The 20 Best Things to Do in Brevard NC & Transylvania County

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[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. 

From Blue Ridge and Blairsville GA to Bryson City and Waynesville NC, there have been several different places that made their way onto our shortlist. 

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

Read on for our guide to the 15 best things to do in Brevard NC and Transylvania County, including all the best Brevard attractions, hiking trails, waterfalls, historic sites, parks, and more!

READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Mountain Towns to Visit


Best Things to Do in Brevard NC Guide

  1. Attend Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center
  2. Bracken Preserve 
  3. Cradle of Forestry in America
  4. Crystal Mountain Gem Mine 
  5. Drive the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
  6. DuPont State Forest
  7. Explore Downtown Brevard
  8. Gorges State Park
  9. Hike the Art Loeb Trail
  10. Hiking in Pisgah National Forest
  11. Look at Looking Glass Falls
  12. Sample the Best Brevard Restaurants
  13. Silvermont Mansion and Park 
  14. Slip Down Sliding Rock
  15. Spend a Day on Lake Toxaway
  16. Tastings at Brevard Breweries & Cideries
  17. Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas 
  18. Visit the Transylvania Heritage Museum 
  19. Visit Panthertown Valley
  20. White Squirrel Festival

READ MORE: 30 Fun Facts About North Carolina State History & Culture

Mountain Song Festival at the Brevard Music Center in Brevard NC
Steep Canyon Rangers & Amethyst Kiah at the Mountain Song Festival 2022

1. Attend the Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center

Second only to the White Squirrel Weekend among the most popular annual festivals in Brevard, Mountain Song is held at the Brevard Music Center every September. 

The festival is hosted by hometown heroes the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Grammy-winning bluegrass band best-known for their collaborations with comedian-turned-banjo virtuoso Steve Martin.

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

Deer in Wildflowers at Bracken Preserve in Brevard NC
Deer in Wildflowers at Bracken Preserve

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. 

You can also create a 6-mile loop that connects all 3 trails, which takes you through the forest, along creeks lined with wildflowers, with deer and birds along the way.  

READ MORE: 20 Beautiful Birds of North Carolina

School Tours at Cradle of Forestry in America
School Tour at the Cradle of Forestry in America

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.

Now part of the protected Pisgah National Forest, the Cradle of Forestry is a popular historical attraction located a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Brevard and Hendersonville

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains

Crystal Mountain Gem Mine in Downtown Brevard NC
Crystal Mountain Gem Mine

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

Children Playing in Davidson River on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway
The Davidson River on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway

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. 

But you can also visit the Pisgah Visitor Center, go horseback riding at the Pisgah Riding Stables, hike the Pink Beds Trail, or go kayaking on Lake Logan.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

Triple Falls in DuPont State Forest
Triple Falls in DuPont State Forest

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.

The forest offers 80+ miles of multi-use trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, as well as several lakes, picnic shelters, and famously stunning scenic views

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.

READ MORE: The 50 Best North Carolina Waterfalls to Visit

Transylvania County Courthouse in Downtown Brevard NC
Transylvania County Courthouse in Downtown Brevard

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. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Christmas Towns in North Carolina

Couple at Rainbow Falls in Gorges State Park near Brevard NC
Couple at Rainbow Falls Overlook in Gorges State Park

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

With cabins, campgrounds, 56 miles of hiking trails, 17 miles of biking trails, and 12 miles of horseback riding trails, there are plenty of activities and amenities here to keep you busy for days.

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!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Smoky Mountains Waterfalls to Visit 

Black Balsam Knob in Western NC at Sunset
Black Balsam Knob at Sunset, photo via Canva

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. 

Widely considered one of the best hikes in North Carolina, the 30.1-mile trail stretches from the Davidson River Campground near Brevard to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp near Waynesville.

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!

READ MORE: The Best Hiking in Asheville NC Bucket List (Top 25 Hiking Trails)

Looking Glass Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Looking Glass Rock

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.

Home to the first tract of land purchased under the Weeks Act of 1911, the forest is filled with whitewater rivers, waterfalls, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

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. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pisgah National Forest Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Looking Glass Falls, photo by Makasana Photo

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. 

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

Pork Chop at Wild Morel Restaurant in Brevard NC
Pork Chop at Wild Morel Restaurant

12. Sample the Best Brevard Restaurants

We were truly blown away by the excellent assortment of restaurants in Brevard NC, which easily rivaled those of larger mountain towns like Asheville NC and Roanoke VA in terms of culinary diversity. 

Our first meal in town, at the Blue Ridge Bakery, offered an assortment of Greek-inspired dishes accompanied by live music from a local Appalachian music quartet! 

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

Silvermont Mansion & Park in Brevard NC
Silvermont Mansion & Park

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.

READ MORE: Top 15 NC State Parks in the North Carolina Mountains

Sliding Rock Falls, near Brevard NC
Sliding Rock Falls, Photo via Canva

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.

It’s extremely popular among folks visiting nearby towns like Asheville and Hendersonville, and beloved for both the slide itself and the swimming hole at the bottom.

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

Aerial photo of Lake Toxaway NC in Autumn
Lake Toxaway, photo courtesy Lake Toxaway Community Association

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

Located 16 miles southwest of Brevard, the 640-acre Lake Toxaway is the largest of all the private lakes in North Carolina, offering 14 miles of accessible shoreline. 

Its origins date back to the late 1800s, when the Toxaway Company began building a series of summer resorts in what was known as “the Switzerland of America.” 

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.

Outside boats are not permitted, but guests of the Greystone Inn can explore the lake via canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Lakes in North Carolina (Mountains, Coast & Beyond)

Brevard NC Brewery - Oskar Blues Brewery
Oskar Blues Brewery

16. Tastings at Brevard Breweries & Cideries

Neither Mary or I are big beer drinkers, so visiting breweries rarely makes it onto our travel itinerary nearly as much as wine tastings at local wineries

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.

Other popular Brevard breweries include the Brevard Brewing CompanyEcusta Brewing Company (which recently expanded to a larger location), Noblebräu Brewing, and UpCountry Brewing

If you like hard apple cider as much as we do, it’s also worth visiting the Bold Rock Cidery in Mills River NC, about 15 miles north of Downtown Brevard.

READ MORE: The 12 Best Brevard Breweries and Cideries to Visit

Jeep Exhibit at Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas in Brevard NC
Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas

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

Exhibit at the Transylvania Heritage Museum in Brevard NC
Exhibit at the Transylvania Heritage Museum

18. Visit the Transylvania Heritage Museum 

If you have any interest whatsoever in the Appalachian history of Western NC, a visit to the Transylvania Heritage Museum in downtown Brevard is a must.

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. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Hiking Schoolhouse Falls near Cashiers NC
Walking Behind Schoolhouse Falls, photo by Emma Gallagher

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. 

Encompassing approximately 6,300 acres of backcountry wilderness, Panthertown Valley is one of the lesser-known parts of the Nantahala National Forest.

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

White Squirrel Weekend in Brevard NC
Photo courtesy White Squirrel Weekend

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


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!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Born and raised in North Georgia, Editor-In-Chief Bret Love grew up hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his family. A professional writer/editor since 1995, he's covered travel and culture for 100+ publications, including American Way, Destination Marriott, Georgia Travel Guide, National Geographic, and Southbound. In 2010 he co-founded the award-winning website, Green Global Travel, which is ranked among the world's top travel blogs. Since launching BRMTG in 2020, he and Mary Gabbett have visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns together. Though she lived in NYC for 14 years, photographer/Business Manager Mary Gabbett's family has Georgia roots dating back 200+ years. Her great-grandfather was President of the Western Railroad of Alabama. Before moving to Atlanta in 1989, she fell in love with the North GA mountains, where her aunt owned a cabin. In 2010 she co-founded Green Global Travel, and has since traveled to more than 40 countries on six continents. Her photos have appeared in numerous travel publications (including National Geographic and Southbound) and various textbooks.