“This is the place kids want to come,” Dana Dawson says as she looks around Uwharrie Mercantile, which she and her husband, Ray, opened a few years ago in downtown
“This is the place kids want to come,” Dana Dawson says as she looks around Uwharrie Mercantile, which she and her husband, Ray, opened a few years ago in downtown Troy. They bought the building “on a whim — really, to save the building,” and the café, known for its selection of drinks and locally made baked goods, grew from there.
The 1909 building is filled with history, from its start as a tuberculosis treatment facility to its 44 years as a bustling hotel. “At one point, it was a drugstore, and a lot of people have memories of walking down here when they were in middle school and sitting in the booths, drinking orangeades and lemonades,” Dana says. The Dawsons emulated that drugstore feel, even tracking down the original orangeade recipe. “We honored people’s memories of what they loved most and recreated that for the next generations.”
Their vision to create a gathering space that would breathe life into downtown is evidenced by hikers who stop in to grab provisions for their adventures in Uwharrie National Forest — and by the children who run in, breathlessly looking for the next medallion on their “Troy Explorers” challenge.
Troy is one of five towns tucked away in Uwharrie National Forest, one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. That distinction reinvigorates visitors with a sense of wild exploration. If you’re hungry for adventure, read on for some local advice on where to find it.
Native Americans once referred to the Uwharrie Mountains as “the center of the universe”. Located in central NC, offering: adventure, pottery, art, and 14,000 years of history, North America’s oldest mountain range has it all … in the center of it all.
“There’s a difference between a national park and a national forest,” Tracy Lamonds says. The owner of River Daisy Outdoor Co, Lamonds dipped her toe into the business when she opened the forest’s first permitted outfitter back in 2001. “In a national park, you have more signs that lead the way and marked parking lots. You stay on the designated trail, and the park usually closes at dusk. In a forest, you have more freedom to explore.”
With that freedom comes a responsibility to protect the land. “Two shelters and campsites are first-come, first-served — such an amazing gift we have, if we can take care of it,” she adds.
Lamonds often recommends the Uwharrie Trail as one of the best places to hike. Also known as the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail, the 28-mile trail has several trailheads. All of them lead to completely different experiences. Here are a few to consider:
Joe Moffitt trailhead: Walk south on the trail, and just shy of a mile, you’ll reach the top of Little Long Mountain. “It’s a small mountain that’s cleared at the top, so you get a 360-degree, panoramic view,” Lamonds says. “After work, I have just enough time to go up the mountain and back, for a total of about 1.6 miles. It’s the perfect place to watch the sun set, especially in the winter.”
Jumping Off Rock trailhead: This moderately challenging route takes you down in the forest’s creeks and valleys. Plan to spend about four hours, and keep your eyes open for a gravestone at the southern end of the trail. “At the time of the burial, the community thought this would be a community graveyard, but then the entire community moved and this is the only grave marker. I love to see things like that when I’m exploring,” Lamonds says.
Woodrun trailhead. This easy trail, just over 3 miles out and back, offers glimpses of the defunct Lawrenceville community, once Montgomery County’s town seat. Just as you come to the old well, left from where the courthouse once stood, you may also see remnants of chimneys.
“There’s an ancient energy when you’re out in the forest,” Lamonds says. “The Native American history here is unreal; this was a sacred place.” She adds that most of the artifacts on public lands have been harvested or are protected. “But on people’s private property, they still find arrowheads, and there were dinosaur fossils found here that are now in the Smithsonian. This forest is more than a pretty view or a pretty creek.”
Old and new collide with the combination of historic buildings and modern murals in downtown Mount Gilead. Start your visit at the Speckled Paw Coffee Shop for a cup of freshly roasted coffee with a side of the latest news — and great literature. Owners Kyle and Myrna Poplin also opened the intimate Storyteller Book Company, an independent bookstore within Speckled Paw, and stock the shelves with an impressive assortment.
Next, swing by Frames on Main, a framing and gift shop housed in one of downtown’s beautiful historic buildings. If you’re looking for the perfect antique, check out Memory Lane’s furniture collection. And for the latest in women’s fashions, visit AmberLynn.
When you’re hungry for lunch, the locals’ favorite Luna’s is a perfect stop for pizzas, salads, and sandwiches.
From downtown Mount Gilead, it’s just a seven-minute drive to one of the sacred landmarks Lamonds describes: For 50 years, starting in 1937, archaeologists’ excavations allowed for the reconstruction of the Town Creek Indian Mound, two temple structures, and a burial house. From its home on the Little River, just outside historic Mount Gilead, this enormous earthwork was once essential to the American Indians that lived here. Visit to learn about its rich cultural heritage and significance to the people who lived in this area.
On the 200-acre Montgomery Sheep Farm, visitors get the full experience of a modern farm sustained by clean energy. In the spring and fall, the farm hosts farm-to-table dinners. With your ticket, you’ll be treated to a farm tour followed by a chef-prepared four-course dinner — featuring lamb, of course — and wine pairings.
On the tour, a guide explains the farm’s inner workings, including its 500 sheep, 120 acres of solar panels, and the Great Pyrenees dogs raised as sheep guardians. To cap your evening with a view of the stars, book a night at the farm’s rustic three-room cabin.
Ever since the late 1800s, when three associates from Montgomery County got together to form the Candor Fruit Company, peaches and Candorians have gone hand-in-hand. For 26 years on the third Saturday in July, downtown Candor has hosted the North Carolina Peach Festival. As if the sweet, juicy fruit wasn’t enough reason to visit, there’s a classic car show, live entertainment, and kids’ activities.
A lot of people assume that because she owns an outfitter, Lamonds must love whitewater. In reality, she prefers a peaceful day out on the river. “The Uwharrie River is my favorite, but it’s finicky,” she admits. “A lot of the time it’s dry, and then all of a sudden you get a big rain and it’s too high. But if you catch it at the perfect moment, there’s nothing better.”
There are three access points along the river — Low Water Bridge, Highway 109 Bridge, and Dennis Road. About seven miles separate each one. Lamonds’ trick for timing the river involves a little art and a little science: When the river is moving along at a steady clip, she recommends putting your kayak in at the Low Water Bridge in Troy and cruising along to the middle access. “Three times I’ve seen a bald eagle swoop down and catch a fish right in front of me,” she says. “For two to three hours, all the world is right.”
On the other hand, when water levels are a little high, try putting your kayak in near the middle — at the Highway 109 Bridge access — and kayaking to Dennis Road. “When the water levels are low, the last mile of that section can be boring,” Lamonds says. “Right at the mouth of Lake Tillery, the current slows way down and you’re tired. But if the water is higher, it moves you along. And in my opinion, the first half of that stretch is the most beautiful on the river.”
For Lamonds, spending time in the Uwharrie National Forest is a soul-healing experience — one that has a ripple effect, whether you’re on water or land. “I believe that a healed soul heals nature,” she says. “It’s a beautiful cycle of peace and joy.”