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30+ Awesome Things to Do in Morganton and Around Burke County (Hikes, Food, and More!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 26, 2024.

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Burke County is North Carolina‘s largest mountain county and full of so much natural beauty, awesome hikes inside state parks and the Linville Gorge, and more ways to enjoy the outdoors. We first came here to explore the Gorge, but over time, we have been introduced to many things to do in Morganton, the county seat, and its surroundings.

The mix of fun within the mountain town‘s limits and beyond them is a massive part of why we love this area and keep returning for more. As you’ll see while reading this guide, there’s no way to do all this in one weekend.

That’s just why you should plan multiple trips to Burke County. And while you prepare, we think this guide will make an excellent sidekick.

If you need to find something specific in this post, we’ve organized it into the following sections:

  • Burke County Location Info
  • Seasonal Events in Burke County
  • Things to Do in Morganton Every Weekend
  • Restaurants
  • Breweries
  • Wineries
  • Nearby Burke County Towns
  • More Things to Do Around Morganton (Blue Ridge Parkway, South Mountains State Park, Linville Gorge, and More!)

If you live in the area and wonder, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this guide will help you!

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Morganton area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you!

Read more: 100+ Wonderful Places to Visit in Western North Carolina

Where is Burke County?

map of Burke county
David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Burke County is in a nice spot in Western North Carolina. It sits about an hour from many places and is included in our guides covering day trips from Asheville and Charlotte. The closest city to Morganton and Burke County is Hickory, and some of the latter even sit within the county lines.

It’s also within an hour’s drive north of Cleveland County and south of High Country spots like Blowing Rock and Boone. We even included it in our guide covering day trips from Boone.

If you’re more of a visual planner or quickly need to find one of the places we’ve mentioned, our map includes everything to do in Morganton and Burke County.

Now that you see how easy it is to reach let’s look at what there is to do in the area.

Read More: Day trips from Greensboro

Where to Stay in Morganton

the queen room at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Morganton.

Before you start exploring, find a place to stay first.

There are several hotels in Morganton and around it, including a Hampton Inn. We enjoyed a cozy couple of nights downtown at Fairfield Inn & Suites, across from Fonta Flora Brewery.

It’s a newer property, and the suites remind me of higher-end Marriott properties in much larger cities. The free breakfast and Wi-Fi are two reasons we loved this hotel. They also have a pool for cooling off after hot days in the area and some pretty comfy rooms.

If you’re considering an Airbnb, check out this one near Morganton. We think it’s one of the coolest in North Carolina.

Annual Events in Burke County

These annual events are all worthy of a spot on your calendar. You never know when you’ll think, “What are the best things to do in Morganton this weekend?”

Nearly Year-round

  • Bimonthly Third Thursday Art Crawls: If you want to come for a longer weekend, Morganton hosts an Art Crawl on the third Thursday of every other month. These downtown crawls are themed according to the season. For example, July is beach-themed, with sand brought in, and locals will paint fish to display.
  • FAB Crawls: For most holidays, Morganton hosts a FAB Crawl (Food, Art, and Beverage), inviting locals and visitors to come downtown and enjoy the day in style. Local breweries stay open later, and we run the trolley as a shuttle. Holiday FAB Crawls include the 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas, and St Patrick’s Day.
  • Farmers Markets: From May through the end of October, you can buy local at the Saturday Morganton Farmers Market at 300 Beach St.

Read More: 30+ Great Things to Do in Boone (Hikes, Eats, and More in App Town)

Spring and Summer

a large mural painting in North Carolina
  • Blueberry Picking in North Carolina is a big deal during summer, typically from June through August. Perry’s Berry’s is one of the best. They also offer semi-sweet and dry blueberry wine, so come back for a flight or a wine slushie for those hot summer days.
  • Thank God It’s Friday (TGIF) Concerts take over the Courthouse Square in Morganton every Friday night from May through July. Music, food, and more fun combine to make this a community staple for two-plus decades.
  • The annual Waldensian Festival (August) is a mirror celebration of the “Glorious Return.” To people in Valdese and other Waldensian communities worldwide, this commemorates the Waldensians’ arrival in their native Cottian Alps of Italy.

