The Yadkin Valley in Western North Carolina’s High Country is home to a sparkling jewel of a town. Wilkesboro, with an estimated population of less than 4,000, wowed my husband and me with its combination of stunning surroundings, fascinating history, robust music and art scene, and some of the friendliest, most talented people we’ve ever met.
Wilkesboro is the county seat of Wilkes County and connects via a bridge across the Yadkin River to North Wilkesboro. The towns are independent municipalities, and it’s easy to wander back and forth between them and into other areas of Wilkes County while in search of activities, local art, history, excellent food, and locally crafted libations. Here’s a small sample of what awaits you in Wilkesboro.
Disclosure: Our visit to Wilkesboro was generously hosted by Wilkesboro Tourism Development Authority and Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
An Assortment Of Interesting And Fun Things To Do
Whether you are a history buff or outdoor enthusiast, Wilkesboro has activities to fit every interest and activity level.
1. Northwest NC Visitor’s Center
A good place to begin your visit to Wilkesboro and surrounding areas is the North West NC Visitor’s Center. This isn’t your average tourist office where you step up to a counter to pick up maps and brochures. Oh, there are plenty of those, but allow an hour or more to take in everything else.
Opened in 2009, the North West NC Visitor’s Center is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) GOLD-certified visitor’s center. This means it has achieved a level of sustainability with its geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, and a long laundry list of other environmentally-friendly specifications.
Wander through the large but welcoming space and admire regional art featuring exquisite pottery, carvings, and quilts crafted by skilled area artists. The center often hosts artist demos and live performances by local musicians. You, the kids, and the dog might even decide to burn off some energy with a walk along the nature trail, featuring native plants and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.
Pro Tip: You can purchase displayed items, but you’ll need to pick up the artist’s card and arrange your purchase directly.
2. Wilkes Heritage Museum
For a generous dose of regional history, the Wilkes Heritage Museum, located in the restored 1902 Wilkes County Courthouse, showcases Wilkes County’s unique heritage. Drink in area history as you explore exhibits of artifacts and images from early settlement, military history, and more.
The Wilkes Heritage Museum houses the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and offers tours of the Old Wilkes Jail and Candlelight Ghost Tours. The latter is operated as a museum fundraiser.
You can also pick up a map for the free self-guided Old Wilkes Heritage Walking Tour, which takes you to 13 historic buildings representing Wilkesboro as it developed over time.
Pro Tip: The museum spans two levels but has been updated to fulfill ADA requirements.
3. Wilkes County Hardware
Whether or not you’re in need of DYI supplies, a visit to Wilkes County Hardware is a must. This old-fashioned store has the usual hardware — tools, nuts, bolts — and is outfitted with a freight elevator and a rolling ladder. It also has food items and high-tech toys such as the latest Traeger grill. An area in the front of the store features handcrafted pottery, wood items, soaps, and more for you to take home as original souvenirs or gifts.
4. Cub Creek Park
If you’re up for a rendezvous with nature without leaving Wilkesboro, Cub Creek Park has you covered. This 150-acre swath of green offers easy hiking and mountain bike trails, pickleball courts, a playground, a dog park, and a creek stocked with trout. An approximately 1-mile flat unpaved walking path is wheelchair accessible, and when the Cub Creek Park extension is completed in 2023, it will include an ADA-accessible fishing ramp.
Pro Tip: If you’re 16 or older, you’ll need a North Carolina fishing license to hook trout from Cub Creek.
5. A Treasure Trove Of Traditional And Modern Art
Western North Carolina inspires artists of all kinds, and many create in the mountains and foothills. The newly completed Blue Ridge Craft Trail runs through Wilkes County, so be prepared to find extraordinary original art and talented, passionate artists wherever you venture.
6. Christie Younger Art
Christie Younger has a love of color, and she knows how to use it. Her paintings of tulips, waterlilies, and hydrangeas are eye-popping. If you’re fortunate, you might catch this charming artist in her studio, But you can always shop her art on her website.
7. Taupe Gallery
If you’re looking for high-end contemporary, abstract, or somewhat edgy art, Taupe Gallery is waiting for you. One-of-a-kind pottery, paintings, glass art, and fabric wallhangings occupy this bright but welcoming space. Most of the gallery’s inventory is on the large side, but you can also find smaller gift-worthy items.
