Madison County


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Campgrounds | Driving Tours

Madison County receives thousands of visitors each year. Many come to enjoy outdoor adventures such as camping, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, or whitewater rafting.
Others come to share in the traditional mountain folk culture which is kept alive in the art, dance, and music of the county.

Still others come to participate in cultural events sponsored by Mars Hill College, such as the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater. All of them enjoy the rugged natural beauty of the county and the hospitality of its citizens.

For more information, contact the Madison Chamber of Commerce at 828-689-9351. (See also and The Ultimate Guide to Asheville and Hendersonville)

Gannon's French Broad Outpost
461 Old River Road, PO Box 208
Del Rio, TN 37727
615-487-3120 - Sean Gannon
Rustic vacation experience. 
Camping, overnight, horseback, package, cabins, fishing, hiking, water sports, 
entertainment, mountain bike trails. 
Hot Springs Campground & Spa
One Bridge Street, PO Box 428
Hot Springs, NC 28743
622-7676 - Glenn Hicks
Riverside. Full RV hookup, tent camping, hot showers. 
Store - carrying convenience foods, socks, camping and hiking supplies. 

Mountain Laurel Campground
Route 3, Smith Creek Road
Mars Hill, NC 28754
689-3602 - Sally & Edwin Lasley

50-site campground, 3500' altitude near Appalachian Trail. 
Hot showers in modern bathhouse. Near Wolf Laurel. 

US Forest Service - Pisgah National Forest
Hot Springs 622-3202

Rocky Bluff Campground. 

Driving Tours

[To check directions refer to the Madison County Map]

Driving Tour Loop #1

Begin at the courthouse in downtown Marshall. From the courthouse proceed NW
on Business Route 25-70 1.4 miles to US 25-70 NW

1.7 mi.

  • On the left you will pass Momma's Country Kitchen that boasts a solid marble soda fountain. At 6.5 miles from Marshall, on the left, is the fine Baker/Gahagan house, built in 1907. Mrs. Baker, a Gahagan, whose Madison County ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, is living in the house in which she was born. 1.1 miles further on is a typical tobacco barn. 
  • At Walnut sign turn left. To Barnard & Big Pine Valley: From US 25-70 turn towards Walnut, go 1/4 mile and turn next to Walnut Cash and Carry. Follow the road 2 miles to Barnard Bridge over the French Broad River. On the left is Barnard Park picnic area and launching spot for whitewater rafting. Across bridge turn right to Big Pine Valley. It is 8 miles to Big Pine Community. The views become increasingly beautiful as you continue on 25-70.

11 mi. 

  • The junction of Route 208 is marked by the Old Mill Wheel Cafe on the Laurel River. Children love to watch the working mill wheel and to feed the owner's stock offish in the mill pond. The tourist cabins behind the cafe will evoke memories of pre-motel traveling. 
  • Turn left and follow US 25-70 NW: You will begin the ascent through the mountain covered by Pisgah National Forest. 2.1 miles from the turn, at the mountain's summit, is . an overhead bridge by which the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. The descent to Hot Springs is a series of switchbacks that call for a driver with strong arms who can avoid the temptations the scenery offers.


  • The mountain ends abruptly at the French Broad River (5.2 miles from the junction of route 208 and US 25-70) and the prospect ahead of the flat plain on which lies Hot Springs. Just before the bridge over the river is an historical marker, "Paint Rock, early landmark. Site of blockhouse to protect settlers from Indians 1793. Figures on rock resemble -paintings.' Is 6 miles northwest." 
  • To Paint Creek: At the Paint Rock historical marker, turn right and immediately turn right again onto Paint Rock Road. Follow the river road 4 miles to the Pisgah National Forest Recreation Site (Murray Branch) a picnic area equipped with barbecue pits, sheltered tables and public bathrooms. If you continue another 2 miles, the road will turn up Paint Creek. There are several picnic and swimming areas along Paint Creek. 

    Retrace your steps and cross the river. The historical marker just after the bridge reads, "Hot Springs, heath resort since 1800. Name changed from Warm Springs 1886. Internment camp for Germans in World War I was here." Hot Springs (population 478) is a town with many beautiful old houses (stop at the railroad caboose parked on Main Street and pick up a brochure) that reflects its history as a mecca for wealthy Southerners attracted by the hot natural springs and the cooler air of the mountains. As early as the 1830s, Hot Springs functioned as a health resort with a fine hotel. 

