Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on October 13, 2023.
Hickory, North Carolina, sits at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and along the Catawba River. Asheville and Lake Norman are within a short drive, but the best places to visit and things to do in Hickory will keep you occupied.
Read More: Day Trips in North Carolina
We created this guide to share the best things to do in Hickory for everyone, including first-time visitors, families, foodies, and more!
These sections will keep your Hickory trip organized:
- Where is Hickory?
- Annual Events
- Year-Round Things to Do in Hickory (Museums)
- Outdoor Things to Do in Hickory
- Things to Do in Hickory’s Surroundings
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Hickory area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Read More: Our North Carolina Travel Map
Where is Hickory, North Carolina?
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If you’re heading west on I-40, Hickory is the last city you’ll pass through before the mountains of Western North Carolina come into view. And if you’re heading east, Hickory is the last city before Statesville and the I-77 junction.
Another great thing about the city is that it’s about an hour’s drive east from Asheville, an hour’s drive north from Charlotte, and an hour’s drive west from Winston-Salem. Hickory is also an hour south of Boone in the High Country, which means it’s close to some of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway stops.
The city is a perfect day trip option from so many places in North Carolina. However, our guide will show you why that’s not enough time and why a night (or more) is required.
Read More: Day Trips from Greensboro
History of Hickory
Hickory’s history is linked with the rest of Catawba County, so some places mentioned may not reside in Hickory. The county was formed in 1842 from Lincoln County, named for the Catawba Indians who once lived here.
Hickory was initially founded as “Hickory Tavern,” a community named after a local inn built by Henry Robinson in the 1850s.
Hickory Tavern drew its first town charter in 1863 and officially became the Town of Hickory Tavern in 1870. It officially became the Town of Hickory in 1873 and, by 1889, the City of Hickory.
Lenoir-Rhyne University was founded in 1891 as Highland Academy.
In the 20th century, the area grew thanks to the furniture industry in large part. Hickory Manufacturing Company was built in 1902 and still operates as Hickory White Co.
The completion of the Oxford Dam in 1927 created Lake Hickory as a result. The reservoir provides water for the city and offers boating, fishing, and more of the best things to do in Hickory.
After World War II, “The Miracle of Hickory” showed the world what this North Carolina city could do in times of crisis. In response to the first polio cases in the area, local citizens and doctors built, equipped, and staffed a full-scale hospital in 54 hours.
Read More: Interesting Facts about North Carolina
What is Hickory Known For Today?
The furniture industry is still a significant part of Hickory’s identity, but industries (including fiber optic cable) have moved in and provided jobs.
Hickory also operates data centers for Apple and Google. In addition, the city is an ideal destination for large gatherings and events, with the Hickory Metro Convention Center conveniently sitting near I-40 at Exit 125.
The recently revitalized downtown is the perfect base for visitors but also locals, new and old. Historic landmarks remain as reminders of the Hickory Metro area’s vibrant past. They include the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge and the Hickory Motor Speedway.
Beyond the things to do in Hickory that we’ll share, the city is also a fantastic base for exploring nearby mountains and lakes!
Read More: The Best Day Trips from Boone
Annual Hickory NC Events
Hickory has several annual events that draw crowds from all over the state.
- February to November: The Hickory Motor Speedway is open nearly year-round and keeps pretty busy schedule, with club races and touring series events.
- March: The Catawba Valley Pottery and Antiques Festival is held every March at the Hickory Metro Convention Center. More than 100 potters and vendors showcase their work.
- April: Are you a beer lover? The annual Hickory Hops Festival brings live music, craft beer, and loads of fun every year.
- April to September: Watch the High-A Hickory Crawdads play at L.P. Frans Stadium. Come out to the park, catch a foul ball, and watch the ‘Dads battle teams from North Carolina and beyond.
- September: Film comes to Hickory at the annual Footcandle Film Festival. September is also when history comes alive at Hart Square. The annual festival provides a unique opportunity for the community to interact with the largest collection of historic log structures with volunteers in period dress.
