Drive-ins, festivals, eclectic eats, and iconic peaks are on the things to do itinerary of your fall excursion to North Carolina communities connected by the Dan River.
The Dan River meanders through small towns, rolling hills, and iconic peaks just south of the Virginia border – the ideal setting for a few days of leaf-peeping adventure. It’s here on the north side of North Carolina where you’ll find a cache of hidden Carolina gems and exciting things to do – eccentric festivals, flavor-packed cuisine, and a web of secret trails.
Start your leaf-peeping in Eden, where the annual RiverFest occurs on September 15 and 16. Marvel at chainsaw-carving artisans, sand artists, and BMX stunt riders while live music pulses in the background. Youngsters will enjoy roaming magicians, the interactive Play Zone, and an up-close butterfly encounter.
Washington Street is home to a smattering of restaurants offering scrumptious bites in the Dan River area. Wander into Sophisticated Rubbish – a whimsical trove of vintage and antique furniture, decor, and gifts – then make your way to the back of the store for a real treat! There, you’ll find Twisted Biscuit Deli & Market, where you can nosh on made-to-order sandwiches, pimento cheese, and other provisions.
Get Outta Town
The Smith River Greenway boasts an interactive art walk, otter sculptures, a butterfly trail, and a stunning sunflower field. A mid-day beer recess is always a good idea, and Reynolds Brewery is your pot of gold at the end of the Greenway rainbow. You’ll find friendly bartenders pouring up home-brewed pints and slinging wood-fired pizzas hot out of their authentic brick oven.
Don’t leave Eden without dining at That Little Pork Shop, a self-described “spunky little BBQ joint with a Rock ‘n Roll flair.” This pork paradise near the Dan River whips up aptly-named appetizers like “Little Nuggets of Joy” and “BBQ Balls” along with devilishly decadent entrees such as the “Big Poppa Pulled Pork” platter and “BYBO (Burn Your Butt Off) Burger.”
Catch a double feature at the Eden Drive-In on Friday or Saturday night, and take a minute during the previews to gaze up at the clear evening sky. You’ll find the stars are just as bright as those on the big screen!
What the Hay Are You Talking About?
Some things you’ll only find in North Carolina, and the What the Hay Festival is one of them! On October 14, locals near the Dan River don their creative caps to display gigantic hay decorations across Mayodan. Bumblebees, dinosaurs, tractors, and other massive hay bale formations are sure to give you a giggle – don’t forget to vote for best in show! Between hay bales, you’ll find a beer garden, food truck corral, and face-painting.
In Madison, stay in the Mystic Meadows Love Shack – a creek-side rustic A-frame cabin set upon a 28-acre farm. The property is equipped with a fire pit, grill, and private outhouse, with a transparent door that you can convert into a makeshift patio roof or keep down for protection from the elements.
Check your most important meal of the day off your list by heading over to Debbie’s Restaurant in nearby Stoneville.
Downtown Madison’s burgeoning social district allows visitors to wind through streets and shops with an alcoholic beverage in tow, which is fortunate because wineries and microbreweries are scattered across town.
Speaking of FABulous Flavors Near The Dan River…
Reidsville’s FAB Festival (food, art, and brew) provides the perfect excuse to jaunt through town. Food samples include blooming onions, funnel cakes, and Philly steak and cheese sandwiches. Peruse the artwork section to find jewelry, pottery, garden decor, and other crafts, and snap a selfie with the old Lucky Strike Cigarettes factory in the background! The fun takes place on October 21. Stay at the Chez Lindsey Social House in downtown Reidsville, a historic home that fuses French culture with southern charm.
If the FAB Festival satiates your tastebuds, you’ll want to try other delicious restaurants in the Dan River area. The Celtic Fringe is an eclectic Irish bistro serving an array of hearty Southern/Irish concoctions. End the evening at Lucky City Brewing, a brewing co-op featuring popular pours like the Mango Zest Gose or the Hello Darkness Imperial Stout – a bold, chocolatey brew that doubles as dessert.
Standing on the Edge of Glory
Hanging Rock State Park is the crown jewel of Stokes/Rockingham and the Dan River area. At the Visitor’s Center, you’ll find trail maps, restrooms, and the trailhead for the 1.3-mile Hanging Rock Trail. The view at the top makes the trek worthwhile – step out (carefully) onto the “hanging rock” overlooking the Sauratown Mountains.
Cool off afterward with a refreshing dip in the pool by the Lower Cascade Falls of the Dan River. It’s an 8-minute trip around the corner by car. You’ll want to stick around for a few days to explore more of Hanging Rock’s trails and take in more activities. Try a stay at The Big Creek Lodge at Luna’s Trail, which offers three cabins and nine bedrooms in the lodge. Guests have access to trails, a pond, stand-up paddle boards, a canoe, a kayak and long-range views of the mountains.
After such heart-pumping recreation, you’ll want to pull up a chair at Stokes County’s friendliest watering hole. The Green Heron Ale House is a popular rest stop for Hanging Rock hikers and Dan River paddlers, featuring over 20 flowing taps of beer, cider, and wine.
Driving through King, it’s impossible to miss Dairi-O – your best bet for a sweet lunchtime treat near the Dan River. Ice cream enthusiasts enter through an enormous soft drink facade. Devour a hot dog or hamburger with chili cheese fries, then shimmy over to the ice cream counter, where you’ll be faced with a near-impossible decision: milkshake, ice cream sundae, float, or flurry? Choose from over 30 hand-scooped flavors and soft-serve options. Did somebody say peanut butter caramel cookie dough?
After a riveting weekend chasing waterfalls, color-changing leaves, unparalleled views, and decadent food, we can’t imagine it will be long until you’re drawn back by wonders yet explored. Each season shines a spotlight on different attractions in Stokes/Rockingham – we trust you’ll want to come back to the Dan River soon and discover them for yourself!
Hanging Rock Accessibility — While the hike to the top of Hanging Rock rewards the intrepid with phenomenal views, it’s a strenuous climb. The trailhead out of the parking lot is paved for about a quarter mile, which transitions to large gravel stones until you reach the steps (about 130). Beyond the steps the trail is rugged and you’ll be stepping on, over and around boulders. Hang on to kids at the top! Other than common sense, there’s nothing to prevent visitors from falling off.