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When the residents of Elkin, NC, saw over 3,500 textile and furniture industry jobs leave their mill town, they looked around at the rivers, creeks, and mountains surrounding them and decided to transform the mill town into a trail town instead.
Community volunteers, local government officials, and environmental and tourism groups in the Elkin Valley have joined forces to connect Elkin to the Blue Ridge Parkway on the Mountains to Sea Trail, build a network of singletrack trail for hiking and mountain biking, and develop downtown greenways. They’re also working to clean up Big Elkin Creek and create hiking opportunities along the watershed. Plus, these groups are promoting a 125-mile paddling trail on the Yadkin River, bringing six outfitters and guide businesses to town.
“Building trails together has been healing for the towns in our region,” says Bill Blackley, Chairman of the Elkin Valley Trail Association (EVTA). Everyone plays a part, from nonprofit groups like Friends of Stone Mountain, Watershed Now, Explore Elkin, and Piedmont Legacy Trails to over 75 local businesses who donate volunteers and services and the Trail Titans, a community group that builds and maintains local trails every week.
You can hike the singletrack trails in Elkin Municipal Park, plan a multi-day trek on the Mountains to Sea Trail, or visit Elkin during NC Trail Days, a three-day festival in late May. Map out your next hiking adventure with our guide to the best trails in and around Elkin.
The 70-mile section of the cross-state 1,175-mile Mountains to Sea Trail from Devil’s Garden Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway through Stone Mountain State Park to Pilot Mountain was on the books for years. Segment 6 of the white-blazed MST became a reality when the EVTA and partner organizations grabbed hold of the project and pushed forward with 19 miles of off-road trail that takes the MST right through downtown Elkin. Hiking terrain varies from easy to moderate for most of the trail, except for a strenuous hike on the western flank of Stone Mountain where the trail descends 2,000 feet from the Parkway.
Novice hikers and families looking for short-distance treks can shorten the total distance on the MST with section hikes on the most scenic stretches of trail. Hike the three-mile portion through mixed hardwood forest over Wells Knob just outside of Stone Mountain State Park for views of the Piedmont from the 1,600-foot peak.
Start at Isaacs Trailhead for a three-mile hike to Grassy Creek and Carter Falls. The route is mostly flat, and the path crosses the creek on a series of footbridges before it reaches a trail junction. A 0.4-miles, a spur trail leads to the tasting room at Grassy Creek Vineyard. Take a hiking break for a glass of vino or continue on to the base of the 60-foot cascade at Carter Falls. Add an overnight in camp to your hike with a stop just off the trail at Byrd’s Branch Campground. Even if you’re not camping, the detour to the camp store for an ice cream cone is well worth the trip.
East of downtown Elkin, follow the MST to 35 acres of rolling farmland at Carolina Heritage Vineyards. Down the hill from the vineyard is the Burch Station launch on the Yadkin River Paddle Trail.
From the trailhead in downtown Elkin, historical markers tell the story of the patriot militia that marched through the Elkin Valley on the way to the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. The comfortable two-mile stroll through town takes you down Main Street and past iconic views of churches and large dams built to power the cotton mills that used to operate on the Yadkin River. There’s a large observation deck overlooking the river and dam, picnic tables, benches, two shelters, trail sculptures, and two gongs that kids will love to ring as they pass by.
A 0.7-mile section of the trail that runs along Elkin Creek to the Yadkin River is designated as an NC Kids in Parks TRACK Trail. Download guides to the animals, birds, and history of the area so you can complete the interactive activities during your family hike.
Take young kids for a stroll on the flat, crushed gravel and paved trails around Elkin for an easy introduction to the world of hiking without challenging climbs or too much distance. The Elkin & Alleghany Rail Trail runs 1.5 miles between Elkin Reservoir and Elkin Municipal Park and is close to downtown for a relaxed lunch break afterward.
To the north in Mt. Airy, the Ararat River Greenway follows the river for 2.2 miles from Riverside Park to Tharrington Park. A two-mile connector trail meets up with the 2.5-mile Emily Taylor Greenway for over six miles of strolling on the V-shaped trail network through downtown to Veterans Park. Right across the Yadkin River from downtown Elkin, walk another stretch of paved path on the 2.2-mile Jonesville Greenway.
Hikers share more than six miles of singletrack trails with mountain bikers in Elkin Municipal Park. Follow the Elkin Creek Trail to the Iron Falls loop for views of 100-foot cliffs on Elkin Creek Mountain. You’ll cross two raised boardwalks and two footbridges over the creek along the way. Stop at the picnic area for a snack or extend your hike on the Elkin & Alleghany Rail Trail and the MST.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with OrthoCarolina.