Banner Elk is a quaint mountain village between Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain ski areas. It's home to Lees-McRae College, a beautiful historic campus at the highest elevation of any college east of the Mississippi (3,700 feet). While the town is only home to about 1,000 residents, it's a hub for the area and offers a nice selection of shopping and impressive line-up of great restaurants. Here are some of our favorite things to do in the Banner Elk area.
Woolly Worm Festival
Banner Elk's biggest event of the year celebrates the coming of the snow season with a Woolly Worm Festival on the third weekend in October. A contest determines which one worm will have the honor of predicting the severity of the coming winter; and they make that worm earn the honor by winning heat after heat of hard-fought races – up a three-foot length of string. Enjoy a big selection of arts and crafts, food and live music. Read more.
Banner House Museum
Experience 19th century history of life in Banner Elk and the North Carolina mountains in the home of Samuel Henry Banner, one of Banner Elk's original settlers. Wander back in time through the re-created household. The museum hosts daily guided tours mid-June through mid-October by volunteers who introduce you to life in the 1800s.
- Banner Elk Winery (photo above) is the most celebrated winery in the region, growing new French-American and American varieties of grapes. Banner Elk wines pay tribute to the rugged mountain landscape and capture the delicate nuance and subtle flavors. Stop in for a tasting year around from 12 Noon until 6 PM every day but Mondays. They also offer private tours and tastings with advance scheduling of at least one week. Located at 60 Deer Run Lane.
- Grandfather Vineyard & Winery is located on a mountainside at the base of Grandfather Mountain on the Watauga River. During a tasting, you will sample a variety of dry white and red wines. From Banner Elk take 184 south to 105 east toward Boone approximately four miles on your right.
- Flat Top Brewing Company (567 Main Street East, Banner Elk) has about a dozen beers on tap. Their year round brews include a pale ale, IPA, Kolsch and black-rye IPA. Seasonal beers and experimental small batches, as well as stouts, porters, saisons, hefeweizens and brown ales all make appearances. Locally sourced hops and pure mountain spring water are key elements in this high-quality beer.
- Blind Squirrel Brewery (4716 South US Hwy 19E, Plumtree) is in a small riverside community that's a 30 minute scenic drive from Banner Elk. The brewery combines craft beer, beautiful scenery, outdoor games and a popular restaurant. Try the light Backwoods Blonde and their iconic American Pale Ale. The more complex Belgian Tripel has hints of fruits and spices and a 9% ABV. The full lineup is extensive including an amber ale, cream ale, brown ale, Hefeweizen, Irish stout, Gose and Kölsch.
- Beech Mountain Brewing Company (1007 Beech Mountain Pkwy, Beech Mountain) is open during ski season and also during the summer months for bikers and hikers. They brew small batches in the Alpine Village. Their flagship beer is the 5,506’ Pale Ale, named after Beech Mountain’s elevation. Other popular brews include the Beech IPA and the Patroller Porter. Seasonal beers vary, and include such offerings as the Beech Blonde, Session Belge, One-Eye PA and Ramble-on Rye.
The Art Cellar Gallery (920 Shawneehaw Ave) will celebrate its 25th season during 2017 with a schedule of exhibitions, artist talks, book signings and other special events from June through October. All events are free and open to the public. The gallery specializes in fine art, sculpture and other three-dimensional works in glass, clay, wood and stone. Open Monday-Friday, 10-5.
A fun way to explore Banner Elk is via the 1-mile greenway that begins near Flat Top Brewing Company and goest through Tate-Evans Park and pass Mill Pond on the college campus.
Named for two women when it was founded in 1907, Lees-McRae College is home to 700 undergrads. Visitors are welcome to explore the beautiful campus with historic buildings built of native stone. At the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (367 Mill Pond Road, 828-898-2568), learn about the area's wildlife with tours on Saturdays at 1 PM (plus Thursday and Fridays in the summer). Or stop by anytime to check out their rescued birds outside. It's a great place for performing arts with the Lees-McRae Summer Theatre, weekly summer FORUM series, and other annual performances and concerts.
New in 2017! Emsemble Stage moved its professional theater productions to the Historic Banner Elk School, built in 1939.
This great summer swimming hole is just a couple of miles from downtown Banner Elk (Hickory Nut Gap Road) has a beach and adjacent park. And it's free to enjoy.
Experience a true canopy tour and zipline adventure on the Blind Squirrel course. See what it feels like to be a Flying Squirrel as you sail past trees with a beautiful squirrel's eye view of the farm retreat property and Isaacs Branch Creek!
See more of our Coolest NC Mountain Small Towns.
Places to Stay & Things to Do
Christmas Tree Farms
The highest town and ski resort in eastern America is just six miles away. While the Beech Mountain Ski Resort is the big draw in the winter, their mountain biking trails created by the town of Beech Mountain are getting national attention. Plus, in early October each year is Autumn at Oz, the festive annual opening of the former Land of Oz theme park.