Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 25, 2024.
There’s something about Wilkes County that keeps us coming back for more and these things to do in North Wilkesboro are a perfect example. The small town is home to a piece of NASCAR history, one of NC’s best distilleries, and much more.
We cover all of that and more in this North Wilkesboro travel guide. Because there is so much ground to cover, we’ve organized this guide into the following sections:
- Where is North Wilkesboro?
- The History of North Wilkesboro
- Where to Stay Nearby
- Annual Events
- Year-Round Things to Do in North Wilkesboro NC
- More Things to Do
- Where to Eat
- Things to Do in North Wilkesboro’s Surroundings
- Wilkes County Attractions (Stone Mountain State Park, W. Scott Kerr Dam & Reservoir, and more!)
- More Wilkes Country Travel Guides
You can skip ahead to any of the aforementioned sections, visually plan via our North Carolina Travel Map and Western North Carolina Map, or keep reading about how to find North Wilkesboro and the town’s exciting history.
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Wilkesboro area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!
Where is North Wilkesboro?
- North Wilkesboro is located in Wilkes County, across the Yadkin River from Wilkesboro.
- The whole county is included within a few prominent regions in Western North Carolina, including:
- North Wilkesboro is an easy day trip away from many cities in North Carolina, including:
- Travelers from the east will typically reach North Wilkesboro via US-421, but you can also access the town via some beautiful scenic highways, including NC-268.
- Because of its location near prominent attractions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Wilkesboro is often referred to as the “Key to the Blue Ridge” or “Key City.”
- According to the 2020 census, North Wilkesboro’s population is about 4,100.
Read More: The NC Tripping North Carolina Travel Map
History of North Wilkesboro
- Before it became North Wilkesboro, the land that makes up the town today was occupied by Native Americans. Tutelo and Cherokee people were two of the area’s known inhabitants.
- Wilkes County was formed in 1777 from parts of Surry County. The county was named for British Parliamentarian turned-American Patriot John Wilkes. It’s a shame that he’s not the most famous man named John Wilkes.
- North Wilkesboro was founded in 1891, thanks to the Norfolk and Southern Railroad.
- The railroad line entered Wilkes County but ended across the Yadkin River from Wilkesboro, the county seat.
- Thus, the new town of North Wilkesboro developed as a longstanding rival to its neighbor across the river.
- Textiles and the Carolina Mirror Company were among the major business players in North Wilkesboro during its first century of existence.
- Of course, North Wilkesboro sits in the heart of Moonshine Country. Wilkes County’s “Moonshine Capital of the World” was earned by moonshiners who pioneered the steamer still. That technology used in the railroad industry produces a superior taste.
- If you know the story of moonshine, then you’ll know that it’s inextricably tied to stock car racing. The dirt track of the North Wilkesboro Speedway began holding races in 1947, before the formation of NASCAR.
- The first Lowe’s Home Improvement opened in North Wilkesboro in 1946, and Lowe’s Foods started here in 1954.
- The town of North Wilkesboro felt the effects of textile jobs leaving at the turn of the 20th century, but its historic buildings still hold opportunities and things to do for visitors.
- And while it temporarily shut down, the North Wilkesboro Speedway reopened in 2022 after a group of locals successfully worked to bring stock car racing home.
Visiting North Wilkesboro Today
It’s essential to understand the history of this mountain town before you know how to enjoy it today.
Where to Stay Nearby
North Wilkesboro is surrounded by some interesting places to stay in Wilkesboro to the south and elsewhere in Wilkes County. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- You have more options in Wilkesboro, starting with the Hampton Inn (1300 S Collegiate Dr) and the Holiday Inn Express (1700 Winkler St).
- Lowe’s Park at Rivers Edge near Call Family Distillers transforms into a campground for Merlefest if you’re in town for that awesome event.
- Moravian Falls Campground and W. Kerr Scott Dam are great camping options throughout the year!
- Finally, Leatherwood Mountains in Ferguson is an excellent resort with luxury accommodations, a restaurant, bar, horseback riding, and more awaiting!
Annual Events in North Wilkesboro
There are some fun things to do in North Wilkesboro throughout the year, but we think these events should earn a spot on your calendar:
- Concerts on the Deck (June through October): On the third Saturday of each month from June to October, Concerts on the Deck is a series of free music shows at the Yadkin Valley Marketplace.
- Wilkes Comic-Con (July): Each year, Wilkes Comic-Con brings visitors in from surrounding states and North Carolina for a full day of fun. Run by artists for artists and the local community, this is an excellent showcase of comic art, pop culture, and collectibles.
- Brushy Mountain Apple Festival (October): The massive Brushy Mountain Apple Festival hosts hundreds of arts and craft vendors, four music stages, and dozens of food vendors. This huge festival celebrates apple growers and Appalachian heritage.
- Light Up Downtown (November): Light Up Downtown kicks off the holidays on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The event includes a tree lighting ceremony and activation of downtown North Wilkesboro’s holiday season lights.
Year-Round Things to Do in North Wilkesboro NC (Top Attractions)
These are the most popular things to do in North Wilkesboro, starting with a huge piece of sports history.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
381 Speedway Ln
As we mentioned earlier, North Wilkesboro is where NASCAR was born. However, before NASCAR was formed, the first stock car runs happened on the dirt track of North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1947.
The garages and backroads between North Wilkesboro and Charlotte paved the way for both liquor and auto racing.
In 2022, the racing mecca opened and races returned to North Wilkesboro. Let us all rejoice!
Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do in North Carolina
Copper Barrel Distillery
508 Main St
Copper Barrel Distillery is North Wilkesboro’s wonderful addition to the Moonshine Capital of the World. Inside, you’ll find a beautiful setting to sip on some of North Carolina’s finest shine.
Moonshine Legend Buck Nance is responsible for Copper Barrel’s moonshine, which is smoother than others. Why?
Nance uses 3 times more rye than corn, whereas typical moonshine use 4 times more corn than rye. So when you responsibly sip on Copper Barrel’s wonderfully crafted moonshine in pure or slushy form, you’ll see why we rate them among the best distilleries in North Carolina!
Wilkes County Hardware
324 10th St
Wilkes County Hardware is a unique hardware store located in a charming historic building.
Wilkes County Hardware is committed to providing “a hardware store experience in an old-fashioned way.” So, whether or not you’re looking for the right tools or you simply enjoy old-school shops, Wilkes County Hardware is a great place to visit!
Wilkes Art Gallery
913 C St
The beloved Wilkes Art Gallery is a cultural center with a history as interesting as it is beautiful. This wonderful local space offers art exhibitions, summer camps, and classes for adults and children.
You can enjoy a clay jewelry-making class, a painting workshop, or an artistic activity designed for parents and children!
North Wilkesboro’s history is alive and beautifully preserved through its historic buildings. Many of these buildings host some great shopping, including:
- Annatique’s (820 Main St): Browse a curated selection of local art and antiques at Annatique’s.
- Cook’s Sports (1402 Willow Ln): A proud Wilkes County institution since 1946, Cook’s is an independent family-run shop offering sporting goods, apparel, and an in-house screen-print shop so you can customize any article of clothing you purchase!
- Key City Antiques (502 Main St): Antiquing is a delightful and popular hobby for many people but it’s especially fun in North Wilkesboro! Located in a charming renovated building circa 1930, Key City Antiques houses vendors of local crafts and vintage items.
- Fruit of the Vine (818 Main St): This is a fantastic boutique retail shop that carries size-inclusive clothing, jewelry, skincare, and more!
- Foothills Collectibles (105 6th St): If you collect sports memorabilia to pokemon cards, Foothills Collectibles is the place for you!
- Hero Clash Collectibles (324 10th St): Hero Clash Collectibles is here for the comic book lovers! Specializing in new release comics, vintage back issues, and figurines, this local comic shop is perfect for fans of DC, Marvel, and all in between!
