This article appears in Sept. 18 Weekly Travel page.
As the story is told, it was a mighty wind that blew the desperate Cherokee lover back over the top of the Blowing Rock to the waiting arms of his Chickasaw beloved. It’s a sweeter story than the scientific version for the unusual rock formation that partially umbrellas the Johns River Gorge from 1,500 feet above: Winds from the gorge blow vertically, sending lightweight objects up into the sky.
Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway — the nation’s longest scenic parkway — the town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, sits at an elevation of 3,600 feet. Its breezes — cooling in the summer, rustling in the fall, invigorating in the winter — whisper inspiration to visitors, guiding them to explore the town and the surrounding area replete with mountains, rivers, trails, parks, ski slopes and resorts.
Of course many people flock to the area year after year to watch the miraculous unfolding of the seasons, particularly the deep, rich, magnificent colors of fall that transform both the foliage and the landscape underfoot, fulfilling the ultimate artist’s palette and leaf peepers’ dreams.
Blowing Rock is entirely walkable and has a lovely downtown with unique shops and galleries, restaurants, coffee shops, historic churches, inns and a park. Blowing Rock Art & History Museum presents visual arts, history and mountain heritage.
Hikers don’t have to leave town to find scenic and challenging trails. The Glen Burney Trail runs adjacent to downtown and descends 800 feet into Johns River Gorge. Along the way, view three amazing waterfalls. Nearby, the 3,600-acre Moses Cone Memorial Park offers 25 miles of carriage trails for easy hiking and horseback riding. Julian Price Memorial Park is 4,200 acres on the Blue Ridge Parkway and offers fishing, canoeing, camping, hiking and picnicking. Those passionate about mountain biking will want to check out Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park.
There’s no better place for a day of make-believe than Tweetsie Railroad, where the Wild West comes alive with cowboys and Indians and historic steam-engine trains that offer rides through the mountains. Along with the fall colors comes the Ghost Train Halloween Festival, Friday and Saturday nights through Oct. 26, featuring a haunted house and a ride on the Ghost Train.
Whatever the season, it is likely that visitors will encounter one of the many annual festivals held in Blowing Rock. Among them are the Trout Derby, Charity Horse Show, Symphony by the Lake at Chetola, Savor Blowing Rock and the ever-entertaining Winterfest with its fun activities, music and chili cook-off. This event ends with a frigid splash — the famous Polar Bear Plunge in Chetola Lake.
The town of Blowing Rock is small but its propensity for great food is anything but. Dining here is an exciting epicurean adventure whether visitors are seeking casual, simple fare or a flamboyant meal with rich tastes and complexities. Some favorites are Twigs restaurant, Blowing Rock Brewing Co., Bistro Roca, Foggy Rock Eatery and Pub, The New Public House & Hotel, The Restaurant at Gideon Ridge Inn, Camp Coffee Roasters and Timberlake’s at Chetola Resort.
Blowing Rock is the quintessential tourist town and, as such, offers lodging accommodations for every taste and budget. Included are Gideon Ridge Inn, Blowing Rock Inn, Hemlock Inn, historic Green Park Inn and Inn at Ragged Gardens, to name a few.
Fortunate are the visitors who will settle in at Chetola Resort. The 87-acre property offers a 42-room lakefront lodge, the eight-room Bob Timberlake Inn, more than 100 condominiums and fine dining. Chetola, which in Cherokee means “haven of rest,” has come to be recognized as a world-class resort. Chetola offers numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and, in 2004, became an Orvis-endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge.
• “Modern Visions, Modern Art: The Cone Sisters in North Carolina,” at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, 159 Ginny Stevens Lane, through Nov. 30: Free admission. For more information and hours go to blowingrockmuseum.org.
• Art in the Park, downtown, Oct. 5: Outdoor art show featuring 90-plus juried artisans with huge variety of works. Free admission. blowingrock.com/artinthepark
• Tweetsie Christmas at Tweetsie Railroad, Friday and Saturday nights Nov. 22-Dec. 28: Train rides, light displays, Santa visits. $44 for adults and $38 for ages 3-12, 2 and younger enter free. tweetsie.com
• Christmas in the Park & Lighting of the Town, downtown, Nov. 29-30: Music, games and the lighting ceremony on Friday, with the Christmas Parade on Saturday at 2 p.m. Free admission. blowingrock.com/christmas-park
• Blowing Rock WinterFest, downtown, Jan. 23-26: Family events all weekend. blowingrockwinterfest.com