Scroll down this page or click on specific site name to view features on the following Ashe County attractions/points of interest:
Fast facts about Ashe County:
Created in1799, the county is named for Samuel Ashe, a Revolutionary War patriot and North Carolina governor.
The county seat is Jefferson, named for US President Thomas Jefferson. Other communities include Glendale Springs, Lansing, Todd, and West Jefferson.
Ashe County’s land area is 426.03 square miles; the population in the 2010 census was 27,281.
It is worth noting that Ashe County is home to both the New River State Park and the Mount Jefferson State Natural Area.
Below: One of the many panoramic views from Mount Jefferson.
South of Jefferson
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is located nearly at the center of Ashe County, a short drive from the towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson. For many years, the site was identified as a state park. The name was changed in 1994 to underscore the decision to keep the property in a primitive state. Unlike many state parks, for example, camping is not permitted at Mount Jefferson. Instead, a single paved road leads up the mountain to the main parking area near the summit. Along the way are two overlooks offering views to the north and west. Adjacent to the parking area is a modern picnic shelter, modern restrooms, and a water fountain. Several individual picnic tables are tucked away under shade trees, some very close to the side of the mountain, providing nice views of the countryside. A short walking trail leads from the parking lot to the summit of Mount Jefferson. Although a communications tower stands at the peak, it is not an observation tower, and sightlines from this point are severely limited. A longer hiking trail, 1.1 mile in length and described as moderate to strenuous, leads to Luther Rock. From here, the views to the north, east, and south are magnificent. From US 221, turn onto State Road 1152; this leads to the park. Mount Jefferson is opens at 9 AM daily, except Christmas; closing hours vary seasonally. Admission is free.
The former 1904 county courthouse in Jefferson provides the ideal setting for the Museum of Ashe County History. Although the second floor courtroom is not yet open to the public, there’s more than enough to see and appreciate in the many display areas on the first floor. One room is devoted to early county residents and history, with information and artifacts pertaining to the region’s prominent Indian tribes – Cherokee, Shawnee, and Creek – the “longhunters” of the early 1700s, and the earliest European settlers. The first to visit what was to become Ashe County and leave a written record of what he saw was Moravian Bishop Augustus Gottlieb Spangenberg; in a journal entry dated December 14, 1752, the bishop gave a somewhat frustrated description of the New River: “. . . . when for several days we followed the river in the hope it would lead us out, we found ourselves only deeper in the wilderness, for the river ran now north, now south, now east, now west, in short to all points of the compass!” At the time of Spangenberg’s visit, the land was in the western reaches of Anson County.
A second room, devoted to the region’s famous “Virginia Creeper,” includes many artifacts from the railroad and a detailed diorama of West Jefferson. A third room focuses on the iron and copper mining industries which were of integral importance to the region’s economy in the 1800s; the Ore Knob copper mine was once the heaviest industry and largest employer in Ashe County. Yet another room showcases personal items from county residents and an old moonshine still, a seemingly obligatory feature of just about every museum in the North Carolina mountains. Hours are 10-5 Monday-Saturday; admission is free.
East of Jefferson
Although there are many outdoor activities in which to engage at New River State Park, most of them, for obvious reasons, center on the water. The New River is something of a misnomer, since the waterway in question is actually one of the oldest rivers in North America! Something else unusual about the New River is that it flows northward, through Virginia and West Virginia, before emptying into the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. It begins here, however, in the mountains of North Carolina. The New River usually offers shallow, gentle water and mild rapids, making it an ideal place for inexperienced paddlers to gain experience. There are several access areas where visitors may park their cars and launch their canoes. Each access area includes a picnic area and camping facilities. Naturally, fishing is a popular activity at New River State Park as well. Trout and smallmouth bass are plentiful. There are a few walking trails for folks who don’t want to get their feet wet, or just as a change of pace. The park boasts a new Visitor Center which opened in June, 2007; located at the US 221 Access, the center features an exhibit hall that provides information about river ecology. New River State Park is eight miles northeast of West Jefferson on US 221 and is open every day except Christmas. The park opens every day at 8 AM; closing hours vary seasonally. Admission is free.