Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with OrthoCarolina
Looking for that perfect mountain getaway, one that’s heavy on backcountry adventure, with friendly locals, quick bites, upscale dining, and a killer craft beer scene to keep you going well into the night? We have just the place, an under-the-radar mountain town that won’t stay that way for long. Morganton, North Carolina, is making a name for itself with hyperlocal beer, farm-to-table eateries, and some of the best outdoor adventure in the Blue Ridge. To help you plan the perfect visit to Morganton, we’ve put together a 48-hour itinerary with recommendations on places to play outdoors, eat, drink and get a good night’s sleep.
Friday: Check In
Just a 1.5-hour drive from the Triad, Morganton is an easy end-of-the-workweek drive west into the Appalachian foothills. For a weekend steeped in Southern hospitality, book a room at the Inn at Glen Alpine. Just five miles west of downtown Morganton, the quiet country inn offers four luxurious rooms, gourmet breakfast, picnic lunches, and a la carte dinner options. There’s plenty of room to relax on the wrap-around porch, and you can be in Asheville, Hickory, or on the Blue Ridge Parkway in under an hour.
For outdoor recreation at your doorstep, book a campsite at Lake James State Park. Wake up to 25 miles of hiking and biking trails and 6,800 acres of flatwater paddling on Lake James. Campsites have stunning views across the water to the Pisgah National Forest beyond. During the summer months, you can rent kayaks, canoes, and SUP boards in the park and swim at the sandy park beach.
Friday Evening: Craft Breweries
Once you’ve settled in, head downtown to experience Morganton’s booming craft beer scene. Start out at Sidetracked Brewery, a cozy newcomer next to downtown’s 1916 railroad depot. Throw darts, play a board game with friends, or grab a barstool and enjoy a pint of Whistleblower Sour or Crosstie Brown. Easy-drinking classics like their Irish dry stout and New England IPA are brewed to perfection, while new batches and spin-offs are rolled out every Friday.
At the other end of downtown, hyperlocal sensation Fonta Flora Brewery serves artisanal beers crafted with native ingredients like beets, bloody butcher corn, strawberries, and plums. Close out the evening with live music and a game of pool at Catawba Brewing, where the taproom crowd spills out onto the outdoor patio for that late-night party vibe.
Saturday: Peaks and Lakes
Start off Saturday’s adventures with fresh-roasted coffee and made-to-order doughnuts at The Dapper Doughnut. Cake doughnut balls have a satisfyingly crunchy exterior, coated in your choice of toppings like chocolate, lemon, berries, nuts, and sprinkles. After breakfast, head to the top of Hawksbill Mountain with a certified adventure yoga instructor from Hikemore Adventures for a one-hour session with 360-degree views of Linville Gorge. If you’re into adventure, sign up for Hikemore’s wilderness living and emergency survival workshop to learn how to build a fire and filter water with primitive tools, build a shelter, and cook over a campfire.
Your lunch stop at Old World Baking Company in historic Valdese will be memorable not only for mammoth hoagies served on freshly baked rolls and a bakery case full of cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, doughnuts, and cookies, but for the colorful, locally-designed floor-to-ceiling artwork that lights up the interior. Order the homemade soup in freshly-baked bread bowls and fresh-roasted coffee for a quick warm-up after your morning outside.
A relaxing afternoon is on tap at Lake James State Park, where you can launch your kayak or SUP board at the park’s two public launches on the south side of the lake. Explore miles of shoreline and never feel crowded by motorboats and docks on this expansive, undeveloped waterway. Head east past paddle-in campsites at Long Arm Peninsula and Paddy’s Creek, or west along a narrow arm of the lake that leads to the North Fork of the Catawba River.
Saturday Evening: Out on the Town
Reserve a table on the shady patio at Root & Vine for an evening of French cuisine with a Southern twist and an ever-changing menu that highlights whatever’s in season. Linger over their mile-long menu of craft beers, wines, and cocktails, and as the sun goes down, enjoy live music from the Grind Cafe Coffeehouse. Pop across the street for a closer look and Grind’s specialty coffees, fruity smoothies, and decadent frappes. Stroll down the street to The Natural Olive’s wine bar for more live music or olive oil-infused popcorn in flavors like chipotle, cilantro and roasted onion, and black truffle.
Sunday: Waterfall Hiking
Return to Grind Cafe on Sunday morning for a hearty breakfast burrito or sourdough French toast to fuel your day of hiking at South Mountains State Park. Start off on the park’s popular 2.7-mile loop to 80-foot High Shoals Falls. Don’t let the distance fool you—there’s hundreds of steps to climb beside the cascades and rock ledges that lead to the top. Add distance and elevation to the loop with an out-and-back spur along Shinny Creek, or return to the trailhead to climb two miles to a bird’s eye view of the falls from Chestnut Knob.
Wrap up your weekend back downtown with lunch at Brown Mountain Bottleworks. Everything they offer comes from the Carolinas, and that includes over 400 canned and bottled craft beers, wines, and hard-to-find munchies from Asheville Pretzel Company, Carolina Kettle Chips, Marion’s English Farmstead, Hickory Nut Gap Farm, and more. Choose from 12 rotating taps, grab a table inside or on the sunny sidewalk patio, and recount the weekend’s adventures before heading home.