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North Carolina mountain towns

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Did You Know … ?

  • NASCAR traces its roots to North Carolina bootleggers who souped up their cars to avoid the law.
  • Around 1900, North Carolina was the country’s leading wine-producing region.
  • “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), an upstate New York story, was shot in Asheville area mountains.
  • Thomas Wolfe set his autobiographical “Look Homeward, Angel” (1929) in his hometown, Asheville.
  • The highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway is almost 6,050 feet, near Mount Pisgah, North Carolina.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

North Carolina’s mountain towns are defined by ranges within the Appalachian chain, prominently the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway provides convenient access to the mountains — and hence to these higher-elevation towns.

The highway, part of the U.S. National Park Service, was constructed to give tourists a high-altitude perch (averaging 3,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level) for viewing the natural wonders of the region. Starting at Cherokee, on the tribe’s reservation and at the border of the Smoky Mountains National Park, the parkway follows mountain ridges for 252 miles in North Carolina before crossing into Virginia.

The largest of the towns is a city, Asheville, with nearly 90,000 residents and metro area of around 425,000. It charms visitors with its architecture, as well as the scenic setting. In the late 19th century, it grew rapidly into a resort and therapeutic health center. Visitors can read this history in the architecture, now preserved and protected, that dates from those early boom years. The city counts 12 districts on the National Register of Historic Places, not to mention listed buildings. It also is the region’s center for art galleries, entertainment venues and fine dining.

The next-largest town is Boone (population: around 18,000), a university town, market town and center for outdoor activities. The 900-plus-mile Mountains-to-Sea biking trail threads right through the town.

However, few of the towns have more than 3,000 year-round residents. Blowing Rock, billed as the state’s prettiest small town, counts roughly 1,300 residents, and Lake Lure, which is all about a manmade watery playground, is even smaller. While small, the mountain towns have a striking number of sites on the National Register of Historic Places. For example, Hendersonville (population: about 13,500) counts eight historic districts.

The area also is rich with indoor and open-air museums, craft centers and outdoor pageants, which together reveal much about mountain living and about the region’s Cherokee Indians. For travelers who want to get out of the towns, there is the parkway drive itself, plus a plethora of activity choices such as boating, camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting — and, oh, yes, wine tasting.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Blowing Rock gives access to Julian Price Memorial Park, where diversions include boating (no power or sailboats), fishing and hiking.
  • See if you can sign on to participate in an overnight learning experience at the Hickory Ridge Homestead, a living history museum in Boone, highlighting the lifestyles of mountain residents of 200 years ago. The overnight stay, with craft workshops, has to be arranged in advance and is an option for groups.
  • Go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River out of Bryson City. You also could take a canopy tour at the Nantahala Gorge.
  • Go mountain biking in DuPont State Forest outside of Hendersonville. Or ride that bike right through Boone.
  • There are several options for wine tasting in the mountains, but consider Valley River Vineyards at Murphy. In the time-honored make-it-yourself tradition of the Appalachians, this establishment sells home winery supplies.
  • Hike some part of North Carolina’s share of the Appalachian Trail.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Tour the 250-room Biltmore House in Asheville, then use the 8,000-acre grounds for biking, horseback riding or rafting. Have lunch at one of the estate’s restaurants, too.
  • Ski at Appalachian Ski Mountain at Blowing Rock. Take time off the slopes to learn how mountain families lived in the early 1900s by visiting Blowing Rock’s Appalachian Heritage Museum, which is a 1903 home with authentic period decor.
  • Save time for the beach, and go to Lake Lure, a manmade beauty.
  • The Daniel Boone Native Gardens in Boone showcase native plants plus a log cabin which belonged to Daniel Boone’s family. Take a self-guided tour.
  • The Oconaluftee Indian Village is a re-created Cherokee village of the 18th century. Enrich your knowledge as local Cherokee demonstrate arts and crafts and describe the culture and lifestyle of their forebears.
  • Attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in July and watch strong guys throw telephone poles around — plus a whole lot of other Scottish-clan related activities. You can camp at the event, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Buy furniture at the source. At Lenoir, a 20-mile highway segment is dominated by furniture outlet stores.
  • Take a narrated trolley tour of Asheville and get a look at several of its numerous historic buildings and districts. For a quite different mode of transport, take your tour on a Segway, which is somewhat like a big motorized roller skate with handlebars.
  • Buy tickets for an outdoor drama. Choices include “Horn in the West” in Boone, which tells of Daniel Boone and his fellow mountain settlers; “Onto These Hills” at Cherokee, recounting the story of the Cherokee Indians, and “From This Day Forward” at Valdese, recalling the history of Waldensian settlers.
  • Search for gems at mines in places like Bryson City, Cherokee, Franklin or Spruce Pine. There are others, as well. Also, at Bryson City, take a half-day scenic rail trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
  • Toss the dice or enjoy whatever game of chance you prefer, at the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Set aside time to shop for Indian arts at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee, as well.
  • Learn more about the history of North Carolina’s mountain settlers at the Mountain Heritage Center in Cullowhee.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit North Carolina at www.visitnc.com