River and Earth Adventures stands out from other wilderness outfitters by being completely operated by their own guides. Their fleet of seasoned cave, mountain, and water-navigating guides work in tandem with professional ecologists and geologists, focusing Blue Ridge Mountains excursions on environmental education as well as adventure. During all day trips, guides divulge area history and expound on forest and river ecosystems as well as geology in caves whose interiors rest at 60 degrees year-round to keep them free of snowman hermits. Each trip also immerses adventurers in athletic activity, whether on hikes to summits and secluded waterfalls, spelunking through electricity-free cave tunnels, or rafting and kayaking down the Watauga River rapids. For those in search of extended excursions, guides lead children's adventure day camps and combination trips that further an environmental focus and bottle-cap collections through river cleanup projects.
Since 2001, Extreme Snowboard and Ski has populated the slopes of Sugar Mountain Resort with snow sportsters outfitted with rental and retail equipment, as well as apparel from brands such as Neff, Loki, and Grenade. The ski shop’s prime location at the entrance to mountain makes it a convenient stop for downhillers in need of rental skis or snowboards, a new pair of Spy or Smith goggles, or equipment tuning performed by the onsite repair technicians. The tech team treats skis and boards with the help of a Wintersteiger Micro 91, restoring their functionality and refining their bottoms until they can slide over snow with powder-cutting grace.
Whizzing around the city using zip lines as your main mode of transport would be great, if the costs associated with Batman-esque rocket-launched grapple hooks weren't so astronomical. Today's deal lays the lines and preps the sites for your convenience: for $40, you get one guided tour from Scream Time Zipline, an $89 value. Your area of exploration is two hours northwest of Charlotte in Zionville (where a shuttle bus will take you into the wild), but the drive is worth it. Zip lines are meant for treetop canopies and natural splendor, not concrete jungles and cityscape.
People tend to walk slowly across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, though not out of fear. The view is enough to slow anyone's steps. Spanning an 80-foot chasm one mile above sea level, the bridge grants 360-degree views of the mountains, specifically a rugged peak that rises to 5,946 feet: Grandfather Mountain. Recognized by the United Nations as one of the world's most diverse nature preserves, Grandfather Mountain bristles with verdant pines and wild flowers in full bloom, including the pinkshell azalea. The flower only grows in northwest North Carolina, and Grandfather Mountain claims the largest population.
Even on the seven backcountry trails, hikers aren't inclined to move very fast. Up-close views of the area's wild flora and fauna are enough to inspire quiet, peaceful strolls. And on one trail—Grandfather Trail—cables and ladders physically slow hikers as they climb to the mountain's peak. Other trails, meanwhile, wind past the park's seven animal habitats, where the likes of bears, cougars, and bald eagles live in their natural environments with their expert Feng Shui.
Although primarily an outdoor attraction, Grandfather Mountain does encompass a few indoor destinations. The Nature Museum chronicles the mountain's history—which stretches back billions of years to a time when the Earth still wore diapers—with two-dozen exhibits, including Indigenous American artifacts and mineral displays. Luckily, the park's onsite naturalists can help make sense of it all. Before or after exploring the mountain and its past, visitors can fuel up at the onsite restaurant or, if they can't bear to spend time indoors, picnic outside.
Wahoo’s Adventures refers to itself as the “original” whitewater outfitter, having facilitated outdoor excursions on rafts, tubes, canoes, and kayaks for the past three decades. Whitewater-rafting tours take place upon the Watauga River, the Nolichucky River, and Wilson Creek Gorge, three waterways with differing levels of frothiness, much like three cappuccinos ordered by a family of bears. Alternatively, adults without rafting experience and children as young as 6 months can lazily drift down the New River while sprawled across tubes. As they pass rugged hillsides and scenic farmland, tubers can smell wildflowers, listen to chirping birds, and keep eyes peeled for Sasquatch footprints. Keeping clients safe is Wahoo’s main priority, which is why their experienced guides equip adventurers with high-quality life jackets, helmets, and paddles before taking the water.
Horses may spend most of their day standing, but at Mimosa Hills Farm, they rarely just stand around. Crosby, the farm's owner, keeps the steeds constantly occupied, making them available casual trail rides across the farm as well as regular riding and driving lessons. But just as with a ten-gallon hat with a built-in spigot never loses its usefulness, the mounts' duties extend beyond the saddle. They also help teach husbandry lessons during educational farm days and provide the natural materials for making horsehair jewelry—a popular activity at Mimosa Hills. Perhaps most importantly, the animals serve as vital companions during the regional shows in which Crosby regularly participates.