Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on October 22, 2023.
Wilkes County, North Carolina is largely known for the wonderful towns of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro. Both are important contributors to North Carolina’s music scene (for example, Merlefest), and share a historic relationship with moonshine and auto racing.
There are plenty of places to visit in Wilkes County beyond its bigger-named attractions, though, with some that you probably didn’t know residing here. Our guide will cover our favorite things to do throughout the year, the area’s biggest events, restaurants that stand out, and more.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide:
- Where is Wilkes County?
- Wilkes County Towns
- Where to Stay
- Annual Events
- Year-Round Places to Visit in Wilkes County
- Where to Eat
- More Things to Do in Wilkes County (Travel Guides)
You can scroll ahead to any of the other sections or continue reading about how to find Wilkes County on a map.
Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Wilkes counry 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 Wilkes County?
Wilkes County is located in one of the most beautiful regions in North Carolina.
Wilkes County borders the following NC counties:
- Alexander County (South)
- Alleghany County (North)
- Ashe County (Northwest)
- Caldwell County (Southwest)
- Iredell County (Southeast)
- Surry County (Northeast)
- Watauga County (West)
- Yadkin County (East)
You can reach many places in Wilkes County via I-77 or US-421, but you can also reach the county via some other scenic highways, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and NC-268.
Read More: 125+ Interesting Facts About North Carolina
Wilkes County Towns
When thinking of where to go in Wilkes County, the first places that come to mind are the wonderful towns scattered around.
Today, more than 40 towns, census-designated places, unincorporated communities, and townships reside in Wilkes County. Here are a few of the prominent ones:
- Elkin: Most of Elkin is part of Surry County, but a beautiful part of the town is in Wilkes County. Elkin is in the heart of the Yadkin Valley Wine Region, and the area is known for great views, delicious wine, amazing food, and live entertainment at places like the popular Reeves Theater. For one of the best sceneries in the area, hike to Carter Falls via a mile roundtrip trail.
- Ferguson: This is another really interesting town in Wilkes County, partly because of the song “Ballad of Tom Dooley.” It was written after Tom Dooley (Dula), who’s buried in Ferguson after his hanging in Statesville for the 1866 murder of Laura Foster. The Kingston Trio’s version topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1958. Whippoorwill Village and Academy is a wonderful hub of cultural history, also in Ferguson. Enjoy walking the grounds or come for Tom Dooley Day and the Daniel Boone Festival!
- North Wilkesboro: This Wilkes County town attracts sports lovers, moonshine connoisseurs, and artists, among others. North Wilkesboro Speedway is the birthplace of NASCAR and home to the Copper Barrel Distillery. The town also has ample shopping, vibrant art galleries, and more.
- Ronda: Ronda is a small mountain town “full of history and possibilities.” The town is home to notable vineyards such as Piccione Vineyards and Raffaldini Vineyards.
- Wilkesboro: The county seat of Wilkes County, Wilkesboro is also a huge contributor to the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” Wilkesboro is also known for MerleFest, a legendary festival with a typically great lineup of musicians.
Where to Stay
When exploring Wilkes County, the county seat of Wilkesboro is probably the best place to stay to maximize your exploration.
- Hotels in or near Wilkesboro include the Hampton and Holiday Inn. There are also some hotels in Elkin near I-77 (Exit 85).
- If you’re searching for something more rustic or economical, there are also a variety of camping options in the area. Two popular places are the Moravian Falls Campground and W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir.
- Finally, for the ultimate luxury resort experience in Wilkes County, Leatherwood Mountains in Ferguson is an amazing place to stay.
Wilkes County is known for some great annual events that you can’t miss! Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the biggest celebrations in the county:
- Wilkes Comic-Con (February): Comic-Con is one of North Wilkesboro’s most anticipated events. The event is hosted by the local community and brings together comics, pop culture, and collectibles for a day of fun.
- MerleFest (April): Today, MerleFest is one of the country’s most iconic music festivals, but it began as a humble fundraiser for Wilkes Community College. Every April, the college campus is taken over by thousands of music lovers who come from all over the nation to listen to some great musicians.
- Brushy Mountain Peach and Heritage Festival (July): Held on the last weekend in July, this festival unites locally grown peaches with Brushy Mountain’s rich history. Come out to celebrate the end of summer with delicious peaches and a wonderful environment.
- Carolina in the Fall (September): Another popular music festival in Wilkes County, Carolina in the Fall is a celebration of bands, food, and local breweries. This typically occurs on the third weekend of September.
- Brushy Mountain Apple Festival (October): North Wilkesboro’s Brushy Mountain Apple Festival is the perfect fall event! This one-day arts-and-crafts festival is the largest fundraiser for Wilkes County and has many apple products.
Year-Round Places to Visit in Wilkes County
105 6th St, North Wilkesboro
This entertainment center in North Wilkesboro is the perfect afternoon adventure for families. The Block is fully equipped with arcade games, a rock-climbing wall, a trampoline park, a roller-skating rink, and a toddler playground. You’ll honestly never want to leave!
