McDowell County Travel Guide

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Marion, Old Fort and McDowell County: Gateway to the Mountains!

Like a center of a wagon wheel on spokes between Lake Lure, Asheville, and Grandfather Mountain, McDowell County is the perfect place to stay for a North Carolina Mountain vacation.  Part of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, McDowell offers mountain arts and crafts, music and song, and access to magnificent natural resources.  McDowell is three-quarters forested land, of which 67,000 acres reside in the Pisgah National Forest. 

In Old Fort, Andrew’s Geyser is a few minutes from the Arrowhead at the center of town.  There is a train station with a train museum.  Down the street, Mountain Gateway Museum offers a view of Appalachian history.  Don’t miss Talis Gallery in the Appalachian Artisan Society Gallery for eclectic art, beads, photography and sandwiches.  Turtle Creek Pottery is a short jaunt up Bat Cave road.  Reconstruction of a pioneer-day fort, Fort Davidson, is underway and hosted the fifth annual Civil War event May 31-June 1. On every Friday night in Old Fort you can jam, dance or listen to good old country music (free admission) at Old Fort Mountain Music. 

In Marion, Main Street offers bookstores, antiques, auctions and the McDowell County Arts Council for crafts and evening community theater.  Whatever you do, don’t miss the art for sale at Creative Framing adjacent to the Crooked Door Coffee House (upstairs near the pavilion).  Wine Ruels offers an upscale and delicious menu, wines, and a full bar.  A gourmet treat!  Jazz or blues performances are seasonal on the weekends.   Carolina Chocolatiers is another great lunch spot serving lunch sandwiches, specials or salads and wine.  Bruce’s Fabulous Foods on Main Street is the home of 101 cheesecakes—try the key lime variety!

In Pleasant Gardens, half-way between Old Fort and Marion, Eco Cove House is a vacation rental located on a 117 acre wildlife preserve adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest.  Turkey, water fowl, songbirds, fox, deer, and bears visit at various times of the year and koi swim in an acre pond.  Nearby, Little Sienna, is a wonderful Italian restaurant.  It also sports a daily and evening buffet.  Brown bagging is allowed, so don’t forget your favorite bottle of vino to compliment your meal! 

  Lake James State Park boasts a 6,510 acre lake for water activities.  Two boat ramps allow access for boats, and marinas have canoe rentals, bait, and food for sale. Fishing for largemouth bass is a special treat from April through October.  Walleye is a prized game fish in the lake.  May through July is great for crappie.  White bass, bluegill, robin and catfish are good fishing year-round.  You might also catch muskellunge, bream, sunfish or perch. 

McDowell County also has many hiking trails and waterfalls (Tom’s Creek and Catawba Falls).  The most famous and popular of our waterfalls is Linville Falls, with three levels of pools that plunge into the Linville Gorge.  It is an easy walk to the falls, but a bit more difficult to do the Gorge Trail.  Spectacular views and free access!  Also see Linville Caverns, with blind trout living in beautiful dolomite and limestone caverns filled with stalactites and stalagmites. The fee is minimal for a half our guided tour. 

Festivals and Special Events:  The NC Gold Festival at Tom Johnson’s Camping Center in Pleasant Gardens and Pioneer Day in Old Fort are both in April.  The Blue Ridge Native American Pow-Wow is in May.  Both towns have July Fourth parades and fireworks.  Folkmoot USA International Folk Festival schedules a show in Marion in July.  Octoberfest in Old Fort and the Mountain Glory Festival in Marion bring in the fall, offering arts, crafts, food, music and fun!  More art is for sale in December at the Appalachian Potters Market and McDowell Artisans Show. 




Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: Gabrielle Thompson

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