- October: Is it even Fall without an Oktoberfest? Organized by the Hickory Downtown Development Association, the event is a three-day outdoor festival celebrating the regional German heritage with entertainment, food vendors, and live music.
Year-Round Things to Do in Hickory (Museums)
While you should keep those annual events on your calendar, here is what to do in Hickory, NC throughout the year.
Read More: Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
Hickory Museum of Art
Hickory is a great place to experience arts and culture in North Carolina. With several museums highlighting local culture, you won’t run out of things to do in Hickory!
Not far from downtown, the FREE admission Hickory Museum of Art showcases American works from the 19th and 21st centuries. With over 2000 pieces, you’ll find an impressive variety of mediums.
It’s the second oldest museum in North Carolina, but new and family-friendly exhibits keep coming through to keep attention on this beautiful place.
Catawba Science Center
Located in a former high school (and the same building at the Hickory Museum of Art), the Catawba Science Center is an excellent way to enjoy Hickory with kids.
It is affordable (with admission being $10 for adults and $8 for children),
Hot tip: Always ask about reciprocity with your local museum! Our tickets were free because we are members of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.
Explore science with interactive exhibits. The Catawba Science Center fun never ends, thanks to its abundance of hands-on activities.
Exit the main building, and you’ll find yourself at the aquarium and planetarium! There are more than 35,000 square feet to explore, so plan to have a fantastic time!
Read More: Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina
Hickory Aviation Museum
Head out to Hickory Regional Airport and enjoy a look at aviation history in Hickory! The Hickory Aviation Museum (closed Mondays) holds artifacts and exhibits from World War II up to the present day and provides excellent background info on aerospace.
Free to visit, this is considered one of the most fun things to do in Hickory, NC!
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Hickory History Center
Take a tour inside the Hickory History Center, a stunning historic Victorian home often dubbed the “Harper House.” The local history museum preserves the history of the Harper Family that once lived inside these walls.
Guided tours of the Harper House are $10 per adult, $8 for kids aged 6 to 17, and free for children aged five and under.
More Things to Do in Hickory (Downtown and Nearby)
The city’s museums are outstanding, but you’ll find even more things to do in Hickory North Carolina by exploring downtown.
If you are searching for all of the action, then Union Square is the pulse of downtown Hickory. With several restaurants, locally-owned boutiques, and more, Union Square is where travelers and locals meet.
Another great thing about Union Square is meeting “Under the Sails.” In addition, the bi-weekly Downtown Hickory Farmer’s Market, live music, and community events occur throughout the year, and there is typically plenty of outdoor seating and space available.
Shop Local in Hickory
Some of our favorite places to go shopping in Hickory include Aqua B, which has an excellent collection of women’s clothing.
Hunt Murals in Hickory
You can’t miss some of the fabulous murals that dot the historic buildings of Hickory. The “Welcome to Hickory” and the “Historic Beginnings” murals are two of our downtown favorites.
Artist Roger Cooke added the “Historic Beginnings” mural to look at Hickory’s early industries and pioneer life.
Lowes Food City Park
Lowes Foods City Park is on the western corner of Union Square, and its playground is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Hickory.
During the summer months, you can cool off at the splash pad and rejoice in family-sized bathroom facilities!
Another Union Square attraction is the 1.7 mile City Walk. The 10-foot wide walking and biking path connects neighborhoods with downtown Hickory making it easily accessible and community-friendly.
Outdoor Things to Do in Hickory
While the area is growing in population, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Hickory’s outdoor surroundings! Enjoy hiking, the lake, and so much more.
Just north of downtown is Lake Hickory, a mid-sized lake with 105 miles of shoreline. There are 16 boat launches and six marinas, making it an excellent location for water sports and fishing.
If you didn’t bring a boat, then check out Lake Hickory Adventures for a dinner cruise!
One of the best places to access Lake Hickory is Geitner Park. There is an excellent system of paved paths here and also mountain bike trails.
One of the best things to do in Hickory is to visit Hart Square, the world’s most extensive collection of historic log structures. The 200-acre property is also a nature preserve, with 100-plus 19th-century log structures on site.
