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Auntie Laurie's Sensible Recommendations for a Stress-Free Vacation in the High Country

High Country in North CarolinaThe High Country is a great place to vacation and has been a family favorite for generations! With all the activities, sights, nature, and beauty, this is a spot that is sure to please all the members of your family. With a little planning, reasonable expectations, and some local knowledge, you can turn a good vacation into one that is truly memorable.

Travel is not stress-free unless you are one of those natural-born adventurers who loves change, surprises, and a little bit of chaos in your life. My father prepared me for my earliest solo travel at the age of about seven, by telling me, “Expect the unexpected, and you will have a fabulous time!” He was correct. However, there are certain things you can prepare for before your trip to the High County, that will make your trip a little more fun for you and anyone you bring along, even if they were not born to adventure.

Bring Rain Gear & Make Some Rainy-Day Plans: The High Country is a temperate rainforest. The average precipitation is 67.9 inches per year, which means many years will have much more. This makes the area a beautifully scenic place to explore. You can see creeks, lakes, waterfalls, flowers, vines, birds, animals, and unbelievably tall trees. So go ahead and dream about blue skies and mountain vistas, but don’t hang all your hopes on seeing a fabulous mountain view and doing sunny outdoor activities every day of your trip. I can almost guarantee that some rain will fall.

There are plenty of fun things to do as adults or with children during the rainy days. Visit a museum or winery, take the kids to the gem mines, or catch a movie at the movie theater. Check the Appalachian State website for special theatre performances, concerts, or events. Bring board games, puzzles, and cards, in case your vacation home does not have these. Plan a romantic indoor picnic by the fireplace. And, of course, bring those passwords to your streaming accounts like Netflix, Prime, or YouTube, so you can relax and enjoy your favorite series. Finally, pack a rain jacket and bring an umbrella! In warm weather months, a walk in the rain can be a great experience.

Bring Warm Clothes, Even in July: The High Country is generally chilly. Even in July, the average temperatures range between a low of 57 degrees and a high of 76 degrees, which is cold if you just left 100+ degree weather. Although those averages may not sound bad, they are just averages. It may be much, much cooler than this, even in July! And in January, not only can the wind blow impressively, the temperatures range between a low of 21 and a high of 39 degrees and you may experience anything from snow to sleet to freezing rain. March is not that much warmer, averaging from a low of 30 and a high of 50, on average, and it is still wet and snowy! So, if you run cold, pack those warm clothes, preferably layers, socks, and a jacket or sweater, even in the summer. It is not a bad idea to bring a favorite blanket too!

Stay in Town or Make Peace with the Forest Creatures: One thing that is just as predictable in a tropical rainforest as in a temperate one, is the presence of bugs and other creatures in the forest. Also predictable, is the desire of bugs to get inside out of the cold. The most prevalent creature in vacation homes, mainly because it is not very responsive to pest control measures, is the stink bug.
These little, heavily armored, prehistoric-looking friends are going to want to come inside, especially in the spring and fall. You may never see one and they tend to travel alone and don’t live very long, so if you do see one, it may already be toes up. If alive, it may cozy up to the blue light of your television screen or a warm, glowing light bulb cover, where it can bask and enjoy the day. They don’t bite. You can even carry them around on an open palm if you are so inclined, but whatever you do, don’t squeeze them. They are called stink bugs for a reason. Just put them back outside. Don’t let a little bug or two ruin your vacation. The other most common pests are ants and flies, both of which are generally well controlled by pest control measures. And of course, like anywhere, there can be mosquitos in the summer, so prepare accordingly. If you are traveling with friends or family who are not fond of all things rustic, consider staying in town where bugs are less prevalent, even if it means sacrificing the mountain view.

Be Bear Prepared: Once you leave the bright lights of town, you may also encounter bears, flying squirrels, mice, raccoons, opossums, and any number of other forest creatures in the vicinity of your rental home. Bears are probably the most feared. All the bears in our area are black bears, which tend to be uninterested in humans unless they are startled or are protecting their young. You are not likely to see one unless it is cruising the neighborhood, checking all the trash cans for tasty treats.

