A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

    What We Love About Gaston County Just west of Charlotte, Gaston County has the unmistakable charm of a region with roots in the textile industry. Cut from similar

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

    What We Love About Gaston County Just west of Charlotte, Gaston County has the unmistakable charm of a region with roots in the textile industry. Cut from similar

Carolina Thread Trail Greenway includes a multiuse bridge in Goat Island in Gaston County.

Your Guide to Gaston County

 


 

What We Love About Gaston County

Just west of Charlotte, Gaston County has the unmistakable charm of a region with roots in the textile industry. Cut from similar fabric, each of the county’s towns remains distinct and unique. Gastonia is filled with historic sites transformed into new and vibrant spaces, like the 1927 movie theater-turned-steakhouse and the 1922 high school that now houses upscale apartments. In the county’s southeastern corner, Belmont’s world-class Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is stitched seamlessly with vestiges of the town’s early days: Belmont Abbey College and historic downtown. And Mount Holly reinvigorates its small-town setting by revitalizing its historic textile roots, such as refurbishing an old mill building into the highly anticipated Muddy River Distillery. The waters of the Catawba River and Lake Wylie, which form the county’s eastern border, weave outdoor recreation into daily life. Here, kayaking, boating, and fishing happen easily and spontaneously. Read on for our favorite ways to experience these towns, plus where to eat, grab a drink, and sightsee along the way.

 

Click to jump to section:

 


 

Belmont

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Along Lake Wylie, the 30-acre botanical garden includes formal plantings, plus miles of trails that travel across 300 acres, around the lake and through rich forests. From the visitor pavilion’s grand porch, you can walk through trellis-covered pathways flanking the Four Seasons Garden to the Orchid Conservatory and gardens beyond it. Along the trails, swallowtail butterflies flitter among the Canal Garden’s hibiscus flowers, little ones play hide-and-seek in the Lost Hollow children’s garden, and pitcher plants lie in wait to trap a meal in the Carnivorous Bog.

Belmont offers lots of scenic spots to stretch your legs from the lush grounds at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden to the grassy campus at Belmont Abbey College. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

Belmont Abbey College’s historic campus: No visit to Belmont is complete without a walk down the tree-lined Abbey Lane through the picturesque college campus. The modified Gothic Revival architecture of the Mary Help of Christians Basilica, dedicated in 1894, includes two prominent towers and German art glass windows. The nearby grotto, created from granite in 1891, centers around an almost six-foot-tall terra cotta statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park: Launch a kayak from the park’s dock and paddle the afternoon away or pack a picnic for lunch at the pavilion. At the playground, green sails shade the swings and play structures. Walk the paved path that follows the river’s edge, fish for largemouth bass from the pier, and swing on porch swings while enjoying the river view.

Head to Belmont’s charming and walkable downtown for local flavors and boutique shopping. If outdoor recreation is what you’re after, launch your kayak at Kevin Lofton Riverfront Park and paddle along the Catawba River. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

Dining Downtown: In the Downtown Belmont Historic District, dine on chargrilled filet mignon topped with herb butter at the Old Stone Steakhouse, housed in the former Belmont Police Department building that dates back more than a century. Or start the day with Honeycomb Café’s decadent breakfasts — think brioche French toast piled with whipped cream and berries — served at the building’s original drugstore counter. If you’re looking for down-home, Southern fare, we recommend the savory chicken and gravy at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen. The restaurant pays homage to the owner’s grandmother, who also happens to have been great-grandmother to the Jonas Brothers of boy-band fame.

 

 


 

Mount Holly

The Whitewater Center: This sprawling outdoor recreation haven sits across the Catawba River from Mount Holly. Splash over manufactured whitewater rapids, kayak the serene Catawba River, scale a 46-foot-high climbing wall, wobble through aerial obstacle courses, and zipline over a 90-foot canyon. Hikers, mountain bikers, and runners blaze 50 miles of trails through protected woodland. Each winter, part of the whitewater course transforms into an ice-skating rink.

You don’t have to go far to find outdoor recreation — minutes from downtown Mount Holly, the Whitewater Center offers a one-stop destination for paddling, climbing, hiking, and mountain biking. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

Walk the river’s edge: Stroll or cycle along the A&E Riverfront Trail that snakes along the Catawba River. The paved 1.2-mile greenway connects Tuckaseege Park to the Mount Holly Municipal Complex.