8. Wilkes Art Gallery
For art exhibits that change bi-monthly, drop into Wilkes Art Gallery and see what fascinating regional works of art are currently on display. The gallery offers workshops for children and adults and has a gift shop where you can purchase items crafted by North Carolina artists.
The Sound Of Music
Music is deeply embedded in Western North Carolina’s soul, and experiencing it live makes any visit to the area that much sweeter.
9. Concerts In The Commons
Wilkesboro’s annual Concerts in the Commons series runs every second Saturday from May to October at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons and on the Wilkes Communications Pavilion stage in the heart of historic downtown Wilkesboro. These are family-friendly events, and most are free. The concerts feature live music by regional and nationally known artists, local food trucks, vendors, and activities for the kids.
For 4 days on the last weekend in April, the hills really do come alive with the joyful sounds of MerleFest. This event is held in honor of Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, where the annual festival is held. Country, bluegrass, and blues artists perform on multiple stages. You can purchase 4, 3, and 1-day passes through the official website.
A Robust Food And Beverage Scene
Considering that Wilkes County has a population of fewer than 70,000, The number of wineries, craft breweries, and distilleries — not to mention excellent restaurants — is truly impressive.
11. Roaring River Vineyards
Located a half-hour drive from Wilkesboro lies Roaring River Vineyards, a spectacular riverfront property featuring a restaurant, lodging, and 70 acres of lush, wine-producing vineyards. This is a superb spot to enjoy a wine tasting, a fresh, exquisitely prepared meal, and/or a night or two stay.
The dry rose was my favorite of the five wines I tried during our tasting, but the other reds definitely held their own. As for lunch, it was nothing short of heavenly. The French onion soup was everything it should be. The equally delicious salad consisted of cremini mushrooms, blistered cherry tomatoes, crumbled gorgonzola, and bacon, artfully arranged on a bed of spinach and topped with a warm vinaigrette.
Pro Tip: Roaring River Vineyards is open Thursday through Sunday. Plan ahead so you don’t miss out.
12. Dooley’s Tavern
Located in the historic Smithey Hotel, built in 1891, Dooley’s Tavern is a lively eatery that is popular with locals and visitors alike. The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating and serves up a varied menu featuring healthy American-inspired cuisine, including gluten-free and vegetarian options.
I had the Pimento Cheese Burger with a side of sweet potato fries and was glad I skipped the bun. That meal was as filling as it was fiendishly scrumptious. Another good choice is the Reuben. Dooley’s also has an impressive assortment of beers.
13. Amalfi’s Italian
Amalfi’s Italian wraps you in an olfactory hug the moment you walk into this intimate eatery. And if you think the aroma of food is divine, wait until you taste it. I opted for an Amalfi salad of mixed greens, cherry tomato, Greek olives, roasted red bell peppers, artichoke, red onions, and feta cheese, topped with blackened chicken. The presentation was as impressive to the eye as it was to the palate. Amalfi’s also turns out delectable pastas, perfect pizzas by the pie or slice, and luscious desserts.
From rustic campsites to charming bed and breakfasts, the Wilkesboro area has the perfect accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.
14. Holiday Inn Express Wilkesboro
Conveniently located in Wilkesboro, Holiday Inn Express Wilkesboro is a clean, comfortable place to unwind after a day of exploration. The hotel offers complimentary hot breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking.
15. Lodging At Roaring River Vineyards
If you’re willing to drive approximately 18 miles out of Wilkesboro, you can stay in a small corner of paradise in one of four units at Lodging at Roaring River Vineyards. Three of the units sleep two, and one sleeps eight. All have outdoor seating so you can watch the river flowing below. Amenities include Wi-Fi, Direct TV with premium channels, private fishing, a river beach with tables and chairs, a horseshoe court, corn hole toss, and more. You also have access to a communal outdoor fireplace furnished with Adirondack tables and chairs. An RV park is also located on the property. Reasonable pricing plus breathtaking river and mountain views make this an ideal location for a family vacation or romantic getaway.
Pro Tip: Winter can be a little on the chilly side, but there is no bad time of year to explore and enjoy Wilkesboro.