Old Fort Trails and Trains Festival

The Old Fort Trails and Trains Festival started in 2023 with the goal to celebrate North Carolina as the Great Trails State.

There’s a lot of work happening in Old Fort as it continues to build up the Gateway Trails, creates a new park for the Fonta Flora Trail to go through, and reopens Catawba Falls.

Plus, downtown is open for business with Seeker Coffee, Hillman Brewery, and Euda Winery. I’m sure even more will be coming soon.

While this may not be one of the large NC Festivals you’re used to, it’s still a fun event and I believe it will become larger year after year.

Old Fort is one of my favorite small towns in North Carolina. There’s plenty of parking, and it sits on the edge of some of the best hiking and mountain biking in Pisgah National Forest. For a small town, there’s a lot to do in Old Fort.

Several vendor tents set up in a grassy field with people wandering around and looking at things to buy.

Festival Food

The Trails and Trains festival is small with limited food. You can grab a hot dog or sandwich at the festival if you want something fast. Personally, I would head to one of the local restaurants like Hillman Brewery, or Black Beary Café.

Saturday morning, you could purchase a pancake breakfast which was a money raiser. Sunday had a waffle breakfast.

Trails and Trains Festival Activities

While the festival itself is small, there are plenty of activities. Near the Mountain Gateway Museum is “Vendor Village”. This is where local vendors, businesses, and organizations set up their tents. When I visited, there were around 15 tents. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the Trails and Trains festival is more of “do things” festival than a “shop and eat” festival.

Among the outdoor activities were fly fishing demonstrations, a rubber duckie race, and shuttles to Catawaba Falls. You could also sign up for a yoga session off the Meadow Trail, a naturalist hike with plant identification, or a bike ride through the Gateway Trails.

The Old Fort Library Book Mobile was on site, and the Old Fort Train Depot was open for self-guided tours of the railroad car out back and the model train inside.

Since 2024 was also the grand reopening of Catawba Falls, there was an hourly shuttle from the festival to the falls all weekend.

A waterfall that has several different paths down a mossy covered rock face until the water combines near the bottom.

Festival Events

Old Fort is all about the outdoors, so it comes as no surprise there was a half marathon and a 10K. Of course, these were trail runs.

You could also tour the new Fonta Flora Park and MTCC Trail School.

The library had a craft table set up to make art, and there was a scavenger hunt for the kids.

Tips for First Timers at the Festival

This is not the usual “festival” you’ve come to know and love. The focus is on the trails and activities downtown. You’ll find a small vendor village near the Mountain Gateway Museum, but roads aren’t blocked, and food is limited.

This is really more about exploring the area with Rangers, Trail builders, naturalists, and other specialists to guide you through all of the outdoor adventures available nearby.

I would definitely check the festival website for the schedule before heading out.

Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and good shoes with tread.

Parking and When to Arrive

Parking is easy and free throughout downtown. Since the festival is small, there’s no bad time to arrive.

Sunscreen and Water

You’re going to be outside and driving from one location to another. If you plan to head to the trails, grab sunscreen, bug spray, and some water.

Tall grass with purple flowers growing in a meadow with green trees on the far end.

Final Thoughts about the Festival

I wouldn’t necessarily head to this festival because it’s so small. However, if you’re planning to visit the area, it would be nice to time it with the Trails and Trains if you can.

This is a unique opportunity to get in on a festival before it becomes large.

All of the activities scheduled for the festival provide a great way to explore downtown Old Fort and the surrounding area.

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