Winnowing down a list of the best mountain towns in NC is a difficult task, and it’s much less rewarding than actually visiting said towns.
The North Carolina mountains are renowned for offering up a charming slice of small-town life and local culture, including everything from moonshine and bluegrass music to country cooking and historic log cabins.
In fact, there aren’t any towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina that rank among the Top 10 largest cities in NC.
Therein lies the crux of a conundrum. There are so many cool small towns in the mountains of North Carolina (many of which are less than 20 miles apart), how can a person possibly choose which ones to visit?
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of our picks for the best North Carolina mountain towns to visit, including towns near Asheville, towns with great options for hiking and skiing, and more…
Best North Carolina Mountain Towns Guide
- Banner Elk
- Blowing Rock
- Bryson City
- Hot Springs
- West Jefferson
1. Banner Elk
Avery County NC
With a population of under 1,200 people, Historic Banner Elk certainly qualifies as one of the true small towns in the mountains of North Carolina.
The town offers easy access to an array of excellent hiking trails, ski slopes, golf courses, and fishing holes.
There are more than a dozen independent restaurants, as well as some great local wineries and breweries.
Located in the NC High Country, the mountain town is also less than 20 miles away from Boone and Blowing Rock.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Banner Elk NC
2. Blowing Rock
Watauga/Caldwell Counties NC
Blowing Rock, the rock formation, is one of the oldest tourist attractions in North Carolina, and the town of Blowing Rock has made a mark as well.
The downtown has a wonderful Main Street-type area packed with quality restaurants, quaint coffee shops, and diverse shopping (especially antiques and local crafts).
Recreational opportunities in the area abound, including golf, fishing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, and more.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC
Watauga County, NC
Boone is one of the larger towns in Western NC. It has a full-time resident population of around 20,000, and a migrating populace of Appalachian State students that swell the count when school is in session.
Boone has most of the comforts you could want from Blue Ridge Mountains cities— including breweries, a living history museum, good shopping, fantastic restaurants— without getting industrial or oversized.
The university keeps it hip, but the local culture keeps it quaint.
In addition to being famous for Christmas Tree Farms, Boone has as much to offer in recreation as any NC town.
It’s a prime location for accessing waterfalls, hiking trails, and campgrounds near Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and several ski resorts.
It’s also a little over an hour to one of our favorite up-and-coming affordable mountain towns, Elkin NC.
Transylvania County, NC
The county seat of the “Land of Waterfalls,” Brevard is recognized among the best NC mountains towns around Asheville. It’s home to Brevard College and the Brevard Music Center.
The town has a beautiful Main Street loaded with fun shops, unique restaurants, a throwback cinema, and a weekly farmers’ market. It is widely considered one of the best Western NC Towns to live in.
Brevard is home to the Cradle of Forestry, which is unsurprising considering the Pisgah National Forest is a few miles away in one direction and DuPont State Forest is a few miles in another direction.
These are home to some of the most notable waterfalls in North Carolina, including the famous trio of DuPont waterfalls– Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls– which can be accessed on one incredible day hike.
5. Bryson City
Swain County, NC
Because it borders Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bryson City doesn’t really need much else to make it a place worth visiting.
Nevertheless, the town of around 1,700 residents has a lot more to offer than its awesome location.
Bryson City boasts a happening downtown area with loads of great restaurants and tourist attractions. It’s also one of the best Christmas Towns in North Carolina, thanks to the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s “Polar Express.”
In addition to having one of the best campgrounds in the North Carolina Mountains (Deep Creek Campground), Bryson City is close to Fontana Lake, the Nantahala National Forest, and the Cherokee Nation.
It’s also just an hour away from some of our favorite downtown Asheville restaurants.
Yancey County, NC
One of the coolest small towns near Asheville NC (approximately 30 minutes northeast), Burnsville is accentuated by a collection of several small, artsy communities around it.
Downtown Burnsville has a lovely town square at its heart, with charming restaurants and shops that spill out down the roads leading to it.
The space serves as a fantastic spot for community events such as festivals, markets, and art walks.
Burnsville is located at the foot of Mount Mitchell, one of the best Western North Carolina mountains for hiking because it is the tallest peak east of the Rockies.
The town is also near some great Pisgah National Forest waterfalls, with Crabtree Falls, Roaring Fork Falls, Setrock Creek Falls, and Linville Falls just a short drive away.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC
The Qualla Boundary
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina were the home of the Cherokee people for centuries, and we’re fortunate that many are still here today.
The Qualla Boundary isn’t technically part of North Carolina, but a sovereign nation, and Cherokee is its largest town.
The town boasts a fantastic museum, craft cooperative, theatre, and historic village, so this is a great place to learn facts about Cherokee culture and history.
Cherokee borders Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is partly in the Qualla Boundary.
