Day Trips

Driving along the main roads of the High Country can provide the sightseer with many opportunities for photographs or simply to pull the car over and take in the view. There are few areas in the United States as picturesque as the High Country and all you need to do to prove it to yourself is get in the car and follow a road.


Some roads are less traveled than others, though. And for the adventurous tourist (or local), these roads can provide the sort of “up close and personal” day trip that following the main thoroughfares wouldn’t provide. This means that you can go and see up close what you normally only see from a distance, through a windshield. Like, Grandfather Mountain, for instance.

Grandfather Mountain:

From just about any spot in the High Country you can look up and see the slumbering figure of Grandfather Mountain. There is the forehead and the nose, the chin and the beard. He looks as if he’s sleeping. Or maybe he has his eyes closed and is thinking about something. Either way, he is lying down, and his face is maybe the most recognizable geographic landmark in these mountains. Up close, though, “Grandfather” is composed of many amazing elements.

There is, of course, the mile-high swinging bridge, which affords both views and thrills. You can stand in the middle and say, “I’m a mile up.” The views are spectacular and the thrills come from knowing you are standing on a bridge that is a mile up over the nearest solid ground. Of course this is only part of the day trip to Grandfather Mountain. The bridge would only comprise, maybe, a fraction of your day. After that, it’s off to the animals that are kept in the animal preserve/sanctuary on the premises. Many of these animals have been injured and are healing. Walk around and you will see lots of chipmunks scurrying about. There is a pool with otters. There is also a Bald Eagle. To see one of these amazing birds up close is a unique experience. It is easy to see why Thomas Jefferson, in the end, chose the Bald Eagle over the Wild Turkey as our national bird.

Grandfather Mountain offers miles of hiking trails with topographical features so diverse, it would be easy to forget you are still in the High Country. The Profile Ridge off of 105 is a very rewarding hike. It is a little rugged but offers many different landscapes. You can pick up a hiking permit at the McDonald’s in Banner Elk.

P.O. Box 129 - US 221 & Blue Ridge Parkway
Linville, NC - 28646
Phone 800-468-7325
Fax: 828-733-2608

Sttting Bear Trip:

The Sitting Bear Trip starts out on NC Hwy. 181 heading west out of Morganton, but it could just as easily be started from the upper end near Gingercake Acres a few miles south of Pineola. The entire trip covers about fifty miles and winds close to Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountains.

The route that NC Hwy. 181 follows up the mountain from Morganton was originally a toll road built in 1889 by a man named Anderson Loven. This road connected the Joy community outside of Morganton to Pineola, a small community at the top of the 30-mile-long ridge. Building a road through the rocky terrain was very difficult. Loven learned to pour boiling water over the massive rocks to crack and move them. This road existed until 1927 and was called "The Turnpike Road" by locals.

NC 181 runs through the Pisgah National Forest and climbs steadily along the Ripshin Ridge. Off to the left are the two unique mountain peaks, Table Rock (elevation 3,909 ft.) and Hawksbill (elevation 4,020 ft.), which dominate the landscape. The deep valley between NC 181 and the two peaks is Linville Gorge. At various overlooks along the way, the Linville River can be seen meandering its way through the Gorge. The river descends 2,000 feet in a 14-mile stretch.

French novelist Jules Verne found Table Rock so memorable that he used it as the source for the place he called "Great Eyrie" in his novel The Master of the World, published in 1904.

About 18 miles out of Morganton, there is a long overlook on the right that is one of the better viewing spots for the Brown Mountain Lights (which will be discussed more thoroughly in the Brown Mountain Lights Trip that follows). There are numerous wilderness trails with both long and short hikes leading off on both sides of NC 181. This area is the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest and topographical maps of the trails can be obtained from the US Forest Service.

A short distance beyond the Bark House Picnic Area, the road makes a series of tightly banked curves. This area is called Winding Stair Knob. Several miles farther, there is a sign indicating the parking area for Upper Creek Falls. The hike to the falls is about 1.6 miles round trip and is a moderately difficult hike.

Less than a mile past the Upper Creek Falls area is a white building that stands on the site of the lodge that Anderson Loven built at the height of his toll road business. It was called the Loven Hotel and was a successful summer resort and haven for bear hunters. The original building was destroyed by fire and the present building, still referred to as Cold Springs Lodge, is a private residence.

On the left, about 1/3 of a mile beyond the lodge is the entrance to Gingercake Acres (Old Gingercake Road or S.R. 1264). Turn left (or right if you are starting at this point and coming from Pineola) and go through a residential area. Go 0.3 mile and turn left at the first fork onto Gingercake Acres Road (S.R. 1265). When the pavement ends, this road becomes F.R. 210 and the road is gravel the rest of the way. Actually, at the end of the pavement, there are three dirt roads. Keep straight by taking the middle road.

1.5 Miles after the end of the paved road is the trailhead for Sitting Bear. The Sitting Bear is a huge boulder thirty-two feet long and eight feet thick that is precariously balanced on a rounded rock that is about thirty feet high. The formation looks like a bear sitting on its haunches and can be seen from Hwy. 181if one looks across Linville Gorge to the opposite ridge line. The hike to Sitting Bear will take about 30 minutes. Early settlers in the area called the formation Gingercake Rock and the mountain beneath it was named Gingercake Mountain.

A mile farther along F.R. 210 is the trailhead for Hawksbill Mountain. The hike to the top of Hawksbill takes between 30 and 40 minutes and part of the terrain is steep. The marvelous 360-degree view from the top is well worth the climb.

Two miles past the Hawksbill Mountain trailhead, there is a right turn onto F.R. 210B goes to the Table Rock Picnic Area. The parking area for Table Rock is about 3 miles ahead and passes the NC Outward Bound School. The last mile and a half is paved. There is a 30-minute hike to the summit.

From this position, one can retrace the route back to Hwy. 181. A left turn will take the traveler to the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance or on to the town of Linville. Turning right at the intersection of F.R. 210B and F.R. 210 can take one to Morganton. The road down to Morganton is gravel and is not always in good repair. 4-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for this segment of the trip. The road eventually comes into a paved road. A left turn will bring you to back to Hwy. 181 about 10 miles out of Morganton.

Brown Mountain Trip:

The Brown Mountain Trip takes the traveler close to famous Brown Mountain where mysterious lights have been spotted along the ridge for generations. This route is about 26 miles long and passes along Wilson Creek by the old town of Mortimer and the present day town of Edgemont.

Again this trip begins on N.C. Hwy.18l west of Morganton. About 10 miles out of Morganton there is an extremely sharp curve near the white clapboard Smyrna Baptist Church. At one time, this area was known as Clearwater Beach and was a popular swimming and picnic area. Turn right on S.R. 1405 and continue about 5 miles to where S.R. 1328 turns off to the left to Brown Mountain Beach. This entire area is in the Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest. Before 1750, this area was a summer hunting ground for Indians. Today, it is again a popular hunting and fishing area with plentiful wild bear, deer, turkey, and fish. The Brown Mountain Beach was scooped out as a result of the flood of 1916 and a resort was built on the site cleared by nature. Many of the huge boulders carried downstream by the flood are still visible.

Past the campground, S.R. 1328 enters the Pisgah National Forest. The road is gravel for the next few miles with the gorge carved out by Wilson Creek on one side and cliffs on the other. The scenery is stunning with numerous waterfalls and clear pools. All along the road are steep trails that lead down to well-hidden swimming and fishing spots.

This road runs parallel to the long ridge of Brown Mountain on the left where the Brown Mountain Lights have appeared for years. There have been many legends and even songs written about the famous lights which sometimes can been seen after dark.

In 1771, the first white man to explore the region, Gerard de Brahm, wrote about the lights. In 1910, a minister from New York built a cottage south of the mountain and soon got the attention of the US Geological Survey who sent D.B. Sarrette to study the lights. Sarrette concluded that the lights were headlights from the railroad in the Catawba Valley. Of course, when the flood of 1916 wiped out the railroad and the Brown Mountain Lights were still putting in their appearances, that theory was discounted! Through the years there have been many theories, but no real solution to the mystery. Today, perhaps because of smog or population growth, these lights are seldom sighted and the modern day descriptions don't sound much like the lights of old. A professor at Appalachian is presently trying to solve the mystery and has expressed doubt that the lights ever existed. However, he will have a hard time convincing the many area residents who grew up seeing the mysterious lights on a regular and consistent basis. The lights were tiny points of light, sometimes colored a faint pink, blue, or yellow. The lights would appear down on the side of the mountain and then slowly rise into the sky above the ridge where they would gradually fade away. Sometimes there would be one light and other times, several would appear scattered at wide distances along the ridge.

Perhaps the best-known legend is of the old slave searching for his master who was lost in the mountains. Scotty Wiseman, who was a popular performer at the Grand Ole Opry, wrote a song called "Legend of the Brown Mountain Lights" and Charlotte country music star Tommy Faile recorded the song in the early 1960's.

After passing Brown Mountain, the road crosses a bridge over Wilson Creek and comes to a fork. The right fork, S.R. 1328, leads to the town of Mortimer. A short distance before Mortimer is the Walker Country Store on the left. There was once a town of Hut Burrow there, but the flood wiped it out.

Mortimer was built rapidly to house workers for the Ritter Lumber Company that had bought the land for timber in 1904. At one time, around 800 people were employed in the town. There was a company store, a blacksmith's shop, a church, a school, a hotel, and numerous houses. By 1906, Mortimer even had a motion-picture facility and the Laurel Inn where Teddy Roosevelt reportedly visited. The flood of 1916 wiped out Mortimer and devastated the Ritter Company's operations. A cotton mill opened in 1922 revitalized the town for a brief period and then in 1933, the CCC repaired many buildings. In 1934, O.P. Lutz started a hosiery mill in the cotton mill buildings. It never really was a success. The railroad closed in 1938 and then the 1940 flood, during which Wilson Creek reportedly reached a flood stage of 94 feet, demolished the remaining buildings. Some of the remains of the old hosiery mill can still be seen today on the right side of the road and covering a large area..

In Mortimer, a left turn onto N.C. Hwy. 90 (on the right will be Betsy's Country Store) willtake the traveler past the Mortimer Recreation Area and up the mountain to Edgemont. Edgemont escaped the worst of the floods and more of its old buildings survive. At one time, Edgemont was a resort area and had a large hotel known as the Edgemont Hotel. The focal point of the village of Edgemont is Coffey's General Store. This store was built in the early 1900's and has changed very little. After the flood of 1916, the owner moved the store because the course of the river changed. The store was actually moved several hundred yards farther up from its present location, but the flood of 1940 moved the store a second time!

After exploring Edgemont, visitors can turn around, drive back past the old depot, and turn right on F.R. 464 which is also called Pineola Road. This road is very steep and travels through the Lost Cove and Harper Creek wilderness areas. The area abounds with hiking trails, but they are poorly marked. Topographical maps can be obtained from the US Forest Service. There are several impressive waterfalls just a short hike off this road.

After about 10 (slow) miles on the steep, narrow F.R. 464, Long Ridge Baptist Church can be seen on the right. Turn left onto the dirt road directly across from the church. Follow this road a half mile to Pittman Gap Church. Turn left at Pittman Gap Church and travel 2.1 miles to Jonas Ridge and you are now back on Hwy. 181. Jonas Ridge was named for Jonas Braswell who was caught in a snowstorm there in the 1800's and froze to death. He had camped under a rock on the high ridge that became known as Jonas's Ridge and later, just Jonas Ridge.

The Tom Dula Tour:

If you're in the mood for dramatic views, beautiful streams and a noticable change in elevation, a trip through Triplett.

Located off of the two-lane Highway 421 a approximately one mile from Parkway School (towards the Boone side) under the Blue Ridge Parkway, the turnoff is noticeable by its signature stone Parkway bridge. The turn is a left if you're coming from Deep Gap, and a right if you're coming from Boone.

Now, ready your low gear and head down the mountain. Less than a mile down the road, a pullout on the left affords a magnificent view of the valley below, and the views will continue for miles so remember, this is the slow tour and meant to be savored.

Elk Creek begins near the top and will continue virtually the entire length of the road, growing from a mountainbranch to a rolling river near at the base of the mountain in Wilkes County.

One of the first roads passed is Jakes Mountain Road, acknowledged as the first into Watauga County and the route taken by Tom Dula in 1866 (aka Tom Dooley of folk song fame) as he tried in vain to elude his captors who followed him through Watauga County and eventually took him alive in Trade, Tennessee. Dula was wanted for the murder of the beautiful Laura Foster, which had taken place just a few miles from the top of Elk Creek Road. He was later hanged for this crime, though to this day whether he was actually guilty or innocent is still debated.

The elevation drops from the top of the road at roughly 3,000 feet near the Eastern Continental Divide, ending eventually at the lowest point in Watauga County in the Triplett Community at under 1,500 feet. During spring, brilliant and voluminous dogwood trees line the roadway.

High elevation dogwoods took the worst hit from an anthracnose blight during the late 1980's, but lower down these trees radiate like their old selves, gracing both the wooded slopes and forest openings. About seven miles down the road will turn to gravel, but is well-kept and should present no problems to even the most citified.

To the left along the river look for an assemblage of wildflowers and native plants, abundant no matter what time of year. Regain the pavement a few miles further along, and passing through Triplett the crags turn to shoulders, the mountains to hills, and the woods to fields, as the Blue Ridge now stand at your back and you pass into the Foothills.

Numerous horse farms add another fine visual to the scene. Triplett Road (as Elk Creek has become) intersects 12 miles from the top with State Road 1162. Turn left and continue to enjoy the rolling hills and peaceful communities until intersecting with Highway 268, where a right turn will take you 16 miles into Lenoir.

Highway 268 also connects through a well-marked side road with main Highway 18, and if you are in the mood for a further sidetrip, turn right instead of left toward Wilkesboro and in just a few miles hit W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, where a picnic area and walking trails await at Blood Creek Overlook.

Around The Globe:

Few people visiting Blowing Rock, even those well-familiar with the town, may have noticed the little road running off Main Street and disappearing not into a welter of well-kept homes, but a forest of trees.

It is a forest, the Pisgah National Forest, and this winding route will take the unsuspecting traveler off the beaten track and through unspoiled public lands just minutes from downtown.

They will also be carried in reasonably direct, if winding, fashion to Lenoir and Hickory beyond. John's River (or Globe) Road will drop almost 2,000 vertical feet in just four miles through the largest area of U.S. Forest Service land in Watauga County.

Though this road has been in the past somewhat rough and bumpy, fresh gravel and re-grading this year has made the trip a lot smoother after an especially rough winter badly washboarded the surface.

Five miles down the mountain you will slip into the foothills beneath the crest of the Blue Ridge and re-enter civilization; look for the picture-perfect country church just off to the right on Upton Road.

Just past two-and-a-half miles past Upton, Globe Road will intersect with Anthony Creek Road; a left turn here will feed directly into Old Highway 90 just a mile or so later, then left on 90 for the short hop to Lenoir.

But wait, you may not be in such a hurry. If not you have several options. The first is to turn right on Anthony Creek, and head up Staircase Mountain and Wilson Ridge (all roads are well-maintained) toward the Wild & Scenic Wilson Creek Watershed and Mortimer.

Now Mortimer may sound like the last stop on the railroad but does offer Betsey's Country Store, Trout Pond, and Family Campground in ‘Beautiful Downtown'.

Mortimer is the gateway to Edgemont, home of the new Wilson Creek Visitor Center, a stay awhile place filled with exhibits and information on the watershed as well as adjacent areas Lost Cove and Harper's Creek.

From Edgemont you can take Roseboro Road straight up the mountain back to the High Country at Linville and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway, Highway 105, or Highway 221. Sitting Bear and Brown Mountain tours written by Nancy Stroupe. Tom Dula and Globe tours written by Miles Tager.

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