Wild Blue Ridge Yonder

An unforgettable weekend in the mountains

Our desire to escape “citified” life and get immersed in nature set us on a mission to find a place we had yet to explore. Banner Elk, North Carolina quickly rose to the top of the list. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains between ski resorts, and on the edge of the Cherokee National Forest just a few miles from the Tennessee state line, Banner Elk offers a great assortment of outdoor activities. From mountain biking and hiking to snow skiing, fishing, rafting, and zip lining, there’s plenty for everyone in the family to do. Banner Elk also offers decent lodging and dining options—sometimes absent in far-flung locations.

Hiking and Dining

We arrived in North Carolina with bicycles secured to our car rack and walking sticks in the trunk. After unpacking, we headed to Grandfather Mountain State Park for a hike, which has 11 trails of varying difficulty. Our afternoon trek included traversing the park’s one-mile high swinging bridge. The breathtaking scenery was well worth the effort of pushing through my fear of heights to walk the bridge. Based on the comments I heard other bridge walkers make as they passed by, many did the same, and were equally thrilled with their resolve.

After a couple of hours hiking in the fresh, mountain air, we cleaned up and went to dinner. A foodie friend described Artisanal Restaurant as “insanely good” and we made reservations in advance as recommended. We loved the cozy, upscale atmosphere in this rustic barn house turned restaurant. The service was equally stunning. We dined on duck and steak, both expertly prepared, and a side of caramelized okra that has been aptly described as “candy in a cup.” The sommelier’s suggested wine pairings were also superb. It was a perfect end to a grand first day in and around Banner Elk.

Casting and Butterflies

We met up with our fly fishing guides bright and early the following morning. Boone, North Carolina, just 30 minutes from Banner Elk, is home to some of the finest trout streams in the eastern United States. After gearing up and running through a few basic fly casting instructions, our guides drove us to a prime trout fishing location. I was practically oblivious to the mist that had started to come down as as my guide, Eddie, and I trudged along the stream bank. After several tries (and snags which Eddie took care of for me), I landed a nice brown trout. Fishing up and down a couple of streams, I even caught a few more browns and some rainbows. Rain—what rain? I was on fire!

After about three hours, we reconnected with my husband and his guide. My spouse was a bit envious that I caught more trout than he did. I downplayed my success, but I think he could tell I was secretly gloating.

Back at the condo we dried off and grabbed some lunch. Then, with the sunshine reappearing, we drove to Wiseman’s View in Pisgah National Forest. Our German luxury sedan did just fine on the four miles of remote, gravel road that ended at a parking lot. A short walk on a paved path to the observation areas yielded astounding, panoramic vistas of Linville Gorge, looking across Hawksbill Mountain and Table Rock. Words cannot describe the sheer beauty that unfolded before us. You must see it for yourself.

As incredible as Wiseman’s was, our drive afterward, when we allowed ourselves to “get lost” and meander around on back roads, was most remarkable. At one point we pulled off the road to take in an unspoiled view of mountain tops that went on for miles. As we emerged from our car, dozens of butterflies fluttered into the air. The scene—with the butterflies and mountains as a backdrop—was one-in-a-million. If only we had time to grab our camera before the butterflies landed elsewhere.

Zipping and Shredding

An active day made for a sound night’s sleep. The next morning, we were up and at ‘em early again. First, we stopped at Hawksnest Zipline in Seven Devils. Ziplining was new for me. Thankfully, they start you off on a short run pretty close to the ground, so you get the hang of it before you begin zipping through the tree tops. By the end I felt like a zipline pro.

In the afternoon we went mountain biking in Boone’s acclaimed Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park. Taking the beginner-friendly trail called Rocky Branch was a wise decision given our age and skill level. (OK, I admit, we didn’t shred it!) We had a ridiculously fun but somewhat rocky ride. Sugar Mountain is another popular biking destination in the summer months when cyclists and their bikes can take a chair lift to the summit for an exciting descent.

That evening, we relived our whirlwind adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains while swilling a few microbrews and enjoying North Carolina barbeque. With our “nature fix” complete, we were ready to head back to the burbs for a spell.

Author: Emilie Quisenberry

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