Travel Guide: Ashe County, North Carolina
Small-town charm and low-key adventures make this North Carolina border town a perfect family getaway
Mount Jefferson dons vibrant fall colors.
Photo courtesy of Wesley Barker
Nestled near the Virginia and Tennessee borders, Ashe County, North Carolina, is a hidden treasure. It’s sometimes overlooked in favor of bustling Asheville or tourist-centric Blowing Rock because it lacks many of the typical tourist attractions or activities you might find in those areas.
But sometimes less is more, especially if you have young kids.
If what you seek is family-friendly outdoor adventure, good food and a side of mountain magic, start planning your trip west. Ashe County will match your pace.
Go for leaves in the fall or Merlefest in the spring. But whenever you go, take the chance to slow down, unplug and ease into mountain time. Settle into an Airbnb with a view, and check out these spots in laid-back and charming Ashe County.
The New River: Whitewater For Whippersnappers
Photo courtesy of Zaloo’s Canoes
The South Fork of the New River is perfect for families with young children who want to canoe or kayak.
Despite its name, The New River is old — ancient, actually — which means its time-worn rapids are perfect for pint-sized explorers.
Zaloo’s Canoes in Jefferson provides all the canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, safety gear and shuttle service you’ll need for a 5- or 10-mile day on the water.
“The South Fork of the New River that Zaloo’s recommends for families contains some of the most scenic and peaceful parts of the river, making it especially fun and safe for kids to canoe, kayak and tube on,” says Kathy Hudspeth of Zaloo’s Canoes.
New River State Park: Hiking and Hellbenders
Gorgeous and growing, thanks to the New River Conservancy, New River State Park offers spaces for all kinds of outdoor fun. Discover short and easy (but stunning) forest hiking trails via the Wagoner Access entrance, which also offers access to the river for swimming, and tent or paddle-in campsites with hot water showers. Check for ranger programs and keep an eye out for the enormous hellbender salamander — better known to locals (and giggling kids) as the “snot otter.”
West Jefferson: Kid-Friendly Sophistication
Though West Jefferson is known for its craft breweries and thriving art district featuring murals, galleries and studios, this charming, walkable town offers plenty of entertainment for the younger set, too. Kids will love all the fun on Main Street, where they can watch cheese being made at Ashe County Cheese, take in a movie at the vintage Parkway Theater and participate in an art class at the Florence Thomas Art School.
Then grab a picnic lunch, head to Bowie-Seagraves Municipal Park (often referred to as West Jefferson Park), spread out under a shady oak and unwind while your kids explore. They’ll be delighted by the playground, huge hillside slide and tiny mountain stream, in which even the youngest kids can splash, rock hop and hunt for crawdads.
The Virginia Creeper Trail: It’s All Downhill From Here
Photo courtesy of the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop
A young cyclist rides on the Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, Virginia.
Abingdon, Virginia, is a short drive from Ashe County, but it’s worth the trip to experience the 32-mile Virginia Creeper bike trail.
“As a parent, it’s a thrill to see your child riding their bike, and the Virginia Creeper is one of the best trails around for kids,” says Jerry Camper, founder of the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop. Why is that? Because, depending on where you start, much of it is downhill. (Read more about the downhill sections here.) Be sure to stop in Damascus at mile 15 to eat lunch and rub elbows with Appalachian Trail through-hikers.
Lansing: Flies and Pies and Bluegrass Reprise
Lansing may have only 157 residents, but this tiny town is big on charm. Teach your little ones the art of fly fishing in Big Horse Creek — named one of only five Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Program streams in the state. Then cross the street for pizza at the award-winning Pie on the Mountain — where parents can also order locally made Molley Chomper Hard Cider. On Friday nights, enjoy an Ashe County treasure: ice cream and a lively bluegrass jam at Phipps General Store.
Be sure to check the local events calendar before you visit Ashe County. And remember: If less is more for your family, Ashe County might be just the “more” you’re looking for. Visit ashechamber.com/tourism.php to begin planning your trip.
Susanna Klingenberg lives in Raleigh with her husband, two young children and an unruly vegetable garden.