A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

As the Yadkin River flows through Wilkes County, it winds its way between two historic towns: Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. Wilkesboro came first, in 1778. More than a century later,

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

As the Yadkin River flows through Wilkes County, it winds its way between two historic towns: Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. Wilkesboro came first, in 1778. More than a century later,

Around Town: Wilkes

As the Yadkin River flows through Wilkes County, it winds its way between two historic towns: Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. Wilkesboro came first, in 1778. More than a century later, when the railroad arrived in the 1890s, Wilkesboro couldn’t afford to bring the tracks across the river. The line stopped short. But another town began to rise up around the tracks, across the river from Wilkesboro: It was dubbed, simply, North Wilkesboro.

These days, the river is about the only thing that separates these two towns — that, and deep-seated football rivalries between local high schools. Though they have distinct downtowns, businesses, and attractions, the towns are bound by their common cultural heritage: A rich musical tradition. An entrepreneurial spirit. A history soaked in moonshine and NASCAR. A passion for the outdoors. And a friendly group of people who call this place home, who welcome visitors to their shared community with open arms.

Stop and smell the flowers

With a large selection — everything from flowers, trees, and gardening supplies to home decor, handmade gifts, and local produce — there’s something for everyone at Midtown Market + Garden. The knowledgeable staff can help you with whatever garden or landscape project you’re working on and answer all of your most pressing plant questions. Pick your own bouquet for your dining room table, or take part in an art class like barn quilt painting or wreath making.

Tip: Midtown Market is open during the winter season, as well, with holiday decor, winter plants, and a large selection of locally crafted gifts.

Midtown Market + Garden
339 Wilkesboro Avenue
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
(336) 667-4852

photograph by James Mieczkowski

Experience the cultural arts of the Blue Ridge

After serving as the federal courthouse, the board of education, and a realty office over the past century, the building known as The 1915 is now home to the Blue Ridge Artisan Center, a showcase for local art and food. Redesigned in 2017 to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of northwestern North Carolina, the center features handicrafts of artisans from nine surrounding counties, from paintings and pottery to woven baskets and homemade soaps. In an adjoining room, which once housed the town’s post office, the Artisan Cafe offers its own local flavors, serving farm-to-table soups, sandwiches, and quiches.

Tip: On the first Friday evening of every month, the center hosts a contra dance — the display cases are rolled away, and the former judge’s podium becomes a stage for the dance caller.

Blue Ridge Artisan Center
201 West Main Street
Wilkesboro, NC 28697
(336) 990-9500

photograph by James Mieczkowski

Tour a distillery in the “moonshine capital of the world”

The days of high-speed chases between bootleggers and revenuers on winding mountain roads throughout Wilkes County are gone, but now the county is home to two legal moonshine distilleries — Call Family Distillers in Wilkesboro and Copper Barrel Distillery in North Wilkesboro — where visitors can sample the liquor, see how it’s made, and learn about the history of local moonshiners. At Call Family Distillers, try the award-winning Apple Pie Moonshine, the seventh-generation distillers’ most popular product. The distillery also houses three moonshine-running cars — each capable of going more than 200 miles per hour — that belonged to Willie Clay Call, a renowned moonshiner in Wilkes County who was called “The Uncatchable” by revenuers.

Tip: Be sure to check out the antique jugs on display around the tasting room: Every one of them once held illegal moonshine.

Call Family Distillers
1611 Industrial Drive
Wilkesboro, NC 28697
(336) 990-0708

Copper Barrel Distillery
508 Main Street
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
(336) 262-6500

Step back in time in Wilkes County

The white-columned Wilkes Heritage Museum is the most striking building in downtown Wilkesboro, but it’s what’s inside this former county courthouse that is truly impressive: 26 rooms feature exhibits covering different aspects of Wilkes County history, from the timber industry and businesses that were started here, to local music, religion, and military history. Of particular note are Junior Johnson’s racing car and an original moonshine still. The second floor of the museum also houses the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, which celebrates the area’s rich musical heritage and the musicians who helped create it.

Tip: Your tour of Wilkes County history doesn’t have to end here: Self-guided walking tours of historic downtown Wilkesboro are also available. Pick up your free map at the museum.

Wilkes Heritage Museum
100 East Main Street
Wilkesboro, NC 28697
(336) 667-3171

Hit the trails for epic mountain biking

Wilkes County’s location in the Foothills makes it a prime location for mountain biking, and W. Kerr Scott Reservoir has become nationally recognized as a destination for the sport. More than 35 miles of well-maintained trails offer riders switchbacks, berms, bridges, and scenic views of the lake, which is also popular among campers, boaters, hikers, and fishermen. Built by local “Trail Boss” Jim Horton of the Brushy Mountain Cyclist Club, the trails are designed to be environmentally friendly, eliminating runoff and blending seamlessly into the mountainous landscape. In 2011, the International Mountain Bicycling Association awarded this trail system “EPIC” status, one of the organization’s highest distinctions.

