Experience Mountain Scenery, Winter Sports in Little Switzerland
Little Switzerland, N.C., isn’t the easiest place to access. You can reach it via the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 334 or by way of a weaving, winding trip up Route 226A north of Marion. It’s the only developed area on the parkway and actually came into existence when Switzerland Land Co. of Charlotte discovered it on Grassy Mountain at an elevation of 4,000 feet and bought the original 600 acres. It would later become known as Little Switzerland and open as a resort area to visitors wanting to escape the summer heat.
Though visitors probably won’t find too many Swiss, they will find a town that emulates the look of an Alpine village, with brightly decorated craft, jewelry and food shops. The centerpiece is The Switzerland Inn, with its green-roofed lodge buildings, green-shuttered windows and short balconies overlooking long, blue, hazy mountain ridges to the east. Switzerland Inn owner Gary Jenson says 80 percent of his guests are repeats. “They come here because of the quiet and the view,” he says.
The Old World inn offers spacious sunny rooms and suites in hues of sage, mauve and blue as well as expansive mountaintop lawns where guests can lounge, play shuffleboard and tennis, or relax in the mountainview pool during warm weather.
As part of the Spruce Pine Mining District, Little Switzerland is home to large deposits of feldspar, mica and quartz, all of which can be viewed at the nearby Museum of North Carolina Minerals. Approximately 714 mines are on record in the district, but most are now defunct.
Emerald Village opens its underground mines to visiting prospectors, who can keep any precious stones they find. You’ll also find memorabilia ranging from Bon Ami cleansers made from feldspar to old steam engines.
After panning for rubies and sapphires, visitors can hike the shady 2.5-mile loop to Crabtree Falls at milepost 339.5. The trail passes under an arbor of mature rhododendrons, descending gradually along a boulder-strewn path past a spring-fed stream. The sound of rushing water grows from faint to uproarious as hikers approach the falls. At full throttle, Crabtree Falls cascades 60 feet to a small pool and over gray boulders and fallen trees underneath a moss-covered walking bridge.
Hitting the Slopes
Winter sports enthusiasts are an hour or less away from many of North Carolina’s ski resorts, including Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock, Sugar Mountain Ski Resort and Beech Mountain Ski Resort, which offers the highest elevation skiing on the East Coast. All three resorts offer a variety of other winter sports, including ice skating, snowshoeing, snowboarding and ski lessons for beginners. Appalachian Ski Mountain’s ice skating rink is open seven nights a week and features a rinkside bonfire. At Hawksnest Resort, just south of Boone, guests can enjoy snow tubing at the largest snow-tubing operation in the East.
After a day of mining, hiking or skiing, visitors can settle in for an elegant evening at The Switzerland Inn’s Chalet Restaurant, where a glass-enclosed dining room offers views across manicured gardens to the hazy mountains beyond. Enjoy a more offbeat experience at the nearby Mountain View Restaurant, where sandwiches are served in plastic baskets on a deck that features the best views in Little Switzerland.
Plan your getaway to Little Switzerland by visiting littleswitzerlandnc.com.
Deborah R. Huso is and an outdoor recreation and travel writer who has the good fortune of living on a farm in central Virginia within walking distance of two wineries. She blogs at at deborahhuso.com.