[Updated June 14, 2022]
Known as the “Crown of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Blowing Rock NC is widely regarded as one of the most charming North Carolina villages.
Located in the NC High Country 10 miles south of Boone and 24 miles east of Banner Elk, the town of Blowing Rock was established in 1889.
The population hasn’t grown much, from 300 residents when it was founded to approximately 1300 year-round residents today. But those numbers soar in summer, when people head for the hills to escape the heat and humidity.
The town was named after The Blowing Rock attraction, an iconic geological formation that provides sensational views of the surrounding summits, forest, and the Johns River Gorge.
While that remains the area’s oldest and most popular tourist hotspot, downtown Blowing Rock is also home to an extensive assortment of other activities.
And with the Blue Ridge Parkway just minutes away, the small town makes a great base for exploring the entire region.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Blowing Rock, including all of the area’s best attractions, restaurants, hiking trails, and Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Blowing Rock Cabin Rentals (1 to 4+ Bedrooms)
Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC Guide
- Appalachian Fossil Museum
- Appalachian Ski Mountain
- The Blowing Rock
- Blowing Rock Art & History Museum
- Sample the Best Blowing Rock Restaurants
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Explore Downtown Blowing Rock
- Grandfather Mountain Attraction
- Grandfather Mountain State Park
- Hike to Glen Burney Falls
- Julian Price Memorial Park
- Linn Cove Viaduct
Moses H Cone Memorial Park
- Picnic at Broyhill Park
Sunrise at Thunder Hill Overlook
- Tweetsie Railroad
Visit the Spa at Chetola Resort
Ziplining at Sky Valley Zip Tours
The Best Hotels in Blowing Rock NC
Chetola Resort– One of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway hotels, Chetola offers an elegant lodge; one-, two, and three-bedroom condos; a critically-acclaimed restaurant and bar; a 67-acre sporting reserve; and a luxury spa.
Meadowbrook Inn– Located on Main Street, this charming inn features large suites with sitting areas, whirlpool tubs, wet bars, and fireplaces and/or patios. There’s also a hot breakfast buffet, indoor pool, gym, and event facilities.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County
1. Appalachian Fossil Museum
Part of the family-friendly Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine attraction, the Appalachian Fossil Museum comprises the largest privately-owned collection of fossils, minerals, and gemstones in North Carolina.
Founder Randy “Doc” McCoy has had a passion for paleontology ever since his mom introduced him to fossils as a young boy.
After a stint in the US Army as an Emergency Field Surgeon, he went back to college, majored in Geology, and has since taught Appalachian State University students.
Moving into an expansive Tanger Outlets location in 2020 gave McCoy and his team a chance to showcase treasured finds from decades of digs and collection efforts.
His collection is currently valued at over $10 million, and includes rare fossils and high-end reproductions of dinosaurs you’ll recognize from Jurassic Park films.
The museum‘s most prized pieces include the skull of a massive prehistoric alligator, which is perched above an equally large tyrannosaurus rex skull for size comparison.
You’ll also see a triceratops skull found in Montana, as well as a dromaeosaurus and a smilodon (a.k.a. saber-toothed tiger).
After the informative tour, you can pan for gold or gemstones in their North Carolina gem mine, play a round of Paleo Putt-Putt, or shop for souvenirs in the gift shop.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary
2. Appalachian Ski Mtn.
Blowing Rock is located 8 miles south of Boone in the NC High Country. The area’s abundance of Christmas tree farms and ski resorts make it a very popular destination at Christmas time and all through the winter.
Although many of the region’s best snow skiing and snow tubing resorts are located closer to Banner Elk, Appalachian Ski Mtn is just 4 miles from the heart of downtown Blowing Rock.
The second oldest ski area in North Carolina, Appalachian Ski Mountain was originally known as the Blowing Rock Ski Lodge and opened in 1962-63.
After new owners bought the property in 1968, they renamed it and opened the French-Swiss Ski College to provide professional skiing instruction the following winter.
Today, the Appalachian mountain offers 11 ski trails (2 beginner, 6 intermediate, 3 advanced trails) and 3 terrain parks.
They’re accessed via two quad chairs, a double chair, a handle tow, and a conveyor lift.
