Located just a couple of hours north of downtown Asheville, the town of Boone NC is the county seat for Watauga County.
This hub of North Carolina’s High Country is a slice of the Blue Ridge Mountains that’s choc-a-block with outdoor activities and other attractions.
Boone was named for American pioneer/explorer Daniel Boone, who is said to have camped within what is now the city limits on several occasions.
The town of some 20,000 residents is deeply steeped in bluegrass and other aspects of Appalachian culture and history.
Boone is home to Appalachian State University, the headquarters of disaster relief NGO Samaritan’s Purse, and the Junalaska community, a free black community just north of downtown that has been in existence since before the Civil War.
For those seeking for a sort of Asheville feel, but with a closer connection to small town mountain roots, Boone might just be an ideal place to get away. It’s got a lot of modern creature comforts, yet still maintains that pioneering spirit of old.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Boone NC, from hiking trails and ski slopes to restaurants, museums and other attractions.
1. Daniel Boone Native Gardens
Created in 1957, Daniel Boone Native Gardens is an 8-acre tract in the town of Boone that’s dedicated to conserving native species and educating visitors about them.
Designed by Doan Ogden of Asheville and constructed in the early 1960s, the garden has lovely stone walls and walkways, a pond, and a rockery, as well as Squire Boone Cabin. All of this sits amongst some 200-plus species of native flora.
The Boone botanical garden is open daily during the warmer months– May through October– and asks for a $2.00 donation from visitors.
Picnics and instrument picking are encouraged, but all flowers should remain untouched.
2. Hickory Ridge Living History Museum
This living history museum in Boone provides visitors with a sense of what life was like for early North Carolina colonists in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
During those times, this small mountain community was diverse, largely self-sufficient, and content with sparse luxuries.
Along with “Horn in the West,” a play set during the War for Independence, the Hickory Ridge Museum is the work of the Southern Appalachian Historical Association. The organization strives to “explore, preserve, and share the region’s rich cultural heritage.”
The living history museum has six cabins dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Museum tours provide insight into classic crafts such as spinning, candle making, and cooking on open hearths.
READ MORE: The Top 10 Living History Museums in America
3. Ski the Slopes
North Carolina may not be the first location to comes to mind when snow skiing is on the agenda. But there are several great ski resorts in NC, the best of which are all within 30 minutes of downtown Boone.
From late November through March, Boone (and the surrounding High Country) turns into a ski destination.
There are three of the state’s top ski resorts nearby– Appalachian Ski Mountain, Beech Mountain Resort, and Sugar Mountain Resort. Skiing their slopes ranks high amongst the best things to do in Boone NC in winter.
All of these places offer ski lessons for beginners. They also have snowtubing slopes for those who aren’t inclined to try skiing or snowboarding.
4. The Blue Ridge Parkway
It’s kind of a no-brainer to say that taking a spin on the Blue Ridge Parkway is truly a must when you’re exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The stretches of the BRP near Boone are among the best, offering fantastic vistas of the North Carolina Piedmont to the east and the classic Blue Ridges to the west.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was actually started near Boone (at Cumberland Knob) in 1935, and finally completed near Boone (at Grandfather Mountain) in 1987, when the awesome Linn Cove Viaduct opened.
There are over 50 noteworthy Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails near Boone, 20-plus overlooks, and several of the area’s most spectacular waterfalls, including Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls, and the Cascades.
5. The Cascades Trail
Though it’s not particularly challenging for hikers, the Cascades Trail is a loop that stretches about one mile. Its highlight is Falls Creek, and that moment when Falls Creek swan-dives from a cliff into a wonderful waterfall.
The paths of Cascade Trail are very tourist-friendly: They make an amiable switch from paved to gravel, but remain easy to traverse throughout. In my opinion, it’s one of the best hikes near Boone NC!
The flora surrounding the trail is a mix of local hardwoods (including black locust, white oak, and chestnut oak) with a magical mix of flowering understory plants, such as serviceberry, mountain laurel, dogwood, flame azalea, and highbush blueberry.
Near the Tompkins Knob Parking area, you’ll find a dirt path that leads to a late-19th century cabin once owned by Jesse Brown. From there, the hike to Cascades can be extended by a mile or more.
6. The Boone Greenway
While most Boone hiking trails require driving out of town and disappearing into the woods, The Greenway in Boone is a flat, paved/gravel trail that is accessible to walkers, joggers, cyclists, and wheelchairs alike.
The Greenway has several routes that can be combined to provide a few miles worth of entertainment, including several bridges across the South Fork New River and Winkler’s Creek, recreational parks with picnic shelters, and highly-regarded birding sites.
Along the Greenway trails, you can see the remains of an historic dam that provided electricity for the Appalachian Training School (now Appalachian State University) in the early 1900s.
The Boone Greenway can be accessed from Downtown Boone, near Clawson-Barnley Park and Southgate Shopping Complex, and takes travelers into more natural, riparian buffers along the river.
All of this adds up to make the Greenway one of the best hikes in Boone NC.
7. Whitewater Rafting
The NC High Country offers lots of snow-based activities in the winter. But once it has melted away and the air has warmed a little, the whitewater rafting here is fantastic.
With so many creeks and rivers cascading down the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are options for every skill level, and plenty of outfitters to help you access them.
High Mountain Expeditions has decades of experience, offering rafting tours on the Nolichucky River, Watauga River, and Wilsons Creek, as well as tubing, hiking, and caving adventures.
River & Earth Adventures hosts tours with an eye towards environmental awareness, and Wahoo’s Adventures is an award-winning outfitter that offers water-based activities, land explorations, cabin rentals, and camping options.
8. Tweetsie Railroad
For a mixture of family fun and historical context, the Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West theme park with a steam-driven locomotive, shows, rides, a zoo of sorts, and experiential activities such as gold panning.
The rides at Tweetsie tend to be more of the fairground variety, such as Ferris Wheels and Free Falls as opposed to roller coasters. Their live shows steer towards the Wild West theme, with bandits, dancers, and magic acts.
But the railroad itself is a major highlight here. Engine #12 is an actual narrow-gauge locomotive that historically ran between Johnson City TN, and Boone NC. It operated from 1919 to 1940, and is the last remaining engine from that local rail line.
There’s also another narrow-gauge steam engine here, #190, which was transferred from Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Railroad.
9. Eat Well!
The Boone restaurant scene offers a fantastic mix of the down-home cooking of Appalachia with new-age foodie cuisine, leaning locally on fresh ingredients that celebrate the seasonal flavor.
Here are some of our picks for the best restaurants in Boone:
- Coyote Kitchen takes Boone to the Caribbean, with soul food that includes jerk chicken tacos, coconut rice, and fried plantains. The staff is great about adjusting the menu to meet special diets, a la gluten-free or vegan.
- Daniel Boone Inn Restaurant has been around for more than 50 years, serving up Southern comfort food such as buttermilk biscuits, black cherry preserves, and fresh stewed apples.
- F.A.R.M. (Feed All Regardless of Means) Café taps into Boone’s socially conscious and youthfully hip scene. The menu is created daily based on available ingredients, includes vegetarian and vegan options, and comes with soup and desert.
- Joy Bistro offers a casual atmosphere with a sophisticated menu. Local, seasonal vegetables and regionally-sourced meats are a big part of the flavor.
- Gamekeeper Restaurant has received the AAA Four Diamond Award for 10 consecutive years now. It focuses on humanely raised meats, local organic produce, and a wood-fired grill to create upscale dishes.
READ MORE: The Best Downtown Asheville Restaurants
10. Shopping on King Street
Downtown Boone is a walkable city center with lots of restaurants, shops, and galleries to explore. But none are quite so inviting as the ones you’ll find on King Street.
King Street is flush with the sort of specialty shops and small town character that willfully defy the big-box homogeny of the suburbs.
Antiques, collectable vinyl, Appalachian State gear, mountain bikes, handmade arts and crafts, and used books are amongst the many items to be found here.
There’s also the ubiquitous small town Mast General Store, which are impossible not to browse.
11. Drink Beer!
Asheville is the undisputed Mecca of craft beer on the East Coast. But that’s not to suggest that craft brewers aren’t finding other homes in the North Carolina mountains.
Boone has some of the best breweries in North Carolina, many of which offer inviting tasting rooms, outdoor seating, and good stuff to eat (in other words, they’re also the best bars in Boone).
Appalachian Mountain Brewery (and Cidery) offers great libations and has built their businesses with an eye on sustainability, community, and philanthropy. The Farm 2 Flame food truck churns out wood-fired pizzas here from locally sourced ingredients.
READ MORE: Exploring The 12 Best Asheville NC Breweries
12. Grandfather Mountain
An icon of the North Carolina High Country, Grandfather Mountain is a signature landmark of the Boone landscape and a top destination for enjoying the area’s wilderness.
Grandfather Mountain State Park spans nearly 2500 acres. It offers a multitude of challenging trails, with cliffs and ladders and rocky crags, not to mention insane biodiversity.
In addition to the park, the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation offers paid access to the trail system, with the bonus of a mile-high swinging bridge providing the best views.
Additionally, the park offers backpack camping sites for those looking to do overnight hikes. But for those seeking a comfy bed, the best Boone hotels are just 20 miles away.
13. Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 294, the 3500-acre Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is part of the US National Park Service.
Among the expansive area to explore, there’s a 16-acre trout lake, a larger bass lake, and over 25 miles of horse and carriage trails to enjoy.
Visitors can hike, fish, go horseback riding (rentals available), and even cross-country ski in winter. There’s also a crafty souvenir shop and amazing vistas for photography enthusiasts.
The centerpiece of “Cone Park” is the Flat Top Estate, which was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2013. It’s well over 100 years old!
14. Blowing Rock
It’s hard to imagine visiting Boone for any amount of time without taking a quick trip over to Blowing Rock, which is just under 8 miles south of town.
The town of Blowing Rock and Boone share many similar features– a centralized shopping area (Main St.), microbreweries, quality restaurants, and ample nature nearby.
However, it also has one thing Boone doesn’t: The Blowing Rock. This iconic rock formation hangs above the town of Blowing Rock, and is one of the oldest attractions in the area.
The Blowing Rock offers amazing scenic vistas, and is famed (and named) for the unusual updraft that occurs due to its location.
15. Boone Christmas Tree Farms
Boone is best known for its top-notch Christmas tree farms. The western NC mountaiuns have loads of them, but the Christmas tree farms in Boone are arguably the best.
Buying a Christmas tree in Boone is far more than the typical supermarket experience. Many of the tree farms here offer the choose-and-cut selection method.
Additionally, some farms offer hot chocolate in the barn, hay rides, and/or craft shops, turning tree-shopping into a memorable Christmas event.
If a rousing dose of Christmas spirit is what your family is after, check out the Cornett and Deal Tree Farm, Circle C Tree Farms, Panoramic View Christmas Tree Farm, or C&J Christmas Tree Farm. –Jonathon Engels