Things to Do in Burnsville NC Guide
- Explore Downtown Burnsville
- Dine at Burnsville Restaurants
- Visit Mt Mitchell State Park
- Walk in the Woods With Snakeroot Ecotours
- Hike to Crabtree Falls
- Climb the Blue Ridge Pinnacle Trail
- Get Cultured with the Toe River Arts Council
- Hike to Roaring Fork Falls
- See Stars at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park
- Drive the Burnsville Quilt Trails
Family Fun at Emerald Village
Spend a Day in Little Switzerland
Have a Picnic at Setrock Creek Falls
- Visit the Penland School of Craft
- Get Away From It All at Yummy Mud Puddle
1. Explore Downtown Burnsville
To get a good feel for the town of Burnsville NC, head to the two-acre Town Square in Downtown Burnsville.
There you’ll find a statue of Otway Burns, the swashbuckling privateer (who became one of North Carolina‘s first naval heroes in the War of 1812) for whom the town was named. He later became a politician, serving seven terms in the NC house and four in the senate.
The four Main Streets (N, S, E, and W) surrounding the square are the heart of the Downtown Burnsville business district. There you’ll find loads of quaint shops, the Burnsville Visitor Center, the Yancey History Association Museum, and many of the best Burnsville restaurants.
It’s easy to walk this entire area, which is relatively quiet on weekdays but bustling with activity on the weekends. Saturdays are especially hopping when the weather is nice, with live music and lots of outdoor dining options.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
2. Dine at Burnsville Restaurants
3. Visit Mount Mitchell State Park
Burnsville promotes itself as the “Home of Mount Mitchell,” and it’s easy to see why the 6,684-foot peak (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi) gets top billing here.
One of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks (MM 355), Mount Mitchell State Park features seven trails spanning some 20+ miles.
The Mount Mitchell hiking trails range in difficulty from short, easy-to-moderate treks like the 0.75-mile Balsam Nature Trail Loop and the 4-mile round-trip Commissary Trail to the strenuous Deep Gap Trail (8.6 miles round-trip) and the Old Mitchell Trail (4.4 miles round-trip).
But the most popular Mt Mitchell hikes by far are the easy 0.3-mile round-trip Summit Trail and the difficult Mount Mitchell Trail. The latter climbs 6 miles (one way!) from the Black Mountain Campground to the summit, taking hikers through a gorgeous stretch of the Pisgah National Forest.
After soaking in the spectacular views from the summit, make time to visit the picturesque picnic grounds near the summit parking lot. There are two picnic shelters with fireplaces, as well as 40 tables, stone grills, and drinking water.
4. Walk in the Woods With Snakeroot Ecotours
We honestly had no idea what to expect from our “Spring Ephemerals” walk with Snakeroot Ecotours.
That’s because founder Tal Galton, a naturalist who follows the Leave No Trace principles, wants to protect the 1100-acre Toe River Valley land trust on which he guides visitors from the ravages of mass tourism.
It was easy to understand why. During our 2-hour walk on the outskirts of the Pisgah National Forest, we saw an array of spectacular flora and fauna that included an array of gorgeous North Carolina wildflowers.
From tiny Bluets and Putty Root Orchids to Yellow and Pink Lady Slippers, Rhododendron, Showy Orchids, and a dazzling field full of Flame Azaleas, the guided hike offered an excellent introduction to local flowers.
And from Bear Corn and Reishi Mushrooms to Lungless Salamanders and an array of birds, it was easy to see why Galton loves helping guests see the details of the temperate forest through his eyes.
5. Hike to Crabtree Falls
Located near Emerald Village Gem Mines, about two-thirds of the way to Little Switzerland, Crabtree Falls easily tops our list of the most spectacular waterfalls near Burnsville.
There are two options for getting to Crabtree Falls: The two-mile out-and-back trail is the easiest, with a downhill trek through a lovely thicket of Rhododendron to the base of the beautiful falls, then a more strenuous return trip uphill.
But there’s also a slightly longer loop trail that, though slightly more difficult to ascend on the way back, includes some stunning forest scenery after crossing over Crabtree Creek.
Either way you go, you’ll want to make sure to leave some time for soaking in the stunning sight of the 70-foot waterfall tumbling over the rock face into a boulder-strewn pool below.
We recommend taking a picnic lunch, sprawling out on some of the larger rocks, and making a long, leisurely afternoon of it!
6. Climb the Blue Ridge Pinnacle Trail
Located just north of Mount Mitchell State Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Pinnacle Trail is one of the best (and least crowded) options for hiking near Burnsville NC.
The trailhead isn’t marked, so thankfully we had Jake Blood of the NC High Peaks Trail Association to guide us there. Look for a small white gate with a “DO NOT BLOCK GATE” sign, and park right alongside the BRP.
Our hike was exciting from the start. About to relieve myself against a tree just a few steps away from the trail, I was chased by a Wild Turkey, whose tiny chick I hadn’t seen in the grass a mere five feet to my left.
From there, it was a steep hike up the rocky, root-filled trail, with verdant green forest and wildflowers (especially Red and White Trillium) all along the way.
Though it’s only 1.5 miles total, the hike is as literally breathtaking as it is metaphorically once you scramble over the rocks at the summit to see the spectacular landscape depicted above. It’s well worth the trek!
7. Get Cultured with the Toe River Arts Council
Though it’s considerably smaller than the massive Asheville River Arts District, Burnsville and nearby Spruce Pine are home to a thriving art scene, which is collectively known as the Toe River Arts Council.
Launched in 1976, Toe River Arts is part of a fascinating history. Longtime local artists such as Rob Levin (glass sculpture), Claudia Dunaway (pottery and woodblock printmaking), and John Richards (mixed media) point to the historic Penland School of Craft in Spruce Pine as a conduit for the area’s creative art scene.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Penland Director Bill Brown brought in icons like Harvey Littleton (who taught famous artists such as Dale Chihuly) and Bill Boysen to teach classes there.
They– along with Penland’s core fellowship, resident artist, and work-study scholarship programs– attracted an array of exciting artists from around the world to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Many of them (including Dunaway, Levin, and Richards) never left.
For a taste of what the local art scene has to offer today, visit the gallery on W Main St in Burnsville or make plans to attend the annual Toe River Arts Fall Studio Tour, which takes place on November 12-14 in 2021.
8. Hike to Roaring Fork Falls
Though not quite as awe-inspiring as Crabtree Falls, Roaring Fork Falls ranks among the best Burnsville waterfalls thanks to its picturesque setting and the remarkably easy hike required to reach it.
Located just two miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Pisgah National Forest (next to the Mount Mitchell Golf Club Resort), the Roaring Creek Falls trail starts at the gated entrance to the Busick Work Center.
It’s a gorgeous half-mile hike along a fairly flat forest service road through the Toe River Valley, with loads of Rhododendron, Wild Blackberries, and other wildflowers all along the way.
The falls themselves are enchanting, with 50-foot high, 100-foot long cascades that drop into a shallow pool surrounded by big boulders that are perfect for enjoying an afternoon picnic.
And while the area can get a bit busy on warm weather weekends, our Friday afternoon visit in late May found us having the entire place to ourselves!
READ MORE: The 27 Best Waterfalls Near Asheville NC
9. See Stars at the Mayland Earth to Sky Park
If you’re into stargazing, one of our favorite things to do in Burnsville NC is to visit the Mayland Earth to Sky Park, which is home to the Bare Dark Sky Observatory.
Owned and operated by Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, the Observatory provides hands-on learning opportunities for astronomy students while offering visitors an incredible experience under the nighttime sky.
Located at an elevation of 2,736 feet, with 360-degree mountaintop views, the Observatory’s custom-built Newtonian telescope boasts a 34″ diameter mirror (making it the largest telescope in the Southeast dedicated to public use). They also have a smaller Meade planetary telescope with a 14″ mirror.
They offer private and public viewing events, with the latter limited to just 18 visitors each night. With assistance from two managers, guests get a chance to see exceptionally vivid closeup views of the moon, planets, and stars while learning a little about astronomy along the way.
Our only criticism is that, on the night we visited, the staff bemoaned the limited visibility due to the incredibly bright moon. But for us, the chance to zoom in on individual craters of the moon was anything but disappointing!
10. Drive the Burnsville Quilt Block Trails
Yancey County, NC is home to 9 self-guided Quilt Block Trails, each of which offers a great excuse to get out and explore the scenic byways of the Blue Ridge region’s vast countryside.
Each of these large wooden squares was designed and painted by volunteers, modeled after the colorful squares that adorn many traditional Appalachian mountain-style quilts.
Adorning everything from barns and businesses to schools and churches, each of the 150 Quilt blocks you’ll see in the Burnsville area (one of the largest concentrations in the US) is designed to tell a story.
From the Burnsville East and West Trails to the Arbuckle Trail (going towards Banner Elk) and the Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway Trail, all of the Quilt Block Trails in Burnsville lead us to exceptionally scenic views and interesting people eager to share their own personal stories.
Visit the Explore Burnsville website for descriptions of each trail, as well as links to the respective trail maps.
11. Family Fun at Emerald Village
This family-friendly attraction near Little Switzerland offers a great introduction to the area’s rich mining history. Mica has been mined here by Native Americans for nearly 2,000 years.
Emerald Village is home to 12 mines that have produced nearly 55 types of minerals. You can still pan for aquamarine, emerald, garnet, smoky quartz, gold, and more there today.
Attractions on the property include the NC Mining Museum, historic Bon Ami Mine Tours (which were temporarily closed due to COVID in 2020), and the decidedly quirky Discovery Mill.
This unique, labyrinth-like building features 8 connected levels of shops and exhibits, with an unusual array of themes and historical collections.
12. Spend a Day in Little Switzerland
Most people don’t realize how impressively non-commercialized the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is, with virtually no hotels, restaurants, or gas stations along the way.
That’s what makes Little Switzerland NC (which is located at BRP milepost 334) so surprising.
Founded by Heriot Clarkson in the early 1900s after his Switzerland Inn was built, the tiny resort town is the only commercial access point you’ll find along the entire length of the Parkway.
Little Switzerland is only open 6 months of the year