Best-Kept Secrets: Wilderness only a short trip away in Uwharrie National Forest

No need to haul yourself to the farthest reaches of the state for a trip to the wilderness.

Instead head west from the Triangle just an hour-and-a-half to the Uwharrie National Forest that covers ancient mountains of the same name.

There you’ll discover plenty of trails to wander, lakes to swim and little-known clearings to star-gaze from on clear summer nights.

Scamper over streams and rocks on the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail and search out evidence of Native Americans and early settlers in the Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area. Or make your way to the park’s western edge to visit a string of lakes formed by the damming of the Yadkin and Pee Dee rivers.

As you wind your way in and out of the forest, plenty of signs will point the way to well-known attractions such as the N.C. Zoo near Asheboro and the pottery shops of Seagrove.

But also consider trips to the tiny towns that dot the forest, where locals make use of the area’s cultural and natural resources. You’ll find communities of artists, horse farms, four-wheel driving schools and general stores stocked with outdoor essentials.

Asheboro is a natural jumping off point for Triangle travelers interested in exploring the Uwharrie, but those looking to venture farther afield can spend time in Albemarle, just an hour from Charlotte.

Our series appears online and in print each Monday through Labor Day.


Pisgah Covered Bridge

The 54-foot bridge sits just inside the Uwharrie National Forest and has had its share of ups and downs since it was built in 1911. During the 1950s, the bridge fell out of use and became dilapidated during the next few decades, but a restoration effort brought in back to life in the 1990s. Then, in 2003, a storm surge swept the bridge off its foundation. The surrounding community was able to recover most of the wood and rebuild the bridge, now a Randolph County local historic landmark. A loop trail of about a quarter-mile near the bridge offers an introduction to the forest. 6925 Pisgah Covered Bridge Road, Asheboro.

STARworks Center for Creative Enterprise

This former textile mill now is home to a gallery, ceramics supply shop and artists’ studios. Arrive early for the best chance to see glassmakers working in front of roaring furnaces that were built on site. In the gallery, find pottery and colorful glass pieces sold under the STARworks brand as well as pieces by individual artists. The center is one project of Central Park NC, an economic development nonprofit focused on the natural and cultural resources of eight North Carolina counties. For an extra special visit, time your trip to a class or a workshop or to one of the center’s special events, including a “pumpkin patch” that features thousands of glass pumpkins in October and an ornament sale in December. The gallery is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. 100 Russell Dr., Star., 910-428-9001.

Glaze King

The doughnut shop has become a popular destination for residents and visitors craving a sugary snack since it opened two years ago outside downtown Asheboro. Every night, Samreth Jem and his son, Ronnie San, make close to 1,000 doughnuts, churning out even more for the weekend crowd. “We try to aim for quality,” San said. “If the doughnuts aren’t right on a specific night, we’ll start all over.” The rows of sprinkled cake doughnuts, glazed raised doughnuts, apple fritters and bear claws sometimes do not even last the day, sending father and son back into the kitchen for another round. The shop is open all day, so spend some time in the morning or enjoy the perfect after-dinner treat. The store is open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. 1056 Albemarle Road, Asheboro, 336-318-0864.


Eldorado Outpost

This well-stocked general store is the perfect jumping off point for Uwharrie adventures. The shelves are lined with everything you need for camping, fishing, hiking and more. Buy some sandwich fixings to tote along to the lake or stop by the nothing-fancy deli counter for a hearty meal. Be sure to take some time to get to know the folks running the store, who have tips galore to make your trip a good one. Marion Owen and her late husband, Rufus, a federal surveyor, arrived in town just as the Uwharrie was declared a national forest in the early 1960s. Today, Owen runs the store with her daughter and grandson, who know plenty of back roads and quiet spots worth visiting in the region. Open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4021 N.C. 109, Eldorado, 910-572-3474.

Badin Lake

Anglers know the 5,350-acre lake as the largest fishing hole in the forest, but there’s plenty more to do here. Swimming, boating, hiking, horseback riding and four-wheel driving all are popular pastimes in and around the lake. The forest service maintains a recreation area with campsites and there are state and private options for lodging and recreation as well. Daytrippers can head to the heavily used Kings Mountain Point for a paved trail, picnic sites and fishing piers or to the more rustic Holt’s Picnic Area to fish from the shore. Kings Mountain Point is open everyday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Off N.C. 109 near Eldorado.


Badin Road Drive-In

Finish out the day with a movie under the stars. The drive-in screens double features every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in the summer. Just tune into the right radio station for sound and find the perfect spot to sit, in or outside of the car. The two digital screens offer different lineups, so there’s something sure to satisfy every member of the family. Tim Robertson, who runs the drive-in with his parents, David and Judy, said the grounds can accommodate more than 400 cars, and there’s usually a full house, especially on Saturday. Moviegoers can show up at 6:30 p.m. to throw a baseball, toss a Frisbee or climb on the playground, and the first show starts at dark. Bring your own picnic or grill, or stop by the snack bar for dinner. $7 adults, $4 children ages 6 to 11. Children 5 and under are free. 2411 Badin Road, Albemarle, 704-983-2900,

You might also try...

▪ Sunset Theatre: Catch a movie, concert or play in downtown Asheboro’s renovated theater, which first opened in 1930.

▪ N.C. Aviation Museum: The museum features civilian and military memorabilia, including a Piper J-3 “Flitfire” flown by Orville Wright.

Coming next Monday:

Watauga County

Related stories from Charlotte Observer