Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine named Spruce Pine one of their Next Great Adventure Towns. Here’s what they said “Have you ever discovered a band before it hit the big time? It can be a conflicting find. Should you tell all and spread the word, or tuck the artist away in the recesses of your playlist, your own little secret? Stumbling upon the next Asheville is kinda the same. Lucky for you, we’re not in the business of keeping secrets. Steer away from the throngs of tourists this summer and discover the adventure in these four mountain towns. With thriving art scenes, backdoor adventures, and nightlife culture to boot, the only thing missing here is you. What are you waiting for?”
In the early 1900s, Spruce Pine was considered the Toe River Valley’s biggest town, thanks in large part to the vastly expanding railroad and mining industries of the time. Both of those industries have since dwindled to naught, and that’s left Spruce Pine’s residents the opportunity to reinvent their identity. At the heart of this next chapter is the great outdoors.
Located amid thousands of acres of western North Carolina’s most treasured public lands, Spruce Pine is the closest major town to three of the region’s iconic mountains—Mount Mitchell, Roan Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain. Its proximity to these Southeastern gems, coupled with in-town river access, has the potential to make Spruce Pine North Carolina’s next best mountain town. At least, that’s what Spruce Pine native Starli McDowell, Executive Director of the Toe River Valley Watch, thinks.
McDowell was instrumental in the 2009 removal of the Spruce Pine dam on the Toe River, which opened access for paddlers through downtown Spruce Pine. Now, the river is free-flowing, and one of the few free-flowing rivers in the state. She’s currently working on a three-phase greenway that will increase pedestrian and bicycle accessibility to Spruce Pine. When complete in 2018, the greenway will connect downtown Spruce Pine to the Blue Ridge Parkway and will be recognized as an official section of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail which honors the Revolutionary soldiers who fought the British at King’s Mountain.
Play: Float the Toe River. Thanks to the hard work of McDowell and the Toe River Valley Watch, there’s an extremely in-depth online resource for paddling the Toe River Canoe Trail. Check out toerivervalley.org for more information on put-ins, camping, water levels, and more. Though mostly flat, the river does have some really fun class II+ rapids and flows for 20 miles unimpeded to the mouth of the Nolichucky Gorge, another classic river in the Southeast. Take advantage of Spruce Pine’s backdoor access to some of the most rugged terrain in the Southeast by hitting the trails on Roan Mountain. Appalachian Trail thru hikers treasure Roan for its miles of open, canopy-free trail that traverse a stunning grassy bald. Bring a camera if you go—hiking amid a 360-degree theater of endless blue ridgelines lends itself to countless photo opps. If you’re visiting during apple season, head up on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Historic Orchard at Altapass. The you-pick orchard features walking trails and over 40 different heirloom apple varieties, making it a perfect blend of history and recreation. At day’s end, Spruce Pine’s Riverside Park offers a mellow, paved, half-mile-long trail that parallels the Toe River. Keep an eye out for the river’s winged residents like the spotted and solitary sandpipers, great blue herons, and belted kingfishers.
Stay: For quiet camping that puts you front and center to all of the adventure and scenery that defines the Blue Ridge Parkway, look no further than Springmaid Mountain. Tent sites start at $25 per night and come complete with a picnic table and fire ring with grill. If you’re in the market for a lodging option with a roof, Springmaid also has a handful of one- to five-bedroom cabins for rent starting at $85 per night. Campers can enjoy kayaking, fishing, or even horseback riding right on-site, too.
Eat: No visit to Spruce Pine is complete without breakfast at the town’s two favorite breakfast spots, DT’s Blue Ridge Java and Fox and the Fig. For the full breakfast menu, head to DT’s. If it’s a quick coffee and maybe a cup of yogurt and homemade granola, try the Fox and the Fig. The Tropical Grill is a much more casual dining option but a tried and true local go-to.
photo credit: Appalachian Exposures