How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Boone, North Carolina

Boone has stunning mountain scenery, hikes to waterfalls, and themed train rides.

Anyone who has spent time in the mountains of Western North Carolina knows there’s a palpable sense of magic in the region, particularly when the crisp air and colorful leaves make their annual appearance in the fall. The exact blend of allure and wonder, however, is slightly different wherever you go — from Brevard to Blowing Rock — and it’s apparent that residents and repeat visitors are deeply passionate about what makes their small town or city unique.

In Boone, otherwise known as the “Heart of the High Country,” the shared identity revolves around two things: the area’s natural beauty and Appalachian State University. “It’s a gorgeous place — the rivers, the waterfalls, the trails, and the mountains are spectacular,” says Karen Trafford, executive chef of the newly opened Canteen at Rhode’s Motor Lodge. “If you are an outdoorsy type, it’s great for hiking, walking, mountain climbing, and exploring nature.” 

Boone, North Carolina, USA campus and town skyline.

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It’s this unparalleled access to the great outdoors, as well as a winning football team, that appeals to both App State students and alumni. “There’s a sense of pride in being a Mountaineer that continues on even after graduation,” says Scott McSherry, class of ‘09. And while collegiate nostalgia may be strong in this 18,000-person town, Boone doesn’t rest in the past. “[It’s] also consistently changing and improving, which invites alumni to visit and try new things while still enjoying the nostalgic qualities that remain,” says fine artist Lauren Crowe. McSherry echoes her statement, noting Boone’s rapid growth, but explaining how there are still “small mountain town vibes” to be found, “especially if you know all the secret spots.”

That said, we tapped a few locals and App State alumni to give us their best advice for planning a trip to Boone, including where to eat, stay, and explore. 

Top 5 Can’t Miss

  • Book a room at Rhode’s Motor Lodge, a renovated mid-century motel that opened in October 2023. 
  • Lace up your hiking boots or sneakers — Boone has numerous trails for all activity levels. 
  • Browse the antique stores, art galleries, and boutiques on King Street in downtown Boone. 
  • Indulge in a fresh pastry (or two) from Stick Boy Bread Co., and follow it up with a cold drink from Appalachian Mountain Brewery. 
  • Plan your trip during the summer, fall, or winter, as there’s technically no bad time to visit Boone.
Lodge room in Rhode's Motor Home

Courtesy of Taylor McDonald

Best Hotels and Resorts

Rhode’s Motor Lodge

Rhode’s Motor Lodge serves as the perfect base camp for a weekend adventure in Boone. From Loden Hospitality — the team behind The Longleaf Hotel in Raleigh — the property is thoughtful and well-appointed, providing guests with a comfortable place to return after a day of hiking or exploring. Named after the rhododendrons that bloom in the mountains, it’s also home to Canteen, a restaurant that currently serves weekend brunch and dinner to both guests and visitors.

Horton Hotel

“The Horton Hotel is a great small boutique hotel in the heart of downtown,” says McSherry, noting the property also has a can’t-miss rooftop bar with incredible views of Boone. The building itself was once a Studebaker dealership, but today, it houses 15 uniquely decorated guest rooms (a few of which are dog-friendly). 

The Mast Farm Inn

If you want something a little more remote, consider The Mast Farm Inn, a historic homestead in nearby Valle Crucis. “It's got 19th-century cabins and a farmhouse. It also has an on-site restaurant,” says Trafford. Solo travelers or those traveling in a pair can opt for a room in the farmhouse, but some of the cabins can sleep up to six guests. 

Country Farm in North Carolina

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Best Things to Do

Explore Daniel Boone Park.

To be in the thick of Boone activity, head to Daniel Boone Park, a 36.5-acre space used for education, recreation, and historical purposes. “There’s Horn in the West … an outdoor drama about Daniel Boone; the Hickory Ridge History Museum, where they show you what life was like in the 1700s; the Watauga County Farmers’ Market on most Saturday mornings; the Daniel Boone Native Gardens, and more,” says Trafford. 

Float the New River. 

Cool off on a hot summer day by getting out on the New River with Wahoo’s Adventures. “Floating the river is such a fun way to spend a summer afternoon. The views from the river are beautiful as you’re slowly floating through the mountains,” says McSherry. There are also a variety of swimming holes in the area; Crab Orchard Falls Trail, for example, leads hikers to a waterfall with several spots where you can take a refreshing dip. 

Bring the whole family to Tweetsie Railroad.

Trafford describes Tweetsie Railroad as a “rite of passage” in Boone. “It’s been here since 1957 and is considered to be North Carolina’s first theme park,” she says. “They have themed train rides, including a ghost train during October for Halloween and a Christmas-themed ride, a chairlift, and an observation deck that offers great views of the mountains.” It might be touristy, but Trafford says Tweetsie Railroad is “an institution.”

Go for a hike in the mountains. 

