Most people haven’t heard about West Jefferson, NC and that’s good and bad. Good because this gem of a city remains uncluttered and easy to maneuver around, bad because it’s such an awesome place and people need to know about it.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains it’s convenient to nearby Boone and Blowing Rock which are a 30 to 40-minute drive. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short 10 minutes away.
For those living in the Research-Triangle area of North Carolina, it’s a 2.5-hour scenic drive. If you enjoy exploring North Carolina, this is a great way to see a lot in a small amount of time.
The city developed around the railroad and was officially incorporated in 1915. It served as the retail hub for the area and was a major stop on the line until 1977 when the local industry began to decline.
This little city didn’t die like many other small towns. West Jefferson built itself back up as a tourist destination and put quite a bit of money into renovating and upgrading the area. The result is a beautiful city that’s picturesque, clean, has great things to do, and offers amenities you might not expect.
West Jefferson is a great example of why I love North Carolina’s small towns.
- Why Is West Jefferson So Great
- When is the Best Time to Visit
- Things to Do in West Jefferson
- Things to Do Nearby
- Outdoor Activities in West Jefferson and Nearby
Why Is West Jefferson So Great
There’s so much to love about the city, it’s hard to know where to start. Check out our video for a quick overview!
From downtown, it’s about 20 minutes to the Blue Ridge Parkway, thirty to Boone, and forty to Blowing Rock, making West Jefferson a great jumping-off point to explore the area.
Perfectly situated, it’s further east and slightly lower in elevation than other nearby towns. This means that while the city still gets winter weather, it’s often not as severe as neighboring towns. You can enjoy the experience with some hot cocoa rather than panic about getting home.
Nearby are several state parks with hiking trails, a park with mountain biking trails, and a greenway, all ready for you to explore. There’s also the Mountains to Sea trail which extends across the state of North Carolina and parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway in this area.
Nearby Beech and Sugar mountains offer great options for skiers and other snow sports enthusiasts.
Downtown West Jefferson has a cute shopping area with several local stores. Friendly locals welcome you, offer plenty of help, and love to strike up conversations.
If you need your urban comforts, there’s also an Ingles grocery store (a local chain and one of the nicest grocery stores you will find), several fast food places, Walmart, Lowes, and a host of other options.
West Jefferson hosts a talented group of artists. There’s an annual Art Crawl monthly from June through October. Nibble on baked goods, enjoy local brews and see some great art.
Local businesses and galleries host their favorite talent. While there are plenty of art forms, I was drawn to the photographers. There are some truly talented artists in the area.
You can learn more at the Ashe County Arts Council Website.
When is the Best Time to Visit
This depends on what you’d like to do.
The mountains of North Carolina are a great place to escape the summer heat. However, everyone else has the same idea and the area can become crowded.
Spring is perfect for the mountains. You can hike and enjoy other outdoor activities. Things tend to be a little less crowded and the first flowers of spring begin to peek out.
This is my favorite time of year. The air is starting to cool and the trees begin to turn. While there may be a chance of inclement weather (snow), it’s not as likely until you begin nudging closer to the winter months.
The Blue Ridge Parkway and many local towns can become crowded as we near prime color week. But, this subsides quickly.
If you enjoy your winter sports, this would be the time to visit. You’ll want to be comfortable driving in snow and keep in mind that the Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed for inclement weather.
Rangers are able to close off sections, so you can sometimes drive down the highway and access a different section further down. You’ll need to continually monitor the National Park website.
Things to Do in West Jefferson
Explore downtown West Jefferson, but keep in mind several stores are closed Sundays and Mondays. You can check online for hours before you head out.
Street parking is plentiful and free downtown.
The Farmers Market
West Jefferson was a major stop along the Northwestern Railroad until its last run in 1977. The old tracks are still there and the Ashe County Farmer’s Market is housed in what appears to be an old train station.
It’s a great setting for a Farmer’s Market. There’s a cover to keep things dry from rain and protect from the sun. In the warmer months, they feature local produce, flowers, and other items like alpaca yarns.
Check to see if they’re open and stop on by.
Check Out the Murals
West Jefferson was the retail center of Ashe County until the railroad stopped in 1977. Unlike many other small towns that faltered, West Jefferson rebranded itself as a tourist location and initiated several revitalization projects.
One of these projects was the completion of art murals on downtown buildings. As you wander around you’ll see the murals here and there. They always seem to be in the right place.
The artwork is amazing and each piece seems to fit its location.
Start your morning with a latte from Bohemia. Trust me (because I have a huge latte problem), these folks know how to make a proper coffee drink. Friendly and patient, they’ll help you with your favorite caffeinated beverage.
Take a moment to relax at one of the tables or sofas and look out the window to watch the town come alive.
Wander around and peruse the local goods for sale like jewelry and honey. It’s a perfect way to start the day.
Hole Lotta Donut
While you could grab breakfast at one of the many restaurants and cafes, or grab something at Bohemia, on at least one morning stop by Hole Lotta Donut for a blueberry fritter.
A friend who has lived in the area her entire life suggested I try one and I’m hooked. They’re HUGE (capital H there), slightly crispy on the outside, and have this pillowy, light, soft dough inside. In a word, perfect.
Whole Lotta Donuts prides itself on homemade, old-fashioned yeast donuts. Without overloading you with options, they have something for everyone in the family including chocolate, regular glazed, and peanut butter cream glaze.
If you’re not in the mood for donuts, they also have coffee and ice cream, but honestly – go for the donuts.
Ashe County Cheese
Once you’ve wiped the stickiness off your fingers, head down to Ashe County Cheese. It can become crowded so you’ll want to be one of the first to arrive.
Ashe County Cheese has been in business since 1930 and has changed hands a few times before settling into the ownership of Mike Everhart and Tom Torkelson. The history of this little company is interesting and you can read the entire story on their website.
For anyone interested in watching the cheese being made, the manufacturing facility has a free viewing room. You can call ahead for the schedule. While they can’t guarantee that the plant will be active at exact times, they’ll do their best to help guide you.
Once you’re ready, head across the street to the store and buy some of their renowned cheese curds or cheddar blocks. You may need to show a little restraint before you add bottles of local wines, gifts, snacks, and other items like candles to your cart.
Bulls Boots and Western Wear
Everyone told me that this is where you go for real boots. And I mean locals when I say everyone.
Located right on Main Street, it’s pretty convenient. The photo below is of their old location down a side street. I still like the “No Grinches past this point” sign on the front porch.
Inside it’s exactly what I pictured in my head when I heard “country-western store”. Bulls feels modern, but still country. Their gear is functional but also fashionable.
I couldn’t help but ogle the boots. They had the usual Frye and Ariat, but also Old Gringo, Corral, and Double-H. Of course, I was being good and left them there, but the selection was incredible.
There’s a bit of a Western bar vibe to the store with the décor. The staff is friendly and really helpful.
Carolina Country Wines
As you walk down the street you’ll see a hanging sign for “Wine Shoppe & Tap Room”. Someone finally figured out that a business catering equally to both would bring harmony to many couples out there.
As you walk in, you’re greeted by the friendly staff in a beautiful space. Wines are upfront, lining the wall to your right with seating and the small bar on your left. Continue walking into the building and you’ll enter the beer room.
I’m not a big beer drinker but I have family members that enjoy their hard to find beers and I recognized a few brands. Same with the wines. They have wines for every palette.
Also in the back was Fentimens ginger beer. As a ginger beer connoisseur, I had to pick up a 4 pack and give it a whirl. I mean yes, I was going to add gin to it, but that’s beside the point.
That ginger beer was so deliciously spicy that it made my nose run. It’s hands down, the best ginger beer I’ve ever had. Super spicy, not too sweet, and with a touch of botanical notes. I will be back for some more and a bottle of wine.
Keep an eye on their website and Facebook site for events.
You can’t miss the store. It’s on one of the street corners and the name catches your eye.
Family-owned, there are 2 locations, one in West Jefferson and another in Boone. Mo’s is known for its incredible selection of outdoor and working boots.
Inside was a sea of Carhartt. If you’ve never heard of the brand, you’re missing out. Carhartt is made for people that work hard. It’s some of the most comfortable and durable clothing around. Usually, it has to be purchased online and not many places carry it.
To be able to touch, try on, and see all of the Carhartt options was amazing.
I didn’t spend too long in the store and only wandered around the women’s side. Honestly, I didn’t need boots and I was already having a hard time reigning in the spending.
I was busy racking up some Carhartt gear.
Many Other Stores and Restaurants
I know some locals in the area and they rave about the many restaurants and breweries in West Jefferson. If you have time, stop for lunch or dinner and give them a try.
You can also check out some of the other stores like Mountain Outfitters, or Footsloggers if you need some outdoor gear, or the Art Gallery to peruse the beautiful art.
If you’re looking for fun and quirky then check out the Hobby Barn which is half hobby shop and half….well, fair food While perusing the shop, grab some funnel cake or a corn dog thanks to the Candy Loft at Hobby Barn.
Have a yen for ice cream but you also need a nice sweater? Next door is McB’s Mercantile Ice Cream where, once again, you have 2 stores in one.
When I say there’s something for everyone in West Jefferson, I mean it.
Things to Do Nearby
The Frescoes at Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church
Known as the Church of the Frescoes, this cute little church houses beautiful art by Ben Long. The frescoes are beautifully done.
As you enter, there is a button you can push to activate a narrator. It was interesting to learn the history of the art, the definition of a fresco (I was surprised!), and the explanation behind the works.
The church is small, but pretty. Parking is in a small, paved lot behind the church. You can’t access it from the Church’s driveway. Head down the perpendicular side street and you’ll see it.
There’s a sister church, Trinity Church, in nearby Glendale, NC which houses a fresco of the last supper also completed by Ben Long.
Beyond the frescoes, the church has amazing stained glass windows, wood walls, and beamed ceilings.
Museum of Ashe County History
Even if you’re not a museum person, you’ll love the Museum of Ashe County History. Every room is staged in an interesting way where you feel like you’re transported back in time.
There’s a life-size diorama that recreates the Ore Knob Copper Mine, an exhibit with an entire moonshine setup and instructions that may be a little too easy to follow, and a case with a train set showing the Virginia Creeper line as it used to go through Tuckerdale, Lansing, West Jefferson, and Todd.
It was also interesting to see an old classroom, life-sized carriage, and sports history.
The staff are friendly and knowledgable. Be sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out.
Old Barn Winery
I enjoy my wines and nothing beats sitting back on a sunny day under an umbrella looking over a cute creek and plenty of green land while sipping a nice red.
The owners of Old Barn Winery run a local Christmas Tree Farm and branched out into wine, which is somehow a perfect match.
Old Barn Winery sits on a pretty piece of land. The white barn has plenty of room inside and they’ve decked the outdoors with patios, an outdoor fireplace, and plenty of tables. Kids can run around and explore the creek, while adults listen to a local band and sip great wine.
Enjoy a glass or a flight. The flights are served with the glasses tiered in a pretty wooden holder.
It’s the perfect place to relax and pamper yourself on a Saturday.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
Probably the most scenic National Park in the US, if you’re in the area, you need to drive at least a few miles on the road.
There’s an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of West Jefferson on 421 near Deep Gap.
The parkway has several overlooks, providing ample opportunity to pull over, safely take in the views, and get those photos that will have everyone envious of your trip.
Be sure to check the National Park Services website to plan your drive and make sure there are no road closures.
You can head on over to Boone and check the shops downtown or wander around Appalachian State University.
There are also good restaurants here.
On the way to Boone, you’ll pass Tweetsie Railroad which is more than just the train. It’s an entire day of games and shopping. Mainly aimed at younger children, the older ones will like it too.
Keep going and you’ll come to Blowing Rock. This town is busy year-round with Beech and Sugar Mountains nearby.
It’s filled with quaint shops for a day of shopping. As you walk the small downtown, little alleys and sideways shopping centers making the most of the space greet you.
If the weather is good, you can stop at the Greenway and walk from the trailhead on 321 to the Lake around Chetola Resort. Sit and enjoy the lake and grounds for a bit.
For extra fun, you can visit “The Blowing Rock”. There is a fee to enter, but it’s a great view. You’ve probably seen the many photos from the rock.
Pro tip: If you want to see yourself on the rock, get there in the morning. The light is much better since the sun won’t be directly behind you. If you want to see a silhouette on the rock, take the photo in the early evening.
Outdoor Activities in West Jefferson and Nearby
There are several parks and outdoor adventures in West Jefferson and Nearby
Mount Jefferson State Park
Located in West Jefferson, Mount Jefferson State Park is less than 15 minutes from downtown.
As you drive through a small neighborhood, the elevation starts increasing. And then it increases more until you enter the park. And then it becomes a white-knuckle drive if you don’t like heights.
It is beautiful, but be careful in winter if there’s any snow on the ground.
There are five overlooks and three can be reached by car. You can choose to park at the first overlook of the Park Office and hike, or you can drive all the way to the top.
At the top is a picnic area and parking. Jefferson Overlook is a short hike on a dirt and gravel path and is doable for most folks.
The Rhododendron Trail to Luther Rock is a good hike for beginners. The trail is in good condition with no climbs or dicey sections and is just a little over a mile round trip.
Elk Knob State Park
Elk Knob State Park is in Todd, NC about 30 minutes from West Jefferson.
It has two main trails, the 2 miles (one way) trail to the remote backcountry camping sites, and the 1.9 miles (also one way) Summit trail to incredible views.
The Summit trail is doable for most hikers, but you’ll want good hiking boots as the trail can be narrow in places, is a climb up to the summit so even with switch-backs you’re going up the entire time, and it’s rocky in places. Keep in mind that round trip is 3.8 miles.
About halfway up, there’s a vista which is a great place to stop for photos.
As you reach the top, there’s a sign for North and South overlooks. Take your time at both to try and orient yourself. You can see Grandfather Mountain and Mt. Mitchell from the south overlook.
On a clear day, Pilot Mountain is in view from the north overlook.
Grab your photos and head down when you’re ready.
The Mountains to Sea Trail
The Mountains to Sea trail runs across North Carolina from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks. It’s just shy of 1200 miles.
A large portion of the trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway as you near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
You can access sections of trail around the area. Part of it goes through the Moses Cone Memorial Park near Blowing Rock. It’s a good place to park and access the trail.
Sections of the trail can be difficult in the area and are best for hikers with experience and good gear (boots, small pack, understanding how much water and food to bring).
Information on different sections can be found on various websites. The Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail has information on how difficult each section is here https://mountainstoseatrail.org/the-trail/segments/.
West Jefferson, North Carolina
Whether you want a relaxing weekend in the mountains and maybe enjoy some good food and shopping, or an adventure-filled outdoor extravaganza, West Jefferson has it all.
Make sure to give yourself at least a week if you want to explore the nearby areas.
This is laid back Blue Ridge at its best.