More Things to Do in North Wilkesboro
Here are some more things to do in North Wilkesboro beyond those bigger names and all the shopping.
300 D St
Historic Benton Hall is where you’ll find Wilkes Playmakers. This community-led organization presents quality theatre productions and performance education throughout the year.
105 6th St
The Block is the perfect place for family fun in North Wilkesboro! This entertainment center is home to a trampoline park, Ninja Warrior Park, a roller skating rink, and a combination park and play area specially designed for toddlers.
And if you have older kids who are less enamored by the attractions mentioned above, The Block also provides a wide range of arcade games!
816 Main St
North Wilkesboro’s Liberty Theatre shows new releases at a discounted price, which is a great alternative to the overpriced theaters that dominate the scene today. This two-screen theater mixes in the perfect old-fashioned vibe with those cheap tickets for a perfect experience.
Restaurants in North Wilkesboro NC
While enjoying all the fun things to do in North Wilkesboro, you’re going to get hungry and we’re here to help your hunger. Here are some of our favorite restaurants in North Wilkesboro NC:
- Anchor Coffee (1320 W D St): Anchor Coffee Co. is a great local coffee shop that opens early and throughout most of the week.
- Talia’s Espresso (809 Main St): Talia’s North Wilkesboro location offers a little extra oomph with its coffee, serving breakfast and lunch.
- Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery (201 Wilkesboro Ave): It’s not often that you find the perfect blend of food and ice cream! With local favorites like Barbecue Crunchers, Country Ham Biscuits, and old-fashioned, hand-churned, customizable ice cream, Brushy Mountain provides a uniquely delicious dining experience.
- Dom Bakeries (908 D St) Dom Bakeries is family-owned and makes all of its pastries fresh daily. From delicious fluffy donuts to savory hand pies, there’s something for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
- 6th & Main (210 6th St): 6th & Main is the perfect spot for a great meal and even better cocktails.
- Stardust Cellars (4780 Statesville Road): Fantastic craft-made mead and cider! Check it out for live music and events.
- The Lost Wombat (810 Main St) This it the ultimate family-friendly restaurant in North Wilkesboro! Get great pub-inspired food and beer and enjoy the fenced-in outdoor area, including a play structure!
Ready for These Things to Do in North Wilkesboro?
Now you can see why we’re so pumped every time a visit to Wilkes County pops up on our calendars. Thanks to this diverse collection of fun, we think you’ll love your time here, too!
If you’re familiar with this wonderful town, we’d love to know about your favorite ways to enjoy it. Let us know here in the comments section or by email.
Just don’t forget to share your Wilkes County adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
Things to Do in North Wilkesboro’s Surroundings
So far, we’ve primarily focused on the town of North Wilkesboro, but there are plenty of things to do nearby.
5 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
North Wilkesboro is closely connected to its adjoining town of Wilkesboro. The historic downtown is a great place to explore, with great food, shopping, and more.
Here are a few places to visit in downtown Wilkesboro and beyond:
- Call Family Distillers (1611 Industrial Dr)
- Cub Creek Mountain Bike Trails (206 S Bridge St)
- Dooley’s Tavern and Grill (102 E Main St Suite 1)
- Merle Watson Garden of the Senses (On the Campus of Wilkes Community College)
- Merle’s Cocktail Lounge (106 E Main St)
- Two Boros Brewery (111 E Main St)
- The Vintage Corner (101 W Main St)
- Wilkes Heritage Museum ((100 E Main St)
If you visit during the summer, you might take in an outdoor movie in the town square during Wilkesboro’s “Movies on The Main” summer series. In the autumn, you can enjoy a concert as part of the town’s Carolina in the Fall music festival!
30 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
Much of Elkin lies in Surry County but some parts of the town cross over into Wilkes County, so we’ll include it in this guide.
Carter Falls is one place on the Wilkes County side and we highly recommend a hike there.
Don’t forget to head into downtown Elkin for a meal, a walk, and a show at the Reeves Theater. If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out Six28 House. You’ll be hard-pressed for a better breakfast and kinder people.
