Hidden Gems Along The Dan River: Spend The Summer On Top!

The Dan River flows through Stokes and Rockingham Counties, the perfect locale to celebrate the return of summertime in the Carolinas. From craft beer-sipping and nostalgia-sifting to hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding, there are ample things to do in two of North Carolina’s top counties – the perfect moniker for the Stokes/Rockingham region.

A journey through two top counties in North Carolina

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The following itinerary is ideal for an extended weekend along the Dan River, though you could certainly take your time enjoying all the area has to offer over an entire week. Regardless of how long you choose to linger, Carolina Traveler has got you covered for a unique Carolina experience that will have you yearning to return! For even more vacation ideas along the Dan River (Hanging Rock, King, Danbury, Madison, Eden, Reidsville), read Fall on the Dan River.  

Sunrise at Pilot Mountain Vineyards

Captivating views of Pilot Mountain await you at Pilot Mountain Vineyards.

[Day 1] Tap in at the top: brews and views at the pinnacle of relaxation

Are you a rustic rambler or an uptown enthusiast? Those who prefer the best of both worlds will find respite at Pilot Mountain Vineyards in Pinnacle, NC, where the Chardonnay and Riesling Suites are a few steps away from the (guests-only) jacuzzi and tasting room patio, open on weekends from 12:30 to 5 PM.

Lounge by the poolside patio as you gaze out past the vineyard toward unobstructed views of Pilot Mountain. Alternatively, trade hot tubs and crisp pours for swinging hammocks and fire pits at Jomeokee Park Campgrounds, which boasts equally impressive views of Pilot Mountain.

Once you’re settled, cruise into King, NC, for afternoon aperitifs and dinner. StoCo Provisions offers an eclectic range of craft beer, ciders, seltzers, and wine. The Red Clay Bramblin Blackberry cider and Sugar Creek Hi-Creek Fruit Punch Sour are favorites among Dan River locals, while oenophiles may opt for a glass of Bonsegna Primitivo or De Stefani Venis Sauvignon Blanc.

A few minutes further down Main, you’ll run into the Foothills Grill and Tap. A sandwich-forward eatery equally beloved by locals, Foothills gets the party going with 16+ draft taps, Wednesday night bluegrass jam sessions, Friday night karaoke, and live music on Saturday nights.

Real good pickin’: nostalgic times & eclectic finds in Walnut Cove

Return to S. Main Street in the morning, where King Kitchen whips up the heartiest breakfast in town, served anytime. Pair your three-egg omelet with crunchy French toast, Virginia country ham, or white pepper gravy over biscuits – whatever you have to do to fuel up for an active afternoon!

Riders on horseback venture into the woods near Hanging Rock State Park.

Slow the pace a little with a trail ride at Takota Horse Stables.

Get back in the saddle (or hoist yourself up for the first time) at Takota Horse Stables, where 30+ year equine aficionado Lisa Motsinger will lead you and your family on a spectacular trail ride through 30 acres of land flanked by Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain.

After a quick drive into Walnut Cove proper, a nostalgic journey back in time awaits. One of the most beloved attractions in town, the Just Plain Country Store may cause you to lose all sense of time with its one-of-a-kind finds, and the owner Kathy Dix is sure to steal your heart. Where else can you find a cowhide-upholstered office chair, hanging washboard mail organizer, and 1940s Texaco Fire Chief gasoline pump all in the same spot? Like a Vegas casino, you may want to enter this establishment with a set time (and spending) limit – or not!

An old rusted truck greets visitors to Hillbilly Hideaway

You know you've arrived when you reach the old rusted truck in Walnut Cove.

Dinner at The Hillbilly Hideaway is the perfect post-perusing follow-up. This family-owned establishment serves sensational meat-and-three specials on weekend nights (and no one will judge you if you feel so compelled to try them all during your stay in Stokes County).

After you’ve indulged in a plate of BBQ spare ribs and hot cakes followed by a bowl of peach cobbler, get those feet tapping over to the Music Hall across the parking lot on a Saturday night to hear three hours of gospel, bluegrass, or pure country music – there’s no cover charge! On any other night, you can always make your way back downtown to the Palmetto Theatre, where music from Band of Oz, Memphis Thunder, and other local troupes will make you forget you’re too full to flatfoot!

[Day 2] Big creek energy: not-so-lazy days in Westfield

Today’s adventures will take you to Westfield, about 20 minutes north of King. If you’re up for checking in to new accommodations, the Luna’s Trail Big Creek Lodge will redefine your idea of attainable luxury. You’re going to end up here for dinner, anyway, so why not go big and go home at the same time? Don’t worry, you’ll still retain the coveted views of Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock from the balcony of one of nine spacious rooms appointed with fixtures like rocking chairs, sliding barn doors, and clawfoot bathtubs. 

