Surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, Old Fort is a small quaint town easily accessed from Interstate 40's Exit 73, just east of Asheville and Black Mountain. Old Fort is one of fifteen NC Mountain Heritage Trout Cities and is known for its pre-Revolutionary War era history, mountain biking, hiking and waterfall trails.
Here's a sampling of what you will find:
Visitor Center: Less than a half mile from I-40 at exit 73 is the McDowell County Visitor Center at 91 South Catawba Avenue. Stop there for all sorts of maps and brochures about things to do.
Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the Mountain Gateway Museum, the state museum exhibiting mountain lifestyle and history from the earliest inhabitants to the twentieth century. Summer music programs, festivals and a variety of other activities are held there and at their outdoor amphitheater on Mill Creek. Free. Read more.
Across the street from the Visitor Center, see and buy works from 40+ artists and artisans at Arrowhead Gallery and Studios, featuring a wide variety of arts and crafts, classes and workshops. They are closed Mondays all year, plus closed Tuesdays in January-March. 78C S Catawba Avenue.
Old Fort Ride House courtesy of McDowell Tourism Authority
Hillman Beer courtesy of McDowell Tourism Authority
Enjoy some brews and grab a bite at Hillman Beer (78 Catawba Avenue, Suite F) where you can sit creekside on their patio. Old Fort Ride House (59 Commerce Street) is also a fun spot for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts where they serve snacks, espresso, coffee drinks, and beer. Plus, they sell Kitsbow Cycling Apparel.
Catawba Falls is a very scenic hike along the cascading river to a 100-foot waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. The trailhead is just a few miles from downtown Old Fort, and it has received many recent improvements including a couple of footbridges. Read more.
The Point Lookout Trail is a unique, paved greenway that follows a former road up the ridge, so it's a constant walk or bike ridge for 3.6 miles. It takes you through Pisgah National Forest with mountain views along the way. Read more.
Other mountain bike trails include Kitsuma Peak and Jarrett's Creek. Woods Mountain Trail is a multi-use trail just north of Marion designated for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian use. In the Curtis Creek Area, near the campground, is Snook's Nose - great for hiking or mountain biking. Also in the Curtis Creek area is Newberry Creek Trail. This former forest service road is ideal for beginning hikers, with a trout stream running in and out of the trail.
Fishing: Anglers will appreciate the four mountain trout streams, Mill Creek, Curtis Creek, Newberry Creek, and the upper section of the Catawba River. Mill Creek flows through downtown Old Fort, bordering the Mountain Gateway Museum. To fish in a stream that is designated as a Mountain Heritage Trout Water, purchase a 3-day license for $5.
Old Fort Arrowhead Monument: In the center of Old Fort, built in 1930 this hand-chiseled granite monument served to honor the peace finally achieved between the pioneer settlers and the Native Americans (pic at top of page). At the unveiling, over 6,000 people attended including chiefs from both the Catawba and Cherokee tribes. These two tribes had never smoked a pipe of peace together until that day.
Places to Stay
Andrews Geyser: Located just outside Old Fort in McDowell County, this manmade geyser shoots up over 80 feet high at times. Its water supply is drawn from the Mill Creek. Enjoy the mighty, misty column of mountain water that shoots straight up, twisting a bit in the wind, always raining down. Andrews Geyser is free, open to the public, and surrounded by a sizable concrete wading pool that’s a super spot to get misty. The park includes picnic tables and stone benches, where you can watch the water show. Catch a rainbow with early morning or late afternoon sun. About 5 miles west of downtown Old Fort at 2111 Mill Creek Rd. Turn left onto Main Street, then right onto Old US 70.
Old Fort History
Since 1869 travelers through these mountains looked for the familiar sight of a tall water plume, a geyser, and a resort hotel tucked away at the base of the Blue Ridge this signaled the start of the long climb to Asheville through some of the most scenic terrain in North Carolina. Originally a fort built by the colonial militia before the Declaration of Independence, the settlement served for many years as the western outpost of the early United States. The fort is now being rebuilt by the non-profit corporation "Davidson's Fort Historic Park.