Go Outside48 Hours in McDowell County

48 Hours in McDowell County

The Pisgah National Forest spreads throughout western North Carolina and into McDowell County. With close to 70,000 acres surrounding the towns of Marion and Old Fort, these mountains provide the ultimate landscape for outdoor adventures.

Two of the most popular outdoor sports in McDowell County are fly fishing and mountain biking. Pisgah offers long climbs and fast descents. Elevation changes quickly, but that’s not the only reason these trails are exhilarating.

Kitsuma Peak

Day 1

Mountain Bike Ride

Trail conditions pack a punch with lots of roots, rocks, and creeks, scattered throughout lush protected forest lands.

Lake James State Park is a perfect place to park and go. You have access to 13 trails, offering a combination of hiking and mountain biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

Old Fort’s MTB areas include legendary trails like Heartbreak Ridge and Kitsuma Peak/Young’s Ridge, local downhill destinations.

Woods Mountain Trail View

The Woods Mountain Trail is known for being one of Marion area’s most challenging rides. The 25-mile trail travels through rugged wildlands and begins and ends north of Marion, North Carolina. This trail is for experienced riders only.

Waterfall Hike

Catawba Falls

After your morning mountain bike adventure, what better way to cool off than in a waterfall? There are several gorgeous waterfalls to choose from in the region. The top five, according to locals, are

  • Catawba Falls/Old Fort;
  • Hickory Branch Falls in the Curtis Creek Area/outside Old Fort;
  • Tom’s Creek Falls just north of Marion with a 100-foot drop and it’s an easy trail to hike;
  • Crabtree Falls just south of Little Switzerland with access adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 339.5;
  • Linville Falls, also adjacent to the parkway with three hiking trail viewing points.

Food & Drink

After burning all of those calories, kick back in downtown Marion and swap stories over a beer and food. The downtown Main Street area includes a variety of new shops, pubs, and a microbrewery.

A great downtown dinner spot is McDowell Local. They recently celebrated their one year anniversary. Owners Aaron and Lauren Matthews strive to use locally sourced ingredients and partner with local wineries and breweries to offer the best in locally crafted spirits.

Refinery 13 was the first taproom to open. They’re open Tuesday-Saturday between 5pm-10pm. Tuesday Night Trivia is competitive and fun and always attracts a packed house.


Find individually owned area cabins, cottages, B&Bs, inns, or a hotel by going to the county’s tourism site. Call 888-233-6111 to request free maps, guides, and more.

Point Lookout

Day 2


Tackle one of McDowell County’s 20 public trails!

  • Old Fort’s Point Lookout Trail is a paved route ascending Old Fort Mountain where you will gain approximately 900 feet in elevation with a 3.75-mile hike. It opens to spectacular views of the Royal Gorge and if you’re there at the “right time” of day, you’ll watch a train emerging from the mountain. It’s an awesome sight!
  • The Mountains to Sea Trail crosses all through McDowell County and is a 75-mile section.
  • Snook’s Nose is a challenging favorite hiking trail inside the Curtis Creek Area of the Pisgah National Forest.  
  • Newberry Creek Trail is an easy hike. It meanders through the forest until you are within several yards away from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then it’s straight up and is just a gorgeous trail!
  • Marion’s McDowell Greenway is approximately a 3.2-mile round-trip. This greenway borders the Catawba River. Many visitors and residents use the Greenway as an access point to wade in and fish for the morning or late evening.


Stop by Bear Creek Marina to stock up on supplies. The public boat ramp is a few yards away from the marina entrance at Black Bear.

Lake James is ideal for the sports fisherman with over 6,500 acres framed by 150 miles of shoreline.  

McDowell County has many very stocked streams. The mountain trout waters include catch/release at Newberry Creek, delayed harvest in Old Fort on Mill Creek, Curtis Creek, hatchery supported waters at the head of Catawba River at Catawba Falls Campground and at the US 70 bridge in the town of Old Fort. Particularly in and around the Old Fort area and Curtis Creek area, you’ll find wild trout waters.

Check the NC Wildlife Commission website for detailed maps.

Food & Drink

Downtown Marion is host to a new music hall and specialty bar, The Spillway Bridge. It’s an eclectic mix of open-mic, jazz, beach music, and bluegrass. Their entertainment schedule says it all. It offers a comfortable vibe with a knowledgeable bartender.

Burrito Bros! These brothers learned from their mom and began working with their food truck, transitioning into a brick and mortar site on North Main Street. Their classic logo, Roll One With Us, features a sugar skull on the window fronts. Both McDowell Local and Burrito Bros have been featured on UNC-TV’s Bob Garner’s show.

Mica Town Brewing is an interesting new spot operated by Emily Causey and husband Jason Snyder.  Their story is as unique as their products, named after local sites and communities. They also host fun events/activities and are open year-round.


Enjoy outdoor murals in town towns, art organizations in all three communities, and more. There is also a bunch of fun and amazing annual festivals/events happening.

Catawaba River

Places to Go, Things to See: