Rutherford County, NC
Perfectly positioned in the southwest corner of North Carolina, Rutherford County is home to mountains, rivers, valleys and small towns. It’s a great vacation destination, not only for the beautiful scenery, but also the wide range of activities that will keep everyone happy.
Walkers, hikers, kayakers, watersports, shoppers and fortune hunters (gem mining, anyone?), and even couch potatoes and gourmands will find much to admire and enjoy. It’s accessible year round and generations of southern families have built getaways that draw them back for celebrations and vacations.
Plan a visit to Rutherford County soon. But first, discover what this lovely area has to offer.
Tours and Trails
Like your adventures most when viewed from your trusty vehicle? Rutherford County Tourism has maps and guides to help you find your way. The Gold Fever Tour, Cherry Bounce Trail, Lakeview Trail, and Blue Ridge Parkway Tour will satisfy the most intrepid back seat explorer, but wear those walking shoes because you’ll find multiple stops where you’ll step outside to view these mountains and valleys with awe and appreciation.
Active outdoor life-stylers have their options as well. We love the Rocky Broad Riverwalk (just steps away from Chimney Rock Village and “civilization” and the Purple Martin Greenway with its cool natural setting and accessible paths for walking, running and biking. The Thermal Belt Rail Trail currently connects the small towns of Rutherfordton and Spindale, and soon, Forest City will join the party.
There are small towns to explore in Rutherford County, all easily accessed and enjoyed.
Rutherfordton was recently voted North Carolina’s Small Town of the Year by the N.C. Rural Center. Born in 1787, it contains the home of Christopher Bechtler, who minted America’s first one-dollar gold coin. There are charming shops, great eateries and taverns, and it’s close to everything.
Spindale’s Main Street is lined with shops and historic buildings. The Isothermal Community College features The Foundation Arts & Conference Center. Check it out before you go to see what’s showing. The Thermal Belt Rail Trail, once a textile railroad line, is now a great way to wander, connecting Rutherforton and Spindale, and soon, Forest City.
Chimney Rock Village is home to the magnificent Chimney Rock State Park. Take the elevator to the top of the rock and enjoy spectacular views. In the village, shop for Appalachian crafts and gifts for yourself or those you love.
Forest City is a small town with deep historic roots. You’ll find vintage cars, an old-timey soda fountain, nostalgic shops and antiques as well as boutiques. There’s something wonderful to see year round. Take your taste buds back in time at one of the old-fashioned eateries.
Bostic and Golden Valley offers a beautiful section of the Cherry Bounce Trail, a drivable delight. Make sure to visit Washburn’s General Store, known as the “oldest family-owned and operated retail business in North Carolina.”
Ellenboro is home to less than 1,000 people. The area is beautiful, with hills and valleys, and people who treasure their outdoor lifestyles. Make sure to shop at the Ellenboro Train Depot, a museum filled with memorabilia of trains and nostalgic items you’ll have fun explaining to the grandchildren.
Lake Lure is charming and romantic and that was true long before the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed here. It’s been a honeymoon destination for almost 100 years and visitors love the serene lake and mountain views.
Still ahead: shopping, entertainment, arts and parks. First, find accommodations to call home during your visit.
Where to Stay.
From rustic to resplendent, you have options in Rutherford County. What suits you and yours? A tiny cabin beside a bold brook, comfy B&B or inn, campground or national chain? It’s all here.
Carrier Houses Bed and Breakfast includes two of the great Victorian houses in the historic town of Rutherfordton. There are eight guest rooms with private baths, historic furnishings and modern amenities and a front porch which beckons. Shops, restaurants and galleries are within walking distance, and the area’s more famous attractions, Chimney Rock State Park, Lake Lure and the Tryon International Equestrian Center are just minutes from the B&B. You’ll love rescue dogs Watson and Ranger, the resident greeters.
Firehouse Inn was originally a firehouse and the town hall, built in 1925. Completely renovated into luxurious accommodations, the inn is also walking distance from all the town of Rutherfordton has to offer and near to the area’s many attractions. Pet friendly and accommodating for business and leisure travelers, it’s a great base for good times for families, friends and romance.
The Esmeralda Inn can only be described as amazing. The towering locust log columns set the stage for its rustic, unique design. The hardwood floors are those used in the Dirty Dancing movie. Since 1892, this very special inn has provided its guests with incredible views and relaxing sounds of the Rocky Broad River. Fourteen rooms, plus three log cabins provide options for every gathering of friends and family.
Cabins offer privacy and a rustic (sometimes elegant) environment for getaways and even corporate retreats. Tucked down mountain roads, overlooking valleys and peaks, or perhaps riverside, these are retreats for every taste. Check the Rutherford County visitors’ website www.visitncsmalltowns.com for images and information.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort Golden Valley offers luxury cabins, rv sites, glamping tents and rustic tent sites. Near the small town of Bostic, the camping resort offers canoeing and kayaking, fishing, hiking and mountain biking trails, tennis and basketball courts, equestrian facilities and more, as well as lazer tag, water slides, arts and crafts, mini-golf, playgrounds, and a jumping pillow. Perfect for families.
Rumbling Bald is a beautiful community overlooking Lake Lure and the surrounding area. They offer lodging, including studios, condominiums and vacation homes. Rumbling Bald offers golf, great restaurants on site and lots of activities for guests and owners.
There’s a new Hampton Inn & Suites in Forest City, and a number of well-regarded national hotel chains in the area, as well as iconic lodges and inns in Lake Lure.
