13 Wonderful Things to Do in Old Fort (an Awesome Western NC Town!)

Last Updated on January 10, 2023

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Old Fort, North Carolina, is a lovely small town near Asheville that Pisgah National Forest and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains surround. The mountain town is known for its rich history dating back to before the Revolutionary War and a plethora of outdoor activities, such as Catawba Falls and Andrews Geyser.

If you haven’t heard of Old Fort yet, or are looking to learn more about it, you’ve come to the right place! This guide will cover the town’s history, where to stay, and some of our favorite things to do.

Here’s how we organized the guide:

  • Where is Old Fort NC?
  • The History of Old Fort
  • Where to Stay
  • Annual Events
  • Things to Do in Old Fort This Weekend (and any Weekend)
  • Things to Do Near Old Fort

Whether you’re a new Old Fort resident, a frequent visitor, or a local and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me” we think this guide will help you!

Read More: 75+ Fun Day Trips from Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Where is Old Fort?

Map of North Carolina highlighting McDowell County
Image Credit: David Benbennick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Fort is a quintessential Western North Carolina town in McDowell County.

Old Fort is easily accessible via I-40. If you’re coming from the east, you can take exit 73. Visitors from the west and Asheville will take exit 72.

It’s about 30 minutes from Old Fort to Asheville and 10 minutes’ drive to Black Mountain, both west of town. To the west, Old Fort is just 15 minutes from Marion, also in McDowell County.

Old Fort is also within an hour’s drive from these places in Western NC:

With our Western NC Map, you can visually travel to these places and Old Fort, North Carolina.

Read More: The North Carolina Travel Map (with 1000+ Great Places Included!)

The History of Old Fort

Old Fort North Carolina Historic Mural

Old Fort has played a pivotal role in America’s history, before and after the Revolutionary War.

  • The name “Old Fort” comes from Davidson’s Fort, an actual fort established in the 1770s prior to the Revolutionary War. A recreation of the fort is viewable today, and the inside is open for special events.
  • Davidson’s Fort was named for Samuel Davidson, who owned the land the fort was on.
  • The fort served as the westernmost outpost for the original thirteen colonies, creating a line dividing the area for settlement and Cherokee territory to the West.
  • In the 1800s, the railroad brought growth to the area around Davidson’s Fort, allowing for the development of a hotel and depot.
  • In 1872, the town of Catawba Vale was founded around the fort.
  • In 1873, the town was officially renamed Old Fort and has experienced major growth since.

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Where to Stay in Old Fort and Nearby

Black Bear Summit Rental Old Fort NC near Asheville

When visiting Old Fort, you have some options for where to stay!

  • Black Bear Summit is our favorite place to stay in Old Fort and hopefully, you can, too! The property is managed by Greybeard Rentals and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and sometimes even bears, too!
  • If you’re looking for a stay in the wilderness, then we recommend the Catawba Falls Campground. The campground is right around the corner from Catawba Falls. If you stay here, you’ll have a great chance to visit the falls early and beat the crowds. Choose from a night in an RV, tent, or cabin for a wonderful outdoor experience.
  • We always love staying in VRBOs and Airbnbs around North Carolina, and Old Fort is no different! Old Fort is home to this luxurious treehouse Airbnb, equipped with a jacuzzi on 14 acres of land.
  • The Inn on Mill Creek is a charming Bed and Breakfast in Pisgah National Forest. Visitors can pick from five spacious and unique rooms, with amenities like private bathrooms, Jacuzzi tubs, and a homemade breakfast each morning.

Read More: 20 Amazing Hotels in North Carolina (+ Inns, Resorts, & Rentals)

Annual Events

Old Fort has a lot of special annual events occurring throughout the year.

  • Davidson’s Fort Historic Park (Special Events Throughout the Year): You can only visit Davidson’s Fort for special events held at the site, but the outside is viewable throughout the year.
  • Pioneer Day (Last Weekend of April): This weekend-long event brings Old Fort’s history to life, with Revolutionary War reenactments and related activities. Attendees can participate in blacksmithing, apple butter making, weaving, spinning, and more. Kids can enjoy a ride on the horse and pony-pulled wagons.
  • North Carolina Gold Festival (June): See if you can strike it rich at the North Carolina Gold Festival in Old Fort! Before California became the de facto gold capital, NC was the biggest gold producer in the country in the early 1800s. Each year, the Mountain Gateway Museum hosts this gold festival to highlight Old Fort’s history, offering activities like panning for gold, exhibits, food, and more.
  • Jerdon Mountain Challenge (July): Test your endurance with the Jerdon Mountain Challenge in July. Participants will bike 26 miles over 3,600 feet of the mountain and race to the finish.
  • Pisgah Enduro (August): Old Fort hosts another endurance race with this two-day high-speed event in Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah Enduro in August is not for the faint of heart, as it’s a race that involves hiking and racing more than 6 miles through the Forest.
  • Old Fort Christmas Parade (December): Celebrate the holiday season with the Old Fort community! The entire town gathers for a lovely Christmas Parade on the second Saturday of December.