The entire ski area is illuminated for nighttime skiing and is 100% covered by snowmaking, with one of the terrain parks getting completely rebuilt every week.
READ MORE: The Best Places for Snow-Skiing in North Carolina
3. The Blowing Rock
The oldest tourist attraction in North Carolina (and namesake for the town of Blowing Rock), The Blowing Rock is a unique geological formation located 3000 feet above John’s River Gorge.
It was named for the area’s whipping winds, which led Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to call it “the only place in the world where snow falls upside down.”
The legend of Blowing Rock is a classic lover’s leap tale involving a Cherokee brave who jumped to his death, only for the wind to blow him back up to his Chickasaw maiden.
The famous outcropping offers spectacular scenic vistas that include iconic North Carolina mountains such as Mount Mitchell and Grandfather, Hawksbill, and Table Rock Mountains.
It’s arguably the coolest selfie spot in all of Western North Carolina.
But there’s lots of other things to do at The Blowing Rock, including spectacular overlooks, a man-made waterfall, two picturesque hiking trails, a lovely picnic area, and a historical gallery of Blowing Rock photos.
There’s also a 3000-square-foot gift shop, plus a Gorge View Annex building that features a snack bar and locally crafted goods, and can be rented for private events.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Waterfalls Near Boone NC
4. Blowing Rock Art & History Museum
If you really want to get a feel for a mountain town, you really need to learn more about its history and culture.
The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum is a great place for both, offering a look at the past and present state of Southern Appalachian heritage and history through an array of activities, exhibits, and educational programming.
Opened in 2011, the gorgeously designed community cultural center features a small but impressive exhibit on the history of Blowing Rock and the High Country. It’s full of nostalgia, including antique signs, photos, and more.
But they also feature myriad galleries full of fantastic artwork, including paintings by Pulitzer Award-winning landscape artist Philip Moose, glass sculptures of wildflowers by Ronnie Hughes (ends August 21, 2022), and more.
They also offer fascinating special exhibits such as “Jagged Path: the African Diaspora in Western North Carolina in Craft, Music, and Dance,” which runs in the Fort Gallery through October 22, 2022.
READ MORE: 50 Fascinating Facts About Cherokee Culture & History
5. Sample the Best Blowing Rock Restaurants
Named one of the South’s 10 Best Mountain Towns by readers of Southern Living, Blowing Rock tourism was growing by more than 10% annually before Covid shut down the industry in 2020.
So it comes as no surprise that there are lots of great Blowing Rock restaurants for visitors to choose from.
Our favorite restaurant in Blowing Rock is Timberlake’s Restaurant at Chetola Resort, which opened in the historic Manor House of former owner J. Luther Snyder in 2012.
With 3 dining rooms and a lakefront patio, the upscale eatery serves up refined fare that includes Grilled Elk, tender Angus steaks, and delectable desserts.
Other great upscale places to eat in Blowing Rock include the Storie Street Grille (try the Loaded Sweet Potato Tots and Fig & Balsamic Flatbread), Bistro Roca (the Pork Lettuce Wraps and Lobster Mac & Cheese are divine), and Hellbender Bed & Beverage (we loved the Beef Tenderloin Sandwich and NC Trout plate).
6. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway passes two miles north of downtown Blowing Rock, so the town is a perfect base for exploring some of our favorite overlooks, hiking trails, and parks located along the 469-mile scenic route.
Our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks in the area include the Ravens Rocks Overlook (MP 289.5, a great place to catch the sunset), the expansive Yadkin Valley Overlook (MP 289.8), the Thunder Hill Overlook (MP 290.4), and the Sims Pond Overlook (MP 295.9, a great place for photos of reflections on the water).
Popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes nearby include the Bass Lake Trail at Moses H Cone Memorial Park (MP 294), the Green Knob Trail to a lookout tower (MP 350.4), the 13.5-mile Tanawha Hiking Trail, and the gorgeous Price Lake Loop Trail at Julian Price Memorial Park (MP 297).
There are also several great Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls nearby, including the Glen Burney Trail (which is a 1/2-mile from the BRP and features 3 waterfalls), the 5.3-mile Boone Fork Trail at Price Park, The Cascades in Boone (MP 272), and the small falls at the Rough Ridge Overlook (MP 302.8).
