Nestled high in the North Carolina Mountains is the quaint village of Blowing Rock. Pretty any time of the year, winter – when the town is blanketed in white fluffy snow – is the best time to visit. Travel and Leisure agrees, having named Blowing Rock one of “America’s Prettiest Winter Towns” in their December issue. At 4,000 feet with some of the best mountain views in the state, Blowing Rock embraces winter activities, with skiing nearby, outdoor adventures, shopping and an annual Winterfest event.
The city’s namesake was North Carolina’s first tourist attraction, opening in 1933. Legend has it that a Cherokee warrior who was conflicted between his love for a Chickasaw maiden and his duty, leapt from what was known as Blowing Rock. The maiden was grief-stricken and prayed to the Great Spirit for his return, until one day a gust of wind brought her lover back. From that day on, a perpetual wind has blown up to Blowing Rock from the valley below. The current of air flowing upward from “The Rock” prompted a Ripley’s “Believe-It-Or-Not” cartoon about “the only place in the world where snow falls upside down.”
Walkable and full of artist galleries and local boutiques, strolling from shop to shop can also be a sport in Blowing Rock. Pick up a handmade dulcimer at The Dulcimer Shop or hand-dipped candle at High Country Candles. A boarding house in the 1870s, the Martin House is now a collection of specialty shops, but you can also find big brand at the Shops at Parkway Outlet.
Outdoor enthusiasts have plenty to do too. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding and ice skating at nearby Beech Mountain Resort will get your blood pumping. This ski resort offers the highest skiing in Eastern North America at 5,506 feet. It’s also the only ski resort in the state with a high-speed quad lift, which means you can get a lot more runs in one day here than at any of the other three in the area.
Hikers can take the Glen Burney Trail that begins just off Main Street and descends 800 feet into John’s River Gorge, following along the New Year’s Creek and passing by three waterfalls. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway also offers additional hiking trails and amazing views.
If the roads are clear enough, consider a visit to Grandfather Mountain in nearby Linville. Getting its name from the ridgeline that resembles an old man looking into the sky, the highlight here is the billion-year-old landscape and mile-high swinging bridge. It’s also home to over 70 rare and endangered species, from bears, deer and cougars to the Peregrine Falcon.
Then, there’s Winterfest. For the past 15 years, Blowing Rock’s Winterfest has grown to one of the largest winter events in the North Carolina Mountain High Country. This year, the dates are January 24-27. Starting with the Winterfeast Dinner at Timberlake’s at Chetola Resort, festival activities from hayrides to a Chilly Chili Challenge lead to the highlight of the weekend: the Polar Plunge into Chetola Lake. Over 100 brave, costumed people will compete for the coveted Golden Plunger Award on January 26.
New this year is the Winter Fashions Show, which includes lunch at Timberlake’s and a showing of winter wear and new spring arrivals from Blowing Rock’s finest retailers. Local businesses get into the winter spirit by offering discounts during the festival, and restaurants will have craft beer tastings, wine tastings and auctions.
In the evening, bonfires, toasted marshmallows and live music keep the party going.
Some Winterfest events are free, while others require a ticket. Many local inns, along with Chetola Resort, are offering special Winterfest packages. For more information, call the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce at 877-295-7801 or the Visitors Center at 877-750-4636.