Burnsville: Family Adventure Under the Stars
A galaxy surrounds this vibrant mountain townBy Renee C. Gannon
The snaking, switchback-laden Highway 80 traverses from Mount Mitchell State Park to Micaville, where it intersects with Highway 19, taking you south, to Burnsville, or north, to Spruce Pine. Flecks of mica glint roadside in creeks and rivers, a lasting reminder of a mining industry that opened up the area to the outside world.
A family adventure awaits in this area along the edge of the Pisgah Forest. Mount Mitchell State Park looms overhead, with its peak, at 6,684 feet above sea level, accessible by car via the Blue Ridge Parkway then a short walk to the top. At its base along Highway 80 are lesser known trails to small waterfalls such as 75-foot Setrock Creek Falls and 50-foot Roaring Creek Falls. A thriving art scene is evident in the many arts and craft studios that dot the highways and side roads from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Burnsville. The Western NC Quilt Trail offers an easy “I Spy” game of spot the colorful squares at every turn.
Campgrounds and locally owned lodges offer various amenities to travelers. Albert’s Lodge, off Highway 80, is a favorite for hikers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The lodge is within walking distance of Roaring Creek Falls, and an open field behind the lodge sits in the shadow of Black Mountain. At night, this field also provides a perfect low-light opportunity to view the Milky Way.
The small town of Burnsville is located a short drive from its big sister Asheville. The slower pace of Burnsville allows visitors to enjoy local stores, art studios, restaurants and breweries. My children enjoyed hunting for the painted murals along building walls, with the Wizard of Oz Yellow Brick Road the favorite. Breakfast at the Pig & Grits served as an early morning treat. The hot dog/taco eatery Rad Dawgz followed by Cool Catz ice cream next door won the evening for the under-16 set. Blind Squirrel Brewery scored high for the adults. Fresh brewed coffee and hot chocolate from Appalachian Java and Rescue Dog Café topped the night.
As twilight approached, the stars came out and a winding, dark drive upwards led to another adventure at a local, internationally recognized observatory.
From almost 3,000 feet above sea level, The Milky Way looks like dense clouds made of thousands of stars to the naked eye. The elevation and lack of light pollution allow your vision to clear, letting the starlight brighten the sky above. Viewed through the telescopes at the Bare Dark Sky Observatory, your eye witnesses more than stars — the Swan Nebula, double stars in the Big Dipper named Mizar and Alcor, the rings of Saturn. With the naked eye, visitors learn how to watch for the International Space Station, Hubble Telescope and even a Russian satellite as they cross in and out of view above the concrete observatory deck. The scientists running the event are enthusiastic to share their knowledge about the stars and the myths behind the constellations.
Located at the Mayland Community College Earth to Sky Park in Burnsville, the observatory offers monthly viewing events through two telescopes: a planetary telescope for viewing planets and the moon, and the recently installed StarStructure Newtonian telescope (called the “Sam Scope,” the largest in the state), which offers views of the jet stream, distant planets, stars and constellations.
The Burnsville area offers a plethora of activities to satisfy every family member. The stargazing is a can’t‑miss opportunity. Nothing is more satisfying to a parent than hearing their teenager comment that witnessing Orionid meteorite showers leave bluish streaks across the sky and seeing the faint outline of Saturn’s rings were her favorite parts of a weekend spent with her family unit.
More travel ideas around the NC mountains region