[Updated 12/20/2021] Personally, I’d argue that the best small towns in North Carolina easily rank among the best small towns in America on the whole.
Western North Carolina is perhaps best known as home to historic Asheville, one of the most deservedly popular up-and-coming small cities in the United States.
Dozens of the small towns near Asheville NC, are charming, quaint, and surrounded by picture postcard-worthy natural beauty.
So it’s hard to find anywhere in Western North Carolina that isn’t just naturally breathtaking.
Deciding which of these mountain towns to visit (or, in our case, live in) is really a subjective thing.
Do you prefer to be immersed in nature, or close to modern conveniences? Do you want to be high up in the mountains, or have waterfront views at lower elevations?
For those planning on visiting (or relocating to) the region, here are some of the best small towns in North Carolina to add to your itinerary…
Best Small Towns in North Carolina Guide
- Black Mountain
- Hot Springs
- Chimney Rock Village
- Banner Elk
- Blowing Rock
- West Jefferson
- Beech Mountain
- Bryson City
- Maggie Valley
Small Towns Around Asheville NC
1. Weaverville NC
Less than 10 miles from the heart of Asheville; Weaverville NC has become a perennial shoe-in for the “Tree City USA” designation from the Arbor Day Foundation.
The award is given to communities that pay special mind to urban forestry expansion and preservation.
Beyond that, Weaverville has been a welcoming community for over a century, acting as a resort destination where people can get away from the hustle and bustle of Asheville.
Though the fine hotels of the 1930s have long since been shut, bed-and-breakfasts are commonplace, and hospitality continues to thrive in Weaverville.
The town also boasts a great arts and music scene, and there’s a weekly tailgate market from April through October.
READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Weaverville NC
2. Black Mountain NC
Moving east along I-40, Black Mountain NC is arguably one of the best small towns to live in NC.
It has a little bit of something to offer everyone– three breweries, 30 restaurants, a history museum, an art center, dozens of shops selling everything from quilts to locally-made furniture.
For those who like the feel of Asheville, but not necessarily living in a city of 100,000 people, Black Mountain is an ace option.
It’s only 15 miles away from Asheville, has on-ramps to the Blue Ridge Parkway or I-40, and backs into the Pisgah National Forest.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
3. Brevard NC
Located 34 miles southwest of Asheville, just above the South Carolina border, Brevard NC is amongst the most popular NC small towns.
This renowned college town is retro-hip, with old-time shops and eateries along the main drag, as well as micro-breweries and a state-of-the-art music center on the outskirts.
But it’s also the seat of Transylvania County, which is known as the “Land of Waterfalls.
From Brevard, there is quick access to Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Forest. Oh yes, and keep an eye out for the town’s famed white squirrels!
4. Hendersonville NC
Located south of Asheville off of I-26, Hendersonville NC has an exceptionally walkable Main Street that makes it unavoidable on a list of quaint towns in North Carolina.
Festivals and street dances are regular events in Hendersonville from spring (the Garden Jubilee) through autumn (the annual Apple Festival).
From Hendersonville, it’s just a quick jaunt to Mills River, where you’ll find the state-of-the-art Sierra Nevada Brewery.
5. Saluda NC
Undoubtedly, the tiny town’s historic downtown and train depot remain big draws for visitors, and the ambience they create is wonderfully retro.
Additionally, Saluda has cozy art galleries, fun restaurants, and beautiful lodging choices.
From this town, you can easily access the Tryon International Equestrian Center, Dupont State Recreational Area, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Pisgah National Forest.
READ MORE: The 27 Best Waterfalls Near Asheville NC
6. Burnsville NC
It’s one of the many cute towns in North Carolina that surround Asheville, which is just a 30-minute drive away.
Burnsville has a fun farmers market open from spring to fall, an old-time downtown with a handful of shops and restaurants, and plenty of scenery for scenic drives or hiking.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC
7. Hot Springs NC
Famous as a spot on the Appalachian Trail, which passes right through it, Hot Springs NC is set along the French Broad River and right in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Of course, finding a place to soak in the warm mineral water is a favorite pastime in Hot Springs, but there is a bit more to it than that.
It’s a town filled with music (Bluff Mountain Festival), art (French Broad River Festival), and recreation (Hot Springs Annual Trailfest).
Just 40 minutes north of Asheville and a quick skip away from the Tennessee border, Hot Springs NC is a classic resort town with over 200 years of service.
