A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

At his home on the southern shore of Lake Hickory, Chad Burel knows he’s found a treasure. “I’ve lived on Lake Hickory for 25 years, and I’ve seen how peaceful

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At his home on the southern shore of Lake Hickory, Chad Burel knows he’s found a treasure. “I’ve lived on Lake Hickory for 25 years, and I’ve seen how peaceful

5 Outdoor Adventures in Hickory

At his home on the southern shore of Lake Hickory, Chad Burel knows he’s found a treasure. “I’ve lived on Lake Hickory for 25 years, and I’ve seen how peaceful it is at sunrise and how beautiful it is at sunset. I know how exhilarating it feels to be out on the water enjoying life,” he says.

To share that beauty, Burel started Lake Hickory Adventures with a mission “to make the Hickory region a more enjoyable place to live and work and visit.” Today, more than 20,000 passengers have joined him for special dinners, birthday parties, and even weddings, all aboard his elegant, 60-foot Bluewater Coastal Cruiser dinner yacht.

Lake Hickory is just one of Hickory’s sparkling outdoor attractions. From its home at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the region’s natural areas, golf courses, and parks are made all the more spectacular by rolling hills with magnificent views. Read on for a few of our favorite ways to get out and get moving.


Explore on two wheels

When patrons swing by Carolina Pedal Works to rent a bike for the day, manager Jeff Harrison gauges their skill level and knows exactly where to send them. At Geitner Park, the Lake Hickory Trails have recently been overhauled for biking beginners and enthusiasts.

Harrison suggests beginners check out the Hickory Springs Loop, “a 1.5-mile loop that’s super flowy and fast.” According to Harrison, it’s perfect for a kid on a 16-inch wheel bike or an adult who races mountain bikes. “It’s not technical, but it’s fun,” he says.

Biking in Hickory. photograph by Hickory Metro CVB

The Broyhill Trail, a 4.3-mile intermediate loop, is ideal for intermediate or advanced riders. “Here you have what’s called a jump line — a shorter downhill trail with big jumps and berms,” Harrison says.

And for folks who want to brush up on their biking skills before hitting the trails, the Rock n’ Road pump track is the perfect launchpad.

When you return your equipment, become fully initiated in the Hickory cycling scene with a beer at Carolina Pedal Works’ bar. “People like to go for a ride and then come back here for a drink,” Harrison says. “We have five taps with microbrews, mostly North Carolina local brews.”


Take a hike

In the heart of downtown Hickory, Olde Hickory Station — housed in a former train station — is your one-stop shop for a dreamy picnic. Browse their selection of wine, beer, cheese, charcuterie, and fresh baked goods before taking on the great outdoors, picnic basket in tow.

Head over to Bakers Mountain Park for a cool picnic in a mature Chestnut Oak forest. A heavy canopy of native flora shades the almost 6 miles of trails and makes hot summer days feel breezy and cool.

At Glenn Hilton Memorial Park, let your children go crazy on the playground equipment while you set up lunch at a nearby picnic table. Then take a walk around the park’s 2-mile loop trail. With a creek, wetlands area, and even a boardwalk, it’s the perfect stroll for kids.


Perfect your swing

Rock Barn Country Club & Spa. photograph by Hickory Metro CVB

One word comes to mind when Brad Ellinger, general manager of the Rock Barn Country Club & Spa, describes his property’s public course: friendly. “It’s enjoyable for all levels,” he says. “There are a lot of undulations — hills and doglegs and turns and water.”

Along the Jackson course, golfers are treated to unmatched backdrops filled with mountains and water features. “Our signature hole is No. 6, par 3,” Ellinger says. “It’s downhill and over the creek that flows into the Catawba River. Anytime you’re golfing and you have water views, it’s just more soothing and relaxing.”

If your travel companions have a different idea of relaxation, Rock Barn’s spa is also open to the public. Pass the day indulging in a massage and relaxing by the saltwater pool.

Fully relaxed and rested, link up for dinner at Café Rule & Wine Bar, a locals’-favorite with entrées like pepper roasted beef tenderloin with green peppercorn tarragon aioli, or roasted local mushrooms and greens. And for dessert, don’t miss the hand-churned popcorn ice cream with a sea salt caramel drizzle.


Hit your target

In addition to its paved trails and creek access, Glenn Hilton Memorial Park boasts a 24-basket disc-golf course that draws a steady stream of locals and visitors attracted to the heavily wooded, hilly terrain. Some holes are open, and some are wooded; to get a lay of the land, check the map before you start.

After a round of disc-golf, unwind at Catawba Farms, just a 15-minute drive from downtown Hickory to Newton. “On weekends, people get here around noon or 1, and they don’t leave until we close at 6,” says Dennis Caucom, who opened the farm — complete with a brewery, vineyard and winery, gourmet food truck, petting zoo, and bed and breakfast — in 2015. “Come on out, grab a bottle of wine or beer, find your favorite spot on the property, and enjoy,” Caucom says. “It’s just a nice way to get out of the city and have fun.”


Experience Lake Hickory

Skirting the northwest edge of the city, Lake Hickory is a go-to destination for boaters. And with four marinas, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water.

Want to kayak or try your hand at paddle boarding but don’t have the equipment? River’s Edge Marina offers two-hour, half-day, or full-day rentals. If fishing, waterskiing, or wakeboarding is more your speed, choose from 16 boats for rent at Lake Side Marina.

If you have your own kayak or canoe and are looking for a quiet place to put it in the water, check out the waterfront park with boat dock and ramp at Geitner Park or the canoe and kayak launch at Henry Fork Regional Recreational Park.

Aerial Aquatics. photograph by Hickory Metro CVB

At Aerial Aquatics, you can surf several feet above the water on water-powered flyboards before safely diving back in. And there’s no experience necessary; their fun guides can show you the ropes. And speaking of ropes, check out Treetop Adventures for another above-water activity in the same location. Ziplines, rope bridges, tightropes, dancing logs, and suspended disks await thrill-seekers of all ages.

Finally, as the sun begins its descent over Lake Hickory’s peaceful water, join Chad Burel for a dinner cruise. “We always have live music on the boat,” Burel says. Add a steak and seafood dinner, and you’ve got the perfect end to a day on the lake. 

This story was published on Jun 03, 2020

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.