Why Blowing Rock Is The Perfect Mountain Town Escape

This inviting North Carolina town is full of charm.

The Blowing Rock in NC
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Author Jan Karon is shy to admit that her fictional town of Mitford is based on Blowing Rock, North Carolina, but residents are convinced of the fact. Karon started writing her popular novels when she was living there, and many local attractions (along with the lush Blue Ridge scenery) make appearances in her heartwarming stories. "Mitford would simply like to be the pause that refreshes," writes the author in At Home in Mitford, her 1994 novel and the first in a series of fourteen books set in the fictional town.

Regardless of whether Mitford was born purely of her imagination or based on this particular North Carolina locale, people in Blowing Rock know that, in real life, their town delivers.

Every summer, locals and tourists alike line up for ice cream from Kilwin's, where a one-scoop order brings a serving that looks like three. In high season, be prepared to wait for your mint chocolate chip; the crowd sometimes spills out onto Main Street. Once you have a waffle cone in hand, it's tradition to vie for a comfy bench in Blowing Rock Memorial Park. From there, watch shoppers hunt for quaint gifts at Take Heart, a purple-painted boutique, and unexpectedly funky home decor at Neaco.

Take Heart Boutique in Blowing Rock, NC
Robbie Caponetto

The Blue Ridge Parkway weaves away from town, toward the former country abode of Moses Cone, a textile entrepreneur of the Gilded Age. His 3,500-acre estate has carriage trails that are still frequented by horses, as well as a mansion that's now home to the Southern Highland Craft Guild. In warmer months, wood-carvers and textile artisans take turns providing demonstrations on the front porch of the grand Colonial Revival mansion. Inside, a gift shop features the work of around 150 regional craftspeople.

The Blowing Rock in NC
You can get married at The Blowing Rock, billed as. Robbie Caponetto

Ellen Schaller, who's the manager of the Moses Cone Manor, believes that all the beautiful scenery surrounding Blowing Rock naturally lends itself to creativity. "Artists get a lot of inspiration from their environment, and then they translate that into their work," she says. "The mountains tend to attract people who appreciate nature, and the spirit of the landscape is in many of the pieces we have here."

Historically, Western North Carolina has been known for its fast-running moonshine, but now it's also gaining a new reputation as wine country. There are three wineries within easy driving distance of Blowing Rock: Grandfather Vineyard & Winery, nestled at the base of Grandfather Mountain in nearby Banner Elk; Linville Falls Winery in Newland, where visitors can enjoy events such as live music and "yoga in the vineyard"; and Banner Elk Winery & Villa, also located in the community whose name it shares. Both Grandfather and Linville Falls are family-run wineries. (Grandfather's staff even includes popular "Bordeaux Collie" Casey, as well as a few other vineyard dogs and canine sidekicks.)

Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, NC
Robbie Caponetto

If luxury relaxation is what you're after, you can spend the afternoon shooting clays or enjoying the spa offerings at Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock (pictured above). The resort has all the amenities (and wooded views) you could want from a mountain escape, plus the Chetola Sporting Reserve for sporting activities and Timberlake's Restaurant, where you can order North Carolina mountain trout in a lemon herb sauce after a starter of Southern pimiento cheese or fried oysters.

A word of warning: you'll be tempted, but don't get so relaxed during your stay that you forget to make evening reservations at a local favorite like Bistro Roca. It serves new American classics, including spins on steak and fish, as well as starters like spreads made with local ingredients or roasted figs with Manchego and sourwood honey.

The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge Inn in Blowing Rock, NC
Robbie Caponetto

The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge Inn (pictured above) offers dinner in cozy environs—it's more of an experience than just a meal—that shouldn't be missed. You'll have to book a month ahead of time to ensure you get a table at this popular spot. The menu changes daily, so you're in for a treat whenever you visit. You can also book a room in the country house hotel to stay in the beautifully appointed rooms within the beautifully wooded scenery.

Banner Elk Winery in Blowing Rock, NC
Robbie Caponetto

Banner Elk Winery & Villa's accommodations (pictured above) offer high-thread count luxury, but it's their blueberry patch that best reveals traditional High Country character. You're invited to handpick fruit by the gallon, but there's no attendant. Just leave your payment in a red mailbox standing near the entrance, utilizing an honor system that seems like something straight out of the Mitford stories. To get a taste of local grapes, you can also experience daily tastings and flights with pours of the winery's vintages.

"The High Country has an easy pace of life," says Lisa Koch, property manager at Banner Elk Winery. "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."

Visitors to Blowing Rock will find out just that (and likely much more) when they set their sights on this High Country treasure. Life is good in the mountains, and it's waiting to welcome you with open arms.

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