A fall weekend trip to Boone, NC

30 October 2023

Of all of our family traditions, our annual fall trip to the mountains just might be my favorite. Eep! I don’t know if I can say that… but there’s just something about these long weekends, where we get to spend uninterrupted time together, surrounded by beauty, exploring somewhere new, eating good food and enjoying good conversation, challenging our bodies and then experiencing true relaxation, that speaks to my soul. I think every other family member would agree. We had a beautiful, memorable trip to Boone and Blowing Rock this October, and I’d love to share a few photos and details, if you’d like to see!

We often travel Thursday – Sunday for these trips, but since June had a Monday off in October, we skipped school on Friday and headed to the mountains first thing. Boone is about 3 hours from our home in the Triangle, so we arrived in time for lunch on a perfect blue-sky day.

About a week in advance, John and I put our heads together for an hour or two and plotted out our weekend, making meal and activity reservations as needed. We had planned to eat lunch at Lost Province Brewing in downtown Boone, but unfortunately they don’t take reservations and reported an hour+ wait. Disappointed but not deterred, we trotted down the hill to Melanie’s Food Fantasy (where we had planned to go later in the weekend) and were seated at an outdoor picnic table after about 20 minutes. Delicious!

It must be noted here, the parking in downtown Boone is atrocious. There are very few public parking spots or lots and no garages. Prepare for a lot of circling and pray for a little luck on a busy weekend.

After lunch, we headed to our adventure for the day: the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in nearby Banner Elk! While this was our most expensive activity of the weekend ($16 for adults, $13 for June, $5 for Shep), it was SO very fun. June and I rode together, and we laugh-screamed our way through the twists and turns. We loved it so much that we ended up buying the video of our runs, something that is SO out of character, ha! They put a smile on our faces, though :)

From there, we checked into our Airbnb, which was a few minutes outside of downtown Boone. We chose this rental for its backyard creek, and it didn’t disappoint – the kids made a beeline for the banks as soon as we stopped the car.

After an hour or two of playing outside, swinging in the hammock, and breaking out the Yahtzee set, we headed into Boone for dinner at the Beacon Butcher Bar. This may have been my favorite meal of the trip – the food was delicious and the space was cozy, with a big fireplace. We felt welcome with kids, but were surrounded by lots of couples and big adult dinner groups – definitely a spot you could get a little fancy for.

I should have mentioned – Friday was a delightfully warm fall day, with a blue sky and mid-60s to low-70s temps. When we woke up on Saturday, we still had the blue sky, but the temperatures had plummeted. We bundled up and drove to Grandfather Mountain, where it was 42 degrees (with whipping winds up to 30mph) on top. Brrr!!! At the gatehouse at the park entrance, they told us that the swinging bridge was closed due to high winds. However, it opened shortly after we parked at the top, so we streamed toward the bridge along with everyone else. However, we didn’t even get a third of the way across – the wind was blowing SO bitterly that we could hardly look up, and we were freezing even though bundled.

Something to note for trip planners: you can and should reserve your timed tickets on busy weekends. We had 10am tickets and had no trouble getting a spot in the top parking lot by the bridge. When we left to head to the visitors’ center about 1:30, however, the line of cars snaking up the road was incredibly long, as they were at a one-car-in-one-car-out standstill.

The kids were dubious at this point, but we headed off on our hike (the Grandfather Trail to MacRae Peak) and it quickly absorbed their attention. We could hear the wind whistling above our heads, but we were under tree cover and warmed up as we climbed uphill and scrambled over rocks.

Something we have noticed about our kids: the more adventurous the trail, the more engaged they are in the journey. Even though this was a strenuous and at times technical trail (with cables and ladders!), we heard hardly a peep of complaint. When hiking with kids, I know it might seem like a better idea to go for an easier trail, but in our experience, that sometimes leads to more boredom and complaining.

That being said, this was NOT an easy trail and I’d think carefully before attempting it. We did not see any other kids the ages of ours – and we only made it part of the way, through 5 of the 9 ladders, before deciding that between the wind, the ages and abilities of our kids, and the fact that John had Annie in the pack, it would be prudent to turn back. It was still an incredible hike, with gorgeous views and fun and challenging terrain. We will be back someday to complete the whole thing! :)

And, it must be said, John was the absolute MVP for managing both himself and Annie!

Once back in the parking lot, the wind had slowed down and the temperature had warmed up, and we were able to make it across the full swinging bridge – just gorgeous!

Then, we headed down for lunch in the visitors center and a quick visit to the animals in the nature center, including elk, black bears, and otters.

Once back at the Airbnb, we put Annie down for a nap and then the rest of the fam enjoyed a dip in the hot tub – bliss after a hard, cold hike! Afterward, John napped while the big kids played outside and I bundled up to read in the hammock. Double bliss!

Dinner was at Proper in downtown Boone, a homey meat-and-three in a former town jail. (The kids were disappointed it didn’t bear more resemblance to its former purpose.)