    From 1882, when the railroad was built, to the 1920s, when the automobile killed the golden goose, was Hot Springs' gala period as one of the leading resorts for the rich in eastern America. There was a grand hotel with an orchestra playing nightly, the first golf course in North Carolina (3 holes). People came for the summer and many built the private homes one can see today. 

    During the first World War, the hotel was converted by the United States State Department into quarters for the officers of a German ship impounded by the U.S. The bored crew, housed in specially constructed barracks, indulged their nostalgia for Germany by building a perfect replica of a Bavarian Village. The day after the Armistice in 1918, the State Department issued a directive to save the village, but it was too late. The townspeople had blown it up the night before! Eighteen of those prisoners died of typhoid fever during their incarceration. 

    Hot Springs is today a way station for hikers of the Appalachian Trail, which runs along Main Street (There are six access points for the trail in Madison County: Hot Springs, Alien Gap, Sam's Gap, Devil's Fork Gap, Max Patch and Mill Ridge.) There is overnight lodging at a retreat or the bed and breakfast inns in town. The Hot Springs have been reopened and are drawing an increasing number of people to bathe in the natural hot mineral waters. Camping is available across from the Hot Springs on the French Broad River. 

    To exit from town, proceed to the fork at the end of Main Street and go straight onto Route 203 towards Spring Creek. There is no easy way out of Hot Springs, surrounded by obstacles like the proverbial sleeping princess. Route 203 is a winding, mountain ous, but good road that makes up in scenery for its difficulties.

13.7 mi.

  • At 3.6 miles from the river on the left is Rocky Bluff Recreation Area, an extensive and beautiful public park run by the Forest Service. It has picnic tables, barbecue pits, public bathrooms, campsites and well-marked hiking trails of varyin g distances.

20.0 mi.

  • Enter Pisgah National Forest.

20.6 mi.

  • At .3 miles from Rocky Bluff Park is a scenic overlook, Van Cliff, with a view of sparkling Spring Creek at the bottom of a deep gorge. The 5-mile descent from Van Cliff through Pisgah Forest to the sign for Bluff and the juncture of County Road 1173 :Is winding, steep and beautiful. Continuing on Route 203, at 7.6 miles from the river is the turn-off to Max Patch, a grassy bald from whose summit one has a beautiful, 360-degree view of the mountains. 
  • To reach it -- turn right at the Meadow Fork/Max Patch sign; proceed on a paved road 5.4 miles to 1181. Turn right here and follow signs to the parking lot for Max Patch. To reach the summit, one must hike. Please be warned that the road is a good one, t hough one of dirt, but is not for those way of mountain driving where there are no guardrails. 4.3 miles further on to the left is a Christmas tree farm, a cash crop whose cultivation is on the increase in Madison County.

31.0 mi.

  • At the intersection of Route 203 (to the right) and Highway 63 (to the left), 8 miles from the turn-off to Max Patch is the Trust General Store. The Barutios, the proprietors, live in a restored pre-Civil War house on Highway 63 behind the store. They call their house "Plum Nilly" -- "Plum out of Asheville and Nilly to Tennessee." You may wish to stop at the tiny St. Jude's Chapel of Hope built by Mrs. Barutio to thank the saint whom she credits with her miraculous recovery from cancer. The chapel is always open for visitors.

33.1 mi.

  • Turn left onto Highway 63 (behind the store) and cross Doggett Mountain, another winding route with breathtaking views. On a clear day, the crest of the mountain affords a splendid view of Asheville. Mace a small jog up a dirt road at Doggett's top to visit Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, typical of the little white wooden churches built all over the county at the turn of the century.

4.6 mi.

  • Once past the base of the mountain in the Sandy Mush area, turn left onto County Road 1001 at the intersection of the Madison County sign (you have been briefly in Buncombe County), and county Road 1107. You will have 8 miles of pretty, pastoral scenery to Marshall before navigating the steep descent to the river and the town. Turn left at the fork in front of the Rector Corner sign, from which you will have a marvelous view of all of Marshall and the courthouse from the west side of the French Broad River. 
  • The Madison County Courthouse, built by the prominent architect Richard Sharp Smith in 1906, is listed on the National Historic Register. Just before crossing over the river on the right is a large red brick building, once the home of the Capitol Manufacturing Company. Built around 1903 the cotton mill contributed greatly to the economic growth of the town. Child labor laws in 1925 closed the plant. The 7-foot-wide and 14-foot-high mural painted on the face of the building depicts various scenes of a 1900 workplace.