Explore Main Street: Locally owned shops pepper the streets of downtown Mount Holly. Head to the bookstore to browse the new and used titles. A few doors down, you can shop for high-quality and sustainable pre-owned apparel. Pick up locally crafted, one-of-a-kind bath, home goods, and clothing, or pick up nostalgic, off-beat goods from the vintage novelty shop. You can shop the wide selection of local and national craft brews at the bottle shop, and from April to October, mark your calendar for the Saturday morning farmers market.

You’re never far from outdoor recreation in Gaston County. From downtown Mount Holly, you can pick up the Riverwalk Greenway that leads from City Hall to Tuckaseege Park. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

Eat and drink: Traust Brewing Company, named for the Old Norse word for “trust,” brings Scandinavian touches to everything from its beers made with Kveik yeast to the Viking ship-shaped flight boards. At family-owned Firehawk Brewpub, a tribute to the Mount Holly community within the town’s old fire station, you can sip a Papa Haze IPA and dig into smoked pulled pork while the adjacent Dutchmans Creek flows past.

 


 

Gastonia

The Esquire Hotel: Unmistakable architectural details from this historic building’s past life as a bank steal the show at this downtown hotel. Even if you don’t book one of the luxurious rooms, plan to dine at Barrister’s. Delicious, southern Appalachian-style cuisine is served on carved butcher block tables, but the true showstopper is the room itself, boasting striking features like grand 20-foot-tall ceilings and marble floors.

History inspires what to do and see in Gastonia, from The Esquire Hotel, housed within a circa-1918 bank building, to the natural history exhibits at The Schiele Museum. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

The Schiele Museum: This world-class museum of natural history is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. As visitors open the front door, they will be greeted by the large fossil cast of a Quetzalcoatlus feeding its young. Exhibits include Dinosaur Safari, a living farm, live animals, nature trail, and you can also check out one of the state’s largest planetariums. To catch a show on the domed, 360-degree screen, check the calendar of events.

Rankin Lake Park: Just off U.S. Highway 321 in northwest Gastonia, Rankin Lake is far more than a picturesque picnic spot — although its clubhouse (complete with a warming kitchen) and two lakeside picnic shelters are in high demand. Stretch your legs on the easy 1.6-mile loop trail, or play a round of disc golf on the 18-hole course. If you want to fish, cast your line from the lake banks or either of the two fishing piers.

Gastonia Baseball Club: 2024 marks this new Atlantic League (ALPB) professional baseball team’s inaugural season. Take your family out to the ballgame and treat them to a night of popcorn, hot dogs, and RC Cola. The stadium seats 5,000 — try to score a spot in the five rows of grandstand seats.

Play ball! Head to CaroMont Health Park and bring a glove for any fly balls. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

 


 

Grab a Bite

RayNathan’s: This restaurant in Gastonia captures the simple pleasures of old-school barbecue culture with pork, chicken, wings, and sausage smoked over hardwood daily. Save room on your plate for hand-cut fries, collards, and other sides made in house. Have a hankering for more barbecue? Check out the Gaston County ‘Cue Trail, with eight more restaurants to try.

Drift on Lake Wylie: Floor-to-ceiling windows reveal expansive views at this waterfront chophouse in Belmont. Pair the braised lamb shank with a glass of pinot noir in the contemporary dining room. Or enjoy a sweet ending to your meal on the patio with a slice of the carrot cake.

Ready to cut your day short on the water? Settle in on the expansive patio at Drift on Lake Wylie to enjoy scenic views during dinner, or dig into casual plates at JR Cash’s riverside patio. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

JR Cash’s Grill & Bar: Relax on a covered patio beside the Catawba River in Mount Holly at this classic American grill where the servings are generous. It’s just the place to wind down with one of the ice-cold beers on tap, and then dive into a plate of blackened chicken alfredo.

Webb Custom Kitchen: Downtown Gastonia’s 1927 cinema has a new life as an elegant steakhouse. Renovated to retain its Art Deco flair, the theater’s original arched ceiling creates a dramatic canopy over the banquette seating-lined space. From the tiered balcony, feast on a bone-in aged rib-eye while watching classic movies broadcast on the screen above the open kitchen.