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Things to Do in Old Fort This Weekend (and Nearly Every Other Weekend)

Things to Do in Old Fort NC

From historic sites and community gathering spots to the awesome outdoors, here are the best things to do in Old Fort this weekend and throughout the year.

  • Andrews Geyser
  • Arrowhead Gallery and Studios
  • Arrowhead Monument
  • Catawba Falls
  • Eat at These Restaurants in Old Fort
  • Go Hiking
  • Mountain Gateway Museum

Andrews Geyser

Address: 2111 Mill Creek Rd, Old Fort, NC

Built in 1879 as a tourist attraction for those entering Old Fort via train, Andrews Geyser remains one of the top things to see in the area. Andrews Geyser is a large man-made fountain that can shoot up to 80 feet high.

It was named for Alexander Boyd Andrews, vice president of the Western North Carolina Railroad.

Visiting Andrews Geyser is a great way to spend an afternoon in Old Fort. Surrounding the geyser are picnic tables and benches for visitors to sit for a while and enjoy the show.

Arrowhead Gallery and Studios

Address: 78C Catawba Ave, Old Fort, NC

The arts scene in Old Fort is strong at Arrowhead Gallery and Studios. The gallery emphasizes the importance of art in the Old Fort community by providing art education to visitors and showcasing local artists.

It’s one of the largest galleries in Western North Carolina, representing anywhere from 30 to 40 artists at any time.

Read More: 20 Excellent Things to Do in Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary (and Nearby!)

Arrowhead Monument

Address: 25 W Main St, Old Fort, NC

Old Fort NC Arrowhead Monument

The 14.5-foot pink granite Arrowhead Monument sits in front of the Old Fort Train Depot. The monument was originally constructed to honor Old Fort’s founders.

Today, it symbolizes a peace agreement between the English and two of the area’s prominent Native American tribes—the Cherokee and Catawba.

There’s a metal dedication tablet on its north-facing side and the profile of a headdressed Native American on its west face.

Read More: Museum of the Cherokee Indian (13,000 Years of History in One Important Space)

Catawba Falls

Address: 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC

Hiking near Hendersonville Catawba Falls Trail NC

Catawba Falls is one of the most beautiful and popular waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest, and for good reason. It’s also one of our favorite waterfalls in NC.

After a 1.5-mile hike along the Catawba River, you’ll be greeted with the gorgeous 100-foot cascades. Its beauty, combined with its easy accessibility along I-40, makes it one of the best things to do in Old Fort.

NOTICE: Catawba Falls will be closed starting May 2, 2022, until Spring 2023. During this time the National Forest Service will be performing maintenance to ensure public safety and improvements on the trail to Catawba Falls. For more details on the project please visit the USDA website here.

Read More: 50+ Beautiful Waterfalls Near Asheville (Within 2 Hours)

Eat at These Restaurants in Old Fort

North Carolina Breweries Hillman Beer

Old Fort has some great restaurant offerings for after you’ve spent your day exploring. Here are some of our top picks:

  • Black Beary’s Cafe (14 W Main St): After a meal at Black Beary’s, be sure to order some of their signature ice cream for the full experience!
  • Hillman Beer (78 Catawba Ave): In addition to a great craft beer selection, Hillman also offers a menu of salads, sandwiches, and more. Enjoy your drink and meal while on the creekside patio.
  • Gogo’s Cinnamon Rolls (212 E Main St): This locally-owned shop serves homemade cinnamon rolls that you’ll love. Choose from flavors like maple bacon, caramel pecan, lemon, peppermint mocha, and so much more!

Read More: 80+ Tasty North Carolina Breweries (The Best of the Best!)

Go Hiking on these Old Fort NC Trails

Old Fort NC Biking Trails

Old Fort NC is surrounded by the beautiful Pisgah National Forest. Soak in the scenery and outdoors by hiking or biking on one of the many trails nearby.

  • Kitsuma Peak Trail: Kitsuma Peak Trail offers two options—a short 1.6-mile route and a longer 8.7-mile route. The trail is open to both hikers and mountain bikers.
  • Newberry Creek Trail: This is a 3.8-mile one-way trail through the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a somewhat moderate but very fulfilling hike that begins at the parking lot on Newberry Creek Road.
  • Point Lookout Greenway Trail: This paved 3.6-mile greenway is a designated section of the Fonta Flora State Trail, which runs between Morganton and Asheville and through Old Fort. Point Lookout Greenway winds through miles of forest and mountain. The trail ascends over 900 feet from its beginning in Old Fort to ending in Ridgecrest. Bikers and hikers alike are welcome here and can park at the Old Fort Picnic Area.

Read More: 75+ Great Hikes Near Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Mountain Gateway Museum

Address: 24 Water St, Old Fort, NC

Mountain Gateway Museum Old Fort NC

The Mountain Gateway Museum is the perfect place to engage with Old Fort’s history, from the Revolutionary War to the present day.

