By Tina Wolfe, Guest Blogger.
The fall equinox (each year around September 22-24) typically receives a roused welcome from locals eager to bid farewell to sultry summer days. We appreciate the chilly mornings and cool afternoon breezes ushered in by the seasonal change. We also welcome eager travelers, cameras in tow, anticipating nature’s color extravaganza – “Leaf Season.”
There is no better way to experience the magic of this seasonal display than by car. An afternoon drive through our history-laden main streets and scenic back roads will offer incomparable vistas, revered history, local treasures and of course our hospitality. Throughout the county visitors will find pumpkin patches, harvest festivals, and even scarecrow contests to entertain leaf peepers and locals. Our main streets will be festively decorated, and you’re bound to find pumpkin related gifts and edibles in local shops.
Tour our tree-lined country roads that wind through rolling pastures back dropped by distant mountains ablaze in full autumn dress. Discover historic sites, rustic barns, log cabins, and businesses that make up the vibrant fabric of our county. All of the scenic tours below include maps with driving directions. And of course, if you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask for directions. We’re glad you’re here and we’re here to help.
Featured tours include:
- Cherry Bounce Trail Tour
- Country Roads Driving Tour
- Lakeview Driving Tour
- The Blue Ridge Parkway & Waterfalls Tour
CHERRY BOUNCE TRAIL TOUR
Starting Location: Rutherford County Courthouse, 229 Main St. Downtown Rutherfordton
For this tour make sure to spend some time in downtown Rutherfordton (est. 1787), either before or after the drive. The Hilltop Fall Festival is the first Saturday in October every year and is always a fun experience for the whole family. If you’re traveling with children, don’t miss KidSenses Museum. Chock full of history, fun and interactive learning, even the adults get in on the fun. With generations-old favorites like Hills Hardware & General Store and Tanner Outlets, plus bookstores, dining and antique shops, Downtown Rutherfordton has a lot to offer.
The drive starts at the historic Rutherford County Courthouse and heads west to Charlotte Street (U.S. HWY 221A S) that will take you right to the heart of main street Spindale. A great stop here is Spindazzle that has unique gift items, home goods, and fashionable apparel. Don’t miss Spinning Bean Café & Coffee, a local haunt serving roasted coffee drinks, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. The route continues through downtown Forest City, where for more than 60 years, people have been saying, “Meet me at Smith’s Drugs Fountain.” Pull up a seat at the old-fashioned soda fountain for a tasty treat with a hint of nostalgia. Make a stop at Dovetails and Rusty Nails, a pickers paradise with 5,000 square feet of furniture and collectibles from shabby chic to primitive.
The history tour kicks into high gear as you head out of Forest City and turn Left onto Bostic Sunshine Highway. Buildings become sparse and the land opens up to picture perfect vistas. Along the Highway you’ll see Bostic Lincoln Center where locals believe that Abraham Lincoln was born. Farther down is Washburn General Store, another historic landmark that keeps customers coming back with their signature homemade bologna sandwiches. The store and the family house (across the street) became a dedicated historic district in 2002 and the business is the oldest family-owned and operated, retail business in the state.
Leaving Washburn's you'll take a right and immediately turn right again onto Salem Church Road, which will take you into the South Mountain range. An incredibly peaceful stretch, you'll see horses and cattle grazing alongside antique barns and picturesque farmhouses. A few turns (see driving directions) will put you back on Bostic Sunshine Highway for a bit and then route you left onto U.S. Hwy 226 where you can stop at South Mountain Game Lands or call ahead to tour the Blue Ridge Distilling Co. where award-winning Defiant Whisky is made.
The return part of the loop puts you on U.S. Hwy 64 (right off of U.S. Hwy 226) where the full color of the South Mountain range can be viewed to the left. The road is tastefully spotted with industry among homes and agricultural land. You'll travel through the oldest pre-Revolutionary War settlement of Westminster and turning right on Old Gilbertown Road you'll want to look for the Gilbertown marker denoting the home of the Revolutionary War hospital and court. Founded in 1780s, the town has a rich history and is part of the national Overmountain Victory Trail. The route takes a few more turns and puts you on U.S. Hwy 221 where you'll turn left to complete the loop back into Rutherfordton.
COUNTRY ROADS DRIVING TOUR
Starting Location: Tryon International Equestrian Center, 4066 Pea Ridge Rd, Mill Spring, NC
If you’re visiting us from Tryon International Equestrian Center, take our long, scenic back roads to reach our quaint shops, downtowns and abundant activities. After touring the facility you’ll want to head left on Pea Ridge Road to U.S. Hwy 74 and turn right. Predominately undeveloped, this stretch offers a unique view of the backcountry. Look for the buffalo roaming the hillside.
