Just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rocky ridges smooth out into the rolling hills and lively mountain streams known as the North Carolina Piedmont.
North of I-40, Mt. Airy often steals the headlines. The charming mountain town is best known as the home of Andy Griffith and the setting for The Andy Griffith Show (a claim to fame that will soon mean little to the post-Gen X crowd).
But my new hometown– Elkin, North Carolina– is truly an up-and-comer in the region.
In an area built on tobacco and cotton, what was once an industrial township of mills and textile factories is steadily becoming a contender for the quintessential small NC town.
At its heart, Elkin has held onto a solid collection of historical buildings, with railroad tracks running right past downtown.
But coursing through its veins is a new and more lively version, with artisanal traditions and loads of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Within Elkin’s town limits, you’ll find a hip music venue, microbreweries, wine tasting rooms, riverside hiking, and the regionally ubiquitous antique shops.
Nearby there are North Carolina state parks, accredited historic sites, dozens of vineyards, streams full of native trout, and ever more to explore.
Pulling off the I-77, or cruising in from the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 229, the town of Elkin might seem somewhat unassuming at first glance.
But with the insider info in this in-depth guide, you’ll find there are an impressive array of things to do in Elkin NC that warrant further exploration!
Best Things to Do in Elkin NC
- Visiting Microbreweries
- Listening to Music at the Reeves
- Walking in Elkin Municipal Park
- Shopping for Antiques
- Supporting Foothills Art Council
- Exploring Downtown Elkin
- Touring Vineyards in Yadkin Valley
- Kayaking/Tubing on the Yadkin River
- Finding Carter Falls
- Hiking at Stone Mountain State Park
Western North Carolina has long since made its mark on the national craft beer scene.
Elkin, North Carolina (population 4000) has thrown its hat into the ring with two local breweries, Angry Troll and Skull Camp.
Both offer up fantastic beers and notable nibbles to go along with them. They are each attached to top Elkin NC restaurants.
Angry Troll is located downtown in a renovated historic building with exposed rafters and brick, as well as hardwood floors. It’s got wood-fired pizzas, nachos, and a plethora of pub food to accompany its house brews and other local craft beers.
Skull Camp, a taproom and smokehouse, is on the town’s outskirts. In addition to microbrews, this brewery teams up with a vineyard from nearby Round Peak to offer wines on tap and in cans. The restaurant menu is all about barbecue and other Southern comfort food favorites.
READ MORE: The Best Downtown Asheville Restaurants
Listening to Music at the Reeves
The most prominent attraction in Downtown Elkin is The Reeves Theater & Café. Its retro exterior façade is an eye-catching blast from the past.
The Reeves is a renovated 700-seat movie theater that originally opened in 1941. It reopened in the last decade as a music venue/café, with a great selection of local and craft beers on tap.
The restaurant serves a simple set of culinary choices sourced from an assortment of local farms and vendors.
In addition to offering up quality beer and live music, the venue is also home to the Reeves Downtown School of Music, a nonprofit educational program designed to keep the local scene and music flavor intact.
READ MORE: 30 Fascinating Blue Ridge Mountains Facts
Walking in Elkin Municipal Park
Elkin Municipal Park is just a short stroll from downtown, or the Elkin Rec Center is a couple of minutes away by car.
This park has plenty to offer: a public swimming pool, tennis courts, playground, sports fields, picnic shelters, etc.
However, for me, the most notable feature is the Elkin & Alleghany Rail Trail. It follows Elkin Creek from the park to the Town of Elkin Reservoir. It’s open to joggers, hikers, and cyclists.
This hike might not compare to the ruggedness of nearby Stone Mountain State Park. But it’s definitely worth a walk, and warrants Elkin Parks and Recreation’s inclusion on the list.
Shopping for Antiques
Small towns in North Carolina (and Blue Ridge Parkway towns in particular) wouldn’t be complete without at least one respectable antique outlet in town.
There are several located right in downtown Elkin, all within walking distance of each other. The Elkin Antiques and Collectibles Mall, which is just a short stroll from the main intersection, is the best place to start.
Outside of town, antiques abound. Elkin’s neighboring town (a sort of conjoined twin arrangement) of Jonesville has the Antique Mall of the Foothills. Heading west on US Route 21, Twice New Furniture & Home Accents is choc-a-bloc with treasures to discover.
