With a population of just over 1,000 people, the small village atmosphere of Banner Elk makes it an appealing attraction. Banner Elk is near many hiking trails and waterfalls to enjoy in the summer. During the autumn season the colors will leave visitors mesmorized. Its proximity to many NC ski resorts makes it especially alluring for the winter seasons as well.
Banner Elk is one of the best North Carolina mountain towns to visit. So whether you have a whole week or are on a day trip from Asheville, here are all the best things to do in Banner Elk!
Best Things To Do In Banner Elk
1. Visit Banner House Museum
- Address: 7990 Hickory Nut Gap Rd, Banner Elk (GPS)
- Hours: Wednesday – Thursday: 11:00 am- 3:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: $10 per person
If you enjoy learning about the history of the places you visit, you don’t want to miss the Banner House Museum in Banner Elk. This living history museum is in a historic home that was built in the mid-1860s and is where you can learn about the life of well-known settler Samuel Banner.
Inside this house, you’ll find antiques from that period, beautiful handmade quilts, vintage household items, photos and artworks. The on-site Exhibition Room is where you can learn about the history of the town and get a taste of what it was like to live there in the 19th century. Guided tours of the museum are offered.
2. Take a Scenic Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway
North Carolina has no shortage of scenic drives but in the Banner Elk region, Blue Ridge Parkway is the must-drive route for spectacular scenery. The views are lovely all year round but autumn in NC draws many people from all over who want to see the amazing fall foliage that the area is known for.
You don’t have to travel far to reach this scenic road as it’s only about 10 miles away from Banner Elk. While the entire road runs about 470 miles, you only have to do a short section to see its beauty.
Some of the attractions near Banner Elk include Elk Mountain Look-off, Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain Look-off.
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3. Hike the Rough Ridge Trail
Located only about a 20-minute drive away from Banner Elk along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a hiking trail that’s said to be among the best in the state. The scenery, which consists of mountains, rolling hills, forest and the incredible Linn Cove Viaduct, is enjoyed along this 1.2-mile easy trail.
At the top of this NC hike, you’ll find a boardwalk that passes over delicate ecosystems. If you want to keep hiking in the area, this short trail is part of the longer and more difficult Tanawha Trail which is almost 14 miles long and features more epic views.
4. Hang Out at Wildcat Lake
If you’re looking for a place where you can spend a day enjoying a range of outdoor activities, look no further than Wildcat Lake. This popular lake in Tufts Memorial Park is a place where both locals and visitors go on nice days to enjoy a day on the lake. Whether it’s swimming, fishing, picnicking, canoeing, or kayaking, there’s something for everyone at the lake!
On-site you’ll find a beach area with a pier, picnic tables and a fishing dock where you can try your luck at catching some trout, bluegill, or bass. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a North Carolina State Fishing License to legally fish here.
5. Wander around Downtown Banner Elk
Banner Elk is a scenic town with many things to see and do and one of the best ways to get familiar with this little town is with a walk around the downtown area. Not only will you enjoy the views but you’ll also find some great shops, pretty green spaces and galleries. Many amazing restaurants are also in this area.
Whether you’re seeking a casual meal in a deli or pub or an elaborate feast in a five-star gourmet establishment, you’ll find it in downtown Banner Elk! Most of the businesses can be found along Shawneehaw Avenue and Main Street.
6. Hike the Otter Falls Trail
Situated just outside of Banner Elk on the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Otter Falls Trail is a short and fairly easy trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall. Along the main trail, you’ll see wildflowers in season and you’ll find an observation deck where you can enjoy views of the forest and surrounding area.
7. Sample Local Wine
- Address: 60 Deer Run, Banner Elk (GPS)
- Hours: Daily: 12:00 pm-6:00 pm
While Banner Elk is not as well known for wine as some other towns in North Carolina, it’s still a great place to sample some great wines at the town’s two wineries. Banner Elk Winery is a beautiful property that offers guests a wine tasting featuring eight wines including a variety of white and red wines and some unique fruit wines.
Grandfather Vineyard is the other winery in Banner Elk. Its beautiful riverside location is the initial draw; the wines are the icing on the cake!
8. Explore the Linville Caverns
- Address: 19929 US-221, Marion (GPS)
- Hours: Monday, Thursday – Sunday: 9:00 am -5:00 pm.
Wednesday -Tuesday: Closed
- Cost of Admission: $12.00 per adult, $11.00 per senior age 62+,$10.00 per child age 5-12, & children age 4 years & under are free.
Located in the nearby town of Marion about 20 miles away from Banner Elk, the Linville Caverns are the only caverns in North Carolina offering guided tours. These caverns are unique in that a visit offers both historical and natural features.
Inside the caverns, you’ll learn all about the Civil War deserters who hid in the caves and you’ll see incredible stalactites and stalagmites.
9. Explore Grandfather Mountain State Park
- Address: 9872 Highway 105 South
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:00 am -5:00 pm
With about 2,400 acres of wilderness, an abundance of things to do, and a nearby location that makes it easy to reach from Banner Elk, it’s no wonder Grandfather Mountain State Park is one of the most visited state parks in North Carolina.
Within the park, there are over 12 miles of challenging hiking trails including Profile Trail, Black Rock Trail and Nuwati Trail. Many of the trails reach an elevation of more than 600 feet so you can bet the views are amazing!
For a fee of $22.00 per adult, you can access additional attractions in the park including the Nature Museum and the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
10. Visit Hickory Ridge Living History Museum
- Address: 591 Horn in the W Dr, Boone (GPS)
- Hours: Tuesday- Friday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00-2:00 pm,
Sunday & Monday: Closed
- Cost: Admission is $8.00
About a half-hour away from Banner Elk near Boone, you’ll find another fascinating living history museum where you can learn more about the history and culture of the region but the history here goes back as far as the late 1700s when the area was first colonized.
At the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum you’ll find several alpine cottages and you can take a guided tour and see various trades, such as candle making and weaving, in action.
11. Spend an Afternoon at Elk River Falls
- Address: Elk River Rd, Elk Park (GPS)
Situated in the Pisgah National Forest about 12 miles away from Banner Elk, Elk River Falls is one of the top waterfalls to visit in North Carolina. When you see them for the first time, you know why so many people make visiting these waterfalls a top must-do on their list of things to do in the area.
These beautiful falls are 50 feet high with water plunging into a scenic pool at the bottom. On warm days, you can take a refreshing dip in this pool or you can simply relax on the rocks.
12. Beech Mountain Resort
- Address: 1007 Beech Mountain Pkwy, Beech Mountain (GPS)
- Hours: Friday- Sunday: 10:00 am-6:00 pm, Monday – Thursday: Closed
- Cost: A return trip on the chairlift costs $15.00
Beech Mountain Resort is mostly known for being the ski resort in the Eastern United States with the highest elevation, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do there in any season! Outside of ski season, you can take a ride on the chair lift to the summit of the mountain where you’ll enjoy spectacular views.
If you prefer to challenge yourself with a hike to the summit, you can hike along the disc golf trails that lead to the summit and play this exciting game that is likened to a mix of Frisbee and golf.
No matter which way you choose to reach the top, the 5506’ Brewery is one of the best breweries in North Carolina and is there waiting for your arrival. Kick back and enjoy a cold brew or delicious meal before heading back down.
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13. Learn About Farm Life at Apple Hill Farm
- Address: 400 Apple Hill Rd, Banner Elk (GPS)
- Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: Adults: $17, Seniors (55+) & Military: $15,
Children (ages 4-10): $12, Infants (ages 3 & under): $3
For a day that combines outdoor fun, learning experiences, shopping and relaxation all in one, head to Apple Hill Farm. By far, the top attraction at this farm is the friendly animals you’ll get to interact with.
There are almost two dozen alpacas and a handful of dogs, llamas, donkeys, pigs, goats and chickens. As you explore this picturesque property, you’ll also find a gift shop featuring items harvested right on-site.
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14. Go Prospecting at Sugar Creek Gem Mine
- Address: 3045 Tynecastle Hwy, Banner Elk (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10:00 am- 6:00 pm
- Cost of Admission:
One of the most unique experiences in Banner Elk is the opportunity to go prospecting for your own gems and you can do this at the Sugar Creek Gem Mine. Don’t worry, there are professionals on hand to guide you on your mining adventure and you’ll be outfitted in the proper gear!
Inside the mine, you’ll find many precious and semi-precious stones and you’ll have the opportunity to have the most beautiful ones turned into beautiful pieces of jewelry. You don’t need to book your experience in advance but it’s recommended, especially in the summer months, as it tends to get busy.
15. Take a Wild Ride on the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster
- Address: 3265 Tynecastle Hwy, Banner Elk (GPS)
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, Sunday: 10:00 am- 9:00 pm
- Cost of Admission: The cost to ride this coaster is $16.00
Banner Elk is a place where people go to relax in nature and enjoy a slower pace but if you want to catch some thrills during your visit, head to the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster and whiz around a mountainside and dip into the forest at high speed.
16. Try the Banner Elk Restaurants
For a small town there are actually some pretty tasty restaurants in Banner Elk. We recommend Bodegas Kitchen and Wine Bar, The Painted Fish Cafe, or Bayou Smokehouse & Grill for bbq!
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17. Linville Falls
The Linville Gorge is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians. Linville Falls is the spectacular three-tiered cascade of powerful sparkling water plunging into said gorge is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s just a 30 minute drive away from Banner Elk, and a fun place to go with the family.
The drop is a staggering 90 feet and the sheer volume of the Linville River makes for a captivating sight.
The Cherokee tribes of the region call it “Eeseeoh” meaning river of many cliffs, a reference to the abundant rocky outcroppings of the steep and cavernous gorge.
18. Celebrate a Small Town Christmas
The first weekend in December is one of the best times to be in Banner Elk. That’s when Christmas cheery runs through and there are endless festivities to enjoy. It’s now you get to enjoy a hot chocolate before watching the Banner Elk tree lighting as well as watch a holiday musical variety show. If you are feeling active sign up for the 5K Reindeer Run! See more events here.
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