by Nathan Walls
Travelers looking for a little bit of everything, with an inexpensive price tag, should experience the Blue Ridge Mountain blend that Surry County, North Carolina, provides.
The natural and cultural resources of Surry County abound, with none more important than Pilot Mountain, one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks. Rising more than 2,000 feet, the knob at Pilot Mountain can be spotted for miles away from neighboring counties. The nickname for the mountain, “Mount Pilot,” is a household phrase that was popularized by the Andy Griffith Show. Visitors can enjoy stunning views, hiking and numerous other activities at Pilot Mountain State Park.
Back to Nature
Become one with nature by traveling to the park’s Yadkin River Section at Bean Shoals Access. Riding in a large truck or SUV, adventurers cross through a stream three times on their way to a river access that offers a rare opportunity. When the water is low, individuals can walk across the Yadkin River, cool off or fish. You’re likely to see kayaks and canoes, as Surry County’s home to many public river accesses. Remnants of the historic Bean Shoals Canal are located down the railroad track from the river access. The canal was started to help boats get down the Yadkin River to the coast easier. It was never finished due to a lack of funds.
On the other side of Surry County, Stone Mountain State Park covers a huge swath of land that goes into Wilkes County. It features a massive granite dome that’s a sight to behold. Rock climbers can scale the 600-foot granite face with a permit and hikers can enjoy 18 miles of trails that wind around the mountain and up the less steep side of the rock. Majestic waterfalls are popular tourist attractions and the lower Widows Creek Falls forms its own natural rockslide that you can careen down into a shallow pool of water. More than 20 miles of streams are designated trout waters, making fishing a popular park activity.
Picnicking, camping and horseback riding are also common activities at Pilot Mountain and Stone Mountain.
Falls and Trails
The waterfalls at Stone Mountain are not the only water chutes in the area. Carter Falls near the Surry-Wilkes county line is one of the most picturesque falls in North Carolina and feature two sets of drops alongside the remains of an old mill. The Elkin Valley Trails Association worked with the state to cut a trail to the falls as part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Plans call for a suspension bridge to be built over Carter Falls, which share Elkin Creek/Big Elkin Creek with another set of falls at the Elkin Public Library. The gorgeous Galloway Memorial Episcopal Church sits atop a hill overlooking the falls, providing epic photo opportunities from the library side.
A trail meanders beside the library waterfalls and exemplifies the network of trails in the area that make up three sanctioned trail systems. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, the Yadkin River Blue Water Trail and the Overmountain Victory Trail all pass through Elkin. The Granite City Greenway in Mount Airy, popular for cyclists and joggers, runs from Riverside Park to Veterans Park, bordering the Ararat River and Lovill’s Creek. You can add more physicality to your bike ride by taking on mountain bike trails at Fisher River Park in Dobson, Mount Airy’s Westwood Park and along Elkin Creek. Another cycling option, the Surry County Scenic Bikeway, utilizes vehicular roads and covers over 500 miles, using four large loops.
The impact of Surry County’s navigable rivers has already been touched on, as the Yadkin, Ararat, Fisher and Mitchell rivers play an important role in tourism and everyday life. River outfitters rent kayaks, canoes and tubes for floats down the water, most notably the Yadkin, which is one of the largest rivers in the state. Numerous public river accesses allow for easy in and out on river trips. There are approximately 100 miles of paddling waters on the four rivers and 36 miles of trout waters stocked by the N.C. Wildlife Commission. Fishing, including fly-fishing, is a past-time for visitors. The Four Rivers Map, which pinpoints locations where fish is stocked, is located on www.yadkinvalleync.com.
Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, elevation 2,885 feet, is a favorite destination and the site where the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935. Located near the Virginia line, it was the first Blue Ridge Parkway recreation area that opened to the public. Picnic tables and restrooms are located there so you can enjoy a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains or hike, including an easy stroll on the Cumberland Knob Trail or a challenging traverse on the Gully Creek Trail.
Wine and Dine
Off Interstate 77, you’ll find Shelton Vineyards, the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina and one of numerous wineries and vineyards in Surry County. The area has a wealth of viticulture options, as it is in the Yadkin Valley Wine Region. Wine tasting rooms, restaurants and food trucks accompany exceptional views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Live musicians also regularly perform on weekends, making a weekend dining experience like an event. There are approximately 18 vineyards and wineries on the Surry County Wine Trail — with more to come.
Breweries, distilleries and pubs are also located throughout the county, with some being based in the beautiful downtowns. Should you want to really enjoy your wine or alcohol tasting experience, Yadkin Valley Wine Tours, Good Time Trolley, Frog Holler Wine Tours, Elkin Vine Line, Heart & Soul Wine Tours and Parkway Wine Tours offer paid shuttle services. More information about the paid shuttle services is available on www.yadkinvalleync.com under “Wine Tours.”
While visiting the downtowns of Mount Airy (Mayberry), Elkin, Pilot Mountain and Dobson, you can also enjoy the delicious food of a large variety of restaurants, awesome festivals that Surry County is well known for, classic car cruise-ins, food truck events and theaters that feature traveling and local musicians and plays. The Historic Earle Theatre & Old-Time Music Heritage Hall in Mount Airy is a famous spot for old-time and bluegrass music that has popularized the genre. Surry County is where the music of Tommy Jarrell, whose banjo is part of the Smithsonian Collection, became legend. The Reeves Theater in Elkin is known for traveling bands, a house band and a great café. The Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy features plays that regularly pack the house – the building is the former high school gymnasium in which Andy Griffith played basketball.
Downtown Mount Airy is the site of the world-famous Snappy Lunch, which Griffith frequented as a youngster and where you can enjoy a Pork Chop Sandwich. The Mayberry theme is a staple of the downtown, with shops, candy and ice cream stores and restaurants using names from the Andy Griffith Show and visitors taking a ride with Mayberry Squad Car Tours.
Golf courses in Mount Airy (Cross Creek Country Club), State Road near Elkin (Cedarbrook Country Club) and Pilot Mountain (Pilot Knob Park Country Club) also offer great physical activity and mountain and scenic views that make you appreciate the location of Surry County.
A plethora of campgrounds, RV parks and hotels provide a home away from home on your vacation or getaway. Your local AAA Travel Agent can help you decide the best accommodations for your taste and budget.
(Photos by Sam Dean)