If you are lucky enough to see a bear, keep your distance and keep an eye on your dogs and kids (a good reason to keep your dog on a leash). Do not try to take a selfie with a bear! You can find plenty of expert advice online about the black bear and how to handle any encounters you might have with them while vacationing, so if you are not familiar now is the time to prepare. If you really want to see bears, plan a visit to Grandfather Mountain, where you will not only see bears but learn a great deal about them!

Protect Your Trash: Although you may never see a bear, the bears are almost guaranteed to get into your trash if you leave it lying around. Always put trash in a receptacle that is well-secured. If you see a lock, latch, or bungee cord on your trash can, use it. No one wants to spend their vacation picking up scattered trash.

Bring the Right Vehicle: If you are staying out of town, the right vehicle can make or break your vacation. Ice and snow are predictable in any month, from Thanksgiving through April, and especially early in the morning or late at night. Some years the ice and snow arrive earlier and some years later, but they are almost guaranteed during these months. Mountain storms can appear without much warning and a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended or required during these months depending on where you plan to stay. Even if you check in on a warm day, three days later you could be driving in snow. Accepting the need for a four-wheel drive as part and parcel of the price of a winter vacation in the mountains is a good idea. The money you spend to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle before your winter vacation is much better spent than spending money on medical bills, towing your vehicle out of a ditch, or repairing it afterward.

Even when there is no ice or snow, if you plan to drive gravel mountain roads with rocky terrain, you are going to want to drive a vehicle with high clearance. You don’t want to drag the bottom of your vehicle on a large rock. Most paved roads are fine for any kind of vehicle during the summer months.

Plan for Traffic, Parking, and Crowds on Popular Weekends: Traffic can be an issue in the High Country at popular times. Yes, this area is “in the country” but it is also a very popular destination. If you are coming for the most popular weekend of the year, when the Wooly Worm Festival, the Valle Crucis Fair, and an Appalachian State Home game converge, pack your patience, pack some drinks and snacks, and consider ordering takeout or cooking at your rental. Lying on the horn, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic, making reservations you can’t possibly keep, feeling anxious, and losing your temper, are not going to make your vacation one bit of fun. You are just going to impress your family and/or friends with your ability to morph into a creature they don’t recognize and would prefer not to see again.

Make Reservations: It also bears mentioning that some of the best restaurants in the area require reservations months or in one case, even a year in advance. Less exclusive restaurants are going to require a reservation on popular weekends. Parking can also be a challenge. If you don’t do well with frustration, traffic, noise, or crowds, choose a different weekend. No matter how much fun the idea of a woolly-worm race may be, the reality, after fighting the crowds all day, can be very different, and there are many other dates you can choose.

Prepare for Winding Roads: Mountain roads and views merit discussion. If you want a nice view, there is a good chance that your vacation rental is going to be at least a little way out of town. The road to get there will be winding and cause car sickness in susceptible people, animals, and children. Come prepared with anti-nausea medicine if this is likely to be a concern.

Don’t Rely on Cell Service: Because you may not have cell service on the way to your rental, review the check-in instructions for your rental thoroughly before you leave on your vacation. Your check-in instructions will provide driving directions to the property and codes for accessing security gates, lock boxes, and keypads that provide you with access to the property. The instructions may also provide emergency numbers and passwords for logging into the Internet service.

It is a good idea to take a screenshot or print out your check-in instructions so you can access them without cell service. It is better to follow the driving directions provided than depend on digital maps, which can be inaccurate in the mountains.

Arrive Early: Mountain roads do not come equipped with many streetlights. Once you leave town and head toward your mountain rental, you will probably spend some of your time on a dark road. Once you have been to your rental house once or twice, in the daytime, this will not be a concern. But if you are trying to find a house for the first time, in the dark, in the rain, and in fog, it can produce a certain amount of anxiety. If you can check in before dark, even if just twilight, that will make finding your home so much easier. It is also nice to come with at least the coffee and groceries you need for the next morning, so you don’t have to go to the store first thing. Helpful items to include in your car in case of emergency: extra blankets or warm clothes, a flashlight, water, and snacks.

Blowing Rock Properties wishes you a wonderful vacation experience in the High Country and hopes you will return, year after year. The mountains are a special place, and aside from some challenges that can be avoided, with very little planning, need not be any more dangerous or frustrating than any other destination. There is beautiful magic in the mountains. Let this be your year to discover it.

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