READ MORE: The Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hotels & Cabin Rentals
7. Explore Downtown Blowing Rock
If you enjoy charming little NC mountain towns such as Waynesville, Burnsville, and Little Switzerland, you’ll love exploring downtown Blowing Rock.
Though Moravian Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg visited the area in 1752, the real roots of the town began in the mid-1800’s, when the Greene family settled on a site that eventually became the Green Park Inn property.
Other Scotch-Irish families soon arrived, and Blowing Rock NC was incorporated as a town in 1889.
Today, the tiny town of around 1,500 permanent residents swells to 8,000+ residents in the summertime, when the cool climate and sensational scenery of the High Country draws visitors north from Asheville and beyond.
The downtown area is eminently walkable, with numerous Blowing Rock hotels close to an array of unique boutiques, art galleries, antique stores, and gift shops.
There are also dozens of great Blowing Rock restaurants to choose from, including favorites such as The Speckled Trout, Bistro Roca, and Timberlake’s.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
8. Grandfather Mountain Attraction
When people refer to Grandfather Mountain, it can get a little confusing because there are several different elements to the area.
The first is the iconic mountain itself: At 5,946 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains range.
It was formed more than 750 million years ago, and it features some of the oldest geological formations on earth.
Then there’s the ever-popular Grandfather Mountain State Park, which encompasses 2,456 acres of backcountry wilderness and 12 miles of trails.
There’s also a privately-owned, non-profit Grandfather Mountain attraction that requires an entry fee.
It ranges from $9 for kids ages 4-12 to $20 for seniors and $22 for adults, and proceeds help to support their conservation initiatives.
In return, you can access additional hiking trails, visit the Nature Museum and Wildlife Habitats (including native species such as Bald Eagles, Black Bears, Cougars, and Elk), and soak in stunning scenic views via the 228-foot-long Mile High Swinging Bridge.
READ MORE: The Best Hiking in Asheville NC Bucket List (Top 20 Hiking Trails)
9. Grandfather Mountain State Park
Easily ranking among the most popular NC State Parks, the 2,456-acre Grandfather Mountain State Park is located about 16 miles from the heart of downtown Blowing Rock.
Towering nearly a mile above the North Carolina Piedmont, this International Biosphere Reserve features more than a dozen distinct ecological zones that are home to 70+ species of rare and endangered plants and animals.
There are 12 miles of hiking trails there, including the Black Rock Trail, Daniel Boone Scout Trail, Grandfather Trail, Profile Trail, Nuwati Trail, and more.
Most of these trails are rated as strenuous in terms of difficulty, and some even require climbing ladders and scrambling over rock. But the views they provide at nearly 6,000 feet of elevation are breathtaking.
If you do choose to visit the park, prepare accordingly, as it’s known for some of the most severe weather and challenging trails in the southeastern United States.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to do in Waynesville NC
10. Hike to Glen Burney Falls
Although it’s rated as somewhat strenuous due to elevation changes, this 2.7-mile round-trip hiking trail is worth doing for the 3 wondrous waterfalls you’ll see along the way.
The trail starts at Broyhill Park in the Annie Cannon Gardens (which feature beautiful wildflowers in spring and summer), following New Year’s Creek to Glen Burney Falls, Glen Marie Falls, and Cascade Falls.
Along the way you’ll pass “The Ruins,” Blowing Rock’s sewage treatment system from the 1920s.
Note that these waterfalls drop off the side of the Blue Ridge Escarpment into John’s River Gorge, and the areas near the top require extra caution (especially after recent rains).
But the trek is worth it once you reach the stunning Glen Burney Falls, which tumbles 50 feet down a rock face into the tranquil pool below.
READ MORE: The 50 Best North Carolina Waterfalls to Visit
11. Julian Price Memorial Park
Located at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 297, just over 4 miles from downtown Blowing Rock, Julian Price Memorial Park is our favorite park in the North Carolina High Country.
Situated at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, the 4,200-acre parcel was formally owned by NC insurance giant Julian Price, who used it as a recreational retreat for his employees.