Driving Tour Loop #2

Before beginning your tour from the Madison County office of the Chamber of Commerce at the junction of route 213 and North Main Street, visit Mars Hill College -- home of renowned Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre (SART) in June, July and August; t he Rural Life Museum; and Founders' Hall (built between 1888 and 1830), an old log field schoolhouse dating from the 1850s. The campus of Mars Hill College, a small 1100-student liberal arts college founded by local Southern Baptist farmers in 1856, dominates the small (population n 1611) mountain village of Mars Hill. Its main street runs along a ridge, either side of which affords views of near and distant mountains. 

A slave named Joe was held in the Buncombe County jail as collateral for the Loan that made the college possible -- and subject of a video-movie called "Bonded." In one of history's wonderful twist of fate, Joe's granddaughter was a member of the first integrated freshman class at Mars Hill College (1361), and broke the color barrier in private higher education in North Carolina. 

Commence the loop by following North Main Street east for 2.3 miles to a dead end on U.S. 23. Turn left and north onto US 23 towards Tennessee and Sam's Gap. The route closely parallels California Creek, so named in 18~0 at the time of the Gold Rush when a young newcomer named Barry Holdcombe bra gged to his bride, "We're going to California." 

4.8 mi.

  • Deacon's Bench -- you will pass this deconsecrated Baptist Church built in 1317 on the site of two previous log churches. In one reincarnation a restaurant, a gift shop and now a wedding chapel.

5.4 mi.

  • Murray Mountain, elevation 3420 feet, is the first mountain you will ascend, following in reverse one of the routes taken by the earliest settlers who came through the mountain pass from Tennessee (now Sam's Gap) by wagon and on horseback in the first years of the 13th century. The mountain is named for the county's first settler; Sam's Gap commemorates the Sam's family who fled Flag Pond, Tennessee, during the Civil War, survivors of an assault of marauding bushwhackers. (Madison County, too, suffered from these gangs of toughs who terrorized the settlers.) The Sam's family remain residents of the county. 
  • Landscape features to look for are log bridges. Distinctive in the county are fragile-looking log or plank bridges that span the creeks to provide access from the roads to dwelling places. Some will support autos, some will not. 

    Tobacco fields, dotting the county, are often tucked into the turnings of roads. Sun-cured burley tobacco culture began in the early 1330s, supplanting flue cured tobacco that was grown all through the 1800s and into the 20th century. Planted in June after the frost, it is harvested in August and early September, kept in tobacco barns recognizable for their construction the interstices between the logs or boards are deliberate in order to permit the flow of air and enough dampness to keep the tobacco moist. Tobacco is marketed the week before Christmas. 

    The mountainsides are covered in enormous stands of rhododendron that grow in the shade of the tall trees. Called "laurel" by Madison County natives, who have traditionally preferred to call things by other than their proper names (tea laurel is called "iv y," for instance), it blooms in late June-July, but only where the sun has been able to penetrate. This profusion of "laurel" has given name to al the areas drained by the Laurel River; Big Laurel, Upper Laurel, Rich Laurel, Wolf Laurel, Shelton Laurel, etc.

3.1 mi.

  • You will pass the turn-off for Blue Mountain Lodge and Golf Club, also known as Wolf Laurel, a ski resort, golf course, and residential development on a privately-owned mountain, whose access is controlled by a gatehouse.

10.1 mi.

  • Turn left, just past Little Creek Cafe, from US 23 onto scenic County Road 1318 (the sign reads "Welcome Foster Creek Church, Foster Creek Road"), which parallels, now crossing, now recrossing, Big Laurel Creek, past Spillcorn, a name typical of the quaint place names that proliferate in the county. The explanation is a simple one: someone tried to cross the creek with his corn and some of it spilled.

15.4 mi. 

  • At the juncture of Foster Creek and County Road 1318 is a perfect example of an old church cemetery across from Foster Creek Baptist Church -- lined up, uncut, undressed stones interspersed with old cut stones whose carvings are now illegible. At .3 of a mile further on in the curve of the road, note the mountain scene of barn and plank bridge. The road along the; Laurel Creek from the turn-off from U.S. 23 goes up and down, round and about the Walnut Mountains, affording occasional breathtaking views amidst already beautiful scenery -- old barns and farmhouses, cows grazing, one- and two-lane bridges, little churches, Christmas tree cultivation here and there.