Food, Glorious Food
The Esmeralda Inn is casual and friendly, with cuisine that covers the world starting with local cheeses and ending with an incredible Scottish salmon. They utilize local ingredients whenever possible, and their menus reflect exceptional attention to detail through carefully crafted dishes. Check out The Chef’s Table for a special dining experience, and to set the stage for any dining adventure, consider their smoked shrimp cocktail shooter, with avocado panna cotta, limoncello gelee and pancetta crisp.
Scoggins Seafood & Steakhouse in Rutherfordton, is known for its handcut steaks, but there’s excellent seafood available, too. In the summer, outdoor dining is available and the Pirate Pub lounge is an appealing gathering spot.
The Olive Tree Greek restaurant and bar in Rutherfordton if one of a kind in the county. Foodies love their homemade spinach pies as well as their Mediterranean seafood dishes with olive oil, garlic and lemon – delish!
The Copper Penny Grill in Forest City and Rutherfordton offer American food in a friendly casual atmosphere. The spinach dip is a local favorite and the steaks and burgers are popular as well. Salads and nibbles mean all taste buds will be satisfied.
Forest City Fish Camp, in Bostic, is an old school restaurant for folks who love fried seafood of all kinds. Very family-friendly and lots of fun for the kids.
Mi Pueblito in Rutherforton and Forest City are authentic eateries with strong local followings. Enchiladas and soups are popular, as are traditional Mexican favorites.
Rutherford Thai has been noted in Our State magazine as well as more local publications. The food offered includes classic Thai cuisine as well as local favorites from the chef.
Louie’s Café in Forest City features excellent Italian food and their Stromboli receives rave reviews. Homemade dough adds a nice touch.
The Whistle Stop Bakery and Farm Store, 843-812-9671, in Bostic, offers yummy cupcakes, cakes and cookies, plus there’s more substantial fare including cheeses and meats.
Etc. Eats and Drinks
If a morning cuppa Joe is what gets you going, try Main St. Coffee and Ice Cream or Small Town Roaster, both in downtown Rutherforton.
Perhaps a great scoop of ice cream is the perfect treat during your wander. There’s ice cream at Main Street Coffee, as well as Rutherforton's Scoop Ice Cream and Lake Lure. (The Lake Lure location also serves coffee.) Ask at either location about a free scoop for your fur baby, and for humans, the brownie sundae is beyond decadent.
The area features wonderful breweries, wineries and tasting rooms, but first, let’s plan the day.
Good Times Ahead
Chimney Rock State Park is arguably the most famous attraction in Rutherford County. With dramatic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure, and six trails that meander through the property, a visit is a guaranteed thrill. There’s an elevator which will take you to the top, and there are activities for all ages and interests. Concessions and gift shops are available.
Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is a year round venue located in Mill Spring, NC and is the world’s premier Equestrian Lifestyle Destination showcasing some of the top riders in the Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, and Eventing disciplines. Home to the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games™ from September 11-23, the center is active year round and a great destination for those with a penchant for the noble steed and its rider.
There are horseback riding stables in the area, including Cedar Creek Stables and Riverside Riding Stables. There are activities for all ages and skill levels.
History enthusiasts will enjoy visiting historic homes including Green River Plantation, open for tours, weddings and special events, and Bechtler House Heritage Center & NC Gold Trail Headquarters, a museum and former home of Christopher Bechtler, who minted the first one-dollar gold coin, during the gold rush days in North Carolina.
You can take a swing at one of seven golf courses in Rutherford County. Some restrictions apply, so check it out before you go. Golf in the western North Carolina Mountains offers as much eye candy as athleticism, especially in the fall, when the colors are on fire, or in the summer, when the cool mountain air beckons.
Gem mining is another family friendly attraction here. Check out Broad River Gems which is open from 10am-5pm daily and includes a fun gift shop, gem mine and small but interesting collection of fossil and mineral specimens. Chimney Rock Gem Mining is perfect for an hour or more of mining for gems with a gift shop on site.
If you’re in Chimney Rock Village with little ones, the Chimney Rock Country Fair will grab their attention, with its old-timey country fair amusement rides.
Kid Senses Interactive Museum, in Rutherfordton, is so much fun for the kiddies they’ll never know how much they’re learning! This is hands-on creating of all kinds, with areas designed for different ages and interests.
Ok grown-ups, it’s time for a bit of nostalgia. The Bennett Classic Antique Car Museum is an award-winning museum that showcases everything from Model T autos to Mack Trucks, a Shelby mustang, and a 1963 Ford Mayberry Sheriff’s car signed by Barney Fife (aka Don Knotts)!
The Great Outdoors.
We’ve mentioned a few ways you can get outside and play, but there are lots more, including trails, kayaking /canoeing rentals, fishing in the creeks and rivers and mountain biking.
The website, www.visitncsmalltowns.com will help you discover so many options.
Lift a Pint, Wine Down
No matter how you and yours choose to spend the day, Rutherford County offers delicious ways to wind down into evening. Here are a few of our favorites.
Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room & Bistro in Chimney Rock Village offers excellent food in a lovely atmosphere. There are house favorites here including a tasty menu that pairs well with their regional and award-winning wines.
Yellow Sun Brewing Company is as popular for their pizzas as their in-house crafted brews. Try the porter for a really smooth taste and stay for one of their specialty pizzas.
Amendment 21 Grill is a new grill and tavern in downtown Rutherfordton that offers menu items for all ages and great specialty drinks.
The Twisted Pear in downtown Forest City is great for folks who want to stop by and pick up a bottle of wine or one of 200 craft brews, many locally brewed. It’s also a good place to meet friends and enjoy their offerings on site, including 24 beers on tap. On Friday nights, there’s live entertainment.