A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Shannon and Denny Lazar are on a mission. “We want to move people to happy places,” Denny says. Together, the couple owns the Elkin Vine Line, whose Winery Hopper shuffles

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Shannon and Denny Lazar are on a mission. “We want to move people to happy places,” Denny says. Together, the couple owns the Elkin Vine Line, whose Winery Hopper shuffles

Live Like a Local in the Yadkin Valley

Shannon and Denny Lazar are on a mission. “We want to move people to happy places,” Denny says. Together, the couple owns the Elkin Vine Line, whose Winery Hopper shuffles guests to Yadkin Valley’s 18 wineries and breweries, a sampling of the region’s vineyards that have popped up over the past 20 years thanks to temperate climates and rich soils.

Each winery is unique in its vibe and style, offering red and white wines, such as Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Viognier, wines from North Carolina-native muscadine grapes, and fruit wines.

“Through our Winery Hopper, we get people out and about safely to the wineries,” Denny says. “We love living here, and this is our way of extending that to visitors.”

The Vine Line’s four distinct routes include the central line through Surry and Wilkes County and the southern line through Jonesville. Each is designed so that visitors can hop on and off without having to commit to a tour. And each line has a food stop, Shannon adds. “Shiloh’s General Store makes the best sandwiches around, and we provide water and snacks on the Hopper. It’s the mom in me, I want to take care of people!”

Across the Yadkin Valley, that small-town hospitality shines through in Elkin and Jonesville, two former mill towns at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the past 20 years, this “heart and soul of the Yadkin Valley” has forged a new identity as a sought-after destination for music, hiking, kayaking, and wine tasting. Learn why the locals love it — and their favorite ways to get out and enjoy it.

Arts and Entertainment

The marquee flashes on at the iconic Reeves Theater in Elkin, revealing the bluegrass musicians scheduled to entertain this evening. This 1940s Art Deco movie theater, lovingly renovated and restored into a 252-seat music venue, is a symbol of the renaissance happening in western North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley. 

“Musicians are one of the natural resources of this area,” says Debbie Carson, who co-owns and operates the Reeves with Erik Dahlager and her husband, Chris Groner. “We wanted to revive the Reeves and provide a space for musicians to perform year-round.”

The Reeves Theater in Elkin.

The Yadkin Valley has a long-standing tradition of music appreciation and performance — bluegrass, traditional folk music, old-time fiddling, and community programs like the Elkin Big Band. The Reeves Theater provides local and touring bands a place to perform in the region year-round.

The Reeves is also home to the Downtown School of Music, and hosts the opening night of the Reevestock Music Festival. Held annually in August, Reevestock brings national and local musicians to Elkin’s Hidden Amphitheater for a jovial festival of food and beverage trucks, kid-friendly fun, and, of course, incredible music. The main event starts at noon on Saturday, and musicians rotate through, playing into the night.

“You may not recognize all the artists, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy them and know them long after you hear them,” says Sam Tayloe, director of the festival and member of Folk/Americana band Time Sawyer. “The diverse music community in the Yadkin Valley really understands the power of bringing people together around music.”

Reevestock is one of six affiliate members of the Foothills Arts Council (FAC), which is in the process of converting the historic Chatham Mill into a school of crafts and visual and performing arts center. An epicenter for local and visiting artists, FAC offers workshops, events, kid camps, and studio spaces.

Exploring the Outdoors

Three trails converge on downtown Elkin: the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and the Yadkin River Trail — a “blue” or water trail. All are well maintained by the formidable Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA), which manages an all-volunteer group working more than 5,000 hours a year to maintain area hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails.

The EVTA board focuses on taking action and turns problems into chances to shine. “We work with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from the Blue Ridge Parkway through Stone Mountain, into Elkin, and onto Pilot Mountain,” says Bill Blackley, head of the EVTA. “And we’re working to connect Elkin and Jonesville with a pedestrian bridge.”

Portions of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail run through Elkin.

Bill recommends starting at Isaac’s Trailhead and hiking the natural three-mile trail to Carter Falls. In town, visitors enjoy 6.5 miles of trails along the old Elkin and Alleghany Rail Trail, where hikers can pass intriguing art sculptures and 18 historical and biological markers. And the Jonesville Greenway, which runs from Bluff Street to about a mile east of I-77, offers strollers glimpses of diverse flora and birds perched on the banks of the Yadkin River. (Visit the Elkin Valley Trails website for printable maps of the area and a full list of all the trails.)

For a journey down the Yadkin River, day-trippers turn to Hometown River Company, run by Kasius and Amanda Stanley. Nestled on the river in Jonesville, Hometown River Company outfits groups with kayaks or tubes for half- or full-day float trips. Shuttles run multiple times a day with all trips ending back at the Hometown base.

“On a typical weekend, we have picnic tables, swings, and grills set outside so folks will come out of the river and hang out for a bit,” Kasius says. “It’s a joy to introduce people to all that there is to do on the Yadkin River — which is just an amazing body of water — and the area’s incredible trail system and wineries.”

Stay and Play

 To further their mission of moving people to happy places, the Lazars also operate a Hotel Hopper that includes Elkin and Jonesville stops, and they’re in the process of renovating their historic home in Elkin into a bed and breakfast. In town, three of the many eateries they recommend visiting are Southern on Main, Angry Troll Brewing, and The Wisdom Table.

Angry Troll Brewing. photograph by Sam Dean

Run by Jeremy and Krystle Stamps, The Wisdom Table occupies the former Belk Department store on East Main Street in Elkin. The 11,000-square-foot building took the Stamps three years to renovate into a stunning, hand-built bar and bottle shop on the main level with an entertaining space for wine dinners, private events, and classes upstairs.

“We carry more than 100 different North Carolina wines and offer tasting flights, charcuterie, and tapas,” says Jeremy, a certified sommelier and Certified Cicerone®. “We also teach classes on specific wine regions such as South Africa and Spain. Everything we have is either hyper-local or hard to find from the other side of the world.”

The Stamps recommend visiting Elkin Creek Vineyard on Sundays for their famous wood-fired pizzas and gorgeous river views. Visitors may also hear some music in the air, as the owners are former members of the theatrical Blue Man Group. Or try Grassy Creek Vineyard on historic Klondike Farm in North Elkin, which features live music most weekends.

“This community is incredibly supportive, you can’t help but make friends, even when you’re visiting,” Krystle says.

This story was published on May 18, 2021

Alice Manning Touchette

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