Get OFF the Beaten Path BACKROADS

Coming into the High Country on any of the main highways, you may not be able to tell that you are driving only minutes away - wherever you are - from the backroads that really define what it means to be in the mountains. If you choose to stay on our so-called ‘beaten paths' - which would include Highways 321, 421, and 105- you will miss the essence of the area; peaceful forests, animals grazing in lush pastures, people waving when you drive by.


Listed on the following pages are some auto touring suggestions for those travelers who "hear the beat of a different drummer" and yearn to leave commercialism behind as they set forth on a journey of discovery.

The Globe Road:

If you're looking for high adventure in the High Country-at least from the relative safety of your sport utility or well-shock-equipped passenger car-you might journey down the Globe Road, which begins its descent DOWNWARD from a point just east of the downtown area, on Main Street, in Blowing Rock. As you turn off of Main Street (Highway 321-A) onto the Globe Road (NC 1367), you leave behind civilization almost immediately as you make your way (very carefully, very slowly) along the rocky, sometimes well-rutted path which leads downward into Caldwell County. Enroute to Globe, you'll pass through deeply-forested mountain lowlands, alongside creeks and creek beds, and past some of the region's most remote and uniquely designed Cabinlog cabins and homesites. The journey to Globe should take 20-40 minutes, depending on the speed of your progress and prevailing weather conditions.

Get OFF the Beaten Path BACKROADSAt Globe, head south along NC-90 to Edgemont, then follow FSR-464 to NC 1518 south to Highway 221; Highway 221 will then take you to Jonas Ridge and back into the Linville area.

This Blowing Rock-to-Jonas Ridge adventure should be set aside as a day trip since, along the way, you may want to take-in activities such as hiking, picnicking, and swimming and sights such as Wilson Creek, Lost Cove, and numerous other stops within the Pisgah National Forest.

But be forewarned, the Globe Road is rather notorious; it's about as straight down as a road can get and still allow for vehicular traffic, it's unpaved, and it's often rutted in a way suitable only for 4X4 traffic. The Globe Road is a most interesting, most beautiful trek through deeply forested areas, past scenic log cabins, and along rushing whitewater streams...if you've got the "right stuff" to accept the challenge!

Sights To See:
(Heading West On Unpaved Roads After Globe Road Ends):

  • Wilson Creek, Popular Tubing, Hiking & Camping Area
  • Brown Mountain Beech
  • Communities Of Edgemont & Collettesville

Highway 88 From Trade, Tennessee To West Jefferson:

One of the most beautiful backroads of the High Country stretches from nearby Trade, Tennessee (take Highway 421 west of Boone) to West Jefferson, the side of the roadalong the way passing through many miles of rural farmlands changed little in the last half-century. Here, along Highway 88, you'll pass through such waystops as Ashland, Creston, Clifton, and Warrensville...spots-in-the-road little touched by commerce but containing numerous "mom and pop" stopovers where you can get a cold soda or sample some hoop cheese and home-pressed apple cider. While passing through "the Jeffersons," be sure and take-in Mount Jefferson State Park, which offers both hiking and picnicking; breath-taking views of a three-state area (North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) from its peak elevations; and numerous panoramas of the zigzagging course the New River takes as it meanders through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.

Sights To See:

  • Mount Jefferson State Park (On Highway 221 Between Jefferson & West Jefferson.)
  • Ashe County Cheese Company (In Downtown West Jefferson)
  • New River State Park (Follows New River Throughout Ashe County)

Elk Park To Plumtree:

Elk Park To PlumtreeOne of Avery County's most scenic roads (one of many, actually) is the stretch of Highway 19-E which leads from Elk Park to Plumtree, a zig-zagging auto trek of about 10-miles through mountain valleys and alongside creeks and farmlands. On the way to your destination, you'll pass through such charming communities as Minneapolis and Roaring Gap. Plumtree is the site where the Hollywood movie, Winter People, was filmed over a three-month period in the late 1980s. The film stared Kurt Russell, Kelly McGillis, and Lloyd some 60 High Country residents. Reach Highway 19-E by traveling west on Highway 194 out of Newland.

Sights To See:

  • Old Country Store & Rustic Log Cabin Used In Winter People, Adjacent To Plumtree Town Square.
  • The beautiful, 65-foot Elk Falls is located just four miles from downtown Elk Falls. Off of Main Street, turn right on Elk River Road, and follow this to a parking area beside the Elk River. A short trail leads to the top and down to the base of the falls

Table Rock & The Linville Gorge:

There are those who call the Linville Gorge "the Grand Canyon of the East." This 10,972-acre wilderness area is one of the most remote, most naturally dangerous places in the Eastern United States...which also makes it one of the most ruggedly beautiful.

To get to Table Rock, first of all, be flexible! Travel from Highway 105 through Linville to where it connects with NC 181 enroute to Morganton. Go south 3-miles from the junction of NC 181-183, turn right onto SR 1264 (Old Gingercake Road) and, at 0.3 miles, turn left at the first fork onto Gingercake Acres Road. Gingercake Acres Road becomes FR 210, which will lead to the Table Rock Picnic Area, which leads to trails overlooking all of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.

This unpaved road is a true forest service road, and as such is known for large potholes, blind switchbacks and narrowness. The road is not impassable to private vehicles, but a little adventurousness is recommended to navigate this road. Beyond the Table Rock turnoff, FR 210 continues downhill for 20 miles or more, and this section of the road is often in poor repair. It is recommended that only 4-wheel drive vehicles attempt the lower section.

Along the way to Table Rock several side-roads beckon to the curious adventurers - try them out! Be sure to visit Wiseman's View, one of the most scenic spots in the region.

Boone To Beech Mountain To George's Gap & Beyond:

Lots of folks think that the only way to get to Beech Mountain is to travel to downtown Banner Elk and then head up. Not so! Old timers and High Country natives, in fact, know of a more scenic-if far less traveled-way to reach Eastern America's Highest Town.

From a starting point in downtown Boone, head west on Highway 321 to Beech Creek Road, on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, which you'll follow for two miles until you come to a sign for Buckeye Lake (adjacent to a county dumpster site). Turn left at the Buckeye Lake sign and head up; you'll be ascending the "backside of Beech" and eventually intersect with the Beech Mountain Parkway...and civilization.

For a second adventure in the same neck of the High Country woods, again follow Highway 321 out of Boone until you reach NC 1213 in Sugar Grove, which is one of western Watauga County's most scenic backroads. After driving to the end of NC 1213, in Bethel, just follow your traveler's instincts down any of the numerous, unpaved country roads in the area; they all lead somewhere, taking you through such quaint communities and hamlets as Beaver Creek, Timbered Ridge, Mast, Amantha, and Sherwood. old housesMost of these roads will eventually take you back to Highway 421 or Highway 321, though some will transport you all the way to Tennessee!

Todd's Railroad Grade Road:

A perfectly flat road located right in the middle of the High Country? That's right, and it's to be found along a ten-mile stretch which leads northward (in a meandering fashion) from "beautiful downtown Todd" to Highway 221, in Fleetwood. Called the Railroad Grade Road, the route is widely hailed as one of the Ten Best Bike Paths in all of North Carolina. This narrow stretch of road (watch out for cyclists) leads alongside the New River and through some of the most beautiful pastoral scenes to be found anywhere in the northwestern mountains. Todd is reached by traveling along Highway 194 north from Boone.

Sights To See:

  • Todd General Store
  • Fleetwood Falls
  • Todd Area Side Roads

Roan Mountain State Park:

Elk Park To PlumtreeIf you've never been to Roan Mountain, then you've missed one of North Carolina's most popular natural attractions. (O.K., to be fair, the top of Roan Mountain State Park is located on the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, but we'll claim it.). Roan MountainThe fastest way to get to "The Roan" is to travel along Highway 194 out of Newland to Highway 19E, then heading west into Tennessee. Roan Mountain State Park is accessed from Roan Mountain, Tennessee (the town), with the steep drive to the top taking about 20-minutes.

Sights To See:

  • Roan Mountain State Park Visitor Center (Historical)
  • World's Largest Rhododendron Gardens, At Top Of Roan
  • Appalachian Trail

Additional Tours:

Many travelers prefer to "find their own way" through the areas of the places they visit, and the High Country of Northwestern North Carolina lays-out the welcome mat to such vehicular adventurers. Just about every road leads somewhere, with unexpected sights and pleasures laying wait around every curve and, even if you do come to a dead-end or two, well, nothing ventured/nothing gained!

For those who like to ply their own paths, the following suggestions might well lead to some magical places:

Elk Park To PlumtreeWestern Watauga County is vastly different from its more eastern sections, which are built-up and heavily populated. By taking Highways 321/421 west of Boone and heading off on rural roads in just about any direction, you can easily discover places that time seems to have bypassed in its rush to modernize places like Beaver Dam, Timbered Ridge, Sugar Grove, Vilas, and even the "back entrance" to Beech Mountain.

Ashe County, which begins just north of Boone, and adjoining Alleghany County, still retain the High Country's "flavors of yesterday." While many "city folks" say that these two counties are "10-20 years behind the times," there are those of us who find this fact charming and quite desirable. Head north of Boone into the Jeffersons and Sparta and you'll pass dozens (even hundreds) of Christmas tree farms, scenic waterways, and mountain/valley vistas which cannot be equaled anywhere else in the High Country.

Heading down Highway 181 from outside of Newland towards Morganton can also be a journey of discovery for motorists who're not put-off by taking whichever side road looks intriguing (most of them being unpaved.) Such offshoots from the main thoroughfare will lead to adventures in the Wilson Creek area, which offers whitewater sports, hiking, and camping; treks into the remote and DANGEROUS Linville Gorge Wilderness Area; and not-for-the-timid hikes high atop Table Rock, which looms majestically over "the Grand Canyon of the East"...the Linville Gorge.

Road Maps:

Specialized maps of rural High Country roads are available at numerous locations, including the Mast General Store and Old Boone Mercantile (in Valle Crucis and Boone, respectively); at Footsloggers and the Blue Planet Map Company, in Boone; at the High Country Host, also in Boone; and at most area Chambers of Commerce.

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