The words "Cowboy Capital" on the sign outside Love Valley, North Carolina, are a hint to what visitors find just a few miles down the road. This small town settled in the Brushy Mountains is unlike any other town in the country. It's a place where cars are banned, and residents and visitors travel by foot, wagon, and horseback.
Founded by Andy Barker, Love Valley has barely changed since its establishment in 1954. It started as a way for Barker to fulfill two of his lifelong dreams—to live in a simple Christian community and to be a cowboy.
The Founding of a True Cowboy Town
Barker left his job in the city and moved deep into the mountains to start a new life. He acquired land, and the first thing he did was build a church on the top of a hill. With time, Barker also built other buildings, and a small town came into shape. By 1963, Love Valley was officially incorporated, and Barker's father was named mayor.
As Love Valley grew, Barker maintained one major rule: He banned all cars from the main road (more of a trail), and initiated a fine for anyone who didn't comply. As the decades passed, that rule never changed. Best of all, it hasn't stopped people from making the cowboy town their home.
A 2018 census shows Love Valley has about 111 permanent residents. And while most of them own vehicles for occasional use, they still abide by Barker's original rule to keep cars off main roads. Horses are a way of life.
Instead of paved streets and parking lots, Love Valley has dirt trails and hitching posts. If you need supplies from the hardware store, you either need to hitch up your wagon, get in the saddle, or walk. The same goes for if you need to visit the post office, cafe, bookstore, bar, or any other business located in the main town area.
Love Valley as a Tourist Destination
When Barker established Love Valley, he did not intend the cowboy town to be a tourist destination. But as word spread, more people became interested in the area's simple way of life.
Today, Love Valley has a thriving tourism industry. People come from all over to step back in time and experience life without cars. Most people end up parking their cars outside of the main town and walking the rest of the way. From there, they can rent horses by the day.
Tourists are part of the reason why Love Valley still exists today, but the cowboy town is still very much a quiet place. For most of the year, local residents and visitors appreciate the peace that comes with being off the beaten path.
The town gets more crowded, however, every year when Love Valley Arena hosts a variety of rodeos that attract horseback riders from all over. People come to both watch and participate in the events. Most of them stay several days and camp out while exploring the many riding trails in the area. The town's website lists several horse-friendly campgrounds where riders can bring their horse trailers and spend time connecting with nature.
Whether you stay for a week or only a day, Love Valley is an incredible destination for horseback riders. It gives riders the chance to put down life's problems and embrace a simpler way of life. Andy Barker passed away in 2011, but his legacy lives on with his town. He wanted a place where cowboys could live a modest existence, and Love Valley is exactly that.
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Follow Love Valley on Facebook for more information and updates on their annual rodeo.