A quick two miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway via US-221 from Moses Cone Memorial Park at milepost 291.9 lies the delightful little resort community of Blowing Rock (pop. 1,241)—the place to stop if you’re only stopping once. The cool summer temperatures have been attracting visitors for centuries, and once you get past the factory outlet mall that welcomes you to town, quaint old Main Street is a great place to stretch your legs while taking in the eclectic range of late Victorian buildings, including some delightful churches. Blowing Rock takes its name from a nearby cliff overlooking John’s River Gorge, where updrafts can cause lightweight objects to be blown upward rather than down. This effect, which earned Blowing Rock a mention in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as the only place “Where Snow Falls Upside Down,” also inspired the Native American legend of a Cherokee warrior who, rather than be forcibly separated from his Chickasaw lover, leapt off the cliff, only to be blown back into the arms of his sweetheart.
North Carolina’s oldest tourist attraction, the Blowing Rock itself (daily summer, $7 adults), two miles east of town via winding US-321, is worth the admission, whether or not the “magic wind” is blowing. Check out the tremendous views from a platform suspended 3,000 feet above the valley below. The nearby area also offers a couple of enjoyable tourist traps, including an apparently gravity-defying Mystery Hill, just off the parkway, and the toddler-friendly coal-fired steam trains of the Tweetsie Railroad, four miles north of town on US-321.
Downtown Blowing Rock has a number of good places to eat lined up along and around the quaint few blocks of Main Street. Across US-321 from the Blowing Rock, the storybook Green Park Inn (828/414-9230, $89-229) is a large historic resort hotel built in 1882. There’s a golf course down the street. More modern conveniences are available at the Cliff Dwellers Inn (828/414-9596, $89 and up), right off the parkway on US-321.
Another classic mountaintop vacation spot, located midway between Blowing Rock and Asheville, Little Switzerland was founded in 1910 around the Switzerland Inn (828/765-2153 or 800/654-4026, $79 and up), a peaceful and relaxing old chalet-style resort that also operates a popular restaurant right off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 334.
The inn stands on a crest, but the rest of Little Switzerland sits in the deep canyon to the east, spread out along Hwy-226 and a number of smaller side roads. The main stop is Emerald Village (828/765-6463, daily Apr.-Nov., $8 adults), on McKinney Mine Road 2.5 miles from the parkway, where you can tour an old gemstone mine (above and below ground) and museums displaying everything from gemstones to mechanical music makers.