Dash to Ashe: A Trip to Ashe County, NC

AAA Go magazine

Partly situated in the Cherokee National Forest on the Tennessee and Virginia borders —  northeast of Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina — Ashe County is anchored by the quaint towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson.

The county is known for its charming rural-artistic vibe and natural, outdoor activities. The area also offers colorful street murals, historic frescoes and art galleries, as well as walkable streets filled with shops, restaurants and a fun-to-tour cheese factory and store.

Art Haven

From vivid outdoor murals to historic Ben Long frescoes and more, Ashe County is a destination for all things art. Downtown West Jefferson offers the Ashe Arts Center, home to The Gallery and Shop, a year-round exhibition space that showcases works and goods of over 100 area artists.

In addition to the thriving visual arts scene in the area, Ashe County boasts vivid barn quilts (quilt block paintings on barns). Print out one of the Ashe County Arts Council’s tours. Divided into six loop trails, it takes you to roughly 150 barn quilts. Some are sponsored by the Arts Council, others made by the community.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in West Jefferson is worth a short detour off the main drag. The quaint church holds the Mystery of Faith  fresco, the artistic treasure of Asheville-based artist Ben Long, whose work appears all over the world and is archived at the Smithsonian. You’ll find St. Mary’s on 400 Beaver Creek School Road.

Time-Honored Hootenanny

Pickin’ and grinnin’ lives on in Lansing. Time it up for a Friday night and head over to Phipps General Store. This modest structure from a bygone era opens its doors for old-school, hootenanny-style jam sessions weekly from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Grab a seat around the musicians or at the old counter and listen to some classic mountain tunes.

Say Cheese!

Three towering metal cows greet guests in search of the Carolinas’ oldest cheese-manufacturing plant. The trio are painted onto milk tanks outside of Ashe County Cheese, which has produced more than 20 types of cheese since 1930. In the gift shop across the street, sample cheese curds or bring home jellies and jams, local wine, fudge, butter and more. Check the website for prime cheese-making times. After your tour, head to Boondocks Brewing Taproom & Restaurant for a one of their craft beers. Their locally focused beers rotate regularly, but favorites like JMB Stout, Honey Orange Kolsch and Crumpler Crippler Citra 2XIPA are available year round.

Take a Hike

Winding through the county, the Blue Ridge Parkway boasts all kinds of hiking trails, picnic spots, rock climbing and more, while the New River offers canoeing, rafting and trout fishing.

Five hiking trails , ranging from a child-friendly to strenuous, draw outdoors enthusiasts and casual nature lovers alike to the Mount Jefferson Natural State Area. An investment of about an hour yields high returns: the beauty and biodiversity of the mountainous forest with expansive views of the surrounding countryside.

Photo: Ashe County Cheese

Original story appeared in Go Magazine May/June 2020

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