This man-made 6,812-acre lake tucked into North Carolina’s western mountains welcomes those who love the pleasures of the outdoors. Bring your family to fish, canoe, kayak, paddleboard and even jet ski over the pristine waters of Lake James. Lake James State Park is found at the south end of the lake and offers miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Rangers are available to explain the natural history of the area, sometimes as you all sit around a campfire and toast smores. Vacation rentals near Lake James are plentiful and include log houses with their own docks, huge houses with cathedral ceilings and window walls, or cabins built in the woods near the water.

1. Glen Alpine

Glen Alpine proves that western North Carolina is great wine country. Visit the Lake James Cellars Winery and sample their wares. If you’re into antiques, Old Mill Antiques can help you find something that is irresistible. For vittles, you can head to Doogie’s Pizza on West Main Street.

2. Nebo

Found just outside of Lake James State Park, Nebo is the home of both the South Creek Vineyards & Winery and the Belle Nicho Winery. Take a hike up to John’s Rock and enjoy the view from the top. The trail is dog-friendly, so if you’ve brought your pooch on vacation, take him along. Once at the top, spread out a picnic lunch and take it easy. For more civilized dining, go to one or more of Nebo’s diners, including Elliotts, Ashleys or Drew’s, or grab a bag of donuts from Mr Bob’s to take back to the rental.

3. Marion

This town is the gateway to the impressive Linville Caverns, and home of the Buck Creek trout farm, where you can fish for your own trout. Kayak and canoe on the Catawba River, or play a few rounds at the Linville Falls Golf Club. Visit some of the farms in the area, including Sweet Betsy, a bee farm that sells raw honey.

4. Morganton

The vacation rentals in Morgantown include snug log cabins in the forests, cottages on the lakefront, cabins next to waterfalls, chalets built into the hills for a view. When you’re not taking it easy in your rental, sample the wine at the Silver Fork Winery or ride your bike down the Catawba River Greenway. If you want to whip up something in your kitchen, buy fresh produce at the Morgantown Farmers Market.

5. Drexel

Drexel also beckons with roomy vacation rentals that range from ranch homes on large, landscaped plots to stone cottages with flagstone patios. Visit the Main Street Restaurant for meals that taste home-cooked. You can take the kids to the Drexel community fair, which is put on twice a year, in spring and fall for rides, games, and funnel cakes.

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6. Valdese

This town is home to the beautiful McFailliard Falls Park and the Waldensian Heritage Museum. Come to the park any time of year, because it’s beautiful year round. Valdese was settled by a sect of Christians called Waldensians, and much of their heritage can be explained in the museum, as well as the Trail of Faith walking tours. There’s even a Waldensian Heritage Winery.

7. Little Switzerland

This town gets its name because it’s surrounded by the most stunning mountains. It also has a mine called Emerald Village, where you and the kids can search for gemstones. Chances are you’ll find something that’s very pretty if not rather valuable, and one of your finds is cut and polished for free. As befits a town called Little Switzerland, vacation rentals include cozy cottages and snug chalets in the mountains.

8. Dysartsville

A bit over 14 miles from Lake James, Dysartsville is the home of Cane Creek. This creek is near the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain, which occurred during the Revolutionary War. See it by walking over the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Close to the South Mountains State Park and Game Lands, Dysartsville is a gateway town to the hiking, fishing, and hunting in these hot spots.

9. Lenoir

Lenoir also has its wineries and an outstanding one is the Twisted Vine Winery. You should also visit the Caldwell Arts Council, housed in a deceptively ordinary building, and the Caldwell Heritage Museum. Shop at one of the many antique and specialty stores in the town, and take your pick of restaurants. These include the Buffalo Mercantile Company & Cafe where you can stop for Italian and American chow, Dos Amigos, which serves Mexican, and the Smoking Hogs BBQ.

10. Hudson

Hudson is famous for staging the North Carolina Butterfly Festival which takes place over two nights in May. There’s live entertainment, food, and arts and crafts at the Hickman Windmill Park. When the excitement’s over, places to head for a cup of joe include the Local Bean, Donna’s Cafe and Just Roll With It Bistro & Bakery.

11. Hickory

Hickory is a fairly large city that’s the home of the Hickory Crawdads, who play at L.P. Frans Stadium. Take the family to see a game if the team is in town. Make sure to visit the Museum of Art, the history center and the downtown farmers market. Take a dinner boat cruise or fishing charter on Lake Hickory, and bring the kids to the aviation museum. Finally, return to your vacation rental, which can be a cottage with a deck right on the lake and get a good night’s sleep.

12. Black Mountain

Beautiful Black Mountain is abundant in lakeside vacation rentals as well as fun things to do. Go shopping in the town square or sign up for a tour of the city. This includes sampling its micro-brewed beers and the food offered by its restaurants. You can also attend a play at the White Horse or splash around with the kids at the Black Mountain Swimming Pool.

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