Adventure Awaits in Banner Elk, North Carolina, No Matter the Season
A conveniently-located retreat for adventure enthusiasts and Blue Ridge fans, Banner Elk, North Carolina has earned a name for itself as one of our favorite places to explore the outdoors. Tourists flock to Banner Elk in the winter, when the Blue Ridge Mountains are dusted in snow, but the summertime promises excellent hiking, laid-back dining, and even blueberry picking at one of the town's favorite wineries.
This small mountain town may only be home to around 1,300 residents, but that makes it all the more charming. In fact, visitors from North Carolina and beyond travel to Banner Elk for some of the area's best skiing and hiking. Situated in North Carolina's High Country, Banner Elk is set within driving distance of the South's two largest ski resorts: Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain.
These slopes are full of superlatives: "Beech Mountain (5,506 feet) is the highest ski resort in Eastern America and has North Carolina's only mountain top ski bar, while Sugar Mountain (5,300 feet) has the most skiable acres (125) in the state as well as its only double black diamond slope," writes Banner Elk. As an added bonus, Banner Elk is also home to North Carolina's first alpine coaster.
Spend a day at Grandfather Mountain State Park and walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge, a suspension bridge built for adrenaline fanatics. Grandfather Mountain is also home to 11 hiking trails varying in difficulty; walk the gentle in-park paths or take a journey through the backcountry, with ladders guiding you up cliff faces. Don't leave this spot without seeing the town's namesake elk at the Mildred the Bear Environmental Wildlife Habitats, home to black bears, elk, cougars, bald eagles, and river otters (the name comes with its own sweet history).
Aprés ski in style at Banner Elk's cozy drinking destinations. Tuck into Kettell Beerworks, a welcoming local brewery with options ranging from an oatmeal stout to a bourbon barrel-aged Baltic porter. Sample fine High Country wines at Banner Elk Winery, where the award-winning wines are complemented by the stunning scenery. If you happen to visit in the summer, don't miss the Banner Elk Winery blueberry patch, where you can pick fresh fruit by the gallon.
"The High Country has an easy pace of life," Lisa Koch, property manager at Banner Elk Winery, tells Leigh Ann Henion. "It's around 70 degrees when it's sunny. All three wineries in the area have covered porches. Grandfather has a river. We have a lake. People come here for the tastings, sure, but they're really coming to enjoy summer. Life's good in the mountains."
When dining in Banner Elk, you have your pick of places—this town may be small, but it's known throughout the area for its culinary scene. Artisanal is your fine dining destination, driven by a farm-to-table concept; Bayou Smokehouse & Grill is serving up Cajun recipes, while Vietnamese restaurant Cam Ranh Bay is notable for its pho. Get a taste of gourmet barbecue (yes, you read that right) at the Pedalin' Pig; start with the chicharrones (how could you go wrong with pork rinds, queso, and green chiles), but save room for a platter of half a chicken or brisket. Wash it all down with a local brew.