A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

    What We Love About West Jefferson From its home in the heart of downtown West Jefferson, the Ashe County Farmers Market is a slice of local life just

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

    What We Love About West Jefferson From its home in the heart of downtown West Jefferson, the Ashe County Farmers Market is a slice of local life just

Your Guide to West Jefferson



What We Love About West Jefferson

From its home in the heart of downtown West Jefferson, the Ashe County Farmers Market is a slice of local life just a short drive from the Blue Ridge Mountains ascending in the background. Vendors’ tables overflow with homegrown fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Shoppers fill their baskets with homemade jams, jellies, and fresh-baked bread. Talented artisans show off their hand-crafted pottery, woven baskets, quilts, and candles.

Local culinary traditions continue a few blocks away at Ashe County Cheese. Visitors and residents alike beeline here to sample a wide variety of cheeses and butters, including the cheddar daisy wheel that put this cheese manufacturer on the map in the mid-1900s. Pick up a cheese brick or the specialty cheese curds to take with you, and as you walk through downtown, you’ll find yourself immersed in the town’s rich arts culture. Slow down to marvel at the 19 murals celebrating West Jefferson’s heritage. It’s just one example of this mountain town’s synthesis of craftsmanship, local entrepreneurship, and natural beauty. Read on for our top ways to experience it for yourself.


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Hiking: In Mount Jefferson State Natural Area and Elk Knob State Park, it’s hard to find a hike that doesn’t reward you with photo-worthy views — from scenic panoramas to a close-up of flame azaleas or rhododendrons. At Mount Jefferson, try the Spur Trail for a route less traveled. You’ll start at Sunset Overlook (the first as you drive up the mountain) and meander a half-mile toward Sunrise Overlook. If you have a couple of hours to hike Elk Knob State Park, try the 3.8-mile, out-and-back Summit Trail — a magical forest floor of yellow trout lilies in the spring. Want something quick and easy? Stroll the one-mile Beech Tree Trail, a kid-friendly trail through an American beech forest.

Sunset Overlook faces west, so be sure to time your drive up to (or down from) Mount Jefferson just right for breathtaking views. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Paddling: The New River’s class I and II rapids raise your heart rate just enough to leave you thoroughly entertained but still relaxed and refreshed. Gliding along, you’ll have plenty of energy to take in the surrounding natural backdrop and the clear waters and rocky bottom underneath. The local outfitter Zaloo’s Canoes makes it easy to get on the water, whether your preference is kayaking, canoeing, or tubing.

Fly fishing: The New River’s cold, north-flowing waters — coursing under a canopy of oaks, willows, and pines — are every fisherperson’s dream. Go to the North Fork, Trout Lake, or Big Horse Creek to take advantage of the state’s delayed-harvest trout program.





Ashe Arts Center: Fittingly located in downtown’s buzzy Arts District, West Jefferson’s “central hub for artistic expression” was originally constructed in 1938 as a community gathering space. Now the restored stone building is home to the Arts Council and a gallery that displays works from local and regional artists. Check their website for upcoming concerts and speakers.

Get a first-hand experience with West Jefferson’s arts scene at the Ashe Arts Center (left), or venture out to find Ben Long’s brilliant frescoes at Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church (right). Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Church of the Frescoes: Artist Ben Long gained international recognition in the ’70s and ’80s for his West Jefferson frescoes. These enduring works of art draw thousands of visitors each year to two small churches. At Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, “Mary Great with Child,” “John the Baptist,” and “The Mystery of Faith” are on display in the sanctuary. At Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Glendale Springs, Long’s “The Lord’s Supper” graces the wall behind the alter.

Keep your eyes peeled for murals adorning business exteriors throughout West Jefferson, including “The One” by local Whitney Landwehrmann. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Downtown Mural Trail: A community’s murals often hint at local artists’ sources of inspiration, and in West Jefferson, nature is their muse. Swing by the Ashe Arts Center for a walking tour map, which includes background on the larger-than-life “Spring Wildflowers on Mt. Jefferson,” “New River Traditions,” and “Cut at Devil Stairs,” a favorite by muralist Stephen Shoemaker, which serves as an homage to West Jefferson’s history as a railroad town.

