Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on October 28, 2023.
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 many outdoor activities, such as Catawba Falls and the Fonta Flora Trail.
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!
Where is Old Fort?
Old Fort is a quintessential Western North Carolina town in McDowell County.
Old Fort is also within an hour’s drive from these places in Western NC:
- Linville Falls (40 Minutes to the North)
- Little Switzerland (40 Minutes North)
- Burnsville (1 Hour North)
- Mount Mitchell State Park (1 Hour North)
- Chimney Rock State Park (1 Hour South)
- Lake Lure (1 Hour South)
- Hendersonville (1 Hour South)
- Morganton (40 Minutes East)
- Hickory (1 Hour East)
- Maggie Valley (1 Hour West)
With our Western NC Map, you can visually travel to these places and Old Fort, North Carolina.
The History of Old Fort
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.
Where to Stay in Old Fort and Nearby
When visiting Old Fort, you have some options for where to stay!
- Mountain Time Memories is a beautiful luxury rental in a gated community outside of Old Fort. This is a great place to stay in Old Fort for the whole family! (Use code NCTRIPPING for 10% off!)
- If you’re looking for a wilderness stay, 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 beautiful 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.
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.
- 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 town gathers for a lovely Christmas Parade on the second Saturday of December.
Things to Do in Old Fort This Weekend (and Nearly Every Other Weekend)
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
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.
Read More: 18 Unique Luxury Resorts in North Carolina
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.
Address: 25 W Main St, Old Fort, NC
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.
Address: 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, 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 2024. 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.
Eat at These Restaurants in Old Fort
Old Fort has some great restaurant offerings for after you’ve spent your day exploring. Here are some of our top picks:
- Catawba Vale Business HUB (37 E Main St, Old Fort, NC): This locally owned business serves a lot of purposes, including great coffee and a workspace for visiting small businesses and people like you.
- Seeker Coffee (39 Catawba Ave, Old Fort, NC): Old Fort’s newest coffee shop is ready to start your day, with a menu of classic favorites, hibiscus tea, and more!
- Gogo’s Cinnamon Rolls (212 E Main St, Old Fort, NC): 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!
- Black Beary’s Cafe (14 W Main St, Old Fort, NC): After a meal at Black Beary’s, be sure to order some of their signature ice cream for the full experience!
- Headwaters Kitchen (1259 E Main St, Old Fort, NC): This unassuming little spot off the beaten path packs a punch! We visited on a random trip home from the mountains for breakfast and had the most incredible meal. Perhaps the best waffle in all of North Carolina!
Read More: Black Mountain Restaurants (17 of the Best!)
Old Fort Breweries
Interestingly enough, Old Fort is a dry town. But thanks to some bill in the NC legislature, these two North Carolina breweries are able to serve their own products.
- 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.
- Whaley Farm Brewery (178 Catawba Ave) Focusing on local ingredients and botanicals, you’ll get a different beer experience at Whaley Farm than Hillman. The beers are English pub ales and continental lagers full of flavor and spice! Whaley Farm Brewery also has an on-site pizza truck.
Go Hiking on these Old Fort NC Trails
The beautiful Pisgah National Forest surrounds Old Fort NC. Soak in the scenery and outdoors by hiking or biking on one of the nearby trails.
- Kitsuma Peak Trail: Kitsuma Peak Trail offers two options: a short 1.6-mile route and a longer 8.7-mile one. The trail is open to both hikers and mountain bikers.
- Newberry Creek Trail 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 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 are welcome here and can park in the Old Fort Picnic Area.
Mountain Gateway Museum
Address: 24 Water St, 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 check what’s happening!
Ready to Explore Old Fort NC?
We think Old Fort is an underrated small town that’s 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.
10 Minutes from Old Fort
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.
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!
15 Minutes from Old Fort
Just 15 minutes east of Old Fort is Marion, a wonderful mountain town 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.
30 Minutes from Old Fort
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.
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. If you’ve brought kids, Asheville is full of wonderful things to do, including the WNC Nature Center and the Asheville Museum of Science.
30 Minutes from Old Fort
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 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 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.
Nearby Blue Ridge Parkway Stops
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 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.
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 on our website.
Here are a few of them: