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10 Summer Activities in NC

Updated on May 7, 2014

My summer of 2011 Bucket List

With all the fun activities in NC, I'm amazed that my husband and I managed to spend last summer inside watching tv. I mean, we started out the summer being active, but it didn't take us long to slow down and park our butts in the nearest chair!

I'm determined to make this year be different. I'm making a list of 10 activities I want to do this summer and I'm going to make sure to check each one of them off, even if it means canoeing in December!

1. Hiking

Hebron Colony Falls
Hebron Colony Falls

I love hiking. We went a few times last year but when my sister-in-law broke her foot, we stopped going. Here are the trails I have planned for this year.

  • Hebron Colony Falls is like something I've never seen before. Imagine a waterfall flowing down a mountain. Now imagine if someone came along and placed huge boulders all the way up the waterfall so that people could climb all the way to the top. That's Hebron Colony Falls. And if you choose to take the land route to the top, you'll find a bunch of caves to explore.

    We hiked it about 2 1/2 years ago and as much as I enjoyed it, I was also miserable the whole time because I hadn't brought shorts or a swimsuit. This time I'm going to be more prepared. Heck, I might even pack us a picnic lunch!

  • Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has 11 trails ranging from walking through flat meadows to climbing with rope ladders and cables. The Grandfather Trail is the one I want to hike. It's 2 1/2 mile trail leads to three of the highest peaks on the mountain. This is also the most dangerous trail. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see which trail I choose!
  • Last year we had just started to explore the trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway when my sister-in-law fell and broke her foot. We hiked the Linville Falls Trail, the Tanawha Trail and the Fodder Stack Trail, but there are over 100 more just waiting for us to explore. Although I only experienced the three trails, I found each of them unique and beautiful. One was filled with rock overhangs to climb. Another let us eat lunch on a cliff! I'm looking forward to seeing what other surprises these trails have in store for us!

See why I chose these trails!

Here you can see the Hebron Colony Falls, Grandfather Mountain and Tanawha Trail (A Blue Ridge Parkway trail). I even included a couple of short Parkway videos I made last summer.

2. Farmers Market

Farmers Market
Farmers Market

The Ashe County Farmers' Market is held on the Back Street every Saturday from 8am -1pm. The local vendors sell everything from plants and vegetables to homemade breads and sweets. What I love is all the locally made crafts. The Farmers Market takes pride in what it sells so every product goes through a "jury process" to make sure it's quality craftsmanship made right here in the county. You wouldn't believe the amount of talent you can find here. Last year I got my Dad cane that was hand carved from wood found in the NC Mountains. I've also seen hand braided rugs, tables and clocks carved from tree trunks, jewelry made from stones found in the county, soaps made with locally grown lavender, and paintings painted by local artists and hand framed with local wood. Last year we only went 2 or 3 times. This year I'd like to go at least twice a month, if not more often.

Update: We've been to the Farmers Market many times and we even drove to the next town over to go to their Cattle Sale/Farmers Market. And you'll never guess what this city girl did at the Farmers Market. We bought chickens!

3. Canoeing

Two years ago we took a 10 mile canoe trip down the river. Despite the fact that my lazy husband wouldn't help me row, I ended up having a blast. The water was flowing so fast and we kept going down these mini waterfalls. Oh. and don't let me forget the scenery. Imagine 10 miles of winding river surrounded by swaying trees and fragrant wildflowers. We even passed a real waterfall. I don't think anyone has ever had a better first canoe trip.

But of course it wasn't all perfect. The water was flowing so fast, it was impossible to row to shore for lunch. And then about 15 minutes before we hit our landing spot, we heard the strangest noise behind us. When we turned around, all we could see was a solid wall of rain slowly coming towards us. We rowed like heck but couldn't beat the rain. So despite staying dry for 9 and 3 quarter miles, we were soaked by the time we hit mile 10. Thankfully we had decided to rent our canoes from Zaloos Canoes. So instead of having to stay out in the rain to deal with the canoes, we got to climb in a nice warm van and snuggle up in the towels Zaloos crew had brought us. I'm telling you. That was an experience I'll never forget. And I can't wait to do it again!

Update: This is officially checked off the list because we made our trip down the water, except it was more than just canoeing. We went white water rafting! See that picture above? That's me! You can see more pictures and read about what an amazing experience we had by clicking below.

