Travel Guide: Morganton, North Carolina

Morganton, perched in North Carolina’s far western Piedmont, has served since the 1840’s as the state’s “western Capital” — a necessity for a state almost 600 miles wide.

And consequently, Morganton has been stroked and funded by state agencies, including a state hospital complex, and two state academies — including the brand new western branch of the NC School for Science and Math.  Add that capital to Morganton’s “gateway to the mountains” appeal, and some surprising history-related features, and it’s over the top.


A Day Out in Morganton

Here are 5 go-to ideas for a great Morganton experience:

1. Dig for Spanish gold

We’re not exactly kidding.  The Explore Joara Foundation oversees on-going archaeology, including “public digs” (i.e. a sign-up for volunteer sessions) at two local sites.  The Berry Site is located along Steel’s Creek, just north of Morganton, and represents two fascinating settlements:  a native American village site called Joara; and a Spanish fort established in the 1560’s by Juan Pardo, called Fort San Juan.  Google Explore Joara Foundation for details.  And (as an experienced “digger” at other archaeological sites) . . . I’ll let you down on the front end:  You can’t keep the gold — or any artifacts — that you might uncover while helping out!  But it’s still great fun!

2.  Sip a beer on the courthouse square

Seems it’s one of the things to do in Morganton.  A number of watering holes line the north side of the square:  a delightful place to watch the world of Morganton go by . . . and to stare at the lovely historic courthouse that dominates the view!

3.  Patriot-Spotting

Yes, Morganton is named for Revolutionary War general, Daniel Morgan — hero of Cowpens.  But it was not Morgan, but a local NC militia captain named Charles McDowell who hosted the gathering of the Overmountain Men at his plantation home — Quaker Meadows — to organize their assault on Kings Mountain, four months before the Battle of Cowpens.  Today, you can visit McDowell’s 1812 home (see our photo below), as well as an ancient cemetery (also called Quaker Meadows) nearby.

4.  Recreate on the Catawba River Greenway

Walk the riverside trail; and then have a bite to eat at the Town Tavern, overlooking the river!

5.  Drop in at the Senator Sam Ervin Museum (on the campus of Western Piedmont Community College).

You’ll see artifacts from Ervin’s Washington, DC, Senate office — including several related to the Watergate hearings that Ervin oversaw as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Ervin is a latter-day “homespun hero.”

Check out our Morganton map below to see the spots listed above (and a few more).

Happy exploring!


If you just click on a dot (on the map) or the name of a place (side of the map or “legend”), you’ll get the website, street address, and telephone number of the place.  Remember, quirky hours abound – so give a call before you venture out.