Day Tripper: Multi-Faceted Mitchell County
Story by Gina Malone | Photos by Sarah Jones Decker
Winter has its own beauty in our part of the world and a day trip along December roads in Mitchell County offers loveliness of landscape as well as some great detours along the way. The towns of Spruce Pine and Bakersville are destinations for shoppers and nature lovers alike.
“Surrounded by the three most important mountains in the state—Roan Mountain, Mt. Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain—Mitchell County is in the center of it all for outdoor, art, cultural and local food enthusiasts,” says Patti Jensen, executive director for the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce.
On the first weekends in June and December, the Toe River Arts Council (TRAC) Studio Tours invite exploration of the area’s art studios and galleries. Encompassing Yancey County also, these self-guided tours include miles of roads winding past studios all over the countryside.
Spruce Pine exudes small-town charm and hospitality. When strolling and shopping take their toll, a common area, complete with public restrooms and a visitors’ center awaits.
TRAC’s Spruce Pine Gallery on Oak Street boasts a gift shop as well as gallery space for regular shows. The nonprofit Market on Oak offers a wealth of handcrafted and handmade goods from local artists, artisans, writers, musicians and farmers. Its mission, according to the website, is providing “the gifted, vibrant people of our region—many of whom have lost their jobs in furniture and manufacturing to overseas factory relocations—a way to make a living doing what they love and what they know best.”
When it comes time to find a bite to eat, the search is not difficult. “Our area has become this secret foodie heaven,” Jensen says, “with James Beard Award nominee Nate Allen at Knife and Fork and other farm-to-table restaurants like the Fox and the Fig and Harvest Market Café.”
Bakersville is sometimes referred to as the ‘best kept secret in WNC,’ according to Anita Connelly, artist and owner of Anita’s Atelier. “I have watched the number of artists grow over the past 15 years from two galleries to up to seven within a two-block area.”
Downtown galleries include In Tandem Gallery, Shane Mickey Pottery and Mica, a co-op of fine contemporary crafts run by its 13 members who work in clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, sculpture and metal.
“If the outdoors calls your name,” Jensen says, “you definitely want to check out the hiking and cross-country skiing on Roan Mountain. The scenery is breathtaking! And believe it or not, you can still fish the heritage trout streams in Mitchell County in December.” Mount Mitchell, though located in Yancey County, offers a stunning view from many vantage points in Mitchell County.
Before heading home for the day, consider a detour along the Blue Ridge Parkway or Highway 226 and 226A (Diamondback Route). Those heading back to Asheville will pass through Little Switzerland and Emerald Village, home of the North Carolina Mining Museum. And why not end your day with a stop at one of the area’s Christmas tree farms? Little Switzerland Fraser Firs is one of many area farms that offer a real family adventure in choosing a tree.
Finally, don’t be deterred by orange cones. “We’re excited about the progress being made on Highway 19E from I-26 to Spruce Pine,” Jensen says. “The four-lane highway construction is in progress, but still provides an easy drive into our area.”
Planning Your Trip
Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce
Museum of North Carolina Minerals/Visitors Center
Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 331
Toe River Arts Council Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery
269 Oak Avenue, Spruce Pine
Tuesday–Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.