One of Gaston County’s most visible and historic attractions is Belmont Abbey College. This small Catholic college was founded in 1876 as one of the first Catholic outposts in the South. Thousands view the magnificent basilica each day as they drive by on Interstate 85. Visitors can take a campus tour featuring historic buildings, many built by the monks themselves. The basilica is the most visited. Built in neo-Gothic style in 1892 and renovated in 1965, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gratitude Bell in the campus center is available for ringing daily from noon to 3 p.m. by anyone wishing to express gratitude for a blessing. The Haid Theater is home to the Abbey Players, who have been performing for the public since 1883. Belmont Abbey’s NCAA Division II athletic program hosts several games and competitions throughout the academic year.
Christmas Town U.S.A.®
One of the most authentic Christmas lights displays in America takes place in the tiny Gaston County town of McAdenville. Each December this former mill village, about 20 minutes west of Charlotte, transforms into Christmas Town U.S.A.® with trees bedecked in a half a million lights. The town’s lake is framed by lighted trees and features an illuminated Old Man Winter in the middle of the lake. Folks from across the Southeast visit this top-rated Christmas lights display each year, with many more enjoying the town’s Christmas lights on foot. The tradition began in 1956 by local townspeople and was championed for many years by the local mill, Pharr Yarns. Nowadays, the town, the mill and the residents all play a role in maintaining McAdenville’s stature as Christmas Town U.S.A.®. A drive through McAdenville during the holidays provides one of the best Christmas lights experiences in the country.
U.S. National Whitewater Center
The U.S. National Whitewater Center blends the beauty of nature with human ingenuity. Located on 1,300 acres, this outdoor playground contains the world’s largest man-made whitewater course. Open to paddlers of all levels, river rapids range from Classes II-IV. USNWC also makes use of the neighboring Catawba River. For a more peaceful experience, kayak or paddleboard down the river’s flat water while admiring wildlife along the banks. Land lovers enjoy zip-lining, rock climbing or scaling the ropes course. More than 50 miles of trails are open to hikers, runners and bikers. Throughout the year, the center hosts concerts, races and festivals. A full-service restaurant and craft-beer garden allow visitors to relax and refuel.
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a nationally renowned garden started by local textile baron Daniel Stowe in the 1990s. Spectacular gardens cover 110 acres and draw visitors year-round. The centerpiece is a large, atrium-like visitor pavilion with a century-old stained-glass dome. The five-story glass orchid conservatory is the only one of its kind in the Carolinas, showcasing orchids and tropical plants. Each season features something new. Spring brings events like Arts & Orchids and Pups & Perennials. Many plants are in full bloom in summer, with companion events to match. Fall is a great time to explore the sparkling fountains and the changing colors in the NC Piedmont. In winter, Holidays at the Garden showcases more than a million shimmering lights, while folks can warm up indoors at the orchid conservatory and visitor pavilion.
The Schiele Museum
The Schiele Museum brings together science, nature and history for an engaging educational experience. What started as the personal collection of a local scoutmaster, naturalist and botanist has evolved into one of the nation’s most significant nature museums with the largest collection of land mammal specimens in the Southeast. Five permanent exhibits whisk away visitors to all parts of North America and back in time to explore early Native American culture. The planetarium creates an immersive classroom with innovative programming about the wonders of the universe. Outdoor exhibits include a nature trail, wildlife garden, Catawba Indian village and Stone Age heritage site.