Watch why I want to canoe the New River

Unless it's rained recently, the New River flows fast and clear (rain makes it fast and muddy). The whole thing is curvy and surrounded by beautiful nature. You couldn't ask for a better river to canoe in.

4. Travel to Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge Tennessee
Pigeon Forge Tennessee

Once again, I know this may not fit since it's not North Carolina, but I just had to add it. Pigeon Forge is about 3 1/2 hours from Ashe County. My in-laws travel to there twice a year and stay a week each time. When they get back they're plum full of great stories. All they can talk about is how much fun they had! It actually didn't bother me until I found out 2 things:

1. They have a shop that takes old fashioned photos. You know, the ones where I dress like a saloon girl and Johnny dresses like a gunslinger. I've always wanted to have pictures like that taken of us.

2. They have a Murder Mystery Dinner Show! I think it would be so cool to have someone drop dead after dinner and then figure out all the clues to solve the murder. I could go all CSI on them.

Update: The trip to Pigeon Forge is set! We've booked the suite and even bought tickets to many of the area attractions. I'm so excited!! In an effort to save money, I spent the last couple days tracking down all the best deals in Pigeon Forge and I gathered them all up to help others planning Pigeon Forge Vacations save money too.

Update 2: We went to Pigeon Forge! I can't believe the fun we had! I rode my first roller coaster (and my second and third) at Dollywood. I did more shopping than I thought possible. I saw amazing things at Ripleys and and Wonderworks. We basically had a fantastic vacation and I can't wait to go back!

5. NC Festival Fun

Christmas in July
Christmas in July

  • Christmas in July held in Jefferson

    The festivities start on July 1 with a street party including music and food until about 10 o'clock. Just off the backstreet, a huge stage will be constructed to welcome the 17 bluegrass, old time, and country music bands scheduled to perform at this years festival. On July 2, the backstreet will be alive with music, food, dancing and vendors showing off their handcrafted wares. There's even going to be a civil war reenactment.

    Update: Well, we attended this years Christmas in July festival. I can't believe how crowded it was! Last year 20,000 people showed up. I wonder what this years count will be? Anyways....we had fun! They had a stage set up for cloggers and I swear my feet started tapping while we were watching them! Then there was another stage set up for all the bluegrass bands. They had a different band every hour, so it was a good mix of music. My favorite part (again) was the civil was reenactment. Even though the reenactment isn't until late afternoon, these guys come the night before and set up their civil war era tents. Then they stay in character for the next 2 days. I even saw a woman churning butter! If you ask my husband, the only thing he'll remember from the whole day is getting to eat a funnel cake. By the time we left he was covered in powdered sugar!

The Brushy Mountain Apple Festival held in Wilkesboro

I know since it's held October 1, this festival doesn't exactly qualify as a summer activity, but I still had to include it. It's hard to believe that so many people would travel so far just for a one day festival, but they do. Every year 160,000 people flock to Wilkesboro to take part in the activities. You'll find delicious apple dishes everywhere you look, and if you're real lucky, you might just get a sip of Apple Pie Moonshine!

But there's more to this festival than just apples! The streets and stores of Willkesboro are shut down to make room for over 400 vendors selling homemade wood carvings, pottery, quilts and other arts and crafts. Add to that the 100 food concession stands and 4 music stages and you have yourself the makings for one heck of a fun festival. When we went two years ago, the one thing I couldn't take my eyes off of was the cloggers. The excitement was so contagious, I can guarantee if I would've known how to clog, I would have been right up there with them! This year? You never know!

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games held in Linville

The organizers of GMHC are striving to keep their Scottish heritage alive by gathering all the clans once a year for some traditional Scottish games and fun. This year the games will run from July 7 - 10th. Activities include a parade, traditional dancing and piping, Celtic rock bands and camping. They also hold traditional Scottish competitions like sheep herding, hammer throw, turning the caber, tossing the sheaf and wrestling.

This will be our first year attending and I can't wait! I love the sound of bagpipes and I bet the sight of everyone dressed in in Scottish tartans will be breathtaking!

These are just a few of the many festivals celebrated in the Ashe County Area. To see more, please visit:

North Carolina Festivals & Events

Bluegrass Festivals in North Carolina

North Carolina Festivals and Concessions

Events in West Jefferson

See why I chose these festivals!

This video really makes me look forward to the Highland Games. I'm so glad I was able to watch it!

The other videos will give you an idea of what Christmas in July and the Brushy Mountain Apple Festivals are like (although I found it odd that there was no music playing in the Christmas in July video).

