As a charming college town, Boone is home to many family-friendly activities & nature experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
At less than 20,000 people, Boone is the perfect, small town for a weekend mountain getaway. Named for famous American pioneer Daniel Boone, it’s also home to Appalachian State University and thus has a young, quirky vibe while still remaining family-friendly. The natural beauty alone is worth the visit, but there also are several attractions that your kids will love.
Photo courtesy: Sam Dean Photography/Watauga County TDA
What to do?
There’s plenty to keep your family busy in the Boone area. The highlight for our family was Grandfather Mountain State Park, located about 20 miles to the southwest of town. While admission to the park is free, the adjacent park run by Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation (which includes a mile-high swinging bridge and other attractions) does charge a per-person entrance fee. My family and I intended to enter though the free entrance but unintentionally drove up to the paid area. However, in hindsight, I feel that the attractions here are worth the admission fee. The drive up the mountain provides incredible views and several opportunities to park your vehicle and explore. My kids climbed huge rocks, and there’s an area which houses several wildlife habitats for bald eagles, river otters, black bears, and cougars. The small museum, cafe, and gift shop also are worth exploring. We found ourselves there at lunch time and ate at the cafe, which was okay but nothing special; I wouldn’t recommend eating here except out of necessity. We saw several picnic areas being used by families for lunch, which we’ll take advantage of on our next visit. In my opinion, the best part of this park is the famous, mile-high swinging bridge at the mountain summit. It’s America’s highest suspension footbridge, spanning 228 feet over an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. If you’re afraid of heights, you can still enjoy the spectacular views without actually crossing the bridge. You'll also find several hiking trails in this area. Cost: Youth (under 4) Free; Youth (4-12) $9; Adult $20.
KidTripster Tip: While main access to the bridge requires navigating steep stairs, elevators recently were installed, making the bridge accessible for the first time to the mobility-impaired.
On the drive back to Boone, we stopped at the Foggy Mountain Gem Mine, a family-operated business that has been open for more than 30 years. I found the staff to be extremely friendly and knowledgable, and my kids loved dumping their buckets of dirt into the water flumes and searching for gemstones. It’s promised that every bucket holds at least a few genuine, rough gems. After your kids find their treasures, the staff will help identify each gemstone and offer to cut and polish them, if you choose, for an additional cost. This was a quick stop - only taking about an hour - but one that we all enjoyed. Cost: $30 for 2-gallon bucket, which was plenty big enough for my three kids to split.
Next head to King Street in downtown Boone to explore the local shops. During our visit, the streets were bustling with game-day crowds, and while there are ample local shops and restaurants lining this main thoroughfare, our destination was the historic Mast General Store. Sometimes called the Old Boone Mercantile, this eclectic shop is housed in a century-old building which has served multiple purposes over its lifetime. Today, it sells everything from old-fashioned candy to souvenirs, clothing, and unique housewares. My entire family enjoyed browsing here (don’t forget to check out the upstairs area) with the kids focusing on the candy and toys while the adults picked out some local food items and unique housewares.
KidTripster Tip: Parking on King Street is scarce, but there are some well-marked, paid lots close by that provide easy access.
For your final stop, drive to Mystery Hill, a tourist attraction located just a few miles south of town. This place is geared mostly towards children, although adults who can embrace their inner child may find this an enjoyable experience as well. Open since 1948, its claim to fame is that it’s home to “the only known natural gravitational anomaly in North Carolina.” I use quotes here because there was some discussion amongst our family about the natural vs. man-made aspect of this claim, but it was fun to experience nonetheless. There are three areas to explore at Mystery Hill: The Hall of Mystery, theNative American Artifacts Museum, and the Appalachian Heritage Museum, and all are included in the general admission fee. The main focus of the Hall of Mystery is a vortex room, where your tour guide demonstrates that water and objects seem to defy gravity. You’ll see water appear to flow uphill and balls appear to veer off-course when thrown; you'll also be able to defy gravity with your own body by leaning at extreme angles. Next door, explore the Native American Artifacts Museum, which houses a collection of over 50,000 Native American artifacts (mostly arrowheads), and the Appalachian Heritage Museum, an historic home which displays memories of life in the late 19th century. It takes about an hour to explore the entire property. Cost: Youth (4 & under) Free, Youth (5-12) $7; Adult $9.
KidTripster Tip: If you’re prone to motion sickness or vertigo, take caution in the vortex room. I felt queasy the entire time that I was in there and eventually had to leave.
Another popular local attraction is the Tweetsie Railroad amusement park. This old-fashioned park offers carnival-style rides, live entertainment, a small zoo, and more, all geared toward the younger set.
Photo courtesy: Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation
Where to eat?
Boone is home to many local restaurants worth exploring. Our favorite was the Daniel Boone Inn. This historic location is the oldest restaurant in town, serving family-style meals since 1959. And it occupies one of the oldest and most historical buildings in town. It was initially the residence of the town doctor and was later turned into the town’s first hospital. The walls are covered with old newspaper articles and photos detailing the property’s history, and we enjoyed reading them as we waited for our table. The food was traditional, southern fare, and with the exception of the famous ham biscuits, it’s all-you-can-eat. Your waitress will keep the bowls of food coming as long as you like!
KidTripster Tip: The Daniel Boone Inn doesn’t accept credit cards; you must pay with cash or by check. In addition, the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and your entire party must wait together in the line for your table. We arrived on Saturday for an early dinner at 5:30 p.m. and waited about 20 minutes. You’ll experience a longer wait during peak times.
Photo courtesy: Daniel Boone Inn
Where to stay?
We visited the weekend of a home football game, so hotels were busy. We managed to find a room at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Boone right in the middle of town. The location was great as were the accommodations and service. It has a rustic, lodge-like feel which we liked because it reminded us of our mountain surroundings. My kids used the indoor pool and hot tub, and we all thought the complimentary breakfast was simple yet adequate. Rates start at $229/night.
Photo courtesy: La Quinta Inn & Suites Boone
Boone is located near the western border of North Carolina and is a scenic, 2-hour drive from either Charlotte, Asheville or Winston-Salem. It’s a 3-hour drive from Knoxville. In addition, it’s only a few miles away from a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most famous and scenic drives in the USA. If you have the time, I highly suggest driving at least a portion of the parkway for some breathtaking views of the mountains.
KidTripster Tip: Visit during the months of October and November for spectacular views of the fall foliage. Peak foliage dates vary by year, so check online for the current year’s predictions and plan your travel dates accordingly.
Diana Smith is an expert cruiser. She and her family, including her three Disney princesses, have set sail on eight Disney cruises. For more, check out Disney Cruise Mom Blog.
Photo courtesy: Hugh Morton/Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation