Can you believe that summer has come and gone? It’s time to make way for all things fall, including pumpkin-flavored everything, flannel and football, and most importantly, leaf-peeping.

“Fall’s leaf-changing season in the Boone and Blowing Rock area is generally Oct. 5 through Oct. 25, with peak color typically occurring Oct. 15 through Oct. 20,” says Michelle Ligon, director of PR and social media for the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority. “The variety in area elevations and microclimates in the immediate area offers a chance to catch leaf-color throughout October each year, and scenic drives around mountains and through valleys are great ways to witness nature’s display.”

When you’re out traveling to get an eyeful of those luscious red and orange tones, be sure to make a pit stop in Sparta, Boone, and Blowing Rock. To help better plan your trip, we picked some of the best places to eat, play, and stay.

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Sparta

Sparta is its own little slice of heaven in the fall, with its changing of the leaves and cooler temps. It’s a quaint mountain town with easy access to the New River and numerous trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway for hikers of any skill level.

“Our outdoor recreation options and opportunities are fantastic. Whether it’s canoeing, kayaking, hiking, or biking, Sparta is the place to enjoy it,” says Kate Irwin, interim marketing coordinator for Authentically Alleghany, which works to foster the economic vitality for Alleghany County. “Access to these outdoor activities is easy and our scenery is breathtaking.”

Eat

Sparta is ripe with outdoor activities and recreation ideas for the entire family, but all that exercise will most likely leave daytrippers hungry.

Luckily, there are plenty of dining options.

“You can’t go wrong with one of our wonderful restaurants. Each restaurant’s menu is unique and delicious; it’s easy to find a ‘favorite dish’ at each one,” Irwin says. “Most of the restaurants also feature live music during the week and weekends.”

Earlier this year, the owners of Muddy Creek Café & Music Hall announced the end-of-year closure of its Bethania location, saddening scores of residents in Winston-Salem and the Triad. But luckily, Sparta has its own Muddy Creek (60 South Main Street), which will remain open and committed to giving back to the community and its visitors.

“My favorite thing about being a business owner in Sparta is that I get to work with a very creative community,” says Shana Whitehead, owner of Muddy Creek. “Sparta is beaming with entrepreneurs committed to creating a beautiful experience for visitors.”

Play

Ofelia Killeen has a way of making people feel welcome, whether it’s their first time visiting her shop, Ofelia’s on Main (4 Main Street), or their twentieth.

“Every time a stranger comes into my store I enjoy talking with them. It’s always my goal that they leave the store not as just a customer, but as a friend,” Killeen says. “I love people, and every one of them is so unique in their own way.”

Her boutique offers an array of unique inventory items, making it the perfect shopping destination to find a gift for any member of the family. Some items include kitchen towels, beauty products, clothing, and home décor.

If exploration is more your forte than shopping, Sparta is holding a slew of events throughout the month of October that are worth checking out. Thistle Meadow Winery is hosting a wine festival on Oct. 6 and a fall studio tour boasting a variety of artists and mediums will be held from Oct. 18-20.

Stay

Putting your feet up after a long day of hitting the local hiking trails is going to be so worth it, especially in a log cabin that was built with love. Located less than seven miles from Sparta, Glade Valley Bed and Breakfast (300 Shaw Lane) provides just that opportunity.

Built in 2006 by owners Jim and Margaret Connor, the bed and breakfast sits on 29 acres of mountainside land and boasts breathtaking views. Guests have the choice of six rooms or a more secluded cabin; each room has its own private bath and Jacuzzi tub.

The inn comes highly recommended on Facebook.

“The bed and breakfast was the perfect setting for all of us to kick back, relax, throw the Frisbee, football or tennis ball, and enjoy the fresh mountain air,” says Brice Griffin in a 5-star, 2016 review on the social media platform.

Breakfast is at 8:30 a.m. every day, and features scratch-made breads, fresh eggs, and seasonal fruit, some of which is grown right on the grounds.

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Boone & Blowing Rock

Droves of football fans head to the High Country every fall and jockey to find a parking spot in time for an Appalachian State game. Catching the foliage along the way; well, that’s just a perk.