25.9 mi.

  • Turn right at dead end on bridge onto County Road 1916, and proceed through Guntertown Community to Whiterock, in the Shelton Laurel section. the Presbyterians, who dominated in the Laurel sections, built the now abandoned hospital (28.5 mi.) and the church at the turn on Count) Road 1914 that you will pass. In the early 1800s, "Duck" Shelton, the ancestor of almost everyone in Shelton Laurel, was publicly whipped for making coins from a silver mine he had accidentally discovered. 
  • Duck, whose secret mine has never been rediscovered, used to hunt squirrels with silver bullets. To gravesites of the victims of the Shelton Laurel Massacre: At Whiterock Presbyterian Church turn right onto 1914 (28.7 mi. from Mars Hill). Proceed 3.4 mi. over a one-lane bridge to dead end on 212. Immediately facing 1914 is a private, unpaved road. Drive onto it, turn left at a vine-covered standing chimney. Follow rutted road to a "Posted" sign. Park and walk into a stand of trees behind a new log house. Round trip from 212 is .4 mi. Two granite markers list the names of al 13 victims. 

    The historical marker will be found at the juncture of 212·and 208. Its legend: "Shelton Laurel Massacre. 13 men and boys were killed by Confederate soldiers in early 1863. Graves 8 mi. east. Confederate Colonel Lawrence Allen was in command of the troops at the time of the Massacre. His house, on Main Street Marshall, was plundered during the salt raid in Marshal.

31.2 mi.

  • Continue on County Road 1916 to a dead end. Turn left onto Route 212, past Laurel School. Until 18 years ago, there were also five separate high schools, occasionally graduating classes of fewer than 25.

33.5 mi. 

  • Observe an unusual wooden footbridge that mates a sharp turn in mid-creek. Continue on Route 212 across Laurel Creek (35.45 miles) to Route 208 and on to U.S. 25-70 (38.45 miles).

47.55 mi.

  • Continue past Walnut to Business Route 25-70. Turn right and descend 1.4 miles into Marshall (population 803), established as the county's seat of government in 1811. Rivalry among contenders for county seats was so heated that a referendum had to be conducted. According to a local story, Marshall, named after Supreme court Justice Marshal, carried the day by only one vote and that vote was from a person who was offered free turnip seed if he would leave his fields to go to the polls. Marshal is enshrined in Ripley's Believe It Or Not records as a town that cannot grow, sandwiched as it is between the French Broad River and steep bluffs on either side. Because of the constant threat of flooding, no new structures can be built were room found for them. 
  • The town, originally a stock stand along the river, thrived during those years early in the 13th century when the Drovers' Road was in operation. This was a good gravel all-weather road with a base of stone, contoured to drain, that was authorized as a turnpike by the state's Legislature to accommodate the heavy traffic in livestock -- sheep, turkeys, cattle, mules -- that thronged the bank of the French Broad and Laurel Rivers, raising clouds of dust and a cacophony of honks and bleats from Greenville, South Carolina, to Greenville, Tennessee. Before the coming of the railroad in the early 1870s, "the only thing you could get to market was what could walk." The animals and poultry were meat for the tables of Georgia and South Carolina planters who put all their acreage into cotton.

50.05 mi.

  • Drive on through Marshall, note the red caboose, donated to the town by Southern Railway. It will be converted into a welcome center. At .7 miles out of town is a sign pointing to the left to Mars Hill. From Downtown Marshall, head south on Main Street, following the river to Rt. 251. Turn right and continue along the river for a scenic drive along the Old Buncombe Turnpike to Alexander. If you wish, proceed to Alexander or ascend a winding road, called Hayes ·Run, that parallels a descending stream, to rejoin 213. On the left is the exquisite Gingerbread House, a white lace-like marvel built for a prominent county citizen in the 1830s. It's not surprising to learn that it took eight carpenters and three years to build. Today it is a bed & breakfast that incorporates a gallery open to the public featuring paintings, pottery and photographs.

55.1 mi.

  • Petersburg became a commercial hub in the last century, furnishing supplies to passing wagons. The advent of the radio turned it into a gathering place for the community. The tradition continues -- local neighbors like to congregate at Coates' Country Store to "chew the fat."


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