Your guide to the N.C. High Country Road Trip:
BRING: Mountain bike, bouldering pad, sense of adventure
HIGHLIGHT: Staring into the Grand Canyon of the South
SOUVENIR: Tales of seeing the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights
Lube the chain and head to the new Rocky Knob Bike Park, just east of Boone off US 421. Local bikers spent $2 million and countless hours of sweat equity to build this eight-mile, 185-acre mountain biking nirvana that’s packed with wooden bridges and optional boulder drops. You need to ride the whole park (maybe ride it twice), but keep an eye out for PBJ, almost two miles of downhill bliss. Rocky Knob also has three separate skills parks. Skinny Skills is the perfect place to sharpen your bike handling skills.
For dinner, stop in at The Gamekeeper, a Southern restaurant that focuses on seasonal ingredients and a variety of wild game like rabbit and pheasant, along with farm-raised bison and ostrich. Camp at Honey Bear Campground, off the Parkway at milepost 294, for a ridiculous array of amenities like wifi at your campsite and free corn hole ($20 a night)
Head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for some pebble wrestling at Grandmother Mountain Boulders, one of the finest bouldering fields in the Southeast. Hundreds of high quality granite boulders with problems ranging from V1 to V11 make this a popular spot, particularly during the summer when the High Country’s higher elevations and cooler temps offer breezy climbing conditions compared to the rest of North Carolina. You won’t have the rocks to yourself, but there’s plenty of room to spread out. If you’re new to the sport, head to the Long Wall, which has several routes for beginners. Corner Crack is a V1 with big holds and an easy top out. If you fancy yourself a hero, check out Full Throttle on the Engine Block boulder, a V11 that has only been sent by a few climbers, one of whom is Chris Sharma. Park in the Grandmother Parking Area off the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 307.4.
Pitch a tent at Linville Falls Campground (milepost 316; $16 per night). Once the sun sets, head over to the Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook at milepost 310 and try to spot the Brown Mountain Lights, a mysterious series of glowing orbs that rise from Brown Mountain in the distance.
Wake before sunrise and head farther south on NC 181 to Linville Gorge, a nearly 2,000-foot-deep, 12-mile canyon that offers some of North Carolina’s best hiking, whitewater paddling, and rock climbing. Start at the Table Rock Parking Lot, off Ginger Cake Road on the eastern rim of the gorge. If you’re looking for a quick, but steep hike with killer views, hike 1.2 miles to the summit of Table Rock for a view that stretches deep into the belly of the canyon. If you want something more epic, go rim to rim on the Mountains to Sea Trail, an 11-mile one-way expedition that starts at Table Rock and follows the eastern rim with excellent views of the gorge before dropping down to a bridgeless river crossing and climbing up the western side and Kistler Highway. Even if you only follow the MST along the eastern rim of the gorge, you’ll be treated to a bevy of views and rock outcroppings to scramble. (Editor’s Note: Carry a map and arrange for a shuttle if you’re doing the full rim to rim).