[Updated May 29, 2023]
In the three years since we launched this site, we’ve visited more than 50 Blue Ridge Mountain towns in the search for our future mountain home.
But none of them made such a strong impression on first visit as Brevard NC, a small town (population 7,841) located about 38 miles southwest of Asheville.
Known as “the Land of Waterfalls” for its dazzling cascades, the town of Brevard boasts a temperate climate, an exceptional art and music scene, great museums, and dozens of critically acclaimed restaurants.
In our experience, the mountain town also has a hip, youthful vibe, thanks to the proximity of the Brevard College campus.
It’s surrounded by stunning natural beauty, including DuPont State Recreational Forest, the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway, Pisgah National Forest, and numerous rivers for fishing, kayaking, and rafting.
Best Things to Do in Brevard NC Guide
- Attend Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center
- Bracken Preserve
- Cradle of Forestry in America
- Crystal Mountain Gem Mine
- Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
- DuPont State Forest
- Explore Downtown Brevard
- Gorges State Park
- Hike the Art Loeb Trail
- Hiking in Pisgah National Forest
- Look at Looking Glass Falls
- Sample the Best Brevard Restaurants
- Silvermont Mansion and Park
- Slip Down Sliding Rock
- Spend a Day on Lake Toxaway
- Tastings at Brevard Breweries & Cideries
- Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas
- Visit the Transylvania Heritage Museum
- Visit Panthertown Valley
- White Squirrel Festival
1. Attend the Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center
This 2-night NC music festival is a celebration of mountain music, incorporating elements of everything from blues and “newgrass” to old-time music, acoustic folk, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll.
The 2022 Mountain Song Music Festival included bluegrass stalwarts such as the Del McCoury Band and Gibson Brothers alongside talented up ‘n’ comers like Amythyst Kiah, who stole the show on the night we attended.
The Steep Canyon Rangers typically play both nights, with locals packing the outdoor auditorium and lawn and plenty of food and beverage vendors. Proceeds benefit Brevard’s Cindy Platt Boys & Girls Club.
READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Music Festivals
2. Bracken Preserve
Located next to the Brevard Music Center, between Downtown Brevard and Pisgah National Forest, the Bracken Preserve encompasses approximately 400 acres of hilly forest.
Around the time of the Civil War, it became one of the first parcels of land in Transylvania County owned by a freed slave. Brackens and Brushy Creeks (which run through the reserve) were Brevard’s main water supply until 1979.
Saved from development by the Brevard City Council in 2004, the Bracken Preserve was set aside for outdoor recreation, including 7.1 miles of Bracken Reserve trails for biking and hiking.
The hiking trails here range from the 0.14-mile Mackey Ridge Trail and the 2.78-mile Brushy Creek Trail to the 4.2-mile Bracken Mountain Trail. The latter is mostly uphill, and is rated moderately strenuous.
READ MORE: 20 Beautiful Birds of North Carolina
3. Cradle of Forestry in America
Originally known as Biltmore Forest School, the Cradle of Forestry in America was founded in 1898 by Carl A. Schenck, who was hired by George W. Vanderbilt to manage 100,000+ acres of forest around the Biltmore Estate.
Considered the first school of forestry in the USA, the school taught responsible forest management to local men in the timber industry, aiming to counter the deforestation of the area in the late 19th century.
A great place for kids, the heritage museum includes numerous historic buildings filled with antiques, railroad cars, and self-guided hiking trails, and offers frequent special tours and seasonal events.
4. Crystal Mountain Gem Mine
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Brevard with kids, the Crystal Mountain Gem Mine is a family-friendly activity located right in the heart of the downtown area.
Tapping into the rich mining history of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Crystal Mountain offers an indoor gem mining experience, which is great for rainy days (Brevard is in a rainforest, after all!) or cold days in winter.
If gem mining isn’t your thing, the store also offers an intriguing shopping experience, with an extensive collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils from all around the world.
It’s a great place to find some unique gifts for the rockhounds on your Christmas shopping list, from massive geodes and jewelry to an array of home decor.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Winston Salem NC
5. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
It may not be as world-renowned as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the 79-mile Forest Heritage Scenic Byway offers an amazing road trip route that takes you to some of our favorite Brevard NC attractions.
Starting at the intersection of US Highway 64 and U.S. Route 276, the scenic route takes you into the heart of the Pisgah National Forest, with numerous creeks, lakes, rivers and waterfalls along the way.
From the Cradle of Forestry and Davidson River to Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock, you’ll find many of the area’s most popular attractions elsewhere on this list.
6. DuPont State Forest
Located just 12 miles from downtown Brevard, DuPont State Recreational Forest offers 12,000 acres of pristine natural beauty for visitors to explore.