Florence Thomas Arts School: Zero artistic talent is required to start your lessons at this center for artistic expression and education. Check out their art classes and workshops ranging from painting and sculpture to pottery and photography. Classes run from as little as two hours to up to four days.



Food, Wine, and Breweries

Hill Billy Grill: When it’s time for breakfast, West Jefferson locals stream into this staple on South Jefferson Avenue, which serves up affordable and savory fare from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Try the Hollywood: three eggs topped with beefsteak and Swiss cheese, or, if you’re really hungry, the Belly Buster, complete with bacon and eggs on top of home fries, grilled onions, and cheese, then smothered in sausage gravy.

Park your car in downtown West Jefferson and explore the offerings by foot. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

New River Brewing: When the big garage doors roll up at NRB Smokehouse Eatery, a breeze floats through the taproom known for serving equally mouthwatering dishes to complement its beer selection. It’s hard to pick between menu items like the bacon and beet salad and NRB Bowls — pulled pork with Cheerwine barbecue sauce topped with white cheddar mac and cheese.

The Grape + Grain: You don’t have to be a craft beer or wine or cocktail person to feel at home at this shop on North Jefferson Avenue. The bartenders take an experimental and artistic approach to mixology and love making recommendations. If you’re hungry, grab a charcuterie board to share while you indulge in a wine and beer tasting along with live music on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

With 19 murals throughout its downtown, West Jefferson offers colorful surprises at almost every turn. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Craft Bistro: Housed in the Old Artists’ Theater on Main Street, fine dining featuring flavors from around the world — think, Tuscan-style shrimp gnocchi, Angus Reserve porterhouse, and Creole mussels with andouille sausage étouffée — meets a fabulous selection of cocktails, wine, and beer.

Other favorites to try:





The Tartan Woolly: This is your chance to own an authentic Tartan cape! Or Failsworth country cap! Every luxuriously warm item in this South Jefferson Avenue store shipped straight from Ireland or Scotland — except for those made in America from 100-percent Irish wool.

Madi’s Clothing & Accessories: Working on her parents’ West Jefferson Christmas tree farm, Madi Weaver dreamed of the day she’d open her own clothing boutique. From her shop on East 2nd Street, “where clothing tells your story,” that dream takes the form of stylish pieces that feel a little bit contemporary, a little bit trendy, a little bit colorful, and a little bit neutral. Madi’s promise: You’ll find the perfect fit.

Among the local boutiques and shops, you’ll find everything from chic womenswear at Madi’s Clothing & Accessories to stylish leather boots and hats at Bull’s Boots and Western Wear. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Bull’s Boots and Western Wear: Embrace your inner cowboy with a new pair of boots or hat from this historic downtown building that makes shopping feel like a trip to the Wild West. If you’re dipping your toe into the Western Wear lifestyle, pick from artfully displayed accessories like belt buckles, purses and wallets, and jewelry — all you need for a boot-scootin’ boogie.

Perry’s Gold Mine: Fine antique and estate pieces, displayed alongside a carefully curated selection of new jewelry, make shopping feel like a treasure hunt at this North Jefferson Avenue jewelry store.

WJ Hardware Store: Find the perfect souvenir (or anything else you need, for that matter) at this West Jefferson gift shop-hardware store hybrid that sells everything from hammers to picture frames to purses to seed potatoes.

Upgrade your wardrobe at boutiques like Sisters on Main. Photography courtesy of Visit West Jefferson

Other favorites to visit:




Explore More in West Jefferson

On the Trail of Faith & Frescoes in West Jefferson

Contemporary murals adorn the exteriors of buildings throughout West Jefferson and the High Country. But the walls inside a handful of churches offer stunning displays of an ancient technique.

The Joys of West Jefferson

In this artsy Ashe County town, discover dozens of colorful murals and local galleries, try famous “squeaky cheese,” float down the New River, and more.

A Weekend in West Jefferson

Our three-day itinerary will help you make the most of a getaway to this artsy mountain town.




This story was published on May 23, 2024