After his death in 1946, his heirs donated the land to the National Park Service as a memorial.
The centerpiece of the park is the picturesque Price Lake, which spans 47 acres and is open to kayaking and canoeing, fishing, and hiking the 2.7-mile Price Lake Trail.
Price Park offers easy access to other excellent hiking trails, including the 2.3-mile Green Knob Trail, the 5.5-mile Boone Fork Trail, and the epic Mountains-to-Sea Trail (which intersects the Boone Fork Trail).
The park also features more than 100 sites in its picnic area, and seasonal overnight camping at one of the best campgrounds in North Carolina (which has 197 campsites).
READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit
12. Linn Cove Viaduct
Located at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 304.4, the Linn Cove Viaduct is easily the road’s most impressive engineering feat. It’s also the feature that took the longest to complete.
Construction of the Parkway began in 1935, and conservationists stressed the importance of preserving the area around Grandfather Mountain by creating a viaduct to avoid the damage a cut-and-fill road would cause.
Although the rest of the 469-mile Parkway was completed by 1966, the 7.7-mile section that snakes around the massive mountain wasn’t finished until 1983, at a cost of $10 million.
Today the Linn Cove Viaduct remains one of the most popular spots on the epic scenic route, particularly when the vivid fall colors of North Carolina begin to pop on the surrounding hills.
It’s also one of our favorite places to photograph. The best angles come from the side of the road, the trail leading from the Linn Cove Visitor Center, and the summit of the Rough Ridge trail.
READ MORE: Fall in North Carolina: 20 Great Places to See Fall Colors in Western NC
13. Visit Moses H Cone Memorial Park
Where Julian Price Memorial Park is all about savoring the tranquility of nature, Moses H Cone Memorial Park (which is located 3 miles north at BRP MP 294) is also great for those interested in Appalachian history.
The park is named after North Carolina’s renowned “Denim King,” whose 3500-acre estate included a unique 19th century summer home (known as Flat Top Manor) designed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 120-year-old property also includes some 25 miles of horse carriage trails, apple orchards, and three beautiful lakes that Cone stocked with bass and trout.
Flat Top Manor (a.k.a. Cone Manor), which recently underwent a significant renovation, offers interpretive history elements and is also home to an impressive gallery of folk art from the Southern Highland Craft Guild.
The property also features numerous hiking trails lined with beautiful North Carolina wildflowers, including the popular Bass Lake Loop, Flat Top Road (which leads to an observation tower), and the short “Figure 8 Trail” right next to the Cone Manor House.
READ MORE: Things to Do at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Near Blowing Rock NC
14. Explore Mystery Hill
This historic Blowing Rock attraction, which dates back more than 70 years, is bonkers in the very best way. But you definitely need to be in touch with your inner child in order to fully appreciate it.
The family-owned Mystery Hill is essentially 13 family-friendly attractions in one. It starts with an unusual gravitational anomaly (discovered on an apple orchard in the 1920s), in which water flows uphill and anyone can execute Matrix-like moves like Neo.
From there, guests move through a Hall Of Mystery filled with eye-popping optical illusions, and a kid-friendly Bubblerama room that offers excellent photo ops.
Once you leave the main building, there’s lots more to explore. Activities include the historical 1903 Doughtery House and Native American Artifact Museum, axe-throwing on Tomahawk Hill, a surprisingly difficult Bull Riding Challenge, gem mining at Prospector Hill, and posing for old-timey photos at Professor Finnegan’s.
The $44.95 Ultimate Ticket allows you to experience all the fun, or you can select the $26.95 Choice Ticket if you only want to do one of their a la carte activities (axe throwing, gem mining, or photos).
READ MORE: The Hickory Ridge Living History Museum & “Horn in the West” in Boone NC
15. Picnic at Broyhill Park
The town of Blowing Rock is surrounded by the picturesque natural beauty that the NC High Country is known for.
But if you’re looking for a peaceful green space in town to spend a leisurely afternoon, Broyhill Park is really one of the best places in Blowing Rock.
Tucked away in the heart of downtown (behind the bustling Blowing Rock City Park), tranquil Broyhill Park is home to Mayview Lake.