Tip: Cub Creek Park, in downtown Wilkesboro, has eight additional miles of mountain biking trails that are specifically geared toward beginners — though there’s still plenty to entertain more advanced riders, too.

Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir
499 Reservoir Road
Wilkesboro, NC 28697
(336) 921-3390

photograph by JAN KRONOSELL

Taste fine Italian-style wine in a picturesque setting

Just a short drive from Wilkesboro, the family-owned Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery features award-winning Italian-style wines in a setting reminiscent of the Tuscan countryside. Using an ancient Italian method that involves including dehydrated grapes during the production process, Raffaldini crafts delightful red and white wines that are internationally acclaimed. Take a tour of the winery and vineyard, enjoy a tasting, or relax on the piazza with a glass of Pinot Grigio or Sangiovese.

Tip: Raffaldini imports gourmet Italian food, including sauces, oils and vinegars, coffee, and deli meats that are specially selected to pair with the wines. Pick up some sopressata and pepperoni at the deli counter for a picnic in the vineyard.

Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery
450 Groce Road
Ronda, NC 28670
(336) 835-9463

Get behind the wheel of a (miniature) race car

Although the North Wilkesboro Speedway — one of the first tracks to be used by NASCAR — closed in 2011, racing fans can still get their fix at Uncle Charlie’s Slot Car Racing in Wilkesboro. In this version, which was especially popular in the 1960s, motorized cars, typically five to eight inches long, follow “slots” in the track, whizzing around corners and flying down straightaways. If you don’t have a car of your own, don’t worry — Uncle Charlie has plenty of models that you can rent to race against your friends and family.

Tip: Newcomers to Uncle Charlie’s get five free minutes of practice time, so you can get a feel for your car before the race.

Uncle Charlie’s Slot Car Racing
1207 Central Street
Wilkesboro, NC 28697
(336) 818-2078

Grab a local brew — coffee or beer

Greg Brady and Nate Griffin have come a long way since they roasted their first batch of coffee on a stovetop popcorn popper. Now, in their spacious coffee shop in North Wilkesboro, Anchor Coffee Company roasts coffee beans from around the world and serves specialty coffee, tea, sodas, and even wine and craft beer. The nautical theme offers a hint of the coast, with a marbled blue floor reminiscent of ocean waves, and ground coffee with names like Captain, Seafarer, and Nightwatch available for purchase.

Tip: Combine a visit to Anchor Coffee Company with a bike ride around Wilkes County. Wilco Berms & Brews takes riders from the shop through the trails close to town, ending right where you started for beer or coffee.

Anchor Coffee Company
1320 West D Street
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
(336) 818-2881

See a performance at the community theater

Wilkes Playmakers have been performing for nearly 30 years, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Located in Benton Hall, which was formerly North Wilkesboro Elementary School, the Playmakers host shows for theater lovers of all ages, with a new selection of performances each season. Dedicated to inspiring youth and adults to get involved in the arts, the theater also hosts classes on improvisation, directing, and acting throughout the season.

Tip: Each summer, when the regular Wilkes Playmakers season is over, Bleu Moon Productions puts on the outdoor drama Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend at Fort Hamby Park. The story follows the love triangle that resulted in the infamous and highly publicized murder of Laura Foster.

Wilkes Playmakers
300 D Street
North Wilkesboro, NC 28659
(336) 838-7529

Take a driving tour of Wilkes County’s artistic heritage

Seventeen painted quilt patterns make up the Wilkes County Barn Quilt Trail, a collaborative project between the Wilkes County Quilters Guild and the Cultural Arts Council of Wilkes. Drive through the countryside to see a variety of barn quilts featuring geometric patterns, mountain scenes, flowers, and more. Many of the quilts are affixed to barns on private property, but as long as you’re respectful, most of the owners will let you get a closer look.  

Tip: One popular quilt pattern that’s not on the Barn Quilt Trail is the new “Ohio Star” in Wilkesboro’s Heritage Square: In warmer months, it doubles as a splash pad.

Wilkes County Barn Quilt Trail
(336) 838-3951

photograph by James Mieczkowski

Claim to Fame

Wilkes County has become a hotspot for folk music, with thousands of people flocking to the area each year for Merlefest, a celebration of traditional music spanning four days.

While musicians come from across the country to perform here, the internationally acclaimed Kruger Brothers trio has made Wilkesboro its permanent home. Brothers Jens and Uwe Kruger grew up in a musically gifted family in Switzerland, studying diverse music styles. By the time they were 11 and 12 years old, the brothers were performing regularly, and within a few years, they were performing on streets across Europe.

Jens, who plays banjo, and Uwe, who plays guitar, were later joined by bass player Joel Landsberg, and the trio moved to the United States in 2002, where they made Wilkesboro their home base. Today, the Kruger Brothers tour throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, and Switzerland, impressing audiences with their unique blend of folk and classical music, often collaborating with symphonies and string quartets from across the country.

To find tour dates and to purchase show tickets, visit krugerbrothers.com.

This story was published on Nov 19, 2018

Katie King

Katie King is a managing editor at Our State.