6. Gardening


Have I ever told you the story of last years garden? We started out with the best of intentions. We plowed and tilled. We hauled chicken poo and worked it into the soil. We planted every seed by hand. When stray pumpkin and tomato plant sprouted from the prior years seed, we lovingly transplanted them to their own special spot. We worked that garden until our backs ached and our fingers bled (seriously. I broke a nail).

Then our tiller broke.

With no tiller, everything pretty much went downhill. I spent 2 straight days pulling weeds and I barely put a dent in it. You see, we don't have one of those cute little vegetable gardens. Our garden grows enough to feed 5 people for 1-2 years. It's huge! Well, after the tiller broke, the weeds took it over. We lost the peas, and I mean that literally. We searched and searched, but never found them. The green beans grew hard and brittle. We still had hopes for the corn but a freak hail storm took care of that. The only things that seemed to thrive was the tomatoes and the cucumbers. We were lucky that the previous years garden had been so bountiful because that's what fed us through the winter.

This year, we're planning another garden. We just plowed the field and we're getting a tiller next week. I don't care what happens. Our garden will thrive this year!

Update: Although we got a late start, we finally got our garden plowed, tilled and planted. This year we didn't plant the variety that we usually do. Last years lost crop made us use up all our reserve veggies so this year we have to focus on building our corn and green bean stock back up. We also planted some squash, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries and strawberries.

Update 2: It's the first of August and guess what? Our garden is seriously thriving! The corn is getting tall and most have little cobs growing. And while walking through the garden yesterday, we noticed that we even have a few beans!

Update 3: September brought us a fully stocked pantry. We ended up with over 100 quarts of green beans, about 75 quarts of corn and more potatoes than we'll be able to eat in the coming year.

7. Dancing and Playing Music

blugrass gathering
blugrass gathering

Ashe County is proud of their Bluegrass roots, and not just around festival time either. Every week during the summer, there are different gatherings where everyone gets together and either plays or dances.

One such place is the Phipps Country Store. The store has been in the Phipps family for 4 generations. 55 years ago, they closed it down for one reason or another. Then a couple of years ago, they reopened it, selling mountain homemade crafts and art. To help keep Bluegrass alive, they started up the Friday Night Music Jam. Every Friday from 7-10, they welcome players and dancers of all ages and skill levels. It's free to attend and guaranteed to be a new experience. This is something I begged my husband to do last year, but he always said no. Well, this year I'm not taking no for an answer!

Update: Although it wasn't how I had planned, I can definitely check this one off the list. Instead of going dancing at a country store, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a Dierks Bentley concert and somehow, we ended up in the front row. It was amazing! We danced and we sang and we bought $4 bottles of soda. And when the concert was over, they held a fireworks show that was so fantastic, it set off every car alarm within a 6 block radius!

Listen to them play at Phipps Store - You won't believe your ears!

These guys are amazing! Listening to them makes me want to get up and dance! I can't wait to see them in person.

8. I'd like to tour

Ashe County Cheese
Ashe County Cheese

There are so many places I haven't seen in Ashe County. One of these weekends I'd like to just take the whole weekend to tour them all. I would start with the Ashe County Cheese Factory. What's so cool about a cheese factory? I don't know but it's been Ash County's most popular tourist attraction for 50 years so I figure there has to be something worth seeing.

And what could go better with cheese than a little wine? Last summer I found out that we have 2 wineries in the area and I've been wanting to take a tour ever since. Thistle Meadow Winery is a small family run winery that focuses on making small batches of quality wine. They won't ship a single bottle from the 1500 cases they make every year, so if you want to try some, you have to visit the area. They offer low cost ($4) personalized tours which end with a wine-tasting. They boast that you have the chance to taste wine made from grapes grown all over the world. I'm going to find out if that's true!

The New River Winery has been able to keep hold of it's small town values and traditions even while growing and expanding their business. They only use grapes grown from local farms. To inspire fond memories in the residents of Ashe County, many of the wines are names after schools. Even the wine labels are designed by local artists. They organize many picnics and get-togethers on the grounds near their production facilities, and this summer I intend to attend at least one so I can snag me a tour and a wine-tasting.

Tour with me!

This first video will tell you a little more about the Ashe County Cheese Factory. The second will give you an idea of what the New River Winery wine tasting parties are like.