Of course, you’ll want to venture out to some of the best Yadkin Valley wineries near Wilkesboro and closer to Elkin in many cases.
More Wilkes County Attractions
Beyond the two ‘Boros, there is even more fun to uncover in Wilkes County.
W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir
15 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
If you enjoy exploring scenic hiking trails and local lakes, you’ll want to take a trip to the W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir! This beautiful, historic lake is a beautiful spot for walks, picnics, or a boat ride.
There are also 40 miles of mountain biking trails including the Warrior Creek Mountain Bike Trail. The 13-mile trail took a decade to build and is known as one of the best mountain bike trails throughout North Carolina.
Whippoorwill Academy and Village
20 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson is an educational collection of historic cabins and a treat to visit. These buildings have been preserved and restored with exhibits to teach us all about the area’s past.
They’re especially a hit with kids, as you’ll notice on days when school kids are visiting.
Inside this wonderful complex, there is a museum dedicated to Tom Dooley (including a lock of Laura Foster’s hair), a cabin that Daniel Boone used when hunting, an art gallery, and a one-room schoolhouse that educated North Carolina Poet Laureate Larkin Pearson.
We think you’ll enjoy walking the grounds any day they’re open. Of course, you’ve got to come out for Tom Dooley Day and the Daniel Boone Festival!
Read More: 20+ Awesome Museums in Charlotte and Nearby!
25 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest is another excellent outdoor option for hiking. This lesser-known spot (not to locals) offers a more rustic park, with great trails and beautiful mountain views.
Yadkin Valley Wineries
You might not know this area for wine but visits to Yadkin Valley Wineries rank high among the best things to do in North Wilkesboro’s surroundings. Here are a couple of our favorite NC wineries nearby.
- Piccione Vineyards (Ronda, 25 Minutes Away)
- Raffaldini Vineyards (Ronda, 25 Minutes Away)
- Adagio Vineyards (Elkin, 30 Minutes Away)
- Elkin Creek Vineyard and Winery (Elkin, 35 Minutes Away)
- Jones von Drehle Vineyards and Winery (Thurmond, 40 Minutes Away)
Blue Ridge Parkway Stops Nearby
Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway run through Wilkes County and here are a few stops in the area:
- Cascade Falls at E.B. Jeffress Park (Milepost 272, 34 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro): This is an awesome waterfall to reach via an easy kid-friendly hike. The 0.8-mile loop leads to an upper overlook of a 250-foot waterfall. If you are up for the challenge, you can continue down to the lower overlook for a different view, but this is not as kid-friendly.
- Doughton Park (MP 238-MP 241, 40 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro): Another set of Blue Ridge Parkway stops worth investigating is Doughton Park between Mileposts 238 and 241. Here, you’ll find incredible collections of azaleas and rhododendrons, the historic Brinegar Cabin, and one of the largest campgrounds on the parkway. There are more than 30 miles of trails to hike, picnic spots, and fishing to enjoy at Basin Cove.
- Stone Mountain Overlook (MP 232.5, 45 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro): A view of the Stone Mountain dome awaits.
Read More: The Best NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Stone Mountain State Park
40 Minutes Away from North Wilkesboro
Speaking of Stone Mountain State Park, hiking here is one of our absolute favorite things to do in North Wilkesboro’s surroundings!
Technically located in Roaring Gap and shared by both Wilkes and Alleghany counties, Stone Mountain State Park is partly known for that exposed granite dome, visible from the Stone Mountain Loop Trail. This is one of our favorite hikes throughout the year, especially during fall.
You can also catch a nice view of the dome from Wolf Rock, which is reachable via a spur off the Stone Mountain Loop Trail.
The park’s 5,700 acres are filled with more than 22 miles of trails, gorgeous waterfalls (including Stone Mountain Falls and Widow’s Creek Falls), remains of old stills, and great spots for trout fishing!
More Wilkes County Travel Guides
Beyond these fun attractions in North Wilkesboro and beyond, we’ve created more NC travel guides to help your adventures throughout this wonderful area.