Going Off-Road to Wilson Creek & Betsey’s Ole Country Store
Going Off-Road to the Wilson Creek National Wild & Scenic River
Well, maybe not really “off” road – but at least the less traveled gravel roads so common in the NC mountains.
We recently found ourselves off in the Jeep for a photo-expedition to the beautiful Wilson Creek area. A popular hiking, swimming and picnicking destination, the Creek is actually quite lengthy and often wider with much more dramatic scenery and rougher water than other local rivers.
You can hike to the Creek from the Blue Ridge Parkway or drive along the mostly gravel Brown Mountain Beach Road. All along the route there are access points where you can easily get to the Creek with sturdy wooden stairs and/or trails just off the road. Thoughtfully, they have even built permanent bathroom facilities along the way. The more adventurous can get down to the water the old-fashioned way at any point they can manage.
You won’t see many people along this route, but you will come across the occasional folks fishing, sunbathing (there are actually a few sandy beaches), camping or enjoying some extreme kayaking. It’s a great area to take some really scenic photos and enjoy getting outside in this amazing part of the county.
This area of Caldwell County used to be known for harboring some unsavory types, but local residents banded together and fought for designation as a National Wild & Scenic River. In 2000, with the national designation in hand, residents worked with officials to build the Wilson Creek Visitor Center and see to the purchase of 640 acres of land through the Foothills Conservancy. The land was formerly home to a hosiery mill and ruins of the old stone structures have been cleaned up and can now be seen along the road.
When enjoying the scenery leaves you all tuckered out, be sure to stop by Betsey’s Ole Country Store by the Mortimer Campground. You can’t miss it – it will be the only rustic building, in fact the only building of any sort, flying both the Israeli and American flags. Originally built sometime in the 1930’s they now serve snacks, drinks and Nathan’s hot dogs pretty much any way you’d like them. Owner Bruce Gray will be more than happy to fill you in on the local sights and activities.
Bruce directed us to nearby Thorps Creek Trail (in the Mortimer Recreation Area in the Pisgah National Forest) where a short five-minute hike ends at the serene, picturesque Thorps Creek Falls. From Betsey’s, a very short drive or walk takes you to the Mortimer Recreation Area; drive through the campground and park at the end of the road where you will find the trail head, then follow the trail upstream.
The falls are at about 1,640’ elevation and are not huge, but the 15’ cascade drops into a calm, clear pool resulting in a striking setting. Once there, you will find an engraved stone plaque commemorating the loss of someone obviously very special. The sentiment has been left in memory of Betsey, for whom Bruce named the Country Store 20 years prior, after her untimely death in an accident. Betsey was obviously well-loved and the marker makes this an even more special place to stay awhile and contemplate life.
USDA guide to Wilson Creek:
Wilson Creek Visitor Center: 828-759-0005
Open daily, year round, with extended hours during the summer months; call for hours.