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Marion and Old Fort, North Carolina | Things to Do

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Area Attractions Small Town Activity Guide

Western North Carolina is home to so many quaint and charming communities that it’s hard to narrow down the places to visit. A couple of our favorite hidden gems are neighboring towns- Old Fort and Marion. 

Old Fort, known as the “Gateway to the Blue Ridge” sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Approximately 30 minutes from Asheville, Old Fort’s Native American and railroad history can be felt throughout town- including a hand-carved, 14-foot rose granite arrowhead on top of a 15-foot river rock with a concrete base featured in the middle of town. 

Ten minutes east of Old Fort is Marion- with it’s quintessential, small town appeal and storybook downtown district, Marion is quickly becoming a Western North Carolina must stop locale. Close enough for a day trip to Asheville, but alluring enough to keep you in town, Marion is likely to be the secret destination you’ll be raving about to your friends. Main Street is lined with gift shops featuring local art and crafts, clothing boutiques, restaurants, and more. Ahead of the times, Marion allows visitors to connect to the city’s free public wireless access service, “the Hotspot,” while they explore downtown. 

Places to Eat and Drink:

When Asheville’s own Hillman Beer opened a second location in Downtown Old Fort, it quickly became a favorite of locals and guests alike, proving that this up and coming mountain community is experiencing an awakening. Grab a delicious burger and other pub favorites over a cold beer as you take it easy on the open air patio overlooking Mill Creek. After Hillman, stop into the new Whaley Farm Brewery to grab some tasty beverages made from locally grown ingredients. There's also a farmstore inside that offers vegetables, snacks made by western North Carolina producers, and delicious dairy products like pimento cheese and goat cheese. Established as a gathering place for cyclists & outdoor enthusiasts, you can also enjoy local food, snacks, espresso, and coffee drinks at the aptly-named Old Fort Ride HouseMustard's Last Stand is a hidden gem serving up various American dishes including barbeque, burgers, and hot dogs- perfect for a quick bite or visiting family unable to agree on what to eat. 

Forty minutes east of Asheville, Marion is where “Main Street Meets the Mountains” and it lives and breathes the hype. Marion is as alluring as it is welcoming, offering visitors all the comforts and necessities of home. Historic Main Street in Downtown Marion is a perfect little vacation daycation and you may work up a bit of an appetite as you explore. Luckily there are lots of options to quell the hunger and quench your thirst. 

Kickstart your day with a stop at Ingenius Coffee Roasters for a delicious cup of coffee and easy conversation before stopping into GoGo's bakery for a moutherwatering cinnamon roll. Spend your afternoon exploring the new 310 District, an indoor shopping space that’s home to Marion Wing Factory, Toonez Chop House, Marion Hot Wheelz indoor skating rink, Chances of Sprinkles Bakery, and several retail shops. If you're searching for an authentic, Mexican cuisine- check out Burrito Brothers Mexican Restaurant. They serve delicious, made from scratch and grilled to order burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and more. J. Hartman's steakhouse is a great local spot that offers up premium steaks and seafood, and Crabby Abby’s Bar & Grill is fun for the whole family and includes an extensive menu along with a full selection of local brews, domestic and imported beers, wine and liquors.

Grab a locally-crafted beer at Marion’s first brewery, Mica Town Brewing Company. A renovated taproom with a rotating selection of beers, an upstairs game room, and an outdoor deck area give this brewery a hip vibe that’s perfect for those glorious summer evenings and colorful October evenings. Keeper's Cut Meadery is another great spot serving up wine-style and draft mead by tasting, flight, glass, and bottle in their large tasting room. While there, enjoy mead cocktails, charcuterie & cheese boards, desserts, and snacks while lounging on their outdoor patio. Experience locally sourced, handcrafted, southern fare at McDowell Local and make sure you leave room for ice cream from Artesana, which serves up locally sourced artisan and vegan ice cream options. For unique fun and with a drink in hand, check out Heathen's Den Axe Throwing & Ales and The Feisty Goldfish, a retrocade and bar with over 30 classic arcade games, classic pinball machines, foosball tables, a PS4, a Nintendo Switch, two 70" TV’s & one 75” tv for sporting events, and more!

Things to Do:

Lake James State Park

A 6000+ acre lake, surrounded by the pristine beauty of the Pisgah National Forest, Lake James is a haven for outdoor lovers. Just 15 minutes north of Marion, Lake James State Park offers easy access for boating, fishing, mountain biking and hiking. The park has two boat ramps for easy access. Fishing is permitted as long as visitors have obtained a North Carolina fishing license. Lake James is stocked with the large-mouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and more. There are also canoe and kayak rentals available during the summer. There’s no fee to access the park, with the exception of the swimming area. The Lake James swimming area is open May 1- September 30 and the cost is $6 per day for adults and $4 per day for children.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Running all the way from Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina, there’s not a more beautiful and awe-inspiring drive in America than one experienced on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Part of the Highlands Region of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which extends from the Virgina/North Carolina state line down through Boone, Blowing Rock, and Linville, ending in Marion and McDowell County. Along this section of the Parkway, you’ll find Crabtree Falls and Linville Falls, along with breathtaking views from numerous overlooks and hiking trails. 

Waterfalls

Located 26 miles east of Asheville and just a quick 3 miles off of I-40 to the trailhead, Catawba Falls in Old Fort is easily one of the most convenient waterfalls to get to in Western North Carolina. This stunning 100-foot waterfall is a moderate, uphill 1.5 mile hike up to the Lower Falls. The trail is mostly shaded and follows along the Catawba River all the way to the falls. In the warmer months, wading pools will be filled with visitors looking for a quick cool down. For those a little more adventurous, climb up to the Upper Falls for an even more breathtaking view.

The most visited waterfall along the Blue Ridge Parkway is Linville Falls. Approximately half an hour from Marion, Linville is open year round and has 2 main hiking trails to reach views of the upper and lower falls. Beginning at the Linville Falls Visitor Center, the trails range in difficulty. The Erwins View Trail is a moderate 1.6 miles round trip hike, features 4 overlooks of the Linville Falls area. Trails leading to Linville Gorge and to Plunge Basin are short, but strenuous. 

Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway in between Linville Falls and Mt. Mitchell, the hike to Crabtree Falls is a moderate 2.5 mile loop. Starting at the Crabtree Meadows Recreation Area, the hike to the falls is beautiful all year long. In early summer, wildflowers can be found along the way and the colors of the fall season will leave visitors in awe. The payoff is this 70-foot waterfall that is one of the most spectacular in North Carolina.

Tom’s Creek Falls is an ideal hike for families with small children. Located a few miles north of Marion, this 100-foot, gentle waterfall is an easy, 2 mile round trip hike.

Tubing Along the Catawba River

Go ahead and add river tubing to your list of favorite summer activities. Catawba River Outdoors in Marion offers tube rentals with a shuttle service to various locations along the Catawba River. With no real rapids, the tubing here is easy going and relaxing. The standard trip takes approximately 2 hours, but tubers can take their time to complete the ride. There are several beach areas and swimming holes to hop off and enjoy. Alcohol is legal and allowed on the river with cooler floats available for rent. Rates start at $20 for a standard 2-hour trip or $25 for the extended 4-5 hour trip. Kayaks are also available for rent.

Winter Activities

Within an hour to downtown Asheville and just over an hour’s drive to two of North Carolina’s best ski resorts, Old Fort and Marion offer visitors looking for proximity to both Asheville and skiing a convenient hub to get out and explore. Beech Mountain Ski Resort is the highest ski area in the eastern US and receives an average of about 84 inches of snow a year. With 17 different slopes, Beech Mountain is a popular destination for skiing, snowboard, tubing, and ice skating. Nearby Sugar Mountain Ski Resort in Banner Elk is another top destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Sugar Mountain has 21 slopes, 15 of which are lighted for night time skiing and snowboarding.

Marion Lake Club

Marion Lake Club is conveniently located less than 5 miles from I-40 and features spectacular views of Lake James, Linville Gorge and Shortoff Mountain. This 18 hole, par 70 course is open year-round and was designed to challenge experienced players while still allowing beginners the opportunity to learn the game. Marion Lake Club is a semi-private golf course offering valuable membership packages, including ramp access and boat dock with slips for Lake James, driving range, Clubhouse, and swimming pool. After your round, stop off for a bite to eat and an ice-cold beverage at Slices Bistro

Marion Tailgate Market 

A downtown staple, the Marion Tailgate Market occurs Tuesday afternoons (from 3 to 6) and Saturday mornings (from 9 to noon) during the growing season. Local farmers and the community set up in Historic Downtown Marion to sell local produce, meats, cheeses, flowers, baked goods, and locally-made crafts. Parking and admission are free. 

Popular Old Fort and Marion Events

The Livermush Festival is held on the first Friday evening of June each year on Main Street in Downtown Marion. Celebrating a beloved local delicacy, the event features free livermush sandwiches, a livermush eating contest, a live band, street dancing, food and drink vendors, kid activities, and more. 

Marion’s WNC Bigfoot Festival has been one of the most talked-about events in Western North Carolina with over 30,000 annual attendees since its inception in 2018. While the festival honors the elusive Bigfoot, also the town’s official animal, it really honors and showcases the spirit of Marion. The two-day mid-September festival features a Town Hall session with locals sharing their Bigfoot stories, a Bigfoot Calling Contest, Bigfoot 5K, Bigfoot Film Festival, and more. Over 150 vendors selling a wide range of handcrafted goods and Bigfoot inspired merchandise set up in Historic Downtown Marion. 

Marion’s Mountain Glory Festival is a craft fair festival held the 2nd Saturday of October in Downtown Marion. The festival celebrates small-town life in the mountains and features locally made arts and crafts. Enjoy classic festival foods, live entertainment and old-time mountain music, as well as a Children’s Arena with hand-on activities and the popular best-dressed pet contest.

The Downtown Summer Concert Series in downtown Marion is held June through August. Concerts usually start between 6:00 pm and 6:30 pm and feature an exciting lineup of entertainment. Attendees can pick up a picnic dinner from one of the many restaurants along Main Street then walk over to the Courthouse Lawn to set up chairs or blankets and enjoy the show. 


If you are looking for a place to stay in the Old Fort or Marion areas, check out our available Old Fort and Marion vacation rentals.