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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

High Adventure in Morganton, North Carolina

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By Vanessa Infanzon

My favorite places to vacation are under-the-radar. They’re the small towns in between places tourists seem to flock. Quiet and serene, with history and pride among its residents — these are the destinations I seek out when I vacation. And a bit of adventure should always be a part of any getaway.

I discovered Morganton last year.

It’s in North Carolina’s Burke County, close to Lake James, South Mountains State Park and the Fonta Flora State Trail. The town is easily accessed from interstate 40 and situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with Charlotte to the southeast and Asheville to the west.

Pack a water bottle, backpack, portable phone charger, snacks and good shoes – you’re about to kick it into high gear:


Cycling on Morganton Greenway
Cycling on Morganton Greenway



Hit the trails on a bike. There are more than 17 miles on the Fonta Flora State Trail including the Lake James Loop Trail. If you need a bike, rent one from Overmountain Cycles in downtown Morganton. Owner Michael Lowther will direct you to the best trails for your riding experience.

Join the locals on Overmountain’s free weekly evening rides: Tuesday for the intermediate ride and Thursday for beginners. Sign up for a bike packing trip — a staff-led bike ride with a one- or two-night camping component.

Canoe and kayak

Paddle around Paddy’s Creek at Lake James State Park. Rent a canoe or kayak at the concession stand between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Add an extra level of adventure by camping on the park’s Long Arm Peninsula, only accessible by boat and available year-round. Reserve one of the park’s 30 spaces which include a fire pit, picnic table, room for a six-person tent and access to a vault/camping toilet. Pack-in water, food and all other essentials.


Thermal Valley hang glading
Thermal Valley Hang Gliding


Hang glide

Drift across the sky with Thermal Valley Hang Gliding for nine to 12 minutes. At 1,500-2,000 feet above the ground, look for Grandfather, Table Rock and Hawk’s Bill mountains. Guests fly tandem in the top harness with the company’s owner, Craig Pearson. He has more than 27 years of experience hang gliding and captures flyer’s experience on a GoPro.


Waterfall South Mountain State Park
Waterfall at South Mountains State Park



Follow South Mountains State Park’s Chestnut Knob Trail to scenic overviews of the High Shoals Falls, Raven Rock, Hugo Rock and Jacob Fork Gorge. It’s a strenuous five mile roundtrip hike.

Start at the Clear Creek Dam for Clear Creek Trail, a strenuous four-mile hike. Climbs to the Clear Creek Watershed for a serene setting.

The Hemlock Nature Trail is an easy half-mile roundtrip trail that follows the Jacob Fork River.


Morganton’s downtown provides spots for a quick meal, apps and drinks, lunch and dinner. Pair locally made cheese, crackers, meats with cider, craft beer and wine from Brown Mountain Bottle Works. Get coffee and sandwiches from Grind Café Coffee House. Stop at Catawba Brewing Company and Fonta Flora Brewing for flights and beer. Head to Homer’s for specialty cocktails and a tasty brunch in a funky space. Try the Mr. Miyagi’s Chicken Bowl, fish and chips or the Starla’s Veggie Sandwich from Treat’s unique menu items. Sit at root & vine’s outdoor patio sipping A Mule Named Sal or a Hot Habanero Ginger Apple Cider before ordering a wood-fired pizza or steak, chicken or fish entrée.

 Events to consider

(Due to Covid-19, contact venue directly for latest event updates.)

Speak with your AAA Travel Agent about coordinating your travels with one of Morganton’s special events. Ask about the newly opened Fairfield Inn & Suites in historic downtown.

  • Aug. 22 – The 7th Annual State of Origin Craft Brew Fest is at the Historic Morganton Courthouse Square. Look for 30 handpicked breweries, distilleries, cideries and kombucha makers – all are required to use local ingredients from their place of origin. Fonta Flora Brewery from Morganton, TRVE Brewing Company in Colorado and Kent Falls in Connecticut are a few of the breweries expected to be on site.
  • Sept. 11-12 – Historic Morganton Festival kicks off its 39th year with a 5K, 10K and fun run Sunrise Run on the Catawba Greenway. Free admission: 200 booths with arts and crafts, Kids Zone, Teen Zone, food and beverages and national and regional country musicians playing on three stages.

(Go Magazine May/June 2020)

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