“Finding spectacular views of peak foliage in the Boone area is easy,” Ligon says. “In Boone and Blowing Rock, close access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of America’s Byways, as well as four N.C. Scenic Byways, enables visitors to enjoy the rides, hikes, and vistas.”

Next time you attend a home game, give yourself some extra time to explore what Boone and Blowing Rock have to offer.

Eat

Blowing Rock’s downtown provides the perfect rest stop for those needing a break from the Blue Ridge Parkway, or just some game day fuel. Six Pence Pub (1121 Main Street) has all the comfort food you can imagine — with both an American and British twist. The Blowing Rock location is the restaurant’s second spot, and owners invite guests to come by for a pint.

Around the corner from Six Pence, Savannah’s Oyster House (155 Sunset Drive) serves up hot and fresh pork rinds covered in Old Bay, the likes of which are still crackling as they’re set down in front you.

Rebecca Fountain, co-owner of the restaurant, hopes that Savannah’s provides good “family vibes” to guests. And it does, considering you can “beer it forward” for a family member, friend, or perfect stranger. A chalkboard hanging in the bar allows guests to purchase a beer or libation of choice for someone who’s missing out on the fun; the board includes the name of the drink, the date, and the person who’s slated to receive it.

So upon arrival, check the chalkboard and make sure you don’t have a prepaid drink waiting for you.

Play

After grabbing an open-face roast beef sandwich at Six Pence, burn some calories walking across the street to the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (159 Chestnut Street), a nonprofit organization dedicated

to promoting the visual arts. Now through Nov. 30, the museum is showing pieces of art from the collection of the Cone sisters, known for their family’s North Carolina textile business.

“The remarkable Etta and Claribel Cone Collection includes work by Henri Matisse, Ben Silbert, Jacques Villon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others,” says Ashley Warren, marketing and communications director at BRAHM. “This world-class exhibition is a not-to-be-missed gem in the High Country for art and history buffs alike.”

From the museum, Blowing Rock visitors should be able to follow their noses to The Spice & Tea Exchange (1087 Main Street),

an eclectic shop loaded from floor to ceiling with hand-churned spice blends and owned by Andy and Gayle Barth. Many of the blends are unique to the shop, as well as their salt and sugar blends.

For those unafraid of the spooky or supernatural, head a little ways down the

road to Tweetsie Railroad (300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane), where they’ll transform their famed steam locomotives into a haunted ghost train for the month of October.

Stay

Closer to the gridiron and in the heart of downtown Boone, on the roof of the Horton Hotel, guests can enjoy the views of Howard's Knob, which faces north, or catch the sounds of that App State football game to the south. Either way, you’ll want a libation in hand because the hotel’s rooftop bar is going to offer some of the best views of the game — and the foliage.

“The foliage is going to be amazing,” says Denise Lovin, who owns the hotel with her husband, Fulton. “We have the first rooftop bar in the High Country.”

The Horton Hotel (611 West King Street), which opened earlier this year, offers guests a boutique experience with a flair and love for all things local. Everything inside of the hotel is homegrown or handmade, including the complimentary chocolates in each guest room supplied by Community Well Chocolates, which has teamed up with Wine to Water, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water for the world. Each chocolate provides enough clean water for one person for one year.

“We are committed to partnering with local,” Denise says. Hotel manager, Andrea Morton, agrees.

“It’s exciting to be using one-man or one woman businesses,” she says. “It’s a whole new idea for King Street.”

The hotel has 15 uniquely decorated guest rooms and amenities — including aromatherapy at no extra cost. There are two bars; one in the lounge and one on the roof, and one entire floor is dedicated for guests with pets, leaving no excuse to leave Fido at home.

“We wanted to build up our community and connect our community,” Denise says.

The hotel’s name, logo, and décor also pay homage to local history. Built in the 1920s by H.W. Horton, the building was originally a Studebaker dealership and Spainhour’s Department Store. Horton’s legacy now lives on thanks to the vision of Denise and Fulton.

“The entire hotel is thoughtful; a real cozy place,” she says.

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