There’s a treasure trove of attractions in small towns hereBy Karen Olson House
Finding travel gems is just the best. You may have heard about, or visited, Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. They are wonderful, indeed. But perhaps you haven’t yet discovered their engaging, neighboring towns, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Rutherfordton calls itself “A Minted Original” with good reason. German immigrant Christopher Bechtler minted America’s very first one-dollar gold coin here in 1832. A brilliant inventor, Bechtler was so enterprising he designed special flooring at his home’s doors to catch gold dust that fell from those who entered. He was a renowned gunsmith as well. Visitors can tour his historic 1838 Bechtler House to see his original coin press, interpretive displays, photographs and artifacts, then visit Bechtler’s mint site three miles away. 828-286-9977 or visitncgold.com
On Main Street, the imaginative KidSenses features 14 interactive exhibit areas. There’s Studio K, a TV station, and Pueblito, a bilingual exhibit with a pretend kitchen and restaurant. Also showcased: Rutherford County’s textile history. Kids use looms to create trendy patterns or peer through high-powered microscopes to examine fabrics and other specimens such as human hair. There’s also a pet hospital, fire station, and scientific areas that cleverly explain gravity and gears. Plus a 7,500-square-foot Children’s Garden, open in season. Ask about maker activities that include 3-D printing. 828-286-2120 or kidsenses.org
Rutherford County is home to many craftspeople. Rutherford County Visual Arts Center showcases their fine wares for sale, which include paintings, pottery, glass, gourds, photography, sculpture and jewelry. 828-288-5009 or rcvag.com
Out on Highway 64, Gardenwoods is another inspiring place to find handmade gifts for your home or yard. 828-288-3556 or mountaingreenenterprises.com
If you like aviation, consider eating at 57 Alpha Airport Café, a little gem renowned to pilots and general for its “plane” hamburgers and authentic Mexican fare. 828-286-1677 or 57alpha.com
Give yourself at least an hour at the Bennett Classics Antique Car Museum. It boasts more than 70 vehicles collected by the Bennett brothers, ranging from a 1928 Depot Hack and Mayberry Sheriff’s car signed by Don Knotts (aka Barney Fife) to farm tractors and Mack trucks. 828-247-1767 or bennettclassics.com
To keep your nostalgia vibe going, head for The Fountain at Smith’s Drugs. Twirl on a red and silver bar stool, then order a pimento sandwich or roast beef and pepper jack cheese in a spinach and herb wrap. Just want a snack? Try their livermush or a frothy milkshake. 828-245-4591 or smithsdrugsfc.com/fountain
This crossroads offers Carolina-brewed beer at Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, 828-288-8388 or barleystaproomspindale.com, and delicious java, plus lunch and dinner options, at Spinning Bean Café and Coffee Shop, 828-287-5650 or spinningbean.com
Isothermal Community College has an active performing arts center (828-286-9990 or foundationshows.org) and a beloved National Public Radio station, WNCW (tune in to 88.7 FM).
Washburn’s General Store, family-run since 1831, is fun to explore. It either has what you need, or don’t need but desire. 828-245-4129 or washburnstore.com
Spirit lovers can tour Blue Ridge Distilling Company, which makes Defiant Whisky, from April 1 through early January. Call ahead. 828-245-2041 or defiantwhisky.com
Chimney Rock State Park
At its top, you can see gorgeous views up to 75 miles away on a clear day. There are several trails for hikers. Most are within the fee-based Chimney Rock access; a free trail is in the Rumbling Bald Climbing Area. They range from kid-friendly walks to moderately strenuous treks to the top of Chimney Rock Mountain and the edge of Hickory Nut Falls (shown in “The Last of the Mohicans.”)
At the park’s entrance, Old Rock Café sells burgers, wraps and salads, with patio dining by the Rocky Broad River, or order a “hiker’s lunch” to go, 828-625-2329. The park’s Sky Lounge sells sandwiches and ice cream and includes a gift shop, 800-277-9611. Website information for both:
The staircase hike to the top is 491 steps, or take the elevator 26 stories to the top.
Note: At press time, the elevator was closed for servicing. For updates: 828-625-1823 or ncparks.gov/chimney-rock-state-park
Chimney Rock village
Medina’s Village Bistro is renowned for organic, local fare. Dogs are welcome on the patio. 828-989-4529 or medinasvillagebistro.com.
This alluring body of water in Hickory Nut Gorge was the conception of Dr. Lucious B. Morse. Dr. Morse, who sought better health, envisioned a resort community. Completed in 1927, the manmade lake has a 27-mile shoreline.
Pontoon boat tours and cruises are a wonderful way to explore the lake. You’ll get to see where “Dirty Dancing” was filmed, and learn more history. Rumor has it, some skipper guides sometimes gilded the lily when it came to relating facts. They were taken to task, so chances are good you will hear true lake lore.
Lake Lure has a public swimming beach and water park, open Memorial Day through Labor Day in the Town Center. Admission fee. It’s near the Welcome Center. 828-625-9983 or townoflakelure.com
Once a highway over the Rocky Broad River, Lake Lure Flowering Bridge was transformed by locals into a unique pedestrian garden bridge with stonework, creative ironwork and colorful plants. For a nice, two-mile hike that includes it, start at the entrance of Morse Park. Mosey through the park along the lake, enjoy the bridge, then stroll back along the boardwalk to the beach. lakelurefloweringbridge.org