9. Pan for Gold!

gold panning
gold panning

I grew up panning for gold in the creeks of the Black Hills. My Dad taught me when I was 7. I can still remember that first time. We were standing in the middle of Castle Creek, the freezing water flowing over my (new!) shoes. The water was so cold it hurt, but I didn't care because I saw a flash in the pan and knew we had found gold! There's nothing like that first piece! We went on to find 6 more pieces during that trip and I knew as we were driving away that I was hooked.

A couple days ago I found out that there's a place nearby called Gem Valley where you can mine for gold and gems. If I had known about it sooner, I can guarantee me and the gem workers would be on a first name basis! But that's okay. I plan on spending a lot of time there this summer. Maybe I'll strike it rich!

10. NC Lawn Mower Races

Lawn Mower Races
Lawn Mower Races

My father-in-law is always going to lawn mower races. Until now I've always dismissed them as silly, but lately I've been wondering if they might be fun after all. I mean, I enjoy car racing and I enjoy watching my husband mow the lawn, so why shouldn't I enjoy lawn mower racing? Well, I'm at least going to try it out. So I have to make sure to leave at least one of these dates open.

May 14 - Sparta, NC 5:00 pm

June 4 - Wilkes, NC 6:00 pm

June 18 - Sparta, NC 5:00 pm

July 16 - Love Valley, NC 6:00 pm

August 13 - Wilkes, NC 6:00 pm

August 27 - Sparta, NC 5:00 pm

October 8 -Love Valley, NC 6:00 pm

October 15 - Wilkes, NC 6:00 pm

I think it looks fun!

This video is the first lawn mower race I've ever seen! Well, at least now I know if I get bored I can always go ride the bull!

Yeah, I'm keeping track

I'll check the boxes as I go

Due to a family emergency, I had to travel 2000 miles away from Ashe County for a few months, so I won't get to finish the last 3 activities on my list. But I don't really mind. This summer was amazing!

Here's a little 2013 update. We've since moved from North Carolina to South Dakota and this summer we finished the last 3 items on that list (along with a whole lot more!).

Photos and text; © 2011-2013 Catherine Taylor. All Rights Reserved

Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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What are your plans this summer?

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    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      6 years ago

      I'd love to go panning for gold! There is a gold mine here in Wales where they used to mine rose gold, but it has shut down now. :( Hiking is also one of my favourite pass-times. Great suggestions!

    • MarcStorm LM profile image

      MarcStorm LM 

      6 years ago

      A great list of things to do in NC! I haven't been there since the summer of 1997. I went with my best friend, his mom and one of his other friends. We went to the beaches, an old fort, his relatives house, walked down some long main road to a fireworks shop and ended up stocking the shelves for the owner and getting free fireworks and a discount. Aside from the brutal heat, it was a really good vacation before i had to start my first of many Summer School's lol. I definitely want to go somewhere that they have a murder mystery dinner/bed & breakfast(like the one you referenced in Pigeon Forge) lol that seems like fun, even the picture that first shows up on that link you supplied looks hilarious!!! hahaha Also, I'm glad to hear your gardening has worked out. As for hiking... I hope your sister-in-law's leg healed up good. I'm so out of shape and want to go hiking & camping, someday hopefully I'll get do those. Thanks for this great article! Best Wishes!

    • puppyprints profile image


      6 years ago

      Western NC is my favorite place in the world. Pisgah National Forest has great hiking. You can also go River Rafting at Nantahala.

    • profile image

      guitarelements lm 

      7 years ago

      Cool lens. Please add Lake Isabella to your list for me. If you visit Lake Isabella come by and say Hi to us o.k

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens I am a NC native myself you have a nice list here.

    • simplyoasis profile image


      7 years ago

      Your summer plans sound wonderful!

    • Kiwisoutback profile image


      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      The hiking and canoeing sounds like a lot of fun, especially in the area that you live it must be excellent. We have a one year old, so we won't be traveling too far -- maybe Martha's Vineyard, which is only an hour's drive. Outstanding job, blessed by the US Travel Angel.

    • LouisaDembul profile image


      7 years ago

      This year I am determined to teach my daughter how to swim! She is like a fish, not afraid of water, so I think it will be OK!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Greek islands probably (hehe, beat you there!) - or mountain hiking. Or both.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      I'm hoping to go east and photograph some more lighthouses. Your summer sounds busy.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sounds like a fun packed summer. I'm taking a trip to Europe this Spring, so the summer will be kind of tame. Hope you have loads of fun.


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