 


 

Grab a Drink

The Jailhouse Whiskey & Cigar Bar: In a genius business move, the owners of Old Stone Steakhouse transformed the old jailhouse next door into a cozy cocktail bar. (Remember, the steakhouse inhabits the former Belmont police station.) Remnants of the past shine through inside this unique building. As you belly up to the bar that faces the old jail cells, order a Midnight Express — single-barrel Elijah Craig bourbon, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters, delivered in an inverted hickory smoke-filled wine glass for a dramatic presentation.

Veronét Vineyards & Winery: Past the gates adorned with emblems of grape leaves, follow the winding drive that leads to acres of grape vines. This family-owned, sustainably farmed vineyard in Kings Mountain surrounds the on-site winery. Escape the everyday routine by basking in views of Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle while sipping a sparkling cuvée and noshing on a cheese board.

Vintage Whiskey and Cigar Bar and Gaston Pour House: Select from an array of cocktails, local beers, and boutique wines at Vintage Whiskey and Cigar Bar, a private membership lounge in downtown Gastonia. Cigar aficionados will appreciate the well-stocked humidor and separate smoking room. Down the street, Gaston Pour House invites you to eat, sip, and lounge at its bar/coffee shop/restaurant — the lox bagel is a menu favorite.

Muddy River Distillery: This summer, the distillery will move its award-winning operation to the 150-year-old Mount Holly Cotton Mill, bringing Gaston County’s oldest textile mill back to life. Here, you’ll be able to sip spiced Carolina Rum and dine at the new, Southern-inspired kitchen while overlooking Dutchmans Creek.

 

 


 

Places to Visit

Crowders Mountain: Pack your binoculars and head to this state park, where trails range from the easy .8-mile Lake Trail to the strenuous Pinnacle Trail, a two-mile, out-and-back hike. The latter leads to the highest point in Gaston County, King’s Pinnacle. As you hike to the top where breathtaking views await, keep your eyes open for rare plants, like the high-bush blueberry. In addition to hiking, park-goers can paddle or fish via the Sparrow Springs access.

Goat Island Park: There may not be goats on this island in the middle of the South Fork River, but you’ll find just about everything else you could want from a park: a playground, a fishing pier, kayak launch, ping-pong tables — there’s even the Carolina Thread Trail Greenway that connects the island to downtown Cramerton to Belmont via Rocky Branch Park.

Kings Mountain National Military Park: Calling all history buffs! Adjacent to the National Military Park along the North Carolina-South Carolina border, the Battlefield Trail offers perspectives of the Revolutionary War’s battle of Kings Mountain. As you walk along the 1.5-mile paved trail, take time to read the information accompanying the Centennial Monument, U.S. Monument, and Ferguson’s Grave.

Paddlers in the South Fork of the Catawba River pass by old textile mill buildings that were once the lifeblood of Gaston County. Photography courtesy of Gaston County Tourism Development

Boathouse by Catawba Riverkeeper: The South Fork Catawba River — often called the “South Fork” — runs almost 50 miles, starting just south of Hickory and eventually flowing into the Catawba River near the state line. Starting in May, you can rent a kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard from The Boathouse in McAdenville. Paddle upstream for about a mile before reaching the rocky shoals and leisurely floating back.

George Poston Park: Mountain bikers come from far and wide for the full George Poston experience. From its home at the base of Spencer Mountain, George Poston Park and Pump Track invites you to choose from more than 13 miles of hand-built singletrack trails. Don’t leave without a spin around the berms and rollers at the 10,000-square-foot asphalt pump track.

 

 


 

Explore More in Gaston County

Downtown: Belmont

There’s a rhythm in the history of this Gaston County city, and chic restaurants and shops are creating an infectious new beat.

Downtown: Gastonia

This rapidly growing city is attracting new fans, who are weaving together past and present in former mills and old theaters.

fish camp

Fresh, Fried, & Familiar: Fish Camps in Gaston County

In Gaston County on Friday night, if you’re not feasting on catfish, hush puppies, and slaw in a fish camp — you’re probably waiting in line to get in.

 

VIEW OTHER TAR HEEL TOWNS

This story was published on Apr 25, 2024

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.