But the most popular DuPont Forest attractions are the beautiful waterfalls, including some of our favorite Western North Carolina waterfalls for hiking.
The most popular DuPont State Forest waterfalls– the short and wide Hooker Falls, the 3-level cascades of Triple Falls, and the majestic High Falls– can all be seen via a relatively moderate 2.7-mile hike.
But you can also tack on Bridal Veil Falls, Wintergreen Falls, and Grassy Creek Falls if you have the time and energy.
7. Explore Downtown Brevard
Brevard has been named one of “America’s Coolest Small Towns,” and exploring downtown Brevard will quickly help you understand why.
The town has been named one of the best places to retire in North Carolina, yet it also has nearly 1,000 students at Brevard College. So it offers a great mixture of refined adult and hip youthful culture.
Brevard’s Main Street is home to 3 museums, 2 movie theaters, and an array of art galleries. The Brevard Music Center, the epicenter of the area’s excellent live music scene, is just over a mile away.
A stroll through the heart of town will also lead you to numerous trendy boutiques, charming gift shops, the historic Transylvania Courthouse, and some of the best restaurants in Brevard.
8. Gorges State Park
Located 20 miles southwest of Brevard (and 12 miles east of Cashiers NC), the 7,709-acre Gorges State Park makes for a fantastic day trip visit.
Part of a 100,000+ acre conservation corridor that stretches approximately 80 miles along the border with South Carolina, Gorges easily ranks among our favorite North Carolina State Parks.
But for us the highlight of the state park is its exquisite collection of 26 waterfalls, 3 of which can be reached via the moderately difficult Rainbow Falls Trail.
With an elevation gain of 770 feet along the 3.9-trail, this trek allows you to see Hidden Falls (a.k.a. Stairway Falls), Rainbow Falls, and Turtleback Falls. And if you visit in the afternoon, you may get to see how Rainbow Falls got its name!
9. Hike the Art Loeb Trail
The town of Brevard is surrounded by some of the best North Carolina mountains for hiking, and the Art Loeb Trail offers a challenging way to explore many of them.
The trek to the 6,214-foot summit of Black Balsam Knob is less than 1.5 miles round-trip, taking hikers through fields full of NC wildflowers and wild berries to magical views of some of the tallest Appalachian Mountains in the area.
The Art Loeb trail also traverses Tennent Mountain (6040 feet) and Pilot Mountain (5095 feet), and passes near the base of the famous Cold Mountain.
It’s no wonder National Geographic Adventure named this as one of the 30 Best North American hikes!
10. Hiking in Pisgah National Forest
Brevard is home to the southernmost portion of the Pisgah National Forest, which encompasses more than 500,000 pristine acres of mostly hardwood forest.
In addition to drive-up waterfalls like Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock, other popular Pisgah National Forest waterfalls for hiking include Daniel Ridge Falls, Log Hollow Falls, Moore Cove Falls, and Twin Falls.
For those who don’t need waterfalls as a reward, other great Pisgah National Forest hiking trails near Brevard include Black Balsam Knob, Devil’s Courthouse, Graveyard Fields, Looking Glass Rock, and the Pink Beds Trail.
11. Look at Looking Glass Falls
The path to Looking Glass Falls (arguably the most beautiful of the many Pisgah Forest waterfalls) really isn’t long enough to classify it as a hiking trail.
In fact, you can see this 60-foot stunner right from the road, without even setting foot outside your car!
It’s located off US-276 (part of the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway), about 10 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Note that the small roadside parking lot can get a bit crowded at times, especially on weekend afternoons when the fall colors in NC begin to peak.
But it’s worth for the spectacular view once you descend the stairs to reach the base of the beautiful falls, and Davidson Creek makes a fun place for kids and dogs to wade in the heat of summer.
12. Sample the Best Brevard Restaurants
For fine dining in Brevard, we recommend the farm-to-table fare at the new Wild Morel Restaurant and the pan-global fusion of The Square Root (voted #1 among the top places to eat in Brevard for 13 years running).
Other Brevard restaurants we enjoyed included the tasty pastries at Bracken Mountain Bakery, upscale Mexican fare at Quixote Fine Cuisine, sushi at Sora Japanese restaurant, and dessert/wine pairings at Wine Down On Main.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Brevard NC
13. Silvermont Mansion and Park
This downtown Brevard attraction is a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
The Silvermont Mansion is a 33-room Colonial Revival house built in 1917 for Russian immigrant Joseph Silversteen and his wife, Elizabeth. He ultimately opened 5 businesses in the area, employing several hundred men and providing Transylvania County with its largest source of tax revenue until the 1950s.
Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion’s entire upstairs area has been preserved as a museum of local history. Donated to the county in 1972, it remains decorated much as the Silversteens left it.
