The 15 Best North Carolina Mountain Towns to Visit

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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. 

The largest city on the North Carolina mountains map– bustling Asheville– still has less than 100,000 residents in its metropolitan area.

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…

READ MORE: The Top 25 Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in GA & NC

Best North Carolina Mountain Towns Guide

  1. Banner Elk
  2. Blowing Rock
  3. Boone
  4. Brevard
  5. Bryson City
  6. Burnsville
  7. Cherokee
  8. Franklin
  9. Hendersonville
  10. Hot Springs
  11. Morganton
  12. Murphy
  13. Sylva
  14. Weaverville
  15. West Jefferson

 

Banner Elk, NC
Downtown Banner Elk NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

1. Banner Elk

Avery County NC

Official Website

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.

Banner Elk is near Grandfather Mountain State Park, Otter Falls, and some of the best places for snow skiing in North Carolina, including Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain.

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

Sunset at the Blowing Rock in Blowing Rock NC
Sunset at the Blowing Rock, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Blowing Rock

Watauga/Caldwell Counties NC

Official Website

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.

It’s widely considered one of the best small towns in NC to live in, with myriad activities within a 15-mile radius.

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.

Blowing Rock also offers quick access to Tweetsie Railroad, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Boone, Grandfather Mountain State Park, and Linville Falls/Linville Caverns.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC

Downtown Boone, NC - best places to live in the North Carolina mountains
Downtown Boone, NC photo by Dawson Tozier

3. Boone

Watauga County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: 20 Best Things to Do in Boone NC (Blue Ridge Parkway MM 291.8)

 Cove Creek Falls near Brevard -best Blue Ridge mountain towns
Cove Creek Falls, photo via Canva

4. Brevard

Transylvania County, NC

Official Website

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. 

READ MORE: The Top 15 Waterfalls Near Brevard NC (Transylvania County)

Aerial View of Bryson City NC via Canva
Bryson City, North Carolina, photo via Canva

5. Bryson City

Swain County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County

Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville -towns near Asheville NC
Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

6. Burnsville

Yancey County, NC

Official Website

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

Opening Ceremonies Cherokee Pow Wow
Opening Ceremonies at the Cherokee Pow Wow

7. Cherokee

The Qualla Boundary

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary

Main St in Franklin, NC - best affordable mountain towns
Main St in Franklin, photo courtesy FranklinNC.com

8. Franklin

Macon County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pumpkin Patches in the NC Mountains

Main St in Downtown Hendersonville NC - cities in western North Carolina
Main St in Downtown Hendersonville, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Hendersonville

Henderson County, NC

Official Website

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).

With an array of foodie-friendly restaurants, the state-of-the-art Sierra Nevada Brewery, and plenty of apple orchards nearby, Hendersonville is a primo spot for residents and visitors alike.

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!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Hendersonville NC

10. Hot Springs

Madison County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: North Carolina Wildflowers Guide (& Where to See Them in Western NC)

Looking for Brown Mountain Lights at the Brown Mountain Overlook near Morganton NC

11. Morganton

Burke County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Winding Mountain Road in Murphy NC
Murphy NC, photo via CherokeeCounty-NC.gov

12. Murphy

Cherokee County, NC

Official Website

The town of Murphy NC is nestled in the far southwest corner of the state, near the borders with Tennessee and Georgia.

In fact, the mountain towns of Blue Ridge GA and Blairsville GA are just over 20 miles to the south.

Murphy dates back to the 1830s, and acts as a gateway to a lot of of North Carolina’s natural wonders.

The downtown is lined with trees and flowers, with plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from.

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

Sunset in Sylva, NC
Sunset in Sylva, photo courtesy Harris Regional Hospital

13. Sylva

Jackson County, NC

Official Website

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.

READ MORE: Fall in North Carolina: 20 Great Places to See Fall Colors in Western NC

Fountain at Lake Louise Park in Weaverville NC - towns near Asheville NC
Lake Louise Park in Weaverville, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

14. Weaverville

Buncombe County, NC

Official Site

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.

For a romantic getaway, check out “America’s Smallest Castle,” which is one of several Treehouse Rentals near Asheville NC. There are also several great VRBO Cabins nearby as well.

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

Downtown West Jefferson, NC
Downtown West Jefferson, photo courtesy High Country of North Carolina

15. West Jefferson

Ashe County, NC

Official Website

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

 

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

After visiting the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.