RALEIGH — Families looking to get away to the mountains this summer may want to drop in on the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in Banner Elk to check out the site’s newest edition — an Adventure Course.
Army veteran Eric Bechard and his wife, Tara, opened the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster near Sugar Mountain in 2020. Their daughter Ashely Brown, whose husband is serving in the military, also helps run the business.
Riders are pulled up 770 feet to the top of the coaster track in a way that is similar to a ski lift. Once at the top, riders speed down a 2,100-foot track through a series of straightaways, turns and loops.
The coaster is open seven days a week. Visitors planning a trip to ride the coaster are encouraged to schedule their rides ahead of time and can do that by visiting the attraction’s website at wildernessrunalpinecoaster.com/.
In an interview with North State Journal, Eric Bechard said the coaster had done well despite opening during the pandemic.
“We did better during COVID than we’re doing now,” Bechard said. “We did fantastic through COVID-19 because we are an outdoor activity. It was easy for us to keep people 6 feet apart. It was easy to keep all of the sleds clean.”
He added that the coaster did very well for the first 110 days of COVID until Health and Human Services Director Mandy Cohen decided to shut them down. The shutdown only lasted about five weeks until Gov. Roy Cooper changed social activities guidance.
Last year, Wilderness Run added its Adventure Course, which is an elevated rope course with multiple levels with “activities designed to safely test your balance and climbing skills plus increase self-reliance.” The course operates seven days a week and includes 28 obstacles for guests ages 8 and up but also has a mini course for small children.
Bechard said the adventure course was “doing as well as expected,” and success often depends on the weather and the season.
He also said the retail area for the adventure course was under construction and that a food option is being added to the location which will run year-round to service day-trippers, hikers, skiers and those visiting Wilderness Run’s attractions. The new food option will have limited seating and mainly be a takeout restaurant offering pot pies of various varieties, soups, sandwiches and drinks.
For more information on the Adventure Course, including directions, booking a time for the course, and ticket prices, visit wildernessrunadventurecourse.com/.
The Banner Elk area also offers other summer activities such as white-water rafting and rock-climbing adventures offered by Edge of the World Outfitters.
For mountain bikers, Beech Mountain Resort offers a wide range of terrain for those new to mountain biking up to expert levels. Bikers will take a scenic lift ride up to the top of the mountain to access the courses. The resort offers bike rentals and lessons. The 2023 summer season runs from June 1 through Oct. 7 and will be open on Labor Day.
If you’re a rockhound, dropping into the Sugar Mountain Mining Company may be the attraction at the top of your list. The mine offers buckets of gemstone rough from a one- to seven-gallon bucket for visitors to sift through. Walk-in visitors are welcome, but making a reservation is suggested by calling 828-898-GEMS. The mining company is located at the base of Sugar Mountain in Banner Elk at 3045 Tynecastle Highway.
Banner Elk isn’t far from other attractions in the area and is just shy of a 40-minute drive from Blowing Rock. Other tourist attractions within a short drive include Linville Caverns, Tweetsie Railroad, Grandfather Mountain and the always scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.