The main level is a community center, offering classes ranging from art and music to tai chi and yoga. They also offer fun activities ranging from Bingo and Mah-Jongg to live music and seasonal events.
The 8-acre park also features a 3/4-mile ADA-accessible trail, gardens with flowers and fruit for pollinators, basketball courts, tennis courts, a playground (including a swing for wheelchair users), and picnic tables.
14. Slip Down Sliding Rock
Technically known as the Sliding Rock Recreation Area, Sliding Rock Falls is a 60-foot-long natural rock slide down a smooth rock face into a cool pool.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Sliding Rock is operated by Adventure Pisgah, which provides lifeguards and opens the bathrooms. From Labor Day to the end of October, they only operate on weekends.
Note that there will be a $4 entrance fee to visit the waterfall when AP’s services are in operation. But it’s free to get in otherwise, and Sliding Rock Falls is open to visitors 365 days a year.
READ MORE: The 30 Best Waterfalls Near Asheville NC
15. Spend a Day on Lake Toxaway
We’re big-time lake lovers, having kept our boat docked at Lake Allatoona in North Georgia for 14 years now. Lakefront living is a huge part of our future plans for moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Damming the Toxaway River to create Lake Toxaway was their third project, with construction of the 60-foot-tall, 500-foot-wide earthen dam completed in 1903.
Surrounded by 5,000+ acres of forest, Lake Toxaway is home to a country club (with golf, tennis, and fitness facilities), great hiking trails, and fishing.
16. Tastings at Brevard Breweries & Cideries
But exploring local breweries is one of the most popular things to do in Brevard NC, with nearly a half-dozen right in town and several others in nearby mountain towns like Mills River and Hendersonville.
The Oskar Blues Brewery (which also has locations in Austin TX and Colorado) is probably the most famous of the breweries in Brevard. They offer free tours, indoor and outdoor taprooms, games, live music, and food trucks.
17. Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas
My paternal grandfather served in the Army in World War II, and my dad had to go AWOL to witness my birth before being shipped off 6 hours later to the War in Vietnam.
Both of them suffered PTSD and other health issues, so my complicated personal feelings about America’s military history are deeply connected to their multi-generational trauma.
Visiting the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas in downtown Brevard was moving in ways I didn’t expect, with elaborate exhibits paying tribute to those who have fought and died in service to their nation.
From World War I to the “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, this expansive collection of military artifacts includes an impressive array of uniforms, weaponry, original newspapers, vintage photos and video, and more.
Their latest exhibit features a fully restored 1943 Willys Jeep in front of an Army Post Office (APO), as well as a vintage World War II Harley Davidson motorcycle.
READ MORE: The 10 Most Haunted Places in North Carolina
18. Visit the Transylvania Heritage Museum
Transylvania County was apportioned in 1861, with the city of Brevard (which was named after Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Ephraim Brevard, M.D.) as its county seat.
The museum, located in an 1890s house right on Main Street, does a great job of depicting the area’s history via artifacts, photos, informational signs, and genealogical exhibits tracing the local heritage.
From doll-making and quilting to Appalachian music and moonshine distilling, the museum manages to squeeze an impressive array of information into a fairly small space.
The THM also offers guided walking tours, a Transylvania Genealogical Research Room, and seasonal events such as a haunting Ghost Story walking tour for Halloween.
19. Visit Panthertown Valley
Located 22 miles west of Brevard (just a few miles from Lake Toxaway), Panthertown Valley is known as the “Yosemite of the East.” It’s a beloved haven for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers who want that feeling of getting away from it all.
The area boasts some 30 miles of hiking trails and dozens of dazzling North Carolina waterfalls, including the beautiful Schoolhouse Falls.
But do note that this is a primitive area, and the trails– though most have signposts along the way– can get a little confusing as they twist, turn, and criss-cross one another.
We highly recommend purchasing Burt Kornegay’s detailed map of Panthertown Valley, which is available via Panthertown Map Association website. Every cent of profits from sales of the map is donated to charity.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Waterfalls Near Cherokee NC
20. White Squirrel Weekend
White Squirrels are a common (albeit unusual) sighting in Brevard. We saw them almost everywhere, from our Deerwoode Reserve cabin rental and during dinner at the Wild Morel Restaurant to the Brevard College campus.
Ask people how they got there and you’ll likely be regaled with local legends about a carnival wreck that happened in Central Florida back in 1949.
Regardless of the origin story, the town celebrates these striking siblings of the grey Eastern Tree Squirrel with the annual White Squirrel Weekend celebration.
Now in its 20th year, the 3-day festival is held on Memorial Day weekend. The focus is largely on music, with 14 free concerts by locally- and even nationally-known performers who are connected to Transylvania County.
The fun, family-friendly event annually attracts some 30,000 people to Brevard, and includes vendors selling arts and crafts, food, beverages, and more. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted