I graduated from Appalachian State University in December of 2016, having fully enjoyed my bonus semester in that mountain town, holding two degrees and completely unsure of what my next move would be as I left the high country. I dearly loved each of my four (and a half) years in the western part of the state, and I think my penchant for skipping class and exploring the surrounding area qualifies me uniquely to write this pseudo-guide to the area surrounding Kidd Brewer Stadium, colloquially known as ‘The Rock,’ where our Tar Heels will undergo the first true road test of the season.
I also want to preface any recommendations I make by saying the Boone that Carolina fans are going to visit in 2022 is vastly different from the Boone I remember. The intervening years of growth and change have rendered parts of the town nearly unrecognizable to me, and as such I may miss recommending some new hotness; apologies in advance. Similarly, there is a chance that some of my old haunts no longer exist in the form I remember—time and pandemics have a way of changing the face of a college town, but some things don’t change; I’ll start there.
I’m hoping for good weather this weekend, and not only because I want to watch good football on Saturday. Summertime in Boone is a wonderful thing, and anyone travelling up 421 North from Chapel Hill is in for a welcome break from the oppressive Piedmont heat. The weather can change quickly in the mountains though, so my first recommendation is to keep an eye on the forecast over at Ray’s Weather. Ray’s Weather Center has been the go-to source for High Country weather since before I was in school, to the point where the hotel chain I (briefly) worked for in Blowing Rock would print the Ray’s Weather daily forecast for the front desk each morning. What I mean to say is it’s generally dependable, and the Golf-O-Meter is cute and easy to read.
If the weather holds, there are plenty of hikes in the surrounding area that are easy and rewarding. Rough Ridge has a trailhead off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just past mile marker 302 (if you’re coming from Boone), and really front-loads the view after a pretty easy ascent. It’s a popular hike, so the parking area may be crowded, but it’s close enough to Boone that it’s worth checking back later in the day if it is packed out. Additionally, a quick jaunt further up the Parkway and over the stunning Linn Cove Viaduct, you can find the Beacon Heights trail, another fairly easy walk through the woods with a wonderful view for a reward. Both of these aforementioned trails are free, but for any Heels who are willing to buy a ticket, Grandfather Mountain is a lovely stop for the whole family, where you can walk across the mile-high bridge and see bears on your terms (important when dealing with local megafauna).
Speaking of wildlife, if fishing is more your speed, I would recommend a few other spots that are near the Parkway and easy to reach. The exact locations of these lakes can be found elsewhere on the internet, and despite my best efforts this isn’t a fishing blog, so I’ll skip the coordinates and simply list them below along with my experiences:
- Price Lake—right off the Blue Ridge Parkway; can’t miss it. I’ve caught plenty of sunfish and a few nice trout in this lake, but it is fairly pressured, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to walk a little way around the lake on the trail. It’s a nice walk even if the fish aren’t biting.
- Trout Lake—oddly enough, never caught a trout here, but have spent many a summer hour messing with the bass and sunfish that can be found in the waters around some of the fallen trees.
- Bass Lake—another commonly-recommended lake with a nice view back up to Cone Manor. I’ve always had poor luck here and took it out of my rotation of spots after it was frustratingly choked with lilypads; likely a better fisherperson would have better results.
- Watauga River—believe it or not, I got college credit to take a fly fishing class, where I learned that the waters of the Watauga River are a great place to catch trout of various types. There are multiple access points, but bank fishing is likely easiest from somewhere like the Valle Crucis Community Park, where the river is nice and wide.
As a Tar Heel fan in Boone, any bar or restaurant is going to be generally considered hostile territory. This isn’t to say that people will be rude, or that you can expect trouble in any of these places, but more that you will never be eating and drinking more than a few yards away from something black and gold. Appalachian State is a fundamental part of the town of Boone, and Boone is squarely an Appalachian State town in turn. To whit, my first recommendation for a visiting fan is to grab a drink at Appalachian Mountain Brewery. AMB is popular with students and Boone residents in kind, and may even be a familiar sight if you frequent the beer aisles of Harris Teeter in Chapel Hill. I’d recommend the Boone Creek Blonde, since I like a lighter beer, or try one of the cider options they have on tap—it’s hard to go wrong.
To this day, the best garlic knots I have ever had come from a pizza place called Capone’s. Formerly, this spot was located just short walk from campus on King Street, Boone’s answer to Franklin, which was an issue for a college freshman with a limited food budget but a powerful hunger for pizza and beer. Now, these garlic knots and the accompanying pizza can be found in the shopping center near the movie theater, just off of 421 coming into Boone.
Another can’t-miss place to eat is Come Back Shack, an aptly-named fast food joint with a drive thru that doesn’t miss. Recent reports from former classmates have indicated that the menu has changed slightly to keep up with demand, but the burgers are still very good and the Come Back sauce is hard to beat. Come Back Shack is right off of Blowing Rock Rd, if you’re heading from Appalachian State’s campus to Blowing Rock. Order some buffalo style fries or an Oreo milkshake—or both, if you’re up to it.
Any time I leave the mountains, I always find myself wishing I had more time. There’s a lot to see and do—far more than would ever fit in any blog post worth reading. Even though I won’t be making the trip up the mountains to cheer for my two teams in person this weekend, I hope that the Tar Heel faithful who do find their way to Boone have a wonderful time in my home away from home. I’m very fortunate to have called these two college towns home at various points in my life, and I hope that I’ve been able to share some of the love I have for the mountain town of Boone with my Chapel Hill friends.
In the mountains or in the Hill, it’s always a good day to be a Tar Heel.