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Framed by the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, The Blue Ridge Travelers’ towns include Little Switzerland, Linville Falls, Lake James, Marion and Old Fort. Adventure enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation as they explore the pristine wilderness areas, trout streams, miles of hiking, waterfall and mountain biking trails, and spectacular Lake James with 6,812 acres and over 150 miles of shoreline. Lake James is home to two state parks with a swimming beach, canoe/kayak rentals, hiking and mountain bike trails.
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McDowell County Visitors Center
91 South Catawba Avenue, Old Fort, NC || 888-233-6111
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Young’s Mountain / Kitsuma: This trail in the Pisgah National Forest is one of the more “famous” mountain bike trails in thearea, but it also makes for a great day hike for those looking to explore a beautiful area. The suggested route is a 10 mile loop with close to 2,200 feet of elevation change. The first half of the hike or ride consists of 5 miles of steep singletrack trail that ends with a long downhill into the Old Fort picnic area. From the picnic area hang a left on to the paved road to catch the 3.62 mile Point Lookout Trail to complete the loop.
Hiking & Waterfall Trails: McDowell County has a wide range of great public hiking trails. Of the 14, one of our favorites for families is Point Lookout Trail, a great option for cyclists and hikers who love to walk or ride on mountain roads, but hate the traffic. Once the primary route through the mountains of North Carolina, this section of Old US 70 was closed to traffic once I-40 was completed. These days, the old road is gated and passes through National Forest lands with excellent views. Enjoy the 3.62 miles of paved asphalt before extending the ride through Old Fort or Ridgecrest.
For those looking to explore near a river or creek, we recommend relaxing with a walk to one or more of the county’s eight waterfalls. Two of the highest are Catawba Falls, located just outside Old Fort, with a 340 foot cascade and Linville Falls, with access from the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 316.4. Directions: Take I-40 west bound to exit 73. Turn left and go under the interstate. Make first right and at the fork bear left onto Catawba River Road. I-40 east bound exit 73. As you approach the stop sign at the end of this exit, take a right onto Catawba River Road and follow to the parking area. The trail begins across the bridge and to right.
Mountain Biking: For beginners, the trails at Lake James State Park’s Paddy Creek area are open year round and are a great introduction to the fun of mountain biking. Experienced cyclists should plan on tackling Kitsuma Peak/Young’s Ridge, Jarrett’s Creek Trail and Snook’s Nose. These single track trails wind through the Pisgah National Forest and areas of the Curtis Creek Recreational Area.
More experienced riders will also enjoy Woods Mountain Trail. At 3600 ft. , this trail has great views of the Black Mountains, Little Switzerland, Armstrong Creek watershed area, and Table Rock from sections of North Carolina’s “Mountains to Sea Trail.” The trail begins near Buck Creek Gap overlook at intersection of Blue Ridge Parkway and NC 80. The trail may be exited on US 221, at US Forest Service rest area near Woodlawn. Distance 13 miles and is considered moderate to strenuous.
Canoes and Kayaks: Looking to cool down or simply explore the beautiful wilderness surrounding the Catawba River? Marion’s Joseph McDowell Greenway offers public access from dawn until dusk, taking you “down the river” and into Lake James at the Black Bear boat landing. If you prefer a guide, Catawba River Outdoors has you covered. They offer kayak and tube rentals by the hour.
Fly Fishing: Old Fort is a certified North Carolina Mountain Trout Town, offering the three-day $5.00 specialty license to be used on the banks of Mill Creek adjacent to Mountain Gateway Museum. Seasoned fisherman should be sure and hit the hatchery supported waters of Curtis Creek, Newberry Creek and the upper section of the Catawba River.
Getting There: For details, maps and questions, call 888-233-6111 or visit the website: www.blueridgetravelers.com
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