The Block is also located in the same building as Foothills Collectibles, so stop there on your way out.
Call Family Distillers
1611 Industrial Dr, Wilkesboro
As the Moonshine Capital of the World, we think it’s mandatory that you visit Call Family Distillers. Willie Clay Call was known for evading the law and smuggling moonshine in fast cars.
In fact, Mr. Call was considered uncatchable by the ATF.
Today, his family legally distills and there is no longer the need to run while creating quality moonshine.
This distillery in Wilkesboro serves as a museum, too. From Willie Clay Call’s original outfitted cars that were never caught by the police to the still he once used, the memorabilia inside of that building is outstanding.
Carter Falls is a 50-foot waterfall composed of a series of upper and lower tiers in the Wilkes County part of Elkin. Before it was open to the public, Carter Falls served as a source of electricity for the town of Elkin until 1967.
After the land was acquired by North Carolina, Carter Falls became connected to Elkin’s expansive trail system, resulting in 5 different ways to reach the falls. You can take a guided tour to the waterfall, hike a mile roundtrip, or try the longer 4.5 miles roundtrip trail. There are options for all skill levels.
Cook’s Sports (and Cook’s Outfitters)
Cook’s Sports Address: 1402 Willow Ln, North Wilkesboro
Cook’s Outfitter’s Address: 100 W Main St, Wilkesboro
Cook’s is a proud Wilkes County institution that has been operating since 1946. Originally, it served as a home and auto shop, selling a variety of goods.
In the 1960s, they added their sporting section, which is now the highest-earning aspect of their business. Today, you can shop for just about any type of outdoor sportswear.
Gear up at either Cook’s Sports in North Wilkesboro or their smaller location (Cook’s Outfitters) in downtown Wilkesboro. You can also print t-shirts or similar apparel at Cook’s Sports, another welcome addition at this local business.
Copper Barrel Distillery
508 Main St, North Wilkesboro
His trailblazing 3-to-1 rye-to-corn ratio creates a wonderfully smooth moonshine that you’ll instantly fall in love with.
Doc Watson Mural
101 W Main St, Wilkesboro
Wilkes County is also known for its incredible arts and culture, which is embodied in the Doc Watson Mural found on Main Street. The mural paints a vivid image of music legend Doc Watson strumming a guitar.
Many of Wilkes County’s most popular spots sit in the amazing downtowns of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro, which we want to feature here.
- Downtown Wilkesboro: The county seat’s downtown is divided into East and West by Bridge Street, with many things to see and do on both sides. Some must-visit places include:
- Downtown North Wilkesboro: While just across the Yadkin River from Wilkesboro, downtown North Wilkesboro still has its own distinct environment. It has a great shopping scene, with stores like:
Key City Antiques
502 Main St, North Wilkesboro
If you like antiquing, North Wilkesboro is the place for you! Key City Antiques has a huge collection of vendors who deal in antiques and pretty much everything else.
The shops are located in a charming 1930s-era building, offering local crafts, vintage items, and more!
512 Meadow Rd, Ferguson
As mentioned previously in our “Where to Stay” section, Leatherwood Mountains is more than just a resort. You can visit this beautiful place and also go horseback riding here!
The equine center is one of the best in the state and attracts people from all over the state to ride on their trails.
Merle Watson Garden of the Senses
On the Campus of Wilkes Community College
Merle Watson Garden of the Senses is a memorial to musician Doc Watson’s son, Merle, who passed tragically in 1985. The construction of the garden was a condition of organizing the first MerleFest.
Today, the garden is filled with beautiful flowers and plants and houses a wall with Braille plaques.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
381 Speedway Ln, North Wilkesboro
As we mentioned earlier, Wilkes County is where NASCAR was born. That’s because the first stock car runs happened on the dirt track of North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1947, predating the popular auto sport.
In fact, the garages and backroads between North Wilkesboro and Charlotte paved the way for both liquor and auto racing.
After a lot of hard work and tireless local efforts, the racing mecca reopened in 2022, thus returning races to North Wilkesboro.
Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest
This outdoor area is a hidden gem for visitors, even though locals have been adventuring here for years. Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest contains many trails, picnic areas, and panoramic views.
The forest also has an emphasis on education, so there are plenty of workshops and ranger-guided classes for you to partake in.
Stone Mountain State Park
One of our favorite things to do in Wilkes County is hiking at Stone Mountain State Park. The park is named for the exposed granite dome, visible from the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, the Wolf Rock Trail, and even on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 232.5).
Two Boros Brewery
111 E Main St, Wilkesboro
Two Boros is the only brewery in Wilkesboro, packing enough punch for all of Wilkes County! A diverse selection of craft beer pairs nicely with a tasty wood-fired pizza or anything else off their great food menu.
We could recommend more than a few but start with a hoppy IPA or Good Gold Almighty, a Belgium Strong Golden Ale.