8. Morganton NC
Morganton’s population is pushing 20K these days, but the place has the classic downtown main street set-up.
The Catawba River Greenway is great for nature walks within the settlement. Catawba Falls and Lake James are also nearby, as are numerous breweries and vineyards.
Morganton is a good place to find antiques, and it’s big enough to have all the amenities you’d expect from a full-blown suburb.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Fairs in North Carolina to Visit
9. Chimney Rock Village NC
Located in the western extremities of the North Carolina Piedmont, Chimney Rock Village is close enough to Western NC and only requires a day-trip from Asheville.
Chimney Rock State Park is home to one of North Carolina’s most picturesque rock formations.
Near the entrance to the park, a small town was gradually formed to take advantage of the incoming tourism business.
This location is totally built on catering to visitors, as opposed to being a traditional historic mountain settlement.
Nonetheless, the town is surrounded by stunning scenic beauty, and offers a quirky assortment of shops and restaurants suited for vacationing families.
Blue Ridge Parkway Towns
10. Banner Elk NC
Located in the High Country 75 miles northeast of Asheville, Banner Elk NC offers a great blend of small-town stats with big city glitz.
There are nice restaurants, modern museums nearby, and plenty of rural landscape to enjoy.
Grandfather Mountain State Park is only a 15-minute drive away, and once out of the car, there is a Mile High Swinging Bridge to walk across.
Another of the NC mountain town’s claims to fame is that it is, “the only town in North Carolina within 5 miles of two snow skiing resorts.”
Offering craft brews, local vineyards, and cozy cabins, this is the stuff of which the best small towns in North Carolina are made!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Banner Elk NC
11. Blowing Rock NC
These small mountain towns in NC obviously have lots to offer, and in my opinion Blowing Rock (population 1300, altitude 3500+ feet) is truly amongst the finest.
It is, of course, celebrated for the unusual rock formation that is the town’s namesake– a huge stone thrust over the Johns River. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the views are spectacular.
There’s also the aptly-named Mystery Hill, which you’ll simply have to investigate yourself!
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC
12. West Jefferson NC
Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, West Jefferson, NC has kept its place amongst the most quaint towns in North Carolina for more than a century now.
It originally developed as a railroad town in 1909, and the town has kept chugging along.
Over the last few decades its main industry has shifted from lumber to an art scene steeped in Blue Ridge culture and a recently revitalized, pedestrian-friendly downtown.
There are lots of events—including farmers markets, corn maze, concerts, and gallery crawls—to keep the atmosphere lively.
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is nearby, as are the Blue Ridge Parkway and New River State Park.
13. Elkin NC
Not only are the state parks nearby, but the countryside around Elkin is dotted with dozens of vineyards, golf courses, and fishing holes.
Historic Downtown Elkin has quaint, old-timey architecture with a good choice of restaurants (Angry Troll Brewing, Southern on Main, the Reeves), antique shops, and a Folk Arts Center.
There is also a fantastic town park and recreation center—Elkin Municipal Park—that has a pool, tennis courts, hiking, biking trails, and several historical sites.
14. Sparta NC
Though small, the town has nice places to eat, a good music scene, quick access to parks (Stone Mountain, New River, Mount Jefferson, Elk Knob), and proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
There is even a Main Street coffee house and a killer used book store.
The Spartans of North Carolina enjoy outdoor festivals, particularly when it involves a bit of dancing and something nice to eat.
READ MORE: Things to Do in Elk Knob State Park
15. Boone NC
Reimagining the classic mountain town as a cool college town, Boone NC (pop. 18,000+) is widely recognized as one of the best small cities in North Carolina.
Boone is perhaps best known as home to Appalachian State University.
Obviously, all of this makes Boone one of the best small towns in North Carolina to live in!
16. Beech Mountain NC
Regarded as “the highest town in Eastern America,” Beech Mountain NC sits at a lofty 5,506 feet above sea level.
Like many of the quaint towns in North Carolina, Beech Mountain is built around outdoor recreation opportunities.
In summertime, Emerald Outback has trails for hiking and mountain biking.
Buckeye Recreation Center offers tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts, as well as a playground for the kids and an official NC Birding Trail.
There’s also a top-notch golf course with spectacular views and mountain streams for fly fishing.
But the recreational lifeblood of Beech Mountain is snow-skiing, snow tubing, and other winter activities.
Towns Near Bryson City NC
17. Bryson City NC
While it might be named Bryson City, by most people’s standards this one of the small quaint towns in North Carolina (population around 1400) near the Tennessee border.
Needless to say, the national park at the town’s doorstep offers loads of suitable outdoor recreation opportunities to enjoy it all.
Native Americans have been living in this area for over 14,000 years.
But, like many of Western North Carolina’s small towns, this one has more recent historic roots as a railroad stop.
One of our favorite NC Christmas Events, the Polar Express train takes you on a 1 1/4 hour round-trip journey through the mountains.
18. Cherokee NC
Right outside the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the town of Cherokee NC is conveniently located for accessing America’s most visited national park as well as jumping on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But, the town is a stop in its own right. It has an amazing collection of sites to devoted to the history and culture of Native Americans—the Cherokee—from the area.
Cherokee has a full fleet of hotels, motels, campgrounds, resorts, and cabins for hire.
19. Maggie Valley NC
Also located in the Great Smoky Mountains, Maggie Valley is one of the best small mountain towns in NC for those who don’t mind when things get a bit tourist-y.
While the town of around 1,200 residents has plenty of quaint personality and quirkiness, much of that is now pinned on a visitor’s welcome tourist board.
Naturally, Maggie Valley has embraced its convenient location (to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and plenty more), added attractions, and invited everyone to enjoy.
In short, there is no shortage of things to do, places to stay, or souvenirs to buy.
20. Murphy NC
Established in 1839, Murphy NC has had long-standing status among the historic small mountain towns in NC. Many of its buildings have been restored to their original splendor.
Though home to less than 2000 people, it is the seat of Cherokee County, and there are lots of good eateries and shops to entertain visitors.
21. Sylva NC
Nevertheless, picturesque Sylva NC has gradually grown into its own.
In addition to being the seat of Jackson County, the town is replete with artsy and antique shops, a brewery, and a stunning historic courthouse building.
As with any of these small NC towns, there are plenty of outdoor attractions—waterfalls, hiking trails, lakes—to be found just a short drive away.
22. Dillsboro NC
A tourist town from way back, Dillsboro was a stop on the early railways that ran through Western NC, “Land of the Sky”.
Residents have done their best to keep it authentic and, in doing so, kept the storefronts and shops historic and rustic, as well as filled with local artisans. There are also plenty of good eateries to enjoy.
Dillsboro hosts several festivals throughout the year, including spring and fall arts festivals and a killer Christmas luminary display.
There is quick access (in less than an hour’s drive) to Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Dillsboro.
23. Franklin NC
Incorporated in the mid-1800s, Franklin NC is yet another of my favorite little historical mountain towns.
It has an eminently walkable downtown area, with The Little Tennessee River Greenway for exploring more scenic surroundings.
Though Franklin is named for Jesse Franklin, a former NC senator and governor, the area was once a center for Cherokee Indians.
There’s even an ancient mound—Nikwasi– located right in the middle of town.
In summer, the population of Franklin NC doubles due to retirees who have chosen its comfortable weather as a home base.
24. Highlands NC
Highlands is famed for its cool summers (due to the town’s 4100-foot elevation) and has a reputation for great golfing.
Because it’s located in the Nantahala National Forest, the town is no slouch for natural wonders either.
You’ll find several stunning waterfalls (Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls) nearby, and plenty of great hiking and fishing spots as well.
For culturally-minded travelers, there are also four performing arts theaters in town.
25. Cashiers NC
Located on a high plateau in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Cashiers NC is last town on our small towns in North Carolina list.
From Memorial Day well into Autumn, the local population balloons from around 2000 to over 20,000.
Around Cashiers, the Nantahala National Forest spreads out, offering up a slew of lovely mountain streams, hiking trails, and high peaks offering spectacular scenic views.
The town itself is also home to breweries, boutiques, and vacation homes. The Village Green Park is worth a stroll, and this is a jumping off point for some top-notch waterfalls.
In my eyes, these small, rural towns in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are all among the most charming and best small towns in the USA.
In the Appalachian Mountains, they have one of the most beautiful natural backdrops in the nation, and each of these towns is steeped in history, art, and culture.
Whether it’s a day trip from Asheville or a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’re looking for, you’ll definitely want to put a few of these spots on the itinerary. –by Jonathon Engels