The Nantahala National Forest is also very close. And Mingo Falls and Soco Falls– two of many excellent Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls– both deliver some of the best ROI for such short hikes.
Macon County, NC
Franklin NC is located in the Western North Carolina mountains in an area the Cherokee referred to as “Nikiwasi,” meaning the “center of activity.”
It’s located an hour southwest of Asheville, and only two hours from Atlanta GA, Knoxville TN, and Greenville SC.
Fast-growing Franklin remains small, with a population of around 4,000, but it has gained notoriety as one of the best affordable mountain towns in NC.
It’s got good local restaurants, downtown museums, a performing arts center, and history/culture. Plus, Franklin is close to some great hikes on the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail, as well as the Wayah Bald Lookout Tower.
Several beautiful waterfalls can also be found in the nearby Nantahala National Forest.
Henderson County, NC
Hendersonville has a population pushing towards 20,000 residents, and it is located just 20 miles south of Asheville (which is the only actual city in Western North Carolina).
Keeping the small-town charm of a pedestrian-friendly Main Street in a Historic Downtown, Hendersonville has all the trappings of suburbs, with a city nearby. This combo makes it one of the best NC mountains towns to live in.
Hendersonville is just a hop-skip-and-jump from Pisgah National Forest hiking trails, Lake Lure, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Chimney Rock State Park, and offers opportunities for snow tubing in the North Carolina Mountains.
Then again, just staying in town can be nice, too!
10. Hot Springs
Madison County, NC
On the NC mountains map, Hot Springs boasts an exceptional location near the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
The Appalachian Trail goes by it, the French Broad River cradles it, and mineral hot springs heat it up. It’s been a popular tourist destination for nearly two centuries now.
Festivals celebrating the area’s music scene and beautiful nature (including the French Broad River Festival and the Bluff Mountain Music Festival) are popular annual events.
And yet somehow Hot Springs remains surprisingly small (population: 532), with just a handful of restaurants and local craft and antique shops.
Hot Springs is close enough to Asheville (45 minutes) to be counted in the city’s metropolitan statistics, and it is equally near to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Burke County, NC
Located at the eastern edge of the North Carolina mountains map, moving into the Piedmont, Morganton makes it onto our list of the best NC mountain towns because of its stellar location and historic downtown area.
Morganton sits along the Catawba River, and is technically in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But it has lots of nice cafes and a collection of breweries in town, with Union Street and Green Street forming a very walkable downtown area.
Venture outside of town to explore the famed Brown Mountain Lights of Morganton NC, a mysterious occurrence that attracts lots of visitors every year.
The town is also near Lake James State Park, the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, and Pisgah National Forest.
Cherokee County, NC
The town of Murphy NC is nestled in the far southwest corner of the state, near the borders with Tennessee and Georgia.
Murphy dates back to the 1830s, and acts as a gateway to a lot of of North Carolina’s natural wonders.
Hiwassee Lake (in the Nantahala National Forest) is less than 10 miles outside of town. Fontana Lake is also nearby, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only an hour away.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Fairs in North Carolina to Visit
Jackson County, NC
Nestled among several other enticing NC mountain towns, Sylva does a great job of vying for visitors to choose it when venturing beyond Asheville and into the far western reaches of the state.
Sylva has been recognized for being clean, green, and distinctive. It has four outstanding breweries within walking distance of each other, and Scott Creek runs right through town.
Sylva’s downtown area is bewitching enough to have played a role in three major Hollywood movies– Deliverance, The Fugutive, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Visitors based in Sylva can make easy day trips to Cherokee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Nantahala National Forest.
The 1400-acre Pinnacle Park wilderness belongs to the town, and Sylva is also part of the WNC Fly Fishing Trail.
Buncombe County, NC
In terms of getting close to Downtown Asheville, Weaverville NC is less than 10 miles away from the city, making it one of the closest on the map of towns in North Carolina.
The tiny town of 3,940 residents has a personality all its own, but provides easy access to Asheville as well.
Main Street in Downtown Weaverville is great for strolling, and it’s connected to a large green space— the wildflower-flecked Main Street Nature Park—that leads over to the equally lovely Lake Louise Park.
There’s also a greenway being constructed along Reems Creek.
Weaverville also offers quick access to Mount Mitchell State Park, Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Weaverville NC
15. West Jefferson
Ashe County, NC
West Jefferson NC is about 20 miles south of the Virginia border, with Tennessee about 20 miles to the west and Boone NC 25 miles to the south.
West Jefferson dives deep into the local scene, with lots of artisan-produced cheeses, public art installations, and a celebration of Old-Time music and dance.
The town also has a good farmers’ market and festival circuit, as well as several fun North Carolina treehouse rentals.
Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, New River State Park, and Elk Knob State Park are all very close to West Jefferson. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also nearby, with Moses H. Cone Memorial Park just over 30 miles away. – by Jonathon Engels