Horses, Adventure and Food Star in an Epic Mountain Weekend

On the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, less than an hour from the glow of city lights, Ursa Major and other constellations are easy to see in the nighttime sky. But these aren’t the only stars. World-class Grand Prix riders compete during Tryon International Equestrian Center's Saturday Night Lights series, where the evening begins with a festival and ends with incredible horse shows.

Make it the centerpiece of a 3-day weekend full of bright spots, including hiking at a North Carolina landmark, savoring locally sourced cuisine and playing a round of golf at one of the state’s top-ranked public courses. You could even time your trip for when the town of Mill Spring will be on the grandest stage: The 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games comes to Tryon International Equestrian Center for two weeks in September (more on that below).

Friday: Explore Your Surroundings

Prepare to be in awe of Chimney Rock State Park. Just past the main gate you’ll find the entrance for the half-mile Great Woodland Adventure Trail and its 12 discovery stations, where guests of all ages learn about the park’s creatures. The next trailhead starts a leisurely 1.5-mile round-trip hike through a hardwood forest to Hickory Nut Falls. It’s the East’s second tallest waterfall and a prominent filming location in 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans. A steady supply of sweeping views will supply motivation for your 499-stair climb to the top of Chimney Rock, the 315-foot monolith that has drawn visitors for more than a century.

View of Lake Lure from Chimney Rock

Back on flat land, follow the delicious aroma wafting along Main Street in Chimney Rock Village to Riverwatch Bar & Grille. Its sandwiches and burgers, which can be ordered with a chicken breast or veggie patty instead, are loaded with toppings. A lighter menu is offered at Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery along with a selection of beers, including Devil’s Head Red Ale, named for a rock formation in the state park. Enjoy one on its four decks, which lead to the Rocky Broad River’s edge. Afterward, browse quaint shops for souvenirs.

Follow the river past colorful Lake Lure Flowering Bridge and Morse Park to Lake Lure, where the annual Dirty Dancing Festival in August celebrates the locally filmed movie. The Lodge on the Lake's 17 rooms boasting Southern elegance, which can accommodate quiet getaways and family reunions, are the town’s only lakefront lodging. Before settling into yours, enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and some cheese in Fireside Lounge or learn about the lake’s history and ecology on a sunset boat cruise.

The Lodge on the Lake (photo: TIEC)

Dinner will be waiting for you at 5-star, farm-to-table Tree Tops Restaurant, located on the lodge’s entrance level. Daily specials feature in-season local ingredients, and the grilled ribeye and Chilean sea bass are favorites. Panoramic mountain views are included with indoor or veranda seating.

Saturday: Enjoy Friendly and World-Class Competition

Rise and shine, Tree Tops serves breakfast 8 to 9:30 a.m. The mountain air coming through the large screened windows is stronger than coffee, jump starting your day that begins on the links.

George Cobb, who’s responsible for Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte and Augusta National’s Par-3, designed the course at Cleghorn Golf & Sports Club. It was recently ranked one of the state’s 10 best public courses on The breathtaking mountain scenery is the real winner on this course, where low scores are a result of controlled drives. If golf isn’t your game, sit by the pool and enjoy a sandwich or wrap from the pro shop.

Cleghorn Golf & Sports Club (photo: TIEC)

The Lodge on the Lake is 20 minutes from Tryon International Equestrian Center, so it’s convenient to stay there a second night. But if you’d rather move closer to the action, reserve one of the center’s 3- and 5-bedroom cabins, 1-bedroom tiny houses or a Stable House Inn room. RV sites with full hookups are available, too.

The center offers a full events calendar, free parking, shopping and restaurants. Many of the dishes at Legends Grille include locally sourced ingredients. The cured salmon appetizer, for example, incorporates Defiant Whisky, which is distilled in nearby Bostic.

The free Venetian carousel at Tryon International Equestrian Center (photo: TIEC)

There’s no admission fee to Saturday Night Lights, which kicks off at 5 p.m. Live music, face painting, performers and Venetian carousel rides bring the fun, while its centerpiece – Grand Prix – provides the excitement. Hooves pound as international riders lead their horses into soaring jumps over obstacles, including some nearly 5 feet tall, inside the 6,000-seat arena. They receive faults for mistakes such as refusing to jump or surpassing the time limit. The rider with the fewest wins.

Sunday: Try Unique Experiences

Located at the equestrian center, the metallic exterior and interior vibe of Roger’s Diner is all 1950s. Sunday breakfast is the perfect time to try its famous Bloody Mary. Dive into a stack of pancakes or a made-to-order omelet, although one of the John Wayne Skillets might be most appropriate before hitting the virtual trail on Tryon’s equine simulator.

You’ll need to schedule a time to ride the center’s equine simulator, a mechanical horse that moves with the scenery shown on monitors. Instructor Barbro Ask-Upmark, who rode with the mounted police in her native Sweden and has won Grand Prix gold medals, is one of the world’s best simulator instructors. She’ll be with you on every step of this memorable experience. Novices and Olympic-level riders have benefited from her wisdom.

Cleghorn Gun Club (photo: TIEC)

It’s a car ride of less than 10 minutes to the resort’s Cleghorn Gun Club. Its sporting clays course rolls with the landscape, and each of its 15 stations has four traps that cater to beginners and experienced shooters. National Sporting Clay Association accredited instruction is available by appointment. Golf carts and Caesar Guerini 12- and 20-gauge shotguns can be rented at the pro shop, which sells ammunition, too.

As you can see, Tryon International Equestrian Center is a year-round destination – there's even a Winterfest series in December. But nothing is as big as the anticipation for next September.

The FEI World Equestrian Games will take place here Sept. 11-23, 2018. Held every four years in the middle of the Olympic cycle, it's one of the largest global sporting competitions, combining eight equestrian World Championship caliber events. Tickets to the games are now on sale, lodging reservations for spectators are open and hospitality packages will be available soon.

This trip idea was produced in partnership with Tryon International Equestrian Center.

Updated November 21, 2017
About the Author
Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson

Pete M. Anderson is a Gastonia-based writer whose work also has appeared in Business North Carolina, Carolina Sportsman and Thousand Islands Life. He enjoys exploring North Carolina, especially its diverse fishing holes, local race tracks and world-renowned barbecue joints.

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