Of special note, every summer there’s a 3-day road market that stretches for about 100 miles along Route 21, all the way into Virginia!
Supporting Foothills Art Center
Founded in 1975, Elkin’s Foothills Art Center was created to foster, support, and expose the work of artists, artisans, musicians, writers, and performers from the Yadkin Valley area.
In 2019, the FAC reached an agreement to develop some 45,000 square feet of the historic Chatham Mill and create a school of craft and visual performing arts center.
The FAC hosts lots of workshops for teaching locals and visitors about different crafts, from basket-weaving to photography.
Exploring Downtown Elkin
Though this list has already introduced some of the top places to visit in Downtown Elkin, it’d be a mistake not to recognize the area as something special in and of itself. Downtown Elkin, albeit small, is a pleasure to walk around.
Architecturally, the historic Town of Elkin NC– basically Main Street, with a couple of spurs– has kept the visual feel of an early- to mid-1900s main drag. The Reeves façade delights, as does the post office building from 1937.
The Downtown Elkin Historic District has been designated as a national historic district, and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is also an accredited member of the North Carolina Main Street Program, celebrating memorable main streets in North Carolina towns.
In other words, Elkin is verifiably amongst the most beautiful towns in North Carolina, and mountain towns are what Western North Carolina does best!
Touring Vineyards in the Yadkin Valley
A funny thing happened in this area: As the tobacco industry took a nosedive, industrious growers discovered that the old tobacco fields made dandy vineyards.
Now, Surry County has become a hot spot for wines along the East Coast. The Elkin Vine Line is a service that can take vinophiles to tastings at over 20 Yadkin Valley wineries.
Five color-coded shuttle vans scoot off in different directions, and all of them are available with the purchase of a day pass. For the vineyards nearest Elkin, visitors can take the “red” line.
For those looking to be more independent (hopefully with a designated driver), here’s a list of vineyards and wineries less than 10 miles from Elkin:
- Slightly Askew Winery
- Elkin Creek Vineyard
- Adagio Vineyards
- Grassy Creek Vineyard and Winery
- Carolina Heritage Vineyard and Winery
- Midnight Magdalena Vineyard
Kayaking/Tubing on the Yadkin River
Summers in the NC Piedmont can get pretty toasty. So the motivation for taking a dip grows incrementally the more time you spend here. Luckily, there are options right outside of Elkin.
The Yadkin River originates near the Thunder Hill Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 290.4). It travels 200-plus miles until it becomes the Pee Dee River at its confluence with the Uwharrie River.
Tours can last anywhere from two to six hours, with the longest launching from Roaring River for an 11-mile river run.
Finding Carter Falls
Carter Falls was off-limits until not so long ago because it was located on private land. But the Elkin Valley Trails Association recently worked with the state of North Carolina to buy the acreage around it.
Now, Carter Falls is a highlight along Segment 6 of the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, stretching from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. And the route runs right through Elkin.
To visit Carter Falls without hiking hundreds of miles, there’s an access point less than five miles from Elkin. The trail is short (about 3/4-mile roundtrip), but it’s well worth the effort.
Hiking at Stone Mountain State Park
Encompassing over 14,000 acres, Stone Mountain State Park straddles the border between Wilkes and Allegheny Counties and offers the best hiking around Elkin.
The Mountain-to-Sea Trail runs right through the park. But the most renowned trail within its borders is the Stone Mountain Loop.
This is a 4.5-mile trail that takes hikers to the summit of Stone Mountain, past the historical Hutchinson Homestead, and beside the 200-foot Stone Mountain Falls.
Stone Mountain, a 600-foot granite dome, makes an interesting centerpiece. There are fantastic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from atop it, a jaw-dropping photo op from the base near the homestead, and a noteworthy vista of Stone Mountain from Cedar Rock Trail.
There are a bevy of swimming holes on offer within the park, as well as fantastic trout fishing and rock climbing. Widow’s Creek Falls is the next most remarkable waterfall (amongst many other stunning cascades in the park).
Over 90 campsites are also available, and there’s also a huge picnicking area.—Jonathon Engels, photos by Emma Gallagher