Multigenerational vacations are the hot trend in family travel right now. But I’ve been doing them since before they were cool. My husband and I live with our kids all the way across the country from my parents and extended family. Ever since we had kids nearly 8 years ago, we have been taking them on multigenerational adventures. These trips where we vacation with my parents allow my kids to see their grandparents more often without having to miss out on vacation too.
Our last multigenerational adventure took us to the North Carolina High Country. Some destinations are simply meant for multigenerational vacations and the High Country turned out to be one of those places. The area has lots of good clean family fun and activities that are appropriate for a wide range of ages, lots of vacation rentals for bigger family groups, and – best of all – reasonable prices.
Here’s what you need to know about taking a North Carolina High Country family vacation with kids, grandparents, and every age in between!
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North Carolina High Country Basics
North Carolina High Country refers to the area around the cities of Boone, Blowing Rock, and Linville, in the northwestern part of the state along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The area is home to North Carolina’s three ski resorts and also where Appalachian State University is located. The college’s presence means Boone has a bit of a college town vibe. Combined with Blowing Rock’s hint of a hippie artist vibe (albeit with a Southern accent), the region offers a lot of great food, shopping, and entertainment.
The closest major airports to North Carolina High Country are either Piedmont Triad (GSO in Greensboro/Winston-Salem) or Charlotte Douglas (CLT). Both are about 2 hours away. The regional airport in Asheville is about the same distance as well, but usually has more expensive flights.
In my experience, the vast majority of people vacationing in the High Country area come from within driving distance. The area makes for a beautiful road trip. My family, in fact, flew from California to Knoxville, Tennessee and visited Boone and Blowing Rock as part of a longer Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge road trip. Our other stops before finishing our trip in High Country were Dollywood, Gatlinburg, and Asheville. The scenery did not disappoint.
Things to Do in North Carolina High Country with Kids (and Grandparents!)
So what are the best activities and things to do in the North Carolina High Country? We fit a lot into four days and managed to find a multitude of activities everyone in the family enjoyed – from grandparents to three toddlers we had in tow (only one was mine!).
Tweetsie Railroad is a compact and entertaining local theme park built around a Wild West theme. It is a can’t-miss in the area for travelers with young kids. The main attraction is the real narrow gauge railroad, served by two steam engines that circle the park. The train stops for a Wild West show that is certainly a bit cheesy and dated, but that just adds to its charm.
Tweetsie Railroad also has small county fair style amusement parks rides: a Ferris wheel, a tilt-a-whirl, carousel, and more. There are a number of rides that toddlers and preschoolers can enjoy independently. My frequent flyer son naturally took three spins on the airplanes and was mad when we had to finally take him elsewhere. At $45 for adults and $30 for kids 3-12, a day out at Tweetsie Railroad doesn’t come cheap, but the park can really be a full day’s entertainment.
Tweetsie Railroad is set on a hillside, so that’s something to be aware of for strollers and wheelchairs on either end of the generational spectrum. There is a little climbing to do. We brought our super lightweight gb Pockit travel stroller for our toddler (full gb Pockit review here) and were able to navigate the hills with ease. Even my mother who has a bad knee was okay on the hills because the footprint of the park is very small. You are not going to do the kind of walking you might at a Disney park, Six Flags, or nearby Dollywood.
Grandfather Mountain State Park
For more nature-oriented pursuits after the theme park overload, a stop at Grandfather Mountain is the other true must-do in the area with kids. Located near Linville, Grandfather Mountain has nature center with animals in a wildlife habitat. The habitat features bears, otters, deer, and a rare cougar exhibit. There are plenty of staff-led educational talks like the butterfly viewing that fascinated my 7 year old daughter. Plus, there’s a fudge shop on site that we somehow managed to avoid the kids catching sight of which saved our wallets!
The highlight of a visit to Grandfather Mountain is walking over the Mile High Swinging Bridge and gazing out on to the expanses of the Blue Ridge. Plan to wear good non-slippery hiking shoes or boots if you are brave enough to go farther. I strapped my almost three year old into the Ergobaby carrier backpack so we could venture a bit further onto the rocks beyond the bridge. It’s definitely not safe for toddlers unless they are carried, but my 7 year old scrambled over the rocks like a pro. Even her grandpa (my father) tagged along.
Grandfather Mountains has plenty of other hiking trails and places to explore, so you can make it a quick trip of a couple of hours like we did with three toddlers or spend the whole day there. Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 60+, and $9 for children ages 4-12. Ask about AAA discounts to save a few bucks too!
Other Kid-Friendly Activities
Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine: For a shorter outing (an hour tops), stop by Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine to get a bucket to sift through for local gems. My daughter had a blast collecting her finds and then sorting them with the help of staff to take home. It’s a great way to sneak in a little geology education on your vacation. I recommend sharing the medium bucket ($34) for a family of 4 – a bit pricey but at least there are souvenirs!
Mystery Hill: Located right next door to Doc’s Rocks is Mystery Hill, one of many “gravity hills” that create an optical illusion that appears to defy gravity. Water flows uphill and objects hang from the ceiling at weird angles. Californians may best know the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, but roadside attractions like this exist all over the country. Cost: $9 for adults 13-59, $8 for seniors 60+, $7 for kids 5-12, kinds 4 & under free.
Linville Caverns: Linville Caverns is one activity I really wanted to do in the area that we ran out of time for, as it’s a bit farther afield from other attractions. The caverns are fairly small and a tour only takes about a half hour, so it’s an easy stop with kids.
Linville Falls: This three tiered waterfall is another popular family-friendly stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Run by the National Park Service, start at the visitor center and hike to the falls along one of two paths. Travelers with kids will want to opt for the moderate 1.6 mile trail, Erwins View, rather than the more strenuous Linville Gorge.
Where to Stay in North Carolina High Country
For multigenerational trips, the best places to stay are nearly always vacation homes. Boone and Blowing Rock are popular multigenerational travel destinations and naturally have a lot of inventory on vacation rental sites like VRBO and Homeaway. My father found a large 6 bedroom mountain home (with views!) for our entire family just a 3 minute drive from downtown Boone that gave us room to spread out and hang out as a family. Most of the hotels in the area are either inexpensive or moderate chain hotels, mixed in with plenty of bed and breakfasts that make for a perfect romantic getaway but that might not be so appropriate with kids.
Restaurants abound in the downtown areas of Boone and Blowing Rock. You really can’t go wrong with most of them, even with kids. The beer scene is hot in Western North Carolina, and Blowing Rock Brewing Company’s Ale House is a popular eating and drinking spot. Our family ate at Town Tavern in downtown Blowing Rock and found the atmosphere, pub food, and very reasonable prices to be a good fit for larger groups.
Disclosure: I received comped media passes to visit Grandfather Mountain and Tweetsie Railroad. All other costs for this trip were at my own expense. As always, all opinions are my own.