Located in the heart of Old Fort, the Museum celebrates the heritage and culture of Western North Carolina, spreading from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Piedmont of Central NC.

At any given time, the Museum has a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits to browse, including exhibits like “Living the Cabin Life” and “Folk Medicine in Western NC.” There are also events and activities offered here year-round, so be sure to check what’s happening!

Read More: 40+ of the Most Amazing Museums in North Carolina (for ALL Ages!)

Ready to Explore Old Fort NC?

We think Old Fort is an underrated small town that’s definitely worth exploring for at least a weekend, if not longer. Whether you’re seeking great local restaurants, some of NC’s finest beer, and awesome outdoor activities, there is something here for you.

If you’ve enjoyed any of these things to do in Old Fort, we’d love to hear from you. What do you think of this place? Let us know in the comments or by email.

Don’t forget to share your Old Fort adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

Things to Do Near Old Fort NC

We mentioned the places within an hour’s drive but here’s a deeper dive, which includes the best things to do near Old Fort, North Carolina.

Read More: 25 Wonderful Weekend Getaways in North Carolina (For Families, Couples, or Just Yourself!)

Black Mountain

10 Minutes from Old Fort

Downtown Black Mountain

Black Mountain is also nestled between Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains. From Old Fort to Black Mountain (and Asheville), your drive starts with a climb over a mountain and you’ll also pass the Eastern Continental Divide line.

Regardless of the drive and no matter when you visit, there’s always something to do here. This includes special events like August’s Sourwood Festival to December’s Holly Jolly.

Other things to do year-round include exploring Black Mountain’s rich arts scene, visiting Lake Tomahawk Park, and trying all the restaurants and breweries in town!

Read More: 10 of the Best Black Mountain Hikes Near Burnsville

Marion

15 Minutes from Old Fort

Things to do in Marion NC downtown shops

Just 15 minutes east of Old Fort is Marion, a wonderful mountain town that’s also in McDowell County. In addition to expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Marion truly has something for everyone.

Visit one of the town’s vibrant and eclectic shops, go panning for gold and gems, and hike the Mount Ida Wilderness Area.

Read More: How to See Tom’s Creek Falls in Marion (and Why We Love It!)

Asheville

30 Minutes from Old Fort

View of Downtown Asheville North Carolina from the Omni Grove Park Inn

Asheville is one of the coolest North Carolina cities and is just a half-hour away from Old Fort. While we want you to enjoy Old Fort, you may also be using it as a base to visit Asheville attractions like Biltmore Estate or The Omni Grove Park Inn.

The city, Old Fort, and the surrounding area are perfect for a winter getaway, thanks to milder weather, great events like Christmas at Biltmore and WNC Arboretum Winter Lights, and more!

Throughout the year, we think you’ll love eating and walking around downtown, tasting some of NC’s finest beer at local breweries, and exploring the area’s arts scene.

Read More: 50+ Great Things to Do in Asheville (Downtown, Biltmore, and More!)

Lake James

30 Minutes from Old Fort

Lake James State Park near Marion NC

Lake James State Park is also just 30 minutes from Old Fort and is popular for boating and fishing.

You can also hike or mountain bike around Lake James, as we did inside the park and on the nearby section of the Fonta Flora State Trail from the Linville Boat Access.

There’s a nice covered bridge about a half-mile from the Linville Boat Access and you can continue on for about 5 miles to another trailhead that’s also off NC-126.

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

Read More: 41 North Carolina State Parks Sites and How to Enjoy them All!

Nearby Blue Ridge Parkway Stops

Things to do in Marion NC Crabtree Falls NC

There are so many things to do in Old Fort’s surroundings and we want to finish up with nearby Blue Ridge Parkway stops.

  • Little Switzerland (MP 334, 40 Minutes from Old Fort): Little Switzerland is a wonderful town at the edge of McDowell County. It is home to the Switzerland Inn, which we recommend for at least lunch or dinner.
  • Linville Falls (MP 316.8, 40 Minutes from Old Fort): Linville Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll see. A 2-mile round trip hike provides three different vantage points of the falls. The Plunge Basin Trail is more difficult but approaches the waterfall from the opposite side and takes hikers to the bottom of the falls. About 25 minutes away from Linville Falls is Wiseman’s View, home to some of the best Linville Gorge views a person can ask for.
  • Crabtree Falls (MP 339, 50 Minutes from Old Fort): Crabtree Falls is an impressive 70-foot waterfall and one of our favorite waterfalls near Old Fort.
  • Mount Mitchell State Park (MP 355.3, 1 Hour from Old Fort): The entrance to Mount Mitchell is on the Blue Ridge Parkway, though you’ll still drive five miles to reach the parking lot outside the observation tower.

Read More: NC Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes (30 of the Best Trails!)

More Things to Do in Old Fort and Nearby (NC Travel Guides)

We hope you enjoy all the wonderful things to do in Old Fort and nearby. Since we’ve visited this area many times, there are even more NC Travel Guides to the area on our website.

Here are a few of them:

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