36 Hours in Boone, N.C. (and Environs)

Asheville, N. C. — with its lively arts district, locavore food movement and over-the-top, Gilded Age mansion — attracts hordes of leaf peepers as soon as the temperatures start to drop. But a two-hour drive up the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the less-visited Boone, a gem of a college town in the heart of Southern Appalachia, offers many of the same attractions, and plenty more besides. Come for the fresh air and majestic mountain views, but stick around to sample the local brews, enjoy live music and admire the fine crafts of the area’s talented artisans. The Blue Ridge Parkway is well worth the small detour for its historic sites and sweeping overlooks, while nearby Blowing Rock — a genteel resort town long favored by well-to-do Southern tourists — offers fine dining, swank boutiques and one of the most famous views in the state.

The forested bluffs of Elk Knob State Park might have been turned into a housing development had it not been for a group of concerned citizens who joined with the Nature Conservancy to purchase the land and hand it over to the state government in 2003. Now protected, the park’s 4,200 acres are home to wild turkeys, bobcats and black bears, as well as flame azaleas, orchids and the rare Gray’s lily. Get a close-up look at this high-mountain habitat along the 1.9-mile Summit Trail — a steady, well-marked climb that leads you to the top of Elk Knob (5,520 feet) and rewards you with a panorama of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. The views are especially radiant in the first half of October, when the fiery autumn colors at this elevation usually reach their peak. On a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

So hard to reach were the mountainous counties of northwestern North Carolina that lowlanders early in the state’s history often called them “the lost provinces,” and the nickname stuck into the first half of the 20th century. Modern highways have solved the access problem, but the old moniker has been embraced by the owners of Lost Province, a popular brewery-cum-restaurant that opened in downtown Boone in 2014. The vaulted wooden interior welcomes friendly crowds of locals and visitors, who come to dine on the wood-fired pizza, enjoy the house-brewed beers and catch some live music (bluegrass, classic rock, folksy singer-songwriter sessions) on a Friday night. Dinner and drinks for two, about $50.

The local stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway — a 469-mile ribbon of highway that’s managed by the National Park Service and that passes between Boone and Blowing Rock — offers a window into the area’s history as well as plenty of spots to admire expansive mountain views. Stop by the visitors’ center at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, where you can pick up a Parkway map, browse the impressive handiwork of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and poke around the supposedly haunted, turn-of-the-century mansion (open April to late November; guided tours offered from June to October, reservations required). Built as a summer home for the Gilded Age businessman Moses H. Cone and his wife, Bertha, the house — known as Flat Top Manor — was financed by the Cone family’s busy textile mills, which would go on to supply denim to Levi Strauss & Co., among other clothing manufacturers, for much of the 20th century. From the Cone Estate, head south to the picturesque Price Lake, then turn back north for the overlook-filled, 25-mile drive up to Jeffress Park, where a short hike will lead you to the gushing Cascade Falls.

If you want to stay in downtown Boone, your best bet is The Horton, a sleek boutique hotel (with a popular rooftop lounge) that opened earlier this year. Double rooms with breakfast start from $289 in the busy autumn season.

For a homier stay, try Alpine Village Inn, a motel-style guesthouse with a well-tended garden that’s a short walk from the main drag in Blowing Rock. Double rooms without breakfast start from $149 a night.

Plenty of rural cottages and apartments are available on Airbnb, where rentals range from $100 to $250 a night.

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