N.C. 194 Country Road

This road, which spans the entire High Country north to south, has plenty of cultural and natural history to intrigue and awe. Beginning on the north end of Route 194 in Lansing and driving south, you'll immediately realize why this road was named a Scenic Byway by the state. This narrow and somewhat curvy road winds through exquisite forested hillsides, and as it meanders south along the New River in Ashe County, you'll come across a number of family-run fruit and craft stands where you can stop and chat or just pick up some homemade refreshments.N.C. 194 Country Road

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As you move south, the road becomes a paved trail through the woods. Tall trees line and shade the road, and rhododendrons are plentiful in the understory. Stick to the speed limit on this stretch because you never know what might run out of the woods and across the road.

194 runs downhill towards West Jefferson, a quaint town nestled in between green hillsides patched by farmland and forest. Just before town you won't be able to miss the home located on the right. Touting a large collection of rustic farm equipment, as well as rows and rows of claw foot bathtubs, this yard may have everything and the kitchen sink.

imageWest Jefferson has a quaint and historic downtown with several glorious murals celebrating the 194view landscape and the region's cultural heritage. The Ashe County Visitor Center is located here, as are a variety of gift shops and cafes. On East Main Street, visitors can stop at the vintage Parkway Theater to see a modern-day movie. On this leg of 194, parts of the road follow the old "Virginia Creeper" Railroad right-of-way, which ran through town until 1977.

The town is also home to the Ashe County Cheese Company. There, at the only cheese factory in the state, visitors can sometimes watch more than 180,000 pounds of milk become cheese from the viewing room in the plant. The gift shop offers a variety of cheeses, some of which are molded into whimsical shapes that represent the area. Tractors, chickens, and Christmas trees are all here, memorialized in cheese. Clarence, the Cheese Company mascot, will be waiting at the door to greet you with bags of fresh cheese curds.

South of town, 194 will meet up with Highway 221 for a short stretch. Todd General Store When 194 splits off from 221, you're back on track, with Christmas tree farms and fabulous mountain views along the way. Just north of the Watauga/Ashe county line lies the community of Todd. Once a booming railroad town, Todd has now settled into a quiet area. On Friday nights that quiet is broken by the magical powers of bluegrass as some of the area's best pickers meet up at the Todd General Store.image

There's a lot of farmland in Ashe County, and road signs of tractor crossings indicate that life moves a little bit slower in this rural area of the High Country. Cows spot green, rolling pastures and old barns add some country flavor to this relaxing drive.

Meat Camp Traveling through Meat Camp you'll pass a sign for the Old Buffalo Trail, a testament to the old life of buffalo hunting. From Meat Camp south to Boone the road offers beautiful views but little opportunity for roadside picnics or rest stops since the surrounding land is privately owned. However, this shortage of amusements will not disappoint travelers-the landscape provides its own roadside attractions.image

Travel Tip:
If you're fortunate enough to be touring the High Country by RV, you definitely will want to skip the part of this tour from Valle Crucis to Banner Elk. This section was laid out by Shepherd Dugger, and is known locally as the "Dugger S" Road. At one point, the road switchbacks so quickly, it passes the same house three times (or so it is said)! It's not recommended for longer vehicles or easily scared drivers.

Soon you'll you enter Watauga County, and though the landscape remains picturesque and reminiscent of a simpler time, Boone, with its busy downtown, is not far away. The section of 194 that runs through Boone was part of Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road that opened the frontier. Follow the signs for 194 South and drive through the center of town.

Boone is a major service area for the region, well known as the home of Appalachian State University. In addition to a wealth of amenities, the area also offers cultural riches through various arts programs, galleries, music venues and other community resources. This is the last best place to stop for a meal and fill up your gas tank until Banner Elk.

Once you leave Boone, 194 will run through Vilas and then turn left up a steep and hairpin-curved road. Now you'll be entering Valle Crucis, the Valley of the Cross, and one of the High Country's most historic areas. This part of the road, running through the valley of the Watauga River, is absolutely delightful-beautiful old barns, horse farms, and grazing land are all surrounded by vibrant green mountains.

Mast GeneralNamed by Levi Silliman Ives in 1842 for a convergence of streams that resemble the shape of a cross, Valle Crucis is home to the Episcopal Mission Church and the original Mast General Store. Opened in 1883 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Mast General is a great place to find out about the area's history and see a part of its past.image

Just after Mast General, 194 splits into a truck route and a scenic byway. We highly recommend taking the right turn onto the scenic stretch, but if you're limited for time the business route is quite enjoyable. A word of caution when deciding which way to go: vehicles longer than 25 feet are not recommended on the scenic byway as there are a number of steep switchbacks which are tricky enough to maneuver in a car. Don't be disappointed, though, if you decide to take the business route. There are a few stores and inns located along Business 194, one of which is the charming Inn at the Taylor House. Built in 1911, it is one of the fine homes in the area that now welcomes travelers as a Bed and Breakfast.

imageAs the scenic road winds over the mountainsides and passes the Episcopal Church, one of Valle Crucis' oldest landmarks, you'll realize why Valle Crucis is such a special part of the High Country. This part of the road continues to provide excellent views of hillsides and valleys spotted with both farms and forest where the natural beauty of the area peacefully co-exists with the man-made landscape.

Banner Elk Dam Next you'll continue on towards Banner Elk, at the foot of Beech Mountain. Beech Mountain is the home of many traditional musicians, storytellers, and craftspeople. Orville Hicks is one of the best-known storytellers in the region, whose telling of the "Jack Tales" has delighted people all across the country.

Banner Elk has some excellent restaurants and shops and is the home of Sugar Mountain and Ski Beech, popular High Country resorts.

imageSouth of Banner Elk, 194 runs through Elk Park, Cranberry, Newland, Crossnore, Altamont, and finally, Ingalls, the southernmost town on this drive. Each of these places in Avery County has a unique story. Just stop off at a local store or the Avery County Museum in Newland, and chances are you'll meet someone with a story to tell about the area's history.

Being friendly yields great rewards in the High Country. Southern hospitality is alive and well in Appalachia, and all along Highway 194 you can find it with a simple smile.

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