Fall and Winter

  • The annual Historic Morganton Festival in September is the area’s other signature event. Here, you’ll find awesome food, rides, arts and crafts, and music are just a part of why you should attend. In previous years, organizers have held a Sunrise Run on the Catawba River Greenway, a Student Fitness Challenge, and the Morganton Monster Crossfit Competition. 
  • Another exciting September event in Morganton is the Commemorative Crossing of the Catawba River. It’s a Revolutionary Reenactment of the Overmountain Men crossing the Catawba River and typically occurs at Judge’s Riverside Restaurant. A festival occurred afterward at the McDowell House, which hosted the men for a night in 1780.
  • At Paddy’s Creek inside Lake James State Park, the Dragon Boat Festival (October) raises money for breast cancer patients and mammograms. Local women organize teams to race dragon boats.
  • For Christmas, Morganton’s FAB Crawl also happens to take place along with the city’s Annual Tree Lighting Christmas Celebration. This event accompanies a craft festival and the annual Christmas parade.

We look forward to adding more seasonal events as they appear on our radar. You can help by contacting us.

Read More: Christmas in North Carolina (the Best Holiday Events)

Things to Do in Morganton ALL Year

Of course, there are many fun things to do in Morganton and Burke County every year and weekend. Weather and other unpreventable events may occur, so we do recommend contacting local businesses (we’ll provide links) before you visit.

Explore Downtown Morganton NC

If you drive into downtown Morganton from I-40 (exit 105), the North Carolina School for the Deaf‘s beautiful campus is a nice setup of what’s to come.

Driving through the hilly downtown is fun for the ups and downs and views of Table Rock and surrounding mountains. Of course, there’s plenty to do downtown beyond staring at the mountains and cool buildings.

Shopping

Perusing Morganton General Store is always a fun thing to do!

You’ll find many shops to peruse, including art galleries, boutique shops, and more. Many are closed on Sundays, but most stay open throughout the rest of the weekend.

Morganton Murals

Searching for murals should be on everyone's list of things to do in Morganton.

We also loved the murals downtown, which are sometimes obvious and otherwise hidden in alleyways. You can make it a fun game to find as many as possible.

Get Outside in Morganton

Before venturing out to towns nearby and the awesome public spaces in Burke County, here are some fun ways to get outside. They’re also among our favorite free things to do in Morganton.

Greenways

Before getting out of town, explore the fun outdoor things to do in Morganton, like the Catawba River Greenway.

There are some pretty rugged spots to enjoy in Burke County, but Morganton’s Greenway System is there for folks seeking flatter paths. This includes the 3.8-mile Catawba River Greenway, with five access points.

A shorter 0.6-mile Freedom Trail Greenway is accessible via Freedom Park off Independence Blvd and feeds into the Catawba River Greenway.

Read More: 50+ Great Things to Do With Kids in Asheville (and Nearby!)

Eat at These Restaurants in Morganton

Burke County is full of delicious options, and we’ll get those we love in the surrounding towns shortly. Here are a few of our favorite restaurants in Morganton proper.

Blue 42’s Burger Bar

an onion BBQ burger with chips and a pickle in Morganton

One of my favorite things about Blue 42’s is the menu, as it’s mostly sports-themed. You’ll even notice that they source names and nicknames from colleges in North Carolina. The Yolksef and Carolina Blue burgers are a couple of fun examples.

I personally appreciate clever marketing, but also love the really tasty (and affordable) food coming out of this place. It’s cozy inside, so grab a beer (or non-alcoholic drink), kick back, and enjoy while waiting for your meal.

Root and Vine

One of our favorite things to do is eat and Morganton has plenty of tasty options like this dish from Root and Vine

With a massive interior and huge outdoor seating area, Root and Vine is perfect for folks seeking some space to enjoy a nice meal. It’s also a lovely spot for date night or an elevated pizza and to grab lunch in the middle of your day in Morganton.

Swede’s Cafe

If browsing Morganton General Store, you might notice some delicious smells coming from upstairs. That’s because Swede’s Cafe is up there, serving a tasty breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on the time.

Morganton Breweries and Taprooms

There are three breweries in Morganton, with one big name and a couple more that certainly deserve your patronage.

Hillman Beer

a pint of beer next to some chicken wings and greens

Catawba was one of the original breweries in North Carolina that we highlighted. Their Asheville taproom is nice, but the owners are from Burke County.