Click here to learn more about staying at Luna's Trail Big Creek Lodge.

Take advantage of the property’s miles of hiking trails and various creeks and ponds – canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards are at the disposal of Lodge guests. Drive four miles to Midsummer Brewing for beer tastings on a patio tucked back into the woods. You’re welcome to bring your kids, dogs, and any outside provisions to enjoy while you sip on a Mutual Obsession IPA.

Mother and son ride a zipline in Stokes County, NC

Race through the canopy and across meadows at Carolina Ziplines in Westfield, NC.

Now that you’re full of liquid courage, you’re surely prepared to take on the most thrilling attraction in Stokes County: the Carolina Ziplines Canopy Tour! Expect your tour to last from 1.5 to 2.5 hours (depending on how much fun you’re having). The Eleven Line Canopy Tour will challenge you with obstacles like suspended platforms, rapid descents, and 11 different zip lines, most of which have been fully upgraded in the past five years.

After streaking through the treetops, you can settle for a slowdown back at the Big Creek Lodge Restaurant, one of the best restaurants in the Dan River area, where Chef Brad Pickens concocts dreamy entrees derived from local meat and produce. The seasonal menu features NC strawberry bruschetta, blackened mango-lime mahi, and “farmers eggrolls” overflowing with pimento cheese, bacon jam, and pulled pork – we dare you to eat just one.

Hanging around Hanging Rock: Danbury delights warrant exploration

A ten out of ten finish to your stint in Stokes County starts on the water. Located inside Hanging Rock State Park, the Dan River Company provides shuttle services in addition to canoe and kayak rentals, so there’s no need to worry about coordinating car locations for pick-up and drop-off. The Dan River Co’s standard excursion – the 6.2-mile Preserve Park – begins at the northern foot of the Sauratown Mountains and bends through the Dan River Bluffs. You’re apt to spy peregrine falcons, freshwater clams, and rare tree species unique to the area.

A deputy enjoys an ice cream cone in Danbury, NC

Everyone makes time for homemade ice cream treats! Snapped at the Front Porch Creamery in Danbury, NC.

 After all that physical exertion, you deserve a reward. And what do you know, the best ice cream shops in the Dan River are en route to your next destination. The Front Porch Creamery is just outside the entrance of Hanging Rock State Park, offering rotating flavors of the week like banana pudding and blueberry cheesecake served in a fresh waffle cone.

A few miles further, you’ll be welcomed by a nine-foot-tall bear named Rocky, the towering mascot of Rocky’s Coffee & Ice Cream. Emphasis is on the ampersand – ain’t no shame in your mixing-coffee-with-ice-cream game!

Pair Rocky’s Ice Cream with a visit to The Arts Place next door, where local artists sell stained glass, wood carvings, quilts, prints, and more. The Stokes County Arts Council, stewards of The Arts Place, also host the free annual Stokes Stomp in September (one of the best Dan River area fall festivals). Enjoy exceptional Americana music, arts and crafts demos, river excursions, and local cuisine at Stokes Stomp, a North Carolina hidden gem.

Before you go, though, we would be remiss not to send you off with a quick stopover at J.E. Priddy’s General Store. Built in 1888 and operated by the Priddy family for nearly a century, Priddy’s is a true Stokes County institution. According to locals, the perfect lunch is a ham and hoop sandwich washed down with a glass-bottle Coca Cola and a piece of dried apple pie…with another scoop of ice cream…because why not? Browse the Priddy’s selection of homemade jams, fresh-baked breads, and local crafts and wares to take home as souvenirs.

[Day 3] Divine wines: tranquil tippling in Madison and Mayodan

At the juncture of the Mayo and Dan Rivers sits the town of Madison, originally conceived as a hub for river trading. While the flat-bottomed batteau boats that floated quietly along the banks of the sister rivers are no longer a fixture of the town named after President James Madison, there are plenty of ways to experience the allure of the gently flowing rivers.

For a slightly faster pace and the excitement of tumbling water, put in at the Madison River Park. The park is a short 4-minute drive from the middle of town.

Group tubing with Dan River Outfitters in Madison, NC.

Ingredients for the perfect afternoon: friends, tubes, refreshing water and a cooler with Dan River Outfitters in Madison, NC.

Float lazily downriver with Madtown Tubing, which shuttles up to 30 passengers to and from the river for each reservation. Your tube will come equipped with large heavy-duty handles, a cup holder, a comfortable backrest, and optional floating cooler! An equally thrilling adventure awaits at Dan River Outfitters – in addition to river tubing, you can reserve riverfront glamping hunts and even floating tents!