You can’t come to Boone without exploring the mountains on foot. “You have to get outdoors and hike. Explore the parkway and all the native plants unique to the High Country,” says McSherry. Crowe suggests starting with Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in nearby Blowing Rock: “There's so much amazing scenery along the trails.” McSherry also adds that there’s a “fire tower you can hike to and climb for 360-degree views of Boone and Blowing Rock.”

Grab a drink at a local brewery. 

Once you’ve completed your hike, it’s time to reward yourself with a locally brewed craft beer and above-average bar food. You have a few options in Boone, including Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Lost Province Brewing Co., and Booneshine Brewing Co.

Street View of Main Street in Downtown Boone with Mountain in Background. Cars lined up at stoplight in front of storefronts. Blue sky with clouds. Street decorated for holidays.

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Best Shopping

Marketplace at Curiosity

“The Marketplace at Curiosity is this huge consignment warehouse filled with antiques, vintage items, and off-beat handmade crafts,” explains Trafford. Pop in the Boone location (there’s also one in Banner Elk) for an afternoon of treasure hunting and endless browsing. She adds, “Over the years, I have found great holiday decor there.” 

Watauga County Farmers’ Market 

“The perfect Saturday includes an early morning at a great breakfast spot, followed by a visit to the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, where you'll find local produce, meats, artwork, food trucks, plants, and more,” says Crowe. The market is only open from April to November, though, and visitors can check the website for updated hours and current vendors

Mast General Store

Mast General Store is well-known throughout the South, with locations in Waynesville, Roanoke, and Greenville, among other destinations. The original, however, isn’t far from Boone. “Just outside Boone, the original location in Valle Crucis is an old-fashioned general store with candies, hardware, gifts, shoes, clothing, and a working post office. It has old-timey wood floors and a porch with rocking chairs,” explains Trafford. If you don’t feel like making the trip, you can also visit the downtown Boone storefront. 

Wildwood Community Market 

If you want to shop local or “grab picnic provisions before you head out on a hike,” McSherry suggests Wildwood Community Market. “[It’s] a great new addition to downtown. It’s a small grocery and market that also does sandwiches and coffee,” he says. Along with fresh produce and meats, you’ll find houseplants, sauces, home goods, supplements, and more.

Male bartender in black flannel at Appalachian Brewery pouring beer from tap with signs of beers on tap in background.

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Best Restaurants

Stick Boy Bread Co.

“I used to own and operate a wholesale and retail bakery and catering business in southwestern North Carolina, so baking is my true love — and that’s why I love Stick Boy Bread Co.,” says Trafford. McSherry also says they have the “best breakfast and lunch.” He adds, “They bake everything in-house; the chicken biscuit is a must, or grab a fresh pastry and coffee to go for a hike.”

The Cardinal

The Cardinal also comes highly recommended by locals. “It offers classic American food, including lots of burgers showcasing wild game. There’s emu, bison, and even a rotating wild game burger,” says Trafford. The beverage menu is equally impressive; it features a rotating house slushie, regional beers on draft, and a number of expertly mixed cocktails. 

The High Country Greek

“This place might be a local secret,” says Crowe, who describes The High Country Greek as both  “satisfying and unique.” The menu has all the classics — Greek fries, moussaka, souvlaki, gyros, and more. “I'll take a gyro over a burger joint any day,” she adds.  

Cobo Sushi Bistro and Bar 

Who says you can’t get sushi in the mountains? “Chef Joseph Miller trained under sushi chefs in Colorado and then came home to Boone to open Cobo,” says Trafford, who recommends “everything on their menu,” from the miso soup and seaweed salad to the “nigiri, sashimi, and every kind of sushi.”

Winter view of Grandfather Mountain in Boone. Snow covered fir trees as focus of the image.

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Best Time to Visit

Summer and fall tend to reign supreme as the best times to visit Boone, but winter refuses to be overlooked. “Summer is great because it stays cool in the mountains. In other areas of the state, people are stuck inside due to the heat, but in Boone, I try to soak up every second of sunshine before winter comes,” says Crowe. 

Trafford shares that fall is “great for festivals and Appalachian State football” — and leaf peeping, of course — but the colder months give way to “skiing and other winter sports.” Even if you’re not interested in adrenaline-pumping cold-weather activities, you can still experience Boone’s appeal this time of year. “There’s something special about the winter snows and beautiful sunsets through all the bare trees,” explains McSherry. “The blistering winter winds make it even more fun to hunker down next to a fire and enjoy a cocktail or warm drink.”

Pullover on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone. Often you get fog in the mornings

Craig Zerbe/Getty Images

How to Get There

Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) in Blountville, Tennessee — which is served by Allegiant Air, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines — is the closest major airport to Boone, but you’ll need to rent a car and drive the remaining 68 miles. Other airport options include Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) and Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO), which are 95 and 108 miles from Boone, respectively.

How to Get Around

Like most towns in Western North Carolina, Boone is a destination best experienced with a car, especially if you plan on exploring the surrounding mountains. If you’re staying downtown, however, you can plan to walk. “King Street in downtown Boone is totally walkable. There are a ton of trails all over the place,” says Trafford, referencing the Boone Greenway, a fully accessible trail system that runs from one end of Boone to the other.

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