Also, this was their production facility, where Catawba Brewing’s nine flagship beers were produced and shipped throughout the state.

Sadly, they have moved out of Morganton to a Bayou state that will not be named. Okay, it’s Louisiana.

On the plus side, Hillman Beer from Old Fort and Asheville will be moving into the now-vacated space. Hillman handcrafts a variety of IPAs, stouts, wines/ciders from local partners, and more favorites.

You can also grab a beer to go on your way out.

Food options include small bites, some of the most delicious wings you’ll eat, salads, sandwiches, burgers, and even seasonal desserts.

Read More: 80+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (The Asheville Bucket List)

Fonta Flora Brewery

Scoping out cool buildings ranks among our favorite things to do in Morganton and Fonta Flora Brewing is definitely one.

Fonta Flora Brewery sits inside a refurbished flatiron building on the northern end of Green St in downtown. Step inside, and you’ll see there’s more to it than a pretty exterior.

Their beers pay homage to the area, with Lake James Life (lager), Nebo Pilsner, and Double Hop Beard (double IPA) headlining a list of tasty varieties.

a glass of beet from Fonta Flora

We also highly recommend you drive out to Fonta Flora’s Whippoorwill Farm location for one of the best brewery views in North Carolina!

Read More: 25 Wonderful Wineries Near Asheville (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)

Sidetracked Brewery

a pint of beer from Sidetracked Brewery

Sidetracked is the last of Morganton’s three breweries that we’ll mention, but if you approach the town from I-40, you’ll likely pass it first. Located next to the 1916 Morganton Railroad Depot and Museum, their beers are named with trains in mind.

Sidetrack’s Bessemer Process (Pale Ale) and Thomas the Dank Engine (Hazy IPA) are two very nice examples.

Read More: The NC Museum of History in Raleigh (+7 Things We Love About It!)

Brown Mountain Bottleworks

a vast selection of beer from Brown Mountain Bottleworks

I want to first give props to Brown Mountain Bottleworks for making a nice cold brew coffee. However, their claim to fame is a nice selection of regional (and beyond) beers on tap.

They also offer an extensive wine list, including reds, whites, sparkling, and roses. Also, you can order various munchies (hummus, jerky, etc.) because indulging without a snack or two is impossible.

Read More: 25 Wonderful Wineries Near Asheville (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)

Morganton Wineries

One of our absolute favorite of these Morganton NC things to do is to visit the area’s wineries.

Silver Fork Winery

The view from Silver Fork Winery is amazing. The wine also helps land this on our list of top things to do in Morganton.

Technically still in Morganton, Silver Fork Winery (5000 Patton Rd) is about 20 minutes away from downtown. Once you arrive, you’ll realize that every minute is worth the view that awaits.

You can tour the vineyard and winery, enjoy a tasting, and buy a glass (or bottle) to join your seat or picnic outside. It’s possibly one of the most gorgeously set wineries in North Carolina, and we will definitely be back for more.

Read More: 20 Awesome Wineries near Charlotte (Vineyards Within 2 Hours)

More Burke County Wine

You can also sip wine in Morganton and Burke County at these places:

Things to Do Around Morganton NC (Nearby Towns)

These small towns outside Morganton are just a few that form the heart of Burke County. Honorable mentions include Rutherford College, Rhodhiss, and Glen Alpine, which we’ll hopefully get to explore more soon!

Connelly Springs

Connelly Springs is new if you consider their re-incorporation in 1989. However, the town was long-known for its mineral springs used for healing various diseases.

South Mountain Distilling Company

Today, this town’s water is used by South Mountain Distilling Company, one of our favorite spirit-makers. I recommend a visit for a tour and a tasting so you can see the legacy of David Friedenberg (aka The Doctor of Moonshine) at work.

JD’s Smokehouse

a platter of pulled port, fries, and baked beans from JD's smokehouse

JD’s Smokehouse is just down the road, and while it doesn’t fall under traditional Eastern- or Western-style, this place puts out some of the tastiest barbecues we’ve enjoyed in North Carolina. Choose any of their wood-smoked meats, and you’ll come away wishing this place was closer to home.

Either bring three friends or family members so you can get a sampling of them all. Personally, I’d go with brisket if my life depended on choosing.

McGalliard Falls

the exterior or Myra's ice cream shop in Morganton

Valdese is an interesting town mentioned in the seasonal events section. The downtown is packed with shops and restaurants galore, including Myra’s and Twin Brother’s Pizza.

But being Burke County, there is outdoor fun to explore, too!

McGalliard Falls

There are five parks overseen by the Valdese Recreation Department. If you had a chance to visit one, we think McGalliard Falls should be it. That’s because of the 40-foot namesake waterfall that awaits after a short walk from the parking lot.

The falls join a recreated grist mill to make excellent scenery after your walk and especially during a picnic.

Henry River Mill Village (Hildebran)

an old building at Henry River Mill Village

Near the town of Hildebran and technically in Hickory, the Henry River Mill Village is an interesting place to visit for history and for a look at a film location for the first Hunger Games.

Admission is $15, and a tour is included, which will teach you about the village’s history and North Carolina’s long relationship with textiles. And based on my experience, it’s totally okay to whisper, “May the odds be ever in your favor” more than a few times as you walk around.

Note: the full tour is only happening for a few more months before some major changes happen to the property, so you’d better get there ASAP to tour the Everdeen home as it was during filming.

Read More: Amazing Restaurants in Hickory

More Outdoor Things to Do Around Morganton

It’s really unfair (did I say that out loud?) how many public spaces exist for us to explore in Burke County. They’re either National Parks Service units maintained by the US Forest Service or the State of North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway

the highway at Linn Cove Viaduct

The Blue Ridge Parkway only runs through the northern edges of Burke County. However, you can hop on it and head to some of the iconic road’s nicest views.

For example, you can head south to Chestoa View Overlook (MP 320) and the Crabtree Falls trailhead (MP 339).

Or you can head north toward Grandfather Mountain Overlook (MP 306), Beacon Heights (305), and the epic Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304). A junction with US-221 will take you to Blowing Rock or Linville, with the Grandfather Mountain attraction in between!

Read More: North Carolina Road Trips

South Mountains State Park

the 80-foot High Shoals Falls from the base

South Mountains State Park hosts some wonderful scenery that earns it some street cred among the popular parks in Western North Carolina. There are trails perfect for hiking, horses, and mountain bikes.

There’s also the 80-foot High Shoals Falls, reachable after a mile hike that starts steady but goes nearly straight up near the end. You’ll also enjoy the streams to stroll by and abundant picnic spots inside this park.

Lake James State Park

two kayaks on the water in Lake James State Park

Lake James State Park is popular for boating and fishing, with much of its 150 miles of shoreline unoccupied by rentals.

You can also hike or mountain bike around Lake James, as we did while on the Fonta Flora Trail from the Linville Boat Access. There’s a nice covered bridge about a half-mile from there, and you can continue on for about 5 miles to another trailhead that’s also off NC-126.

Three camping areas also sit inside the state park for folks who want to come and have a longer, more enjoyable visit.

Read More: 25+ Great Lakes in North Carolina (+ Our Top 5 Picks)

Fonta Flora State Trail

The Fonta Flora State Trail will eventually connect Morganton and Asheville if you’re seeking something longer and more diverse terrain. You can currently hike or bike about 15 miles of the planned 100 miles of this trail.

Finished parts of the trail sit outside downtown Morganton and around parts of Lake James, which we’ll mention below.

Linville Gorge Wilderness Area

Commonly referred to as “the Gorge,” Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is managed by the US Forest Service as part of Pisgah National Forest. Its difficult-to-navigate terrain and protection from industrial logging have helped the area’s old-growth forests remain intact.

Here are a few areas inside the Gorge that we know you’ll want to visit. Each takes between 45 minutes and one hour to reach from Morganton.

Read More: The North Carolina Bucket List

Hawksbill Mountain

the view from the top of Hawksbill Mountain

The Hawksbill Mountain trail is the first of two we’ll mention on State Rd 1265, also known as Table Rock Rd. After 3.5 miles of driving on that road, you’ll be treated to a short 1.5-mile hike to and from your car.

In between that, you’ll climb about 700 feet in elevation. However, at the top, you might forget about all that with the views of Linville Gorge that await.

