by Kristen Bagwell
I am a huge fan of our NC mountains, having gone to college there <ahem> years ago. There's never a bad time to visit, but summer is particularly fun because the temperatures are 15-25 degrees lower than Raleigh on any given day. (For example, when we visited, the high in Raleigh was 89 degrees and the high in Boone was 67. JOY!)
There are so many things to do in the Boone-Blowing Rock area, but I'll stick with a family favorite: Tweetsie Railroad. We planned our visit around Thomas the Tank Engine's week-long appearance, but there are a ton of other events throughout the year to enjoy. There is an up-to-date events calendar on Tweetsie's website, and you can also sign up for their email notifications for upcoming activities.
When you get to Tweetsie, you'll have to park and walk up the hill. There are two lots, one lower and one upper. The upper lot makes for a shorter walk, but the lower one allows a quicker exit if there is a lot of traffic, so park based on whichever is more important to you. (A stroller is an absolute must if you have a toddler!) You can purchase entry tickets in advance (online) or get them at the door, and you'll need a good 3-4 hours to take in everything there is do see and do.
Special events may cost extra, and advance tickets may save you some time. There are also some great freebies. For example, next week's feature is "K9s in flight: Frisbee Dogs" and no reservations or extra fees are required. A ride on the historic Number 12 train is a must, and you'll see some wild west adventures along the way!
In addition to the train, there are amusement rides (ferris wheel, carousel, spinny cups, and "planes") and a sky ride (like a ski lift) takes you to the very top of the park and back if you want to take in the view. There is a smaller version of a midway with games and great food, and crafts and souvenirs all over the place. Visit the jail and other western daily life buildings - it truly is a little town in the sky.
Season passes are available, and Railroad Heritage Weekend offers specially-priced weekend passes for September 8 & 9 (this is a great deal!). Around Halloween, there are spooky train events that are also specially-priced. Almost any time of year, Tweetsie is a fun place to visit for all ages. Once you're done - and if you enter the park after 3pm, you can use your tickets again the following day - head on up the hill to Blowing Rock for a fun evening. Enjoy dinner at Hams or Twigs BBQ, or any number of other local eateries. There is a Holiday Inn Express that's relatively new, the Meadowbrook Inn that is older and full of tradition, and a ton of Inns and bed & breakfast spots in between.
On Sunday morning, grab a coffee at Kilwins or Bald Guy Brew, and walk to the local park on Main Street for a fun start to the day. This park is wonderfully maintained with great new equipment for the kids, and plenty of shady spots to sit. If you don't want to head home right away, cruise down the Blue Ridge Parkway on your way out of town for a quick hike and some amazing views.