As we roll into July, it’s perhaps the most popular time of year for families and individuals to take long-awaited vacations to exotic locales and trendy tourist destinations.

But what’s a person or family to do if they’re trying to pinch pennies and simply cannot afford (or have limited time off for) a full-blown escape from day-to-day life in Wilkes County?

Well, you do what many folks do in that situation: You take a stay-at-home vacation (“staycation”) here in Wilkes.

Where to stay

In lieu of an expensive week in a hotel, consider house-sitting or pet-sitting for a homeowner friend who is going outside the county for vacay. In some cases, they’ll even pay you to simply ensure their valuables are protected while they’re gone. Get paid to plan day trips, then sleep soundly in a new (to you) bed at night—what’s not to love?!

If house-sitting or pet-sitting isn’t an option, camping makes for fun, low-cost housing in the great outdoors. There are some absolutely gorgeous campsites around W. Kerr Scott Lake—the ones at Warrior Creek and Fort Hamby come immediately to my mind.

Even during the peak summer season, you can reserve a standard site with water and electricity for about $25 a night at those aforementioned parks—an affordable housing option for staycations. You can check availability and make reservations at recreation.gov.

The rate for a similar site at Stone Mountain State Park is a bit higher--$33 a night—but the sprawling park in Roaring Gap does offer exclusivities such as trout streams, rock climbing and waterfalls accessible by popular walking trails.

If your staycation budget is a little bigger, consider staying in an Airbnb home or private room in Wilkes. At the time of this writing, there are 15 different places to stay in various parts of the county for $60 a night or less in July, including some entire homes.

What to do (outside)

We are truly spoiled with the bountiful hiking opportunities in Wilkes. And, best of all if you’re working with a staycation budget, it’s free recreation for the whole family, with essentially no special equipment needed. Just put one foot in front of the other, and keep repeating.

For easy (and scenic) hiking beyond Stone Mountain, look no further than the section of the Overmountain Victory Trail that snakes around the lake. It’s about a six-mile out-and-back that links Bandit’s Roost Campground to the Kerr Scott Visitor Center. (The entire historic trail is 330 miles long and spans four states.)

If more advanced hiking or biking is your thing, check out the series of trails at Dark Mountain and Warrior Creek. Between the two loops, there’s about 20 miles of prime single-track for your adrenaline-fueled staycation.

If you don’t have a bike but think you might enjoy trying it on some of the more beginner-friendly tracks (like Cub Creek’s Call Farm loop), you can rent one from Cook’s Sports in North Wilkesboro, starting at $30 a day, which includes a helmet. And if you decide later you want to own the bike, the rental fee can be applied toward the purchase price.

If a relaxing day at the beach is more your thing, the lake has public swim beaches at Berry Mountain, Boomer and Fort Hamby parks. You may not be ocean-front, but the lake water sure is cooling in the summer months. A small fee of $2 for walking in, or $5 for a car to drive in, does apply.

What to do (indoors)

Try ordering takeout from a new restaurant in the county. Many traditional dine-in only restaurants are now experimenting with delivery through third-party services such as DoorDash (through which 17 stores near Wilkesboro participate).

Be a tourist in your own county by visiting the Wilkes Art Gallery, which is always free, or the Wilkes Heritage Museum, which charges only $6 for admission. The heritage museum is packed to the gills with two floors of fascinating historical artifacts and displays. One could easily spend an entire day perusing the museum’s offerings.

The Wilkes County Public Library in North Wilkesboro has a full slate of summer classes and activities for both children and adults. The library’s summer theme this year is “A Universe of Stories,” and the best part is that it’s all free—just the ticket for a staycation.

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