6 Ways to Explore Country Roads in Madison County, NC


Take a driving tour through the Blue Ridge Mountains on a 54-mile loop which takes you past natural beauty and architectural history. Using a brochure, you can choose to take side trips for further exploration.  See the beauty of the Appalachian Trail both as it passes through the bald of Max Patch or the town of Hot Springs. Drive along the French Broad River for a while or get out of your car to wonder at the 100-year old courthouse designed by the lead architect of the Biltmore House, Richard Sharp Smith, the building that was the location of the first courthouse, or the late 1800s house occupied by ballad singer Jane Gentry.  Or just marvel at the rural structures which make up the culture of Madison County. Stop off for some country cooking at one of the restaurants along the way.


Drive along the only interstate section in the state designated a Scenic Byway and understand why it received this designation.  There are some spectacular long views of the mountains at two lookout points. The interstate passes through the highest elevation of any interstate highway in North Carolina at 5000 feet and has the tallest bridge in the state, too.  Below the road are two passageways constructed for the wildlife and, at one point, the road passes over the Appalachian Trail.


This Scenic Byway takes you along the route followed by drovers who took their livestock to market in the 1800s along the river. The French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world (behind the Nile and the New Rivers) and one of the few in the northern hemisphere which flows north. You may spot some whitewater rafters on the river during the rafting season or lone kayakers or canoers.  Make it a point to stop and enjoy the shops and eateries in the town of Marshall situated on its banks.


Explore the Pisgah National Forest and the Appalachian Mountains as you drive through this section of Madison County on an NC Scenic Byway through the areas known as Spring Creek and Trust and on to Hot Springs and Walnut. In the “flats” of Spring Creek, stop for lunch in an old rock building constructed during the Depression or take a side trip to the Max Patch bald where the Appalachian Trail crosses this high elevation.  Or, simply wait til the drive takes you to Hot Springs where the Appalachian Trail runs along the main street of the town.  The town has one of the few natural mineral springs west of the Mississippi River and you can soak in a hot tub fed by the water and look out over the French Broad River.


For those with just a small amount of time who wish to see the breathtaking natural beauty of the mountains in a wonderful view, just take a drive on Interstate 26 to the NC Welcome Center which is just south of Exit #3. The Welcome Center itself showcases the history, art, and culture of the area, but the walkway leads to a scenic outlook without rival in the area. The view includes Mount Mitchell, the highest peak west of the Mississippi River. Bring a lunch or grill out and relax at one of  the picnic tables for your enjoyment.


Madison County’s agricultural heritage can be traced simply by observing the historic barns that are scattered throughout our country roads.  Once you begin to notice, it becomes quite clear that there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of them. Barns were built by the first settlers in a utilitarian style. They needed them for storage and for livestock. The architectural style in later years was dictated by the availability of materials and by the use of the barn. When Madison County became the leading county in producing burley tobacco in North Carolina, the style had to accommodate drying of the tobacco leaves. These beautiful structures dot the landscape and define much of the history of the people.