traditionally been known for mountain biking, the sport is gaining traction in Pisgah National Forest east of Linville Gorge. With 25 to 30 miles of singletrack in the nearby Wilson Creek area under renovation, it’s positioned to become a trail-riding destination.

“At this point, Yancy Ridge is probably the crown jewel,” says Brian Sain, owner of Rhoddie Bicycle Outfitters. After a steep 3.5-mile climb up the forest service road, the remote and wild Yancey Ridge Loop Trail makes for a fast and furious ride over rugged terrain.

Time your springtime visit just right, and you’ll race down the trails surrounded by blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel. Once the forest drops its leaves in the fall, you’re surrounded by long-range views from the mountaintop while you ride.

When your adventures come to an end, let memories of the vistas become mementos of your time in this corner of the Blue Ridge. And when the urge to explore, learn, or challenge yourself strikes again, Blowing Rock will welcome your return.

This story was published on Apr 13, 2023

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.