I had always heard of Asheville when people talked about the mountains of North Carolina, but truth is, I found Boone to be much more charming. The smaller Boone gets its name from famous Daniel Boone who apparently used to camp there in the summer. Home to the Appalachian State University, Boone is a center of Bluegrass music and Appalachian folk story telling. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t able to catch any of that but we had such a great time in Boone, we hope to be back and explore its cultural side as much as we explored its adventure expeditions. Here is a short review of our top four activities that if you are in the area, you should definitely check out.
Blue Ridge Parkway
A windy road covering 469 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway was built to connect Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina) to the Shenandoah National Park (Virginia). The vistas are superb and there are plenty of lookouts to stop. I had read that every year several deaths occur from drivers looking out at the scenery, missing a sharp turn, and plunging to their deaths. Yikes. I saw a cyclist and imagined how much fun, and challenging the ride would be. I made the boys make a foolish promise that one day we’ll come back on our bikes.
We hopped on the Parkway at its start near Asheville, and within ten seconds, ta dah … right there, a few meters from our car was a bear. I kid you not. A big BIG bear.
We all screamed! That was our introduction to the Appalachian Mountains, and my fears switched from plunging to our deaths to being eaten alive by a bear.
I told Charly, our friend from Spain who went on the road trip with us, that if it was a brown bear, you need to play dead. But if it was a black bear, you need to scare it away with loud noises. OR, it was the other way around. I couldn’t remember. Oops.
We recovered from the adrenaline of bear sighting and continued on the parkway. Joe was so excited. He’s wanted to do this drive for a long time, and we ended up stopping at what seemed like every lookout point. It’s beautiful, I get it; but the vista one mile up the road, is not really that different from the one we were just at.
The parkway does not have any towns, and it’s not the place you want to be driving at night. The towns are few and far between so plan accordingly. We stayed overnight near Spruce Pines (beautiful, by the way) and made it to Boone the following morning. Don’t skip driving on the Parkway, it’s worth the extra time it takes to drive the winding roads.
Provider: River & Earth Adventures
You will see providers of white water rafting tours seemingly at every corner in Boone. You can go tubing nearby, but for white water most companies take you down the Watauga River in neighboring Tennessee. From all day tours including class 3 and 4 rapids, to half days of class 2 and 3 there is something for everyone. We, of course, wanted to do class 3 & 4 but with five of us in our group it was well over $400. The company also offers cave tours which apparently is a must see. But with five of us in our party, adventure experiences add up quickly and we had to choose one for the day.
We opted for the half day and were set to meet our guides at a designated riverbank in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Do not go early thinking you can check out the town before getting on the raft. There’s really NOTHING to do around there. I mean, really nothing.
We were to meet our guides who would be arriving by raft. However, they were 45 minutes late. Since they were on the water, the company headquarters could not reach them and all we could do was wait. They were nice enough to give us a couple of hats and t-shirts for the inconvenience. Things happen, I know. But you have a choice of being nice about it or not, River & Earth Adventures chose to be nice and it was appreciated.
River guides are a special breed. They tend to be young, talkative, and funny. Ours was no exception. A philosophy major from South Carolina, our guide sported a beard resembling a leprechaun. We took a van to head upriver, and twenty minutes later got dropped off near the Wilber Dam.
The first stop was an 18 foot cliff jump. I immediately proclaimed I had absolutely no desire to do it, but everyone else climbed up a rock path and jumped into the freezing river. It was a highlight for sure, and Dreamer had a little issue jumping. It was reminiscent of this time jumping a culvert in Vermont. But he did it, and the confidence boost was enormous.
We continued on the river, passing several rapids and our guide would spin the raft around, let the boys play rodeo at the front, and in general was very accommodating to our petite thrill seekers. While on the river my phone got a radar alert about a severe thunderstorm approaching. I asked him if we should get off and he told me there was nowhere to go but downstream. He also told me that one of the safest places to be during a thunderstorm was in a river surrounded by mountains like we were. The lightning will hit high spots on the peaks before it ever hit us. Information filed as useful for future reference.
The warm air began to interact with the very cold water of the crystal clear Watauga forming a mist. It was magical. As we entered the mist, the temperature dropped at least 5 degrees. We saw fly fishermen mid water and the beauty of that moment was indescribable, pictures don’t come close to doing it justice.
We reached our car and it immediately started to pour down rain as if the universe was just waiting for us to arrive in order to lay down its wrath.
Provider: Rock Dimensions
For his birthday, Fearless wanted to go rock climbing. There are no natural rocks here in Miami, and only one climbing gym. My boys have only been on a real rock once before in Arizona (you can read about that here.) We met with our guide Daniel in Boone (not to be confused with Daniel Boone), and followed him about fifteen minutes on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We parked the car on the side of the road and hiked a few minutes to a rock face.
Daniel was not very outgoing but enough to make us comfortable. To his credit, he was patient with the boys and did try to speak the little Spanish he knew. I always appreciate that. I guess he has a tough job of keeping everyone safe and so he was very firm with ALL of us even if Joe and I were happily taking the sidelines on this one. What he lacked in friendliness, he certainly had in skill. Daniel would climb up the rock face setting up the course and rappel back down in a heartbeat.
The climb took approximately four hours, and everyone got to up four different faces. Rock Dimensions provided the harness (even though the boys used their own), shoes, helmets, and all the other equipment needed. The climb also included one free climb on their huge rock tower at the store.
We didn’t need a guide to go here and it’s the one place I wish we’d spent more time but we only had a few hours. The price of entry was a little steep for the little time we would be there, but I’m happy to pay fees to upkeep parks; otherwise who knows what would happen to them.
The main attraction of the park is a mile high swinging bridge. To get there, the road zig-zags almost directly up the front face of the mountain. The name describes it exactly, one mile up from the ground, the bridge connects two of the highest peaks at the park. It was quite windy, the bridge indeed swung and since I am afraid of heights it wasn’t too much fun. But the boys thought it would be a good idea to move around trying to shake the bridge to scare me. The yelling that ensued was monumental.
It’s worth getting to the other side. The view of the Blue Ridge mountains was spectacular and the wind made it feel as if we were at the end of the world (I’ve been to way south in Patagonia and LOVE that feeling). We stayed there for a while, but with my crazy children I was concerned about them falling to their deaths. Part irrational, but part rational. Signs to be careful are everywhere and there’s no rail.
We also went on another short hike, which again, I would’ve loved to spend more time in. You have to climb up rocks, and it’s an experience we don’t have in Miami. Had I known, or been prepared, we would’ve brought water, food and made a true hike out of it.
Because Boone is a college town, you have restaurants and life in a cute main street lined with small shops. The vibe reminded me of Flagstaff, Arizona and it’s my kind of place. So if you are looking for a mountain destination with tons of outdoor adventures for the family, this might be a place for you. There was more to do than we were able to, so be prepared to spend money if you are looking for guided activities.
Other Road Trip Posts: Why I Went On A Road Trip, No Risk, No Reward, Three Nights In The Woods