A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

The Madison, North Carolina, town clock chimes 5 o’clock as David Peters walks through the open bay door at Hell on Horsecreek’s taproom. Greeting the locals and paddlers coming off

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

The Madison, North Carolina, town clock chimes 5 o’clock as David Peters walks through the open bay door at Hell on Horsecreek’s taproom. Greeting the locals and paddlers coming off

Day Trippin’: 3 Ways to Experience Rockingham County

The Madison, North Carolina, town clock chimes 5 o’clock as David Peters walks through the open bay door at Hell on Horsecreek’s taproom. Greeting the locals and paddlers coming off the Dan and Mayo Rivers, he fills glass canning jars with one of his unique craft brews.

In 2017, the former mechanical chemical engineer stumbled on Madison and the historic early-20th-century building that would become Hell on Horsecreek. He and his wife moved to Madison from Kernersville and spent two years renovating the space, creating his on-site brewery, and developing some interesting and tasty beers.

“I love it here,” Peters says. “It’s a small town, so everybody knows everybody. When you need something, all you have to do is ask.”

Combine that small-town charm with ample opportunities for outdoor adventures and you get a place that offers a warm welcome to visitors looking for the perfect day trip. From paddling and breweries to festivals and drive-in movies, read on for three ways to experience Rockingham County. What will you do first?


Wet your whistle and explore watering holes on the west side

Hell on Horsecreek draws beer lovers from all over the state and nearby Virginia. “People want to try something new and interesting, and then they stay for the nice little vibe here,” Peters says. “Our taproom is a comfy place to hang out, drink, hear live music, and play games.”

Ask for a pint of Brimstone, a smoked-grain coffee poblano black “rye-P-A.” “That’s the beer that built the brewery,” Peters says.

Just down the street from Hell on Horsecreek in Madison, the old train station is now home to the GIA Distillery, where visitors can taste and purchase hand-crafted whiskey and grappa. Meanwhile, wine enthusiasts venture to Mayodan for the tasting room at Autumn Creek Vineyards. There’s a great view of the 100-acre property from a rocking chair on the wrap-around deck where visitors can taste the award-winning wines. And right near the grapes are two private cabins available for guests to stay overnight.

GIA Distillery. photograph by Gia Distillery

For those who want to unwind on the water, there’s whitewater paddling, kayaking, and tubing on the Dan and Mayo rivers or Belews Lake.

“People want to get out of the heat, get on the water, and relax,” says Nick Soudas, who owns Dan River Campground and River Adventures in Stoneville. “My wife and I lived in big cities our whole lives, but now we love the small town feel and country atmosphere here.”

Campers come from the Triad and across the state for weekends, overnights, and monthly camping. With more than 50 campsites, a bathhouse, laundry, and playground, Dan River Campground is perfect for families, large groups, and RVs who need full hook-up. Campers who prefer not to don a life jacket can bike along the three-mile mountain bike trail at Farris Memorial Park in Mayodan, which also boasts sporting fields, tennis courts, golf, and two fishing ponds.


Take the whole family to Eden

Located where the Smith and Dan rivers meet, family friendly Eden is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Three Rivers Outfitters sets up paddlers with canoes and kayaks for two- to 20-mile day trips and overnight camping expeditions on the Smith, Dan, and Mayo rivers. Co-owners Mark Bishopric and Jeff Johnston have more than 50 years of experience as paddlers, offering expert guidance concerning Rockingham County rivers.

“We love living here because of all there is to do outside,” says Bishopric, who grew up in Eden. “Ninety percent of the people we see are here for the river, but they stay for the festivals, biking, and the park.”

Off the rivers, 58-acre Freedom Park is perfect for active families with its scenic walking trails, sports fields, picnic areas, skate park, playground, and campground. Its splash pad, open seasonally from May through mid-September, is a big hit with locals and visitors alike. 

The Eden Drive-In. photograph by Rockingham County

And when dusk rolls around, people pull into the Eden Drive-In Movie Theater for nostalgia under the stars. Kids ages 5 and under are free at this cash-only outdoor cinema, which also boasts a snack bar and a playground. 

Fall brings the two-day annual Riverfest (September 18-19, 2020) to downtown Eden: This celebration puts Eden’s art, history, and river heritage at center stage in the Leaksville Shopping District, a section of downtown that dates back to 1797. 

“The river really created the town,” says Bishopric, whose shop is located on a power canal built in 1813. “It’s how people got around, it powered industry with the canals, and transported goods out of the community. The festival is a celebration and recognition of the power of water.”


Live the simple life in Reidsville

Twenty miles north of Greensboro, Reidsville draws visitors from the Triad who love its eclectic, small-town charm and hometown feel. Plan to spend your morning roaming along the downtown art trail and viewing large-scale murals and other installations while dipping in and out of funky boutiques, artist galleries, and farm-to-table restaurants.

Don’t miss the unique collection of brickwork by local sculptor Brad Spencer, which adorns the entrance of Market Square Park. “Market Square is really the hub of town,” says Missy Matthews, the main street manager of Reidsville. “It’s rare that you go downtown and there’s not something going on.”

The two-acre Market Square Park plays host to free fitness classes, movie screenings, monthly Music on the Square concerts, and the farmers market, which is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings between early May and late October.

“It’s a beautiful outdoor pavilion,” says Judy Yarbrough, 21-year resident of Reidsville and the town’s marketer. “Local farmers bring meat, produce, baked goods, eggs, and plants. And I love all the craft vendors.”

Take your farmers market goodies and cool off at Lake Reidsville, a 750-acre park that offers boating, jet skiing, fishing, camping, and disc golf. The lake is also the setting for the Piedmont Triad Water Lantern Festival (September 12, 2020) where thousands gather for food trucks, live music, and fun as they decorate their lanterns and then launch them into the lake at sunset.

“Reidsville really embodies our motto: Live simply. Think big,” Matthews says. “It has all the charm and friendliness of a small town, and it’s forward-thinking and embracing of new people.”

This story was published on Jun 08, 2020

Alice Manning Touchette

Alice Manning Touchette is a writer and editor living in Raleigh.