The lovely little lake features a fountain in the middle, a gazebo and a fishing dock alongside it, and a walking path though a beautifully manicured garden all around it.
It’s easy to see why this charming park is a popular place for weddings. But it’s also perfect for an afternoon picnic, with lots of trees for shade and beautiful views every which way you turn.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC
16. Hike the Rough Ridge Trail
Located at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 302.8, the Rough Ridge Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in North Carolina for a very good reason.
Starting from the overlook’s parking lot, the trail heads into the forest at the base of Grandfather Mountain, crosses a bridge over a small waterfall, then heads 1/3-mile uphill, gaining 480 feet of elevation along the way.
There you’ll find a boardwalk leading to an exceptional overlook of the surrounding mountains, with Grandfather to your right, the Linn Cove Viaduct below, and rolling Blue Ridge summits as far as the eye can see.
From there, it’s another 1/2-mile up to the 4,773-foot Rough Ridge summit, where you’ll find lots of large boulders perfect for taking a break, soaking in the stellar scenery, and perhaps having a picnic.
Note that this area (especially its parking lot) can get crowded, even on weekdays, in peak fall season. We recommend arriving before 10AM if you want a little elbow room on the trail.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Boone NC Hiking Trails to Explore
17. Watch the Sunrise at Thunder Hill Overlook
The Thunder Hill Overlook may not be as well-known as Blue Ridge Parkway attractions such as Craggy Gardens, Stone Mountain, or Mabry Mill in Virginia.
But for our money, the overlook at BRP milepost 290.4 offers one of the most exceptional sunrise views in Western North Carolina.
We arrived in complete darkness, steaming cups of coffee in hand, and huddled together to watch the vivid orange and yellow glow gradually illuminate the rolling hills of the NC Piedmont below.
The rolling fog looked like a milky white ocean in the morning light. making for spectacular sunrise photos like the one above.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains
18. Spend a Day at Tweetsie Railroad
For a mixture of family adventure and historical context, visiting Tweetsie Railroad is another fun thing to do in Blowing Rock with kids.
Locomotive No. 12– a.k.a. Tweetsie– was one of the original passenger trains that began service into Boone NC in 1919.
It’s the only one that wasn’t sold for scrap after the ET&WNC Railroad closed up shop in 1950.
Today, the historic steam-powered locomotive is the star of this Wild West theme park, which also includes live music, fairground rides, a small zoo, and experiential activities such as gold panning.
There’s also another narrow-gauge steam engine here, #190, which was transferred from Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Railroad.
The annual Tweetsie Railroad Christmas is an especially popular event, with thousands of colorful lights, holiday themed performances, photos with Santa, and more.
19. Visit the Spa at Chetola Resort
As mentioned above, the 78-acre Chetola Resort & Lodge is our favorite place to stay in Blowing Rock.
But even if you’re not staying there as a guest, the resort still offers some exceptional amenities, including Timberlake’s Restaurant, Headwaters Pub, and the Spa at Chetola Resort.
Tucked back behind the Chetola Lodge, right next to the indoor pool, the spa offers a broad array of services. They include massages, facials, nail treatments, cosmetic applications, and a hair salon.
We enjoyed a relaxing Couples Massage there, and the spa treatment proved perfect for helping us both feel reconnected and rejuvenated.
It was a great way to end our romantic getaway, at the tail end of a busy 2-week Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.
READ MORE: The 15 Best NC Wineries to Visit
20. Ziplining at Sky Valley Zip Tours
If you’re more interested in an adrenaline rush than relaxation, zip lining offers pulse-pounding adventures and excellent views of the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape.
Sky Valley Zip Tours is one of 3 places for ziplining near Boone NC, and the only one based in Blowing Rock.
Located near Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, the Blowing Rock attraction encompasses over 140 acres, including a river, 35-foot waterfall, and tons of forest to explore.
There are a total of 10 zipline cables, plus a 120-foot swinging bridge and a 20-foot slide for the kids. Note that kids must be able to reach up to 48 inches for the Kid Zip Tour (which is aimed at younger children).
They also offer a Canopy Tour (which includes an ATV ride, a ziplining ground school, cliff repelling, and traversing the swinging bridge) and a Night Flight Tour for older kids and adults. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted