For Brian Baldwin, winter is the best time to be in Blowing Rock. The snowbirds have gone south for the season, and the quaint mountain village—perched at 4,000 feet just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in the North Carolina High Country—becomes the perfect kind of quiet small town. Particularly, it shrinks from somewhere around 8,000 seasonal dwellers to 1,500 full-time residents, who still get to enjoy the town’s bevy of world-class restaurants and friendly, locally owned businesses.

“The cool, easy-going quietness is something you can hardly find anywhere else,” says Baldwin, who manages Footsloggers, an outfitter located in Blowing Rock’s tiny downtown. “I am starting to see people come back in the winter for the peacefulness.”

There’s unspoken class tension between the upscale Blowing Rock and the more bustling, blue-collar, crunchy college atmosphere in Boone just up the road. Baldwin has bridged both worlds during his 15 years in the High Country. The self-described “long-haired hippie kid” who graduated from Appalachian State University now prefers mellow life in Blowing Rock—especially when it’s too cold for the tourists.

“A night out here is good conversation at a local restaurant with a cozy fire going,” he says.

Blowing Rock’s sprawling Blue Ridge backdrop offers endless adventure, just minutes from Main Street.

BALDWIN’S PICKS

Granddaddy of Hiking
Grandfather Mountain
is the pinnacle of hiking in this area. From the Blue Ridge Parkway you can reach the tallest point on the mountain—5,964-foot Calloway Peak—with a circuit hike on the Tanawha, Nuwati, Cragway, and Daniel Boone Scout Trails.

High Country Downhill
Appalachian Ski Mountain
is five miles from downtown Blowing Rock. The High Country resort is popular for a quick slope fix on its 12 slopes, which include three terrain parks with a huge range of freestyle features.

Cross-Country Carriage Trails
When natural snowfall is plentiful, cross-country skiing is accessible right out of town on the Moses Cone Memorial Park’s vast network of carriage trails, accessed at milepost 294 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Running the Fork
A great trail running option with a diverse mix of terrain is the five-mile Boone Fork Trail, which actually intersects with the Tanawha Trail, located at Julian Price Park.

China Rider
A quick fix for local mountain bikers is the Lower China Creek Loop, easily accessed just a few miles south of town. The aerobic singletrack stint features a rollercoaster of moderate climbs and fast downhills for a perfect after-work heart pumper.

Local Boulders
The closest (and often most crowded) spot is the Blowing Rock Boulders. The area’s range of problems makes it accessible for beginners, while seasoned vets still find challenge on the tough holds of classics like Colt 45.