Summer is that magical time in the Carolinas when Facebook statuses become littered with screenshots of weather reports and photos of car thermostats illustrating the painfully obvious…it’s freaking hot. But the lure of longer daylight hours will not be denied so bikers, hikers and runners hit the trail—even if it means melting under the southern sun.
When the day’s adventure is complete there is but one way to quench the internal fire of an overheated personal radiator. Luckily, it’s also delicious and fits neatly in a waffle cone. Central Carolina is lucky to have some of the greatest ice cream shops and if you know where to look, they’re really easy to find after a great day on the trail.
1. Stone Mountain Country Store and Stone Mountain State Park
The Stone Mountain Country Store offers heat harried hikers a nearly instant respite from sweltering summer trails. Sitting just outside its gates, the store is so close to the State Park you could practically curl up on 600 foot dome of granite and roll into the parking lot (not recommended).
On any given afternoon you’ll find locals and park visitors in quiet repose, happily slumped in wooden chairs on the wrap-around porch, enjoying waffle cones stuffed with hand-dipped premium ice cream. SMCS, a fixture in Wilkes County for 10 years, is a throwback to early mountain settlements where one would visit the town’s general store to trade for everything from food to tools to clothes. Its shelves are filled with candy, jarred goods and camping necessities while the snack shop serves burgers, pizza and fries.
But it’s the ice cream, specifically chosen for its quality by store owners Tammy and David Sawyer, which make this the perfect post-hike stop.
“We sell only Mayfield brand ice cream,” explains Tammy. “It has a higher butterfat, which makes it rich and creamy.”
It’s almost impossible to miss the Stone Mountain Country Store. Look for the wood shingled building with the vintage RC cola sign on the front just after exiting the park.
The Stone Mountain Country Store is open until 9 p.m. each night in summer.
2. Lake Norman State Park and Davidson Soda Shop
Remember those hot summer days when you were a kid, daring your buddies to ghost ride down the neighborhood hill? Then you’d head inside for a bowl of ice cream before mom booted you back outside.
Those days don’t have to stay a distant memory. Start off with a spin through the swiftly flowing, densely wooded trails at Lake Norman State Park. The well shaded and fast-riding singletrack are perfect for a hot summer afternoon. But when Charlotte temps climb above 90, even the moderate hills at LNSP can take a toll.
On your ride home, take a beat and slow it down with a root beer float and a whole lot of nostalgia at the Davidson Soda Shop. Belly up to the 1950s-era soda counter and plan to stay a while. Besides serving killer milkshakes and huge sundaes, the shop’s grill turns out a fantastic assortment of breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites. The build your own hot dog menu is worth the trip and washing it down with a hand mixed phosphate—a carbonated soda made on site by the soda jerk—completes the experience.
The Soda Shop is open every night of the week until 8 p.m. and is nestled in the heart of Davidson’s row of shops and eateries, just across from the University, at 104 South Main Street.
3. Cane Creek Park and Waxhaw Creamery
Sometimes staying near water is your best bet as the mercury continues to climb. Built around a 350-acre trophy bass lake, Cane Creek Park is the ideal place to get your line, your feet and your kayak wet. If you don’t have your own craft you can rent one at the Day Use Center. There’s a $4 fee to enter the park and fishing requires the standard North Carolina license.
Once you’ve had your fill of the lake, put down the paddle and pick up the spoon. Waxhaw Creamery is an ice cream lover’s dream. While the richness and quality of the base ice cream is fantastic, it’s the sheer variety of seasonal flavors in rotation throughout the year that will keep you coming back. Think caramel apple pie, fresh peach, and maple bacon.
During the summer, Waxhaw Creamery is open till 10 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and until 9 p.m. on Sunday.
The Creamery is located in downtown Waxhaw at 201 W. South Main Street.
4. South Mountain State Park and Redbone Willy’s Trading Company
Yes South Mountain State Park has a great trail system good climbs and a great views. And yes, the park is home to a stunning, 80-foot waterfall visible along the trail from both the top and bottom. And yes, Redbone Willy’s Trading Company sells all sorts of food and dry goods, like a proper general store should.
But ice cream. That’s what we’re here for. That’s why we hiked 13 miles in the heat. And at Redbone Willy’s, ice cream comes in the form of a dozen real, homemade, super creamy, creative flavors. Store owner and ice-cream chef Glenda Miller is particular of the quality of her production.
“My homemade ice cream is far surpassin’ any ice cream in this whole area.” Miller states this not as a boast, but as a matter of fact. “I don’t say that braggingly. I just can’t make it fast enough.”
She’s right. If you back it up, it’s not bragging. After one cone of their signature flavor Southern Comfort–a vanilla base stuffed with an entire pecan pie and a whole sheet of brownies—it will be difficult to refute the claim.
Redbone Willy’s Trading Company is located on the way back to Charlotte from SMSP at the intersection of highways 18 and 27 in Lawndale, NC.
5. Doughton Recreation Area and Brushy Mountain Smokehouse
Located at milepost 240 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Doughton Recreation Area packs a lot of variety in its 30 miles of trail. Park and meander near the top with stunning Parkway views, ramble over grassy balds, or scramble down the knee-screamingly steep Bluff Ridge trail. No matter your choice of route, when the hazy and hot summer sun has you seeing a mirage of mint ice cream where rolling, tree covered hills once stood —it’s time to head to Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery.
The Smokehouse, made famous when national food celebrity Bobby Flay paid them a visit, cooks up all manner of BBQ. But once the sauce has been cleaned from sticky BBQ covered fingers, it’s time for the real treat. The ice cream a Brushy Mountain is homemade and built around a 14 percent cream base, giving each scoop its velvety texture. With bestsellers like turtle fudge, mud pie and the excellent-as-a-second-scoop toasted coconut, just about every ice cream taste can be accommodated. In fact, the creamery turns out a rotation of 72 flavors throughout the year.
Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery is open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is located near downtown North Wilkesboro at 201 Wilkesboro Boulevard.
6. Crowders Mountain and Tony’s Ice Cream
On any given weekend of “nice” weather, Crowders Mountain State Park will earn its nickname. The trails and climbing routes of “Crowded Mountain” become packed with little kids, seniors, visitors, and Charlotte natives. The Rocktop Trail, along with the Crowders Trail, is a roughly 5-mile loop from the visitor center, which provides one of the best views available within an hour of Charlotte.
After having enjoyed the park’s peaks, hikers and climbers in the know will head straight to Tony’s in Gastonia.
Tony’s ice cream is made on-site—well, next door—so you can’t get anything fresher. Their nearly famous milkshakes do, indeed, bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard as people from all over the piedmont travel to Tony’s for a cup of the almost-too-thick-to-drink treat. Each masterpiece is topped, for good measure, with a full scoop of ice cream. For the purist, Tony’s old fashioned butter pecan will make you forget every drop of sweat lost on the climb up Pinnacle Mountain.
Tony’s features a full grill menu if you can, somehow, wait a little longer for ice cream. Or have an ice cream appetizer while you wait for your burger or wings, you’ve earned it.
Tony’s is open until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They’re located at 604 Franklin Blvd., just east of downtown Gastonia, NC.