A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

When they’re longing to trade city bustle for mountain serenity, North Carolina’s in-the-know travelers drive west to a hidden gem tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Listed on the

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

When they’re longing to trade city bustle for mountain serenity, North Carolina’s in-the-know travelers drive west to a hidden gem tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Listed on the

A Weekend in West Jefferson

When they’re longing to trade city bustle for mountain serenity, North Carolina’s in-the-know travelers drive west to a hidden gem tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, West Jefferson is a serene place that prides itself on maintaining small-town charm without sacrificing the exceptional food, arts, and nature required for a perfect mountain getaway.

Use our guide to navigate this best-of-both-worlds town.



Take your time rolling into the weekend. Whatever direction you’re coming from, the gorgeous backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains requires your full attention — and maybe a stop or two for an overlook selfie. By the time you’ve reached downtown West Jefferson, you’ll be ready for a lively Friday night out on the town.

Kick off your arrival with a stroll to stretch your legs and get your bearings.

Start at the Ashe County Arts Council, a Works Progress Administration building that once served as a community center — fitting for a town that celebrates its resident artists. Here, you can browse The Gallery, an exhibition space that showcases the work of local and regional artists.

If you’re visiting on the second Friday of the month from June through October, the work of many of these artists is on display during West Jefferson’s gallery crawl. The perfect way to explore West Jefferson’s arts district, the gallery crawl lays out a strolling tour of 15 galleries, studios, and craft shops, all of which extend their hours for Friday night shopping. Browse art such as weavings, stained glass, jewelry, furniture, and even toys.

When you’re hungry for dinner (or a pre-dinner drink!), use your first meal in town as an opportunity to hobnob with the locals. You’ll find them at one of West Jefferson’s two craft breweries, Boondocks Brewing and New River Brewing, each with some 20 beers on tap. Then, for the best burger in town, head to Blackjacks Pub and Grill.

After dinner, grab a lawn chair or picnic blanket and follow the music to the summer concert series at Backstreet Park, where, from June until Labor Day, bluegrass, gospel, roots, and other artists perform for free from 5:30 to 7 p.m.



Rise and shine with a cup of coffee at Bohemia, a downtown coffee shop on North Jefferson Avenue known for its delightful selection of local pottery and other art. While you sip, take some time to wander around and admire your surroundings.

Once fully caffeinated, you’re ready for a mural hunt. Peppered throughout downtown are 14 striking murals that display the skills of local, regional, and national artists. The Ashe County Murals range in subject matter and theme, but all capture slices of the town’s charms and history. Like the Virginia Creeper train that local artist Stephen Shoemaker painted on the side of the old Dollar Tire building. It’s one of three murals by Shoemaker, who is committed to helping his town maintain its mix of small-town intimacy and lively tourism.

“We’re all working hard to keep from creating the thing that people are getting away from,” Shoemaker says. “We are building something special here.”

As you explore, keep your eyes peeled for Mountain Outfitters, Antiques on Main, and The Parkway Theater — an intimate venue where you might pop in later for a film and two large popcorns.

Once home to the southeastern United States’ only cheese factory, West Jefferson’s specialty food scene is on point. And that means a very tasty lunch.

First, head to Ashe County Cheese, the cheese plant that’s been making world-renowned cheese since 1930; it offers a wide variety of cheese blocks, curds, and spreads, and, best of all, you can watch from the observation areas as artisans shape rivers of curds and whey into large, orange wheels of cheddar.

The cows outside Ashe County Cheese. photograph by Visit West Jefferson

Cheese in hand, swing by West Jefferson Specialty Foods for an impressive selection of dried meats, escargot, and other gourmet treats from around the world.

Wrap up your provisions at the Ashe County Farmers Market, where 50 vendors from all over Ashe County sell fresh fruits and veggies — don’t miss the mountain apples from Big Horse Creek Farm — breads, and sweets, and take your goods to Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area for a picnic.

Mt. Jefferson, which sits 1,600 feet above the downtown area, offers stunning mountain views, rare geology and plant communities, walking trails that range from kid-friendly to strenuous, and picnic spots and shelters that allow you to spread out your gourmet collection and dine amid the cool mountain breezes. And if you’re looking for more adventure, go paddling on the nearby New River.

For dinner, try Craft Bistro, where the menu features pan seared scallops over lobster white chocolate risotto and a smoked trout guacamole dip. Other great restaurant options include The Log House and Hillbilly Grill. Like most of West Jefferson’s businesses, they are locally owned and operated and exude the town’s motto: “Everyone. Fits. Here.” 



Before you head for home, fill your lungs with fresh mountain air at West Jefferson Park, where children get their wiggles out on swings and slides. While they play, grab a bench, sip your to-go coffee, and soak in the sun.

Stay as long as you like; West Jefferson won’t rush you.

 For more information, stop by the Ashe County Visitor Center.

This story was published on Jun 22, 2020

Michael McElroy

Michael McElroy is a freelance writer, an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and a former editor at The New York Times.