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View from Linville Peak at Grandfather Mountain (Photo by Helen Moss Davis)
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Downtown Boone (Photo courtesy Watauga TDA)
Select Novembers, my clan, with heirs and assigns dispersed throughout Virginia and North Carolina, nip the battle over where to spend Thanksgiving in the stuffing and head for Boone, North Carolina; neutral ground where we don’t have to polish the family silver.
Though charmed by the small-town warmth, what really gets us packing is farm-to-fork dining, outdoor activities and nostalgic theme parks, hiking, biking and skiing, all a spitting distance from Boone’s artsy downtown and the campus of Appalachian State University.
It’s a five-hour drive from Richmond, and just three hours from Roanoke and two hours from Charlotte.
Mountains of Food
Our favorite eatery for Turkey Day or any day here is The Gamekeeper and its heritage breed fowl, wild boar osso buco and home-grown veggie plates. This 1920s stone cottage, with white tablecloths, cult wines and craft cocktails set amongst taxidermy skunks, is the definition of modern, mountain chic.
Melanie’s, at the corner of Depot and King streets, serves an extreme Appalachian breakfast of sausage, grits and gravy, stewed apples and whole-grain pancakes. There’s usually a wait for brunch, but across the street sits a life-size bronze of bluegrass legend Doc Watson, selfie-ready.
King Street is the main drag in Boone, with blocks of shopping. Cut through on College Street to the Appalachian State campus. Sift through the penny candy at the Mast General Store and textiles at The Hands Gallery, the oldest crafts co-op in the high country.
On campus, the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts is a free museum that casts its lens on American artists. Come December, a 20-gallery First Friday art crawl ignites Boone’s annual Christmas tree lighting.
Stay and Play
Highland Hills Cabins is a rustic-looking lodge with whirlpool master suites. The hotel is minutes from King Street, an anaconda of blocks snaking through Boone.
Arriving via U.S 421, we stop east of the city for a quick run through Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park. The park has eight miles of trails ranging from intermediate to expert. Skills trails are open to hikers, but in a departure from usual etiquette, those on foot must yield to wheels at Rocky Knob.
Footsloggers Climbing Tower in downtown Boone is another prime destination. Learn to rappel during a two-hour tutorial with a Tower to Rock training session from Rock Dimensions. Or, opt for their full-day package: We did, and picked up footing and rock holds in order to tackle more challenging, off-site bouldering.
Rising from the Blue Ridge Parkway about a half-hour drive south of Boone stands Grandfather Mountain, soaked in one of the most impressive mountainscapes on the East Coast. Its attractions include a natural enclosure animal habitat, museum and “swinging” bridge, a 228-foot suspension bridge that shimmies over an 80-foot chasm hung in Carolina blue sky.
In December, hit the slopes for snow tubing and skiing at Sugar Mountain Resort, also about a half-hour drive south of Boone.
Two Miller family traditions are riding Tweetsie Railroad, a Wild West theme park with steam locomotives that’s 8 miles south of Boone in Blowing Rock, and visiting The Land of Oz, a kitschy attraction from the late 1970s that’s a 50-minute drive west of Boone at Beech Mountain. Ease on down “Oz’s” yellow brick road at costumed events, held several times a year, or arrange for a private rental.