Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Gastonia, NC

  • Published 2022/12/20

As the largest city in Gaston County, Gastonia is a massive playground for travelers.

This city is the county seat of Gaston County, North Carolina.

It is also a beautiful place to explore.

This city, home to over 70,000 inhabitants, is part of the bigger Charlotte Metropolitan Area.

It has plenty of exciting activities and attractions to check out, from parks, museums, and galleries to incredible sights which won’t cost you a single penny.

Gastonia is one of the most convenient travel destinations outside Charlotte, making it an idyllic place for your weekend getaway.

Amazingly, most of these activities in Gastonia are free.

If you’re a budget traveler who wants to enjoy every nook and cranny of Gastonia, read this list of free things to do in Gastonia, North Carolina.

Climb Crowders Mountain

The peak of Crowders Mountain

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Crowders Mountain is a famous state park 7.7 miles or a 28-minute drive west of downtown Gastonia.

This state park mainly features the Companion Peaks or the twin mountains, a sought-after destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Visiting this mountain and its state park allows you to witness the breathtaking views of Piedmont and its surrounding valleys.

Rock formation at Crowders Mountain

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Hiking through its trails is the best way to summit Crowders Mountain.

Although the hike is challenging, reaching its top is completely rewarding.

Besides reaching its mountaintop, you can also enjoy birdwatching, camping, and fishing at the mountain’s state park.

The view from Crowders Mountain

Idawriter, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a Break at the Rankin Lake Park

Rankin Lake Park is an ideal attraction to visit upon arriving in Gastonia.

You can visit this park along Rankin Lake Road.

Enjoy its vast 242-acre breathtaking sceneries and features, which make this place Gaston County’s landmark.

Besides being one of Gastonia’s top outdoor attractions, this park also holds the city’s reservoir and fresh drinking water for the residents.

Since Rankin Lake Park is also a reservoir, expect an afternoon of fishing.

Fishing at this park allows you to take a break and enjoy the peaceful ambiance of the lake’s surroundings while getting excited about your first catch.

Besides fishing, you can also try hiking, picnicking, and playing outdoor sports at this park.

Pedal through the Trails at George Poston Park

George Poston Park is an ideal outdoor attraction for active people.

This park along Lowell Spencer Mountain Road offers some of Gastonia’s best biking trails, making it a wonderful place to pedal.

Whether you’re a seasoned biker or a newbie, this park has the perfect terrain to ride your bike.

While visiting this park, you’ll enjoy varied terrain and bike courses.

It has wooded trails, challenging bike courses, and an open area trail which you can choose depending on your skill level.

Besides being a top-notch biking destination, George Poston Park is also a splendid place to enjoy other outdoor recreational activities.

Whatever your plans for your outdoor adventure, this park in Gastonia guarantees a fun time.

Pass the Time at Lineberger Park

Lineberger Park is Gastonia’s first and oldest, along E. Garrison Boulevard.

The park, established in the late 1920s, spans over 18.5 acres, serving as a passive and active recreation destination for Gastonia’s locals.

It’s your go-to park if you’re seeking a peaceful place to spend time or have fun.

Many of Gastonia’s generations have spent time at this park, making it a special place.

You’ll surely enjoy the peaceful ambiance under the canopy of trees while having a picnic with your family or friends at this park.

Besides passing the time, you can head out for a hike on the trail at Lineberger Park.

The hike takes you to various scenic areas, such as the Avon/Catawba Creek Greenway and the Gaston County Vietnam War Memorial.

Celebrate the Carolina Catfish Festival

The Carolina Catfish Festival happens every September in Gastonia.

This unique celebration usually takes place at the Eastridge Mall.

It mainly features the city’s rich tradition relevant to catfish, the most abundant fish in the area.

You’ll witness a unique set of activities such as the catfish race, Dub Day Cruise-In, the Little Mr. and Miss Catfish Pageant, concerts, a catfish eating contest, and plenty more during the festivities.

At the same time, you and your loved ones can take photos with Wylie Whiskers, the festival’s official mascot.

You’ll enjoy plenty of exciting things during the Carolina Catfish Festival, making it a must-attend celebration in Gastonia.

Play Sports at Erwin Center & Park

Erwin Center & Park is the best place in Gastonia to play sports.

This park along Pryor Street, which spans over 15 acres, is where most of the city’s public sports facilities are.

Historically, the park, also known as the Erwin Center, was named after Dr. Herbert Erwin, Gaston County’s first African American physician and a renowned sports advocate for the youth.

You can enjoy numerous outdoor sports facilities for football, baseball, and basketball, plus a playground for toddlers at this park.

With all that in mind, Erwin Park is an excellent place to test your athletic skills.

Pack your sports gear when visiting Gastonia because you will likely be playing sports here.

Catch Exciting Events at Rotary Centennial Pavilion

The grounds of Rotary Centennial Pavilion

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Rotary Centennial Pavilion is the perfect place in the city to immerse with the locals by joining them to watch various events.

You can visit this place along N. South Street.

It’s where you can join Gastonia’s events, from sports, concerts, community dance lessons, flea markets, Christmas tree lightings, and plenty more.

You’ll surely enjoy the “Christmas in the City” celebration if you visit Gastonia during the holiday season.

During this celebration, you’ll witness a colorful parade, the Christmas tree lighting, and a marketplace where you can rub elbows with locals.

During spring, you can also catch various events which guarantee you and your loved ones a great time.

There are plenty more activities and events to catch at Rotary Centennial Pavilion, making it one of Gastonia’s best places to hang out.