Read More: 25 of the Most Amazing Winter Hikes in North Carolina

Linville Falls

a bird's eye view of a the popular Linville Falls

Of all the spots we mention in the Gorge, Linville Falls is the easiest to reach by car. You can make things more difficult if you decide to hike down via the 1.4-mile Plunge Basin Trail. If the water is too high, you might not be able to access parts of this trail.

On the easier side, you can enjoy views of the falls via the Erwin’s View Trail (1.6 miles round trip). If you’ve admired the falls from Erwin’s View and Chimney View, I’d love to know which is your favorite.

Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes

Table Rock Mountain

Viewing Table Rock Mountain and More from Hawksbill Mountain.

You can group Table Rock together with Hawksbill since they’re on the same road. It’s another five miles to reach Table Rock Mountain, and the road has several bumps along the way.

The hike is sometimes steep and 2.2 miles round-trip. You’ll be treated to views of the Gorge from the top. Table Rock is also popular for rock climbing.

Note: Some sections of this road close from January to March.

Read More: Colorful Fall Hikes in North Carolina (+ 20 Beautiful Places to Explore!)

Wiseman’s View

the lookout at the top of Wiseman's view is a must-drive if you're in Morganton.

Wiseman’s View is the easiest Linville Gorge hike that we’ll mention. It’s really more of a short walk (0.2 miles), and the path is wheelchair-accessible. To reach the trailhead, you’ll drive up the curvy, sometimes treacherous Kistler Memorial Highway (SR 1238 or old NC-105).

The upper viewing area (accessible) and east-facing platform (steps) provide some of the most beautiful views you’ll find of North Carolina’s mountains.

Read More: The Best Hiking trails near Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk

Bonus Linville Gorge Meal: Famous Louise’s

You can group Linville Falls and Wiseman’s View together. Before and/or after driving to those two hikes, I recommend a meal at Famous Louise’s Rock House.

Its down-home cookin’ is great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is situated on three county lines (including Burke). There are signs inside indicating which one you’ll be seated in.

Read More: 4 National Forests in NC (Things to Do + Why We Love Them!)

Ready for these Fun Things to Do in Morganton and Burke County?

Consider this guide a challenge, but as we mentioned, don’t expect to pull it off in one weekend. Consider this list of things to do in Morganton and Burke County, a collection of memories you will create over many visits.

Have you ever visited this awesome part of North Carolina? If so, we’d love to know your favorite things to do. And for newcomers, we want to know what you’ll be doing first upon arrival.

Let us know in the comments or by email. Don’t forget to share your Morganton, NC, things to do in our Facebook Group!

More Things to Do Around Morganton and Burke County

We’ve created many more NC Travel Guides that cover the best things to do in Morganton and Burke County. Here are a few of them.

7 thoughts on “30+ Awesome Things to Do in Morganton and Around Burke County (Hikes, Food, and More!)”

  1. Hi Carl, Just found this site this morning and really like it. Good variety and personal style of writing. My wife and I are looking at relocating to NC. Looking at Burke County and Eastern NC (New Bern to E City area). We like hiking, outdoors and down towns. Any other areas/counties in NC you recommend? Thanks again for your writing and thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Don’t forget the local live music scene. For example: Hometown Favorite The Centerpiece Jazz combo performs an annual Christmas Jazz Show to sold out audiences. It is a huge hit and a very hard ticket to get!

    Reply
  3. Thank you very much; this information was very helpful. My wife and I are planning to move to the mountains of North Carolina. We are looking forward for the Newsletter.

    Reply
  4. Such a great article! You really did a great job!
    There’s only one update that I saw. I don’t think Lake James Cellars is in Glen Alpine anymore. I could be wrong but I’m almost positive.

    Reply
  5. Would love to see The History Museum of Burke County represented. A wonderful museum with over 23,000 artifacts, all related to the county. If your outdoor activity gets cancelled due to weather, this is a great place to visit.

    Reply
  6. HorsePower Park is a fun place in Morganton that really fits into “Nature’s Playground.” They have off road razor side by side rentals or bring your own to ride the trails with amazing mountain views including Table Rock Mountain. They also feature weekly gocart racing and several entertainment and motorsports events throughout the year.

    Reply

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