Sunday morning was again brisk and blue-skied! We set off on the Flat Top Mountain Trail at Moses Cone Park, a broad, 5-mile carriage trail that winds up a hill to a fire tower. Though we climbed up the tower, honestly, it was almost scarier than the ladders on MacRae Peak – eep!

For lunch, we headed into Blowing Rock. After a considerable wait (while the little kids played on the downtown playground and June and I popped into a few shops), we had lunch at the Six Pence Pub. My shepherd’s pie was delicious and warming after a chilly hike.

Then it was home for another dip in the hot tub, more naps, playing, and reading before dinner in Valle Crucis at Over Yonder. Set in an old farmhouse, its chef was hyped up in a lot of what we read beforehand, but I left a little underwhelmed. One fun little game we played with the kids while waiting for our food deserves a mention, though: we lined up items in a row, then took turns closing our eyes, removing one, and then trying to guess which one had been removed. Kept them engaged!

On Monday morning we finally made it to Stickboy Kitchen. Stickboy (either the kitchen or the original bakery location) is THE recommendation people will give you when you say you’re going to Boone, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s in an unassuming strip mall, but the bagel sandwiches, croissants, muffins, cookies, and loaf of rosemary olive oil bread we got for small group later that night were all delicious. I join the chorus of saying you must go! :)

From there, we drove out to an old favorite hike (Green Knob) with some old favorite folks (my sister and her two kids :)). They also had Monday off school and used it to drive out to meet us, which was a delight! Having cousins along kept a pep in our kids’ step for the third hike of the weekend, though it was hardly needed: I’d recommend Green Knob to almost everyone, with its stream crossings, cow pasture path, goldenrod, mountain laurel hedges, and reasonable 2-mile length. Just beautiful!

We had a big group lunch reservation at The Speckled Trout in downtown Blowing Rock and it was another favorite meal of the trip! Delicious food in a modern, cozy atmosphere. We ate, hugged goodbye, then got back on the road to head home feeling (it must be said) incredibly grateful and lucky to live in such a beautiful state and to get to experience its fall glory together.

If you’re planning a trip to Boone, I hope this recap was helpful! Any questions, I’m happy to answer – just leave them in the comments!

Past North Carolina mountain trips:
Highlands (2022)
Black Mountain (2021)

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October 30, 2023 8:24 am

It looks like you all had such a marvelous adventure together! :)
I just started At Home in Mitford last week on Stephanie’s suggestion. Such a cozy fall read!

Kelly Strawberry
October 30, 2023 10:10 am

Ok, this is one trip recap where I may have to do the exact same itinerary with my little family! We have shockingly never done Boone/Blowing Rock when we go to the mountains. Looks like an amazing long weekend and those hikes…so fun!!!!

October 30, 2023 2:47 pm

Parking in downtown Boone can be SUCH a headache. I think they assume people will part on App State’s campus… but if you’ve never been there you wouldn’t know which lots you can park at during what times (towing is also…extreme in Boone, ha!).
Melanie’s was my favorite restaurant in college – Omar and I went there all the time. Such sweet memories for me there!

October 31, 2023 9:05 am
Reply to  Em

You certainly were not! A few college friends and I do a girls weekend in Boone, typically once a year, and we always joke you haven’t had the full Boone experience until you get your car towed because you parked in the wrong place downtown, ha!

October 30, 2023 6:46 pm

I’m so glad y’all had a nice time visiting where we live! I have been underwhelmed every time I’ve eaten at Over Yonder also, but Proper is always a hit for us – especially their tomato pie. & Stick Boy is a staple in our house, as well as our go-to gift option for teachers and supplements to bringing meals to friends!
Since you were reading a Mitford book while in the area, did you know Mitford was inspired by Blowing Rock?

October 31, 2023 10:21 am

I agree with your comment of more adventurous = more engaged! A couple years ago we did a trip with a flat, woodsy trail and my kids barely made it a couple miles and there was so much complaining. A couple months later we did a trip that included a day with two separate hikes, including creeks, bridges, some small caves, a graveyard and pioneer village and they covered 7 miles that day without a peep! They practically outlasted my husband and I! My goal since then is looking for “interesting” hikes. Yours seemed like a real winner! Thank you for sharing!

November 1, 2023 9:08 pm

This post was near and dear to my heart! Growing up, my grandparents had a home in Banner Elk, so I spent much of my summers there. This past August, I went on a great nostalgia tour and took my husband and two girls (ages 3 and 1) there. It was so fun being back in my old stomping ground. Next time, might I recommend Rough Ridge hike (but, given your advice above, maybe it’s too easy for your kids — but incredible views!) and a visit to the original Candy Barrel in Valle Crucis. Thanks for sharing your trip. Saving this for our next trip!

November 2, 2023 6:43 am

Looks like such a fun weekend! You put words to something I have been noticing, but haven’t been able to name about our kids and hiking lately! I think you’re right about the more adventurous the hike the more engaged! We have had some less than stellar attitudes on hikes around our area lately, but perhaps its because we have done the same hikes so many time and we need to switch things up!
I also wonder, is Stickboy Kitchen owned by the same Stickboy Bakery in Fuquay?