Play Horseshoe at the Smyre Millennium Park

Smyre Millennium Park is a small but packed outdoor attraction along Millstone Drive.

This park spans roughly two acres, but it’s usually packed with parkgoers who want outdoor fun.

Many people love to visit this park to play at the horseshoe court, which becomes competitive sometimes.

Its horseshoe court has all the needed features to make it an excellent place to enjoy the game.

At the same time, the park has a peaceful green outdoor space, perfect for unwinding with your family or friends.

Besides playing horseshoes, Smyre Millennium Park also has walking trails perfect for hiking or walking your dog.

Like most parks, it has a picnic area, a shelter, and picnic tables for a perfect family day out.

Let Kids Have Fun at Martha Rivers Park

Martha Rivers Park is one of Gastonia’s most extensive parks, spanning over 48 acres.

It features youth sports facilities, walking trails, and picnic shelters.

However, it’s more famous for its gorgeous castle-themed playground, which is a perfect place to bring your kids to have fun.

It’s the best place to bring your kids and keep them entertained in Gastonia.

Its castle-themed playground features hiding areas, climbing sections, swings, sandpits, race car tracks, a mini fort, ladders, and plenty more features.

Besides its wonderful playground, Martha Rivers Park is an exciting place to hike, which takes you to various scenic locations.

Travel Back in Time to the American Military Museum of Gastonia

The American Military Museum of Gastonia is the gathering place and historical museum for the city’s war veterans.

This museum opened in the 1930s along W. 2nd Avenue and housed some of the most significant artifacts from the nation’s military history.

This museum has plenty of exciting exhibits, such as the Indian War, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

These exhibits contain airplane and ship models, military equipment, books, photos, and other artifacts that will ignite your curiosity.

Don’t miss the American Military Museum of Gastonia for a worthwhile historical trip.

Commune with Nature at Flyer Park

Flyer Park is another unique outdoor attraction in Gastonia you mustn’t miss.

This park, situated along Old Dallas Road, is a compact urban park along the banks of Long Creek.

It’s mainly a recreation and nature preservation area, making it a tranquil place to spend time with your family or friends.

Compared to other parks in Gastonia, this one has thickly wooded areas and trails, and few parkgoers spend their time there.

It may not be as developed as other parks in Gastonia.

Still, it’s a beautiful place to meditate and connect with nature.

It has a calm and relaxing ambiance where you’ll only hear wind rustling against the tree branches and birds chirping.

Head to the Flyer Park whenever you’re looking for a place in Gastonia to take a break.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Gastonia is surrounded by vast natural areas and small towns, exciting places to explore.

Here are some of the best places to check out if you’re looking for more free things to enjoy outside Gastonia’s borders.

Spot Rare Plants at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Pavilion at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Jill Lang /

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a gorgeous garden in Belmont, North Carolina, 21 minutes southeast of Gastonia.

This garden offers everyone the freedom to reconnect with nature through its gorgeous 30-acre botanical garden.

The garden houses some of the region’s rarest and most beautiful plants and flower species and serves as a conservatory.

Water fountain at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Jill Lang /

Historically, Daniel J. Stowe, a Belmont local, opened the botanical garden in 1991 as part of his 380-acre property, which he reserved as a nature conservation area.

Visiting the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a splendid experience, especially if you’re a die-hard plant or flower enthusiast.

Trail lined with flora at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Jill Lang /

Check Out Bessemer City Art in Centennial Park

The Centennial Park in Bessemer City, North Carolina, features a collection of colorful public art installations you can see up close for free.

Bessemer City is seven miles from Gastonia, a 12-minute drive west.

This art attraction created by high school students and local artists mainly aims to improve Bessemer City’s quality of life for its citizens and visitors.

See the public art wall and other art installations at Bessemer City’s Centennial Park and marvel at their charming artworks.

Amazingly, the Bessemer City artwork in Centennial Park has rotating canvases and exhibits to keep up local excitement for the city’s local arts scene.

Drop by and channel your love for art at this charming attraction in Bessemer City.

Learn History at the Kings Mountain Historical Museum

Exterior of Kings Mountain Historical Museum

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The Kings Mountain Historical Museum boasts a gorgeous Colonial Revival structure constructed in the 1940s as the post office building in the city of Kings Mountain.

You can visit this historical attraction after a 14-minute drive west of Gastonia in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

The museum primarily collects, interprets, and preserves historical artifacts in the region and offers free educational tours.

The best exhibits inside this museum are the Civil War, World War I, Memorial Day, World War II, and Decoration Day displays.

Each exhibit holds fascinating historical artifacts from photos, memorabilia, and items, making the Kings Mountain Historical Museum a worthwhile place to explore.

Feel the Holiday Spirit in Christmas Town USA

Christmas Town USA is a famous attraction in Belmont, 11 minutes east of Gastonia.

This attraction is famous throughout North Carolina, drawing thousands of visitors every holiday season to witness its colorful decorations, lights, and activities.

This wonderful holiday season tradition has occurred since 1956, making it a fantastic place to visit, especially with your loved ones.

A few of the best activities you can catch are the Christmas Light Display, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Yule Log Parade, and plenty more.

Head to Christmas Town USA to feel the holiday spirit.

Final Thoughts

Gastonia might be small, but it has an oozing charming appeal that draws people to enjoy plenty of outdoor recreation and leisure.

It’s one of North Carolina’s hidden gems you mustn’t miss.

Since it’s near Charlotte, consider Gastonia as your next weekend’s getaway destination.

Fill out your travel itinerary with this post on the free things to do in Gastonia, North Carolina.

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