From U.S. Hwy 74 take the Union Road exit (#173) and turn left, which will take you through a quiet residential area where homes boast multi-acre lots amid ancient oaks, pines, a variety of maples, and pear among others. Next, turn left onto Pleasant Hill Church Road (SR 1149), which is equally stunning with sections of the road canopied by a kaleidoscope of colors. This is the longest stretch of the TIEC tour and while there aren’t any stops along the way, the scenery is more than sufficient.
Maple Creek Road is your next turn where you’ll make another left. There is a wonderful mix of pastureland, old homesteads, and sprawling farms along Maple Creek. Follow this road to the stop sign where you can either turn left onto U.S. Hwy 64/74A that will extend the scenic drive into Lake Lure where some of our other driving tours begin, or right to visit Rutherfordton, Spindale and Forest City.
If you head toward Lake Lure there are some fun stops you won’t want to miss including Gardenwoods – Home, Garden and Gifts, with handcrafted décor, fabulous kitchenware, and local pottery. Make time for the Broad River Gem Mine where you can mine for gems, dig for gold, and visit the museum with meteorites, mountain insects, even dinosaur eggs. There is also a great local farm, New Beginnings Historic Farm, along this route that provides tours (call ahead) and produces natural produce and vegetables to the area and serves as a spectacular wedding, retreat, and reunion venue.
LAKEVIEW DRIVING TOUR
Starting Location: The Welcome Center, 2932 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC
This tour will take you around the back side of the lake to Rumbling Bald Resort and offers not only natural vistas, but a peek at some amazing lake homes. The tour begins at the Welcome Center where you’ll find copious amounts of information on things to do, places to stay, and the best dining in Rutherford County. You’ll also find historic information and videos about the area.
Make sure to visit Lake Lure Boat Tours right next door. You can book a dinner (dusk) or day cruise and view the fall colors from the lake. From the Welcome Center, turn left onto Memorial Highway and head east. You can grab lunch to go at Lake Lure Grill in the Commercial Arcade Building (across from the beach) or at Larkin’s on the Lake, which is at the intersection of Memorial Highway and U.S. Hwy 9. Keep left on Memorial Highway for a short distance and at Point of View Restaurant, make a left turn onto Buffalo Shoals Road that will take you over the Lake Lure Dam.
Drive slowly as this is a narrow and very curvy road and you may come across a deer or other wildlife along the way. If you haven’t seen the lake from this perspective you’ll appreciate it. If the light is just right the fall colors reflect on the water – something you don’t want to miss.
Take a left onto Buffalo Creek Road for a quick pit stop at Rumbling Bald Resort for some ice cream at the North Shore Beach Cabana. The restaurants and shops are open to the public, just let the guard know where you are going. The ice cream and gift shop is located on the beach just below Lakeview Restaurant on the left as you drive in.
From here take a left out of Rumbling Bald onto Buffalo Creek Road. It goes for quite a ways before you come to your next right onto Cedar Creek Road. Cedar Creek Riding Stables offers trail rides on beautiful wooded acreage for 1, 1.5, and 2 hours. They also offer seasonal gem mining on site. Be sure to call ahead to schedule rides. Next door is Vandele Farms, a family-owned farm specializing in raising pasture fed pigs.
Leaving the farm, turn left onto Cedar Creek Road to the end at Bill’s Creek Road. Turn right on Bill’s Creek to head back into Lake Lure to complete the tour.
THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY & WATERFALLS TOUR
Starting Location: The Welcome Center, 2932 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC
The Rutherford County Blue Ridge Parkway Tour is an all-day trip and takes you through three counties. The higher elevations offer spectacular distant views of the splendor of fall in the mountains. The tour takes you through Chimney Rock Village, so you’ll want to take time to stroll through and visit some of the favorite spots.
Begin your tour visiting Hickory Nut Falls at Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park. Scenes from “Last of the Mohicans” were filmed at this spot. Shop a little and grab lunch from one of the several restaurants in the Village before you hit the road.
Heading out of Chimney Rock Village make a stop at The Old Cider Mill in Bat Cave and try their fresh pressed cider. The tour follows U.S. 74A west past Hickory Nut Gap Farm into a picturesque valley and the community of Fairview. Once through Fairview take a right to the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance. At the stop sign, turn right and travel 27.3 miles. A good portion of this route puts you in the Pisgah National Forest (more than 500,000 acres) and there are turn-offs and vantage points highlighting the best views.
Just past milepost #411, take the exit for U.S. Hwy 276 S, which takes you into Transylvania County (aka Land of the Waterfalls) boasting the Cradle of Forestry, Sliding Rock and the famous Looking Glass Falls.
Upon exiting Pisgah National Forest, stay straight at the first stoplight to get onto U.S. Hwy 64E. As you head northeast through Henderson County and Apple Valley the landscape is dotted with apple orchards and roadside stands. The county is known for producing the most apples in the state. U.S. Hwy 64E climbs the mountain through densely forested terrain and meets up with Memorial Highway where you’ll turn right to return to the Welcome Center to complete the tour.