[Update April 13, 2023]
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
- Beech Mountain
- Blowing Rock
- Bryson City
- Hot Springs
- Mount Airy
- West Jefferson
Buncombe County NC • Official Website
With a population of nearly 100,000 residents, Asheville is big enough to have a lot going on, with multiple areas of interest. But it also has the inclusive personality of the best mountain towns.
It’s close to all three districts of the Pisgah National Forest, less than an hour from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and houses the headquarters for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Commonly called “Beer City USA” for its world-class craft breweries, Asheville also has amazing restaurants, local wineries, and fantastic attractions like the Biltmore Estate, Grove Park Inn, and NC Arboretum.
The city also has a cool collection of neighborhoods, such as the River Arts District and the Montford Area Historic District, that provide that welcoming small town feel.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Hotels in Asheville NC to Visit
2. 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.
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
3. Beech Mountain
Avery/Watauga Counties NC • Official Website
Located near major tourist towns like Banner Elk (7 miles), Blowing Rock (25 miles), and Boone (25 miles), Beech Mountain has a lot to offer as a town as well.
For starters, this is the highest town east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 5,506 feet.
This is basically a town built around the Beech Mountain Resort, so everything is geared towards catering to tourists. That means there are stellar restaurants, shops, and accommodations.
One of the most whimsical parts of the place is The Land of Oz theme park. It opened in 1970 and stopped full-time operation in 1980. However, it’s still available for private events, and in September there’s a three-day Autumn at Oz celebration.
4. 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.
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 • 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
Transylvania County, NC • Official Website
It’s home to Brevard College and the Brevard Music Center, which gives the town a youthful spirit, but it’s also considered one of the best places in North Carolina to retire.
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.
7. 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.
The happening downtown area has loads of great Bryson City 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 • 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
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.
Surry County NC • Official Website
I’ll admit I’m partial to Elkin NC because it is more or less my hometown. I live 30 minutes north in a rural area just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this is the NC mountain town we spend the most time in.
Elkin primarily considers itself a trail town, and it does have some nice hikes to offer. The Elkin Municipal Park has a fantastic walking trail— part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail— with several miles of mountain biking track as well.
I’m proud to say that my wife Emma and I volunteer with Elkin Valley Trail Association to maintain them.
Elkin has two great breweries in town, Skull Camp and Angry Troll. The historic Reeves Theater has live music shows, as well as a nice selection of NC craft beers.
There are also several wineries within town limits, and several more right outside of town. Surry County has at least 20 vineyards, so it’s a great place for taking wine tours.
Stone Mountain State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park are also nearby, as is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Elkin NC
Macon County, NC • Official Website
Franklin NC is located in the 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 NC 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 • 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).
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 mountain 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!
13. 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 Appalachian TrailFest and the Bluff Mountain Music Festival) are popular annual events.
And yet somehow Hot Springs NC 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 • 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.
15. Mount Airy
Surry County NC • Official Website
Best-known as the birthplace of Andy Griffith (and the inspiration for the Mayberry setting of The Andy Griffith Show), Mount Airy NC has grown a lot in recent years.
It’s designated as a city now, though its population only just tops 10,000 residents.
Undoubtedly, the Andy Griffith connection has been a huge draw to Mount Airy/Mayberry. There’s an Andy Griffith Museum, Andy Griffith Theater, Squad Car Tour, and plenty of charming shops and restaurants referencing the show.
Mount Airy still has a nice small-town feeling about it. Main Street is very walkable, and while it does have a lot of Andy Griffith-related tourist spots, it also has the ambiance of a place locals utilize as much as tourists.
There are some great places to eat in Mount Airy (we recommend the North State Winery and Kazoku Sushi & Bar), as well as a local arts scene, the Historic Earle Theater for live music, and notable architecture.
Part of the Surry County wine scene, Mount Airy has tons of vineyards and wineries nearby.
READ MORE: 10 Great Train Rides in North Carolina
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.
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 • 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.
Haywood County NC • Official Website
Waynesville has been a popular getaway in Western North Carolina for decades now. It’s close enough to Asheville to make accessing the city a cinch, but it also has plenty to offer on its own.
Deemed the “Gateway to the Smokies,” Waynesville is close to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, not to mention Nantahala National Forest and Pisgah National Forest. So, hiking, wildlife spotting, and other outdoor recreation are covered.
There are some great Waynesville Restaurants, ranging from exquisite dining at Frogs Leap Public House and the Chef’s Table to legendary subs at JRO’s.
There’s also a local brewery, the Boojum Brewing Co., and wine tastings at Bosu’s Wine Shop. Downtown Waynesville also has several fine art galleries to check out.
In the summertime, this is a great hub for getting to the parks for hiking or finding NC swimming holes. In the winter, it offers quick access to local ski resorts.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC
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.
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
20. 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, featured image of Downtown Hendersonville courtesy of Visit Hendersonville NC.