Of those 103 structures, there are 30 homes, two churches, and multiple trade shops. The square is named after Dr. Bob Hart, who rescued every building in Hart Square from Central and Western North Carolina.
Hickory Motor Speedway
We mentioned the historic Hickory Motor Speedway in our annual events section, but this unique place deserves a spot here, too.
The speedway was built in 1951 and can be referred to as one part a museum of NASCAR history. That’s because it houses both “the World’s Most Famous Short Track” and “The Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars.”
The Whelen All-American Series (NASCAR’s club racing division) and the CARS Tour (Late Model and Super Late Model) races are held throughout the year.
Read More: The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte
Bakers Mountain Park
While Hickory is a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, fun hikes and stunning views await at Bakers Mountain Park.
Bakers Mountain is Catawba County’s highest point of elevation at 1780 feet. The 189-acre park is a woodland paradise and hosts six miles of scenic hiking trails.
Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
When you combine wine, beer, and a farm, you get Catawba Farms! About 11 miles from downtown Hickory in Newton, Catawba Farms is a vineyard, winery, brewery, and inn.
Whether you’re here for the day or staying overnight, get ready for a memorable experience. If you brought kids, this place has family-friendly fun in mind, too.
Did we mention that there is a year-round ice skating rink too!?
Read more: Kid-friendly Wineries in North Carolina
Bunker Hill Covered Bridge
Last but not least among our favorite things to do in Hickory is the Bunker Hill Covered Bridge. It is one of two remaining covered bridges in North Carolina, with Mount Pisgah in Randolph County the other.
Additional historic significance includes ties to both the Civil War and the American Revolution.
Today, you can visit, walk around the bridge, and even walk the 0.5-mile Bunker Hill Covered Bridge Trail. That path is part of the larger Carolina Thread Trail that connects 15 North Carolina and South Carolina counties.
Read More: Things to Do in Shelby and Cleveland County
Where to Eat in Hickory
We think eating is one of the best things to do in Hickory, NC for adults and children and are always open to suggestions. So what are your favorite places to eat in the Hickory Metro area?
Read More: Amazing Restaurants in Hickory
Ready for these Fun Things to Do in Hickory?
We have a lot to say (and write) about Hickory and will always be happy to share more with you. You can reach us here by email or by visiting our Facebook Group, where thousands of people (including us) are usually around to answer questions.
We’d love to know about your favorite things to do in Hickory if you’re familiar with this area. But, before you chime in, here are some fun spots nearby.
Things to Do in Hickory’s Surroundings
It’s hard to share things to do in Hickory without discussing a few Burke County highlights.
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Henry River Mill Village
Located just over the Burke County line in Hildebran, the Henry River Mill Village is a 10-minute drive from Hickory and a must-see!
The former textile mill is one of few that remain and shows what life was like during the Industrial Age in North Carolina.
Bought by a local family, they preserved the mill and even turned some mill houses into boutique accommodations. You might recognize the mill from scenes of District 12 in the first Hunger Games movie!
Keep driving down I-40 after the Henry River Mill Village and you’ll reach Morganton, about 30 minutes west of Hickory. From this great town, you can see Table Rock Mountain, which is also one of the most incredible hikes in North Carolina.
Speaking of Table Rock, it stands next to Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Speaking of Linville, add a hike to Linville Falls and walk to nearby Wiseman’s View to your bucket list.
Before you hit that trail and others in the Linville Gorge, a number of great restaurants and breweries (including Fonta Flora) await in Morganton.
Before you leave Burke County Include stops in Valdese and Connelly Springs. This county is chock full of fun.
Read more: The Best North Carolina Mountain Towns
South Mountains State Park
About 40 minutes away from Hickory is South Mountains State Park in Burke County. This is a rugged park and home to 40 miles of hiking trails.
One of our favorite trails at South Mountains State Park is High Shoals Falls, an epic 80-foot waterfall. We think this hike and the whole park would make an excellent day trip from Hickory.