The short stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs from just east of Boone NC to just west of Blowing Rock is particularly packed with special sites and things to do.
Over this 36-mile span, you’ll see the monolithic landmark of Grandfather Mountain, stunningly colorful mountain lakes, and jaw-dropping scenic vistas from the lofty NC High Country over the vast Piedmont region.
Amongst this collection of remarkable places to visit is the former estate of Moses H. Cone, North Carolina’s renowned “Denim King.”
The public park includes Cone’s Flat Top Manor House (constructed in 1901), extensive horse-carriage trails, decades-old apple orchards, and three beautiful lakes.
This government-owned historical site has actually been open to the public since before Cone passed away in 1908.
Read on for our guide to the myriad things to do at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park near Blowing Rock, which includes history, driving directions, and other important info.
Moses Cone Park Info
ADDRESS: Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 294, Blowing Rock, NC 28605
PHONE: 828-295-3782 (Craft Shop)
MANOR HOURS: 10:00 AM-4:00 PM, Wed-Sun (May), 10:00 AM-5:00 PM, Daily (June-Oct)
ENTRY FEES/PASSES: None
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: National Park Service
DIRECTIONS FROM BOONE NC: Take the US-321 south out of Boone and exit towards Flat Top Road. From Flat Top Road, it’s a left turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. Moses H. Cone Manor House and parking lot will be on the left about 2 miles down the Parkway, Milepost 294.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park History
In 1892, Moses Cone purchased the first block of land for what would become a 3500-acre estate. He held the natural landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains in such high esteem that he wanted a summer home there.
Construction of the Cone summer home (known as Flat Top Manor) began in 1899. It was uniquely done in the Beaux-Arts architectural style of the American past rather than the French-influenced chateaux style popular at the time.
This design choice came from the desire Moses and his wife Bertha had to distance themselves from their German-Jewish roots and appear more like well-established Americans.
In the 1840s, shortly after immigrating to the US, Moses’ father Herman had changed his surname from Kahn to Cone in a similar effort to assimilate. But the Cones’ grand vision was much more than a mere patriotic statement.
They had recreational venues for bowling, croquet, and tennis, as well as 25 miles of roadways for horde-drawn carriages (both for the family to enjoy and to aid in the maintenance of the massive property).
Moses, who considered himself a gentleman farmer, also sought to make the property financially self-sustaining.
With the labor of 32 families and a home fully staffed with servants, Cone established commercial apple orchards, maintained great herds of sheep and cattle, and stocked the property’s three lakes with bass and trout.
Unfortunately, Moses Cone didn’t live to see the property blossom for even a decade. After a year-long trip around the world in 1906, he was diagnosed with heart problems and ultimately died within two years.
Bertha outlived him by nearly four decades, continuing to occupy and manage Flat Top Manor every summer. She died in 1947. Moses was buried in the cemetery grounds of the estate, and Bertha’s ashes were placed next to him.
The couple had no children, so funds from the estate were used to build the Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, which in turn was charged with maintaining the estate as “a public pleasuring ground”.”
The hospital soon donated the Cone Estate to the National Park Service, and it has since emerged as one of the most popular Blue Ridge Parkway attractions in North Carolina.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park has been part of the Parkway since 1949, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Things to Do at Moses H. Cone Park
Tour the Manor House
Flat Top Manor is located at 4500 feet in elevation, and it is currently opened to the public for no charge.
The bottom floor features The Craft Center, which is operated by the Southern Highland Craft Handicraft Guild, as well as a bookstore and NPS information desk.
The veranda to the home is outfitted with rocking chairs that showcase a sweeping view of Bass Lake, old apple orchards, and miles of carriage trails.
Scheduled 45-minute tours of the manor’s second floor are conducted by park rangers from May to the end of October, but visitors have to register with the rangers in order to take them.
Horseback Riding & Horse-Drawn Carriages
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is a unique place for equestrian enthusiasts because of its extensive carriage roadway system.
Visitors can hire carriage services for extensive, 2.5-hour tours of the park for about $100 per person. Or, for a similar price, adventurous souls can hire horses for guided horseback riding tours of the property.
In either case, it’s good to know that there is a Bass Lake entrance to Moses Cone Park just south of Blowing Rock, right off US-221.
This entrance provides quicker access to Bass Lake, the Apple Barn, and the lower trails.
Hike the Trails
While the trails here are often viewed as super special because of their equestrian friendliness, they also make for great places to hike.
The Cones were naturalists, so the property is festooned with a beautiful array of flora. The trails are lined with several varieties of rhododendron, as well as mountain laurel and other North Carolina wildflowers.
Along the trails, hikers will see the remnants of Cone’s prize-winning apple orchards and “ the apple barn,” circumvent mountain lakes, and take in the mountainous panoramas from Flat Top Tower.
Bass Lake Loop is the most popular hiking trail. It’s under a mile and circles the 22-acre Bass Lake that Flat Top Manor overlooks. From the manor (BRP Milepost 294), the hike is much longer because it requires a trek down to Bass Lake and a trek back up from it.
Flat Top Road is a fantastic hike that departs from the manor and follows the ridgeline for a few miles to Flat Top Tower. It’s a fairly flat trail made for carriages, cutting through fields of wildflowers en route to extraordinary views.
The “Figure 8 Trail” is next to the Cone Manor House and operates as a self-guided stroll, which the Cones were rumored to do most mornings they were on-site. It takes about 20 minutes total.
All of these Moses H Cone trails are open to cross-country skiers in the winter as well.
Explore the Apple Orchard & Apple Barn
Moses Cone loved apples and, though he gained his wealth as a textile magnate, relished his role as a farmer. He actually began planting apple trees on the estate before the manor construction even began.
All in all, he had over 32,000 apple trees planted in four separate orchards—Flat Top, China, Saw Mill, and Green Park—with 80 different varieties of apples on some 200 acres.
Unfortunately, the amount of harmful chemicals used in farming at the time have left the land scarred so badly that digging is now prohibited in the former orchards!
There has been no spraying of pesticides and such for 70 years now, but the National Park Service still monitors the effects of the past. And it’s still an interesting thing to see.
With wonderful hiking trails, abundant blooming flowers, fresh-air spaces, and mountain lakes, it stands to reason that this park offers some pretty premium picnicking spots.
Of course there are no restaurants or food trucks available at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. But those who come armed with baskets of snacks and comfortable blankets are in for a real treat.
Bass Lake has some great spots for sprawling, as do the Manor House and Flat Top Road.
There is also another lake just across the Blue Ridge Parkway that has a spectacular hiking trail around it, too.
Places to Stay Near Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
While there are no hotels, B&Bs, or campsites at Moses Cone Memorial Park, there are plenty of worthy accommodation options very close by.
Julian Price Campground
Located mere three miles away, Julian Price Memorial Park has its own set of phenomenal trails and a gorgeous lake at its heart. It also has a very nice campground.
The Julian Price Campground is extensive, with 75 tent and RV sites that can be reserved in advance and 100+ others that are first come, first served.
The campsite is next to Price Lake, which is open to non-motorized boats and (licensed) fishing. Each site comes with a picnic table, BBQ grills, and a lantern pole.
In addition to Price Lake, the park includes several waterfalls and some of the area’s most beloved trails.
Boone & Blowing Rock Accommodations
If camping isn’t ideal, Boone is just eight miles north of Moses Cone Park, and Blowing Rock is five minutes away.
Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock is our favorite place to stay with trails that lead directly into the park by Bass Lake.
For “big views” between Blowing Rock and Boone, check out this 5-bdrm Vacation Home on VRBO, which is perfect for large groups or families.
A cozier 3-bdrm option is the secluded Cabin Nestled in Blowing Rock, which is located just one block from the shops and restaurants of the downtown area.
Pet-lovers and hot tub soakers alike will enjoy Azalea Hill, a beautiful 3-bdrm mountain cabin with exceptional scenic views all year-round.
Both Boone and Blowing Rock have trendy eateries, micro-breweries, tourist shops, excellent (urban) parks, Appalachian culture museums, and quick access to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
These towns act as hubs for adventurous tourists in both the summer (hiking and biking) and winter (skiing and snow tubing). And of course the fall colors in North Carolina couldn’t be more stunning!
Broyhill Equestrian Preserve
Seeing that Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is likely to attract equestrian visitors, it’s worth noting that Broyhill Equestrian Preserve is located less than a mile from Downtown Blowing Rock.
Not only does it have camping facilities with both water and electricity, but there are 12X12 horse stalls available for hire overnight as well.
Broyhill has hosted the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show for nearly 100 years now, and it is officially affiliated with Moses Cone Memorial Park, offering easy access to the park’s carriage trails. —by Jonathon Engels; all photos by Dawson Tozier unless otherwise noted