When the world was put on hold in 2020, the great outdoors became the Great Escape. Mountains and water adventures are tonic for the mind, body and soul. And, both are found in Gaston County where Mother Nature is never closed. Gaston County (adjacent to Charlotte) is a short car ride from the Triad at under two hours. For outdoor enthusiasts, Gaston is a slice of heaven, where people can relax in parks and explore trails, waterways and gardens nearly 365 days a year.
Hikers and nature lovers are drawn to the mountain that rises to 1,625-feet at its peak. The majestic mountain is visible for miles with 150-foot rock cliffs near the summit. Eleven trails, varying in difficulty and length, challenge all levels of hikers.
On the Rocktop Trail, hikers are rewarded with long-range views of the Charlotte skyline.
The multi-county Carolina Thread Trail is a 17-trail network easy enough for casual walkers while challenging for professional hikers.
Highlights of the trail include the Catawba River, Goat Island, Mount Holly’s Linear Park, Crowders Mountain and Kings Pinnacle, the South Fork River Blueway and Seven Oaks Preserve.
Parks are prominent in the outdoor landscape, with 80 to choose from. At Dallas Park, trails and lakes mix with an equestrian area for horse enthusiast and a heritage village showcasing farm life in the 1890s. Disc golf lovers get in a game at Goat Island Park.
Miles of blueway trails meander through urban forests not far from the busy downtowns of Gastonia, Belmont and Mount Holly. Paddle the 11 Mill Blueway South Fork River that showcases the long-hidden South Fork River as it flows through Gaston County on its way to Lake Wylie, S.C. The trail also embraces the Catawba River in the eastern part of the county.
Along the way on the South Fork River Blueway, stop for a pint at District 8 Beer Company in South Fork Village with 100 craft beers from all over the country.
Scuba enthusiasts can suit up nearby at Sun’s Up Scuba shop for certification or guided trips.
In Cramerton, paddlers with a sweet tooth stop at Floyd & Blackie’s Ice Cream & Coffee.
Paddlers on the Catawba Blueway can take a break at J.R. Cash’s Grill & Bar in Mount Holly or pick up their “spirits” at Muddy River Distillery in Belmont.
Drinks and Eats
Foodies are sure to find something to tickle their palates at the nearly 200 eateries scattered throughout Gaston, many found at one of the county’s 13 downtown areas.
Go lowbrow at the Time-Out C-Store and Grill where the basics are simply the best. Regulars go for the hand-patted burgers, deep fried hotdogs and daily specials that put the “C” in comfort food.
For a highbrow experience, step into Webb Custom Kitchen. Start with a “duck cigar” appetizer before the Port City crab cake sandwich entrée. The “cigar” is confit of duck wrapped in ultra-thin spring roll wrap and flash fried with dipping sauce. The former theater is ranked on Open Table as Best Ambiance in Charlotte region. For an old- fashioned dessert head to Tony’s for award-winning ice cream.
To sample adult beverages, get on the Ridgeline Craft Beverage Trail including Gaston County breweries (Cavendish, Gastonia’s first brewery and Ole Dallas Brewery), Veronet Vineyards and Winery and Muddy River Distillery. A one- to two day itinerary is recommended to fully enjoy the experience with hiking and fun activities mixed in.
Tour Muddy River Distillery set on the scenic Catawba River Owners Caroline and Robbie Delaney opened MR in 2011 as North Carolina’s first legal rum distillery. Take a tour on Saturdays and experience tasty rum in a myriad of flavors. In 2020, the distillery made gallons of hand sanitizer for first responders and the public using rum bottles.
The Schiele Museum and Planetarium
The favorite museum for more than 61 years educates all ages bout rocks and minerals, Native American cultures and the universe. During the pandemic, the museum created virtual programs like “Schiele to Go!” with behind-the-scene tours, the Dome@Home program featuring planetarium programs and more.
Watch a baseball game
The words “play ball” will ring out on May 28 when the Gastonia Honey Hunters play their first game in the inaugural season of the Atlantic League. The multipurpose stadium and ballpark is designed to accommodate a variety of events, including concerts, soccer, lacrosse and football with an artificial turf surface. The Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District in Gastonia will connect the downtown area to Loray Mills.
The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Garden and nature lovers gravitate to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, one of the region’s most beloved attractions. Walk the grounds to see magnificent flowers and garden in season. Orchid lovers can take in the beauty of the luxurious flower in all its majesty in the must-see Orchid Conservatory.
Lavender Lane Farm
Need a little lavender in your life? Those enamored with the scent-sational flower and its distinct fragrance head to Dallas to experience Lavender Lane Farm, where visitors can pick their own lavender or purchase lavender products.
History, charm and romance converge in the heart of revitalized downtown Gastonia at the Esquire Hotel, Ascend Hotel Collection. This national landmark, which originally opened as the First National Bank in 1918, has new life as a modern, upscale hotel. When it’s time for dinner walk a few steps to the in-house restaurant, Barrister’s, where Southern food is elevated to an art form. Have a gin cocktail before dinner. Bonus: A rooftop bar with views of Kings and Crowders Mountains.
For trip ideas, visit gogastonnc.org
Written by Lynn Brandon at Winston Salem Journal