Read More: 80+ of the Best North Carolina Breweries
Wilkes County Blue Ridge Craft Trail Stops
We’ve mentioned the arts a few times in this guide. Well, Wilkes County is recognized for their artistic contributions through the Blue Ridge Craft Trail.
Here are some of the places included:
- Mary Freas with Sunset Fiber Works (3249 Swaringen Rd, Traphill)
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in North Wilkesboro (200 W Cowles St, Wilkesboro)
- Taupe Gallery (309 10th St, North Wilkesboro)
- Wilkes Art Gallery (913 C St, North Wilkesboro)
- Wilkes County Hardware (324 10th St, North Wilkesboro)
Whippoorwill Village and Academy
11928 NC-268, Ferguson
Whippoorwill Village & Academy is a hub of culture and history. Located on an 18th-century farm, it’s a collection of institutions that come together to teach about the area and its importance.
Visit this amazing museum of cabins and you’ll find exhibits dedicated to Tom Dooley, a cabin once used by Daniel Boone, an art gallery, and more.
Wilkes County Blue Ridge Parkway Stops
- Cascade Falls at E.B. Jeffress Park (Milepost 272): This rushing 250-foot waterfall is truly a sight to behold. Take a kid-friendly 0.8-mile loop to an upper overlook to view the falls. There’s a slightly more difficult route to the lower overlook as well.
- Doughton Park (MP 238-241): Doughton Park is a lesser-known 7,000-acre park, filled with beautiful rhododendrons, azaleas, and more. The park has over 30 miles of hikes, campgrounds, and picnic tables for a variety of activities.
Wilkes Heritage Museum
100 E Main St, Wilkesboro
To get all of Wilkes County’s history in one place, you should visit the Wilkes Heritage Museum. Opening as a nonprofit in 1968, the museum exhibits describe the history of moonshine, NASCAR, and other cool Wilkes County facts.
Throughout the year, the Heritage Museum hosts ghost tours on select dates. Even if you’re not a believer, these tours raise funds for this important cultural attraction!
W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir
W. Kerr Scott Dam & Reservoir is your one-stop shop for all things water! Fish, hike, boat, or camp at this nearly 1,500-acre lake. The lake and dam are run by the Army Corps of Engineers, and they maintain 6 conveniently placed boat launches, 3 campgrounds, and a large amphitheater.
Yadkin River Greenway
The scenic Yadkin River Greenway stretches and offers the perfect outdoor ride. You’ll see many people here on their bikes or walking as a family and enjoying the cool river breeze.
If you didn’t bring your bike, this is another chance for you to check out Cook’s in either of the two Boros.
Yadkin Valley Wineries
Sitting in the heart of the Yadkin Valley, Wilkes County is home to some of the best wineries in North Carolina. Here are a handful of our favorite wineries near Wilkesboro.
- Elkin Creek Vineyard (Elkin) is a great winery for the whole family. Kids can dip in the creek and, on Sundays, the vineyard makes fresh dough for delicious wood-fired pizza!
- Jones von Drehle (Thurmond): This estate winery produces wines exclusively from grapes that are harvested from their 30 acres of vines. As the others mentioned, the tasting room view is breathtaking and compliments the sips you’ll have.
- Piccione Vineyards (Ronda): Just next door to Raffaldini, you can also enjoy estate-grown grapes and award-winning Italian-style wines at Piccione Vineyards! Owned by the Sicilian Piccione family, visitors can enjoy sips of Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and their popular Chardonnay.
- Raffaldini Vineyards (Ronda): One of the bigger-named wineries in North Carolina (and beyond), Raffaldini offers quality wines and scenic views of the Yadkin Valley.
Where to Eat in Wilkes County
In addition to its rich history, Wilkes County has a solid variety of restaurants to choose from as well. Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Wilkes County:
- Anchor Coffee (1320 W D St, North Wilkesboro): For a morning pick-me-up, Anchor Coffee is a great local coffee shop. It’s open early in the morning and most of the week, so be sure to stop by.
- Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery (201 Wilkesboro Ave, North Wilkesboro): It’s not often you find the perfect contrast between a hearty meal and silky ice cream. Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery offers delicious barecue with hand-churned ice cream, making the perfect dinner/dessert combo.
- Dooley’s Tavern and Grill (102 E Main St Suite 1, Wilkesboro): A local favorite, Dooley’s makes all its food in-house and has the county’s largest selection of gluten-free food. They have an extensive menu, but our favorite remains the Copper Barrel Burger.
- Roselli’s on 10th (211 10th St, North Wilkesboro): For quality Italian cuisine, Roselli’s on 10th is the best in Wilkes County. They offer specialty pizzas and mouthwatering desserts like cherry cheesecake and triple chocolate cake.
Ready to Visit Wilkes County?
We love visiting Wilkes County and look forward to our next drive to the Moonshine Capital of the World. In the meantime, we want to hear from you.
Are you familiar with this area? If so, what are your favorite places to visit in Wilkes County?
More Things to Do in Wilkes County (and Nearby!)
We’ve also created quite a few NC travel guides to feature these amazing places in Wilkes County.