If fishing is at the top of your itinerary, Mayodan Outdoor Sports is your go-to location for live bait and tackle. You can even apply for and obtain your fishing license within the same day. It’s easy to lose yourself among the aisles of unique gear and provisions, which include animal-tracking bracelets, campfire cooking equipment, and all-terrain footwear.

Tubing at Madison River Park in Madison, NC

Splashing encouraged! For a thrilling river float experience, try the River Park in Madison, NC.

Explore hotel options in Madison, NC.

Like the founding fathers of the nation who came before them, modern-day oenophiles will enjoy a stop at two of the region’s finest wineries. In addition to offering red and white wines made from Carlos, Magnolia, and Noble grapes, Dragon Glass Winery affords exquisite lakefront views from a recently restored tasting room and wedding venue.

Several miles away, in the town of Mayodan, Gioia dell’Amore Cellars at Autumn Creek Vineyards rents cabins to wine enthusiasts who wish to stay on the property. Located steps from the tasting room, six rustic cabins overlook vistas of the vineyards. At night, the reflection of the moonlight skipping off the pond will send you into sweet summer dreams.

Inside the Madison Dry Goods store in Madison, NC

While you're still dry, pop into the charming Madison Dry Goods store for a souvenir. You'll find this delightful shop in Madison, NC.

You’ll find no shortage of delicious eats in the stretch between Madison and Mayodan. In Stoneville, Debbie’s is known for their original cathead biscuits and tenderloin dip fried and smothered in sawmill gravy. Southern Spirits Bar & Grill regularly features bourbon tastings, karaoke nights, and their deck is the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a cold beer during many of the downtown events such as the “Beachin’ BBQ Bash.”

If you’re interested in a different type of “spirit,”  you’ll certainly want to take a gander through Madison Dry Goods and Country Store, one of the oldest buildings in town with a haunted legacy recently explored on a Netflix special. Today, the store is home to the Dan River Expedition Company private label and features a smattering of Rockingham County food products. If you’re interested in learning more about the heinous acts that occurred many years ago, you can creep up to the Charlie Lawson Family Tragedy Museum on the second floor. Just keep a lookout for moving objects or a solemn little girl in a white dress…

A Sweet Finish In Reidsville And Eden

You’ll find a scattering of pocket parks, murals, and art throughout downtown Reidsville. Prominent brick sculptor Brad Spencer is based in town and has dedicated years to carving large, magnificent forms from bricks made in Madison at Pine Hall Brick. While many of his works are in Rockingham County, you’ll find them throughout other Carolina cities, as well as other states.

Find a hotel in Eden, NC.

If you’re hankering for more time outdoors, there are a few fun options. Ask a local for the best fishing spot on Lake Reidsville, where there are ample options for kayaking, boating, and fishing. Additionally, Rockingham County’s first state-of-the-art disc golf course attracts families and groups of friends looking for a unique outdoor recreational activity.

Also — the Dan River isn't the only place to get your angling on — the well-stocked Lake Reidsville is home to largemouth bass, carp, yellow perch, and other species, so there is always a good chance of catching something. The hiking trails run adjacent to the lake, granting breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, while the nearby Chinqua Penn walking trail cuts through two ponds and attracts more than 190 species of birds. Depending on the season, you’ll catch sight of bluebirds, hawks, kingfishers, and warblers.

Brick sculptor Brad Spencer

Reidsville, NC, is home to the studio of artist Brad Spencer. If you haven't seen his work around the Carolinas, you'll likely spot one of his creations in Reidsville.

An end to your jaunt through the Stokes/Rockingham region awaits at Sweet Revenge…served hot or cold. Sweet Revenge is Eden’s go-to joint for extraordinary desserts. Go big with a slice of pound cake or a jumbo cupcake, or savor a selection of smaller treats like macarons, truffles, oatmeal cream pies, and lemon bars.

If you’re looking for something less likely to induce you into a physical stupor, Hive is a delightful bar serving up tapas, paninis, and creative charcuterie boards. Indulge in an order of doughnut chips – doughnut holes pressed into a chip and served with whipped cream and honey. As you trot from one cafe to the next, make sure to stop by the Preppy Pirate to indulge in some retail therapy. This eclectic boutique designs custom coastal apparel for men and women

 As you set your sights toward home, we know that you’ll be eager to uncover all the reasons to return in the fall, where additional autumn adventures pave the way for a completely unique Stokes/Rockingham County and Dan River experience. Until then, your memories will keep your soul as satiated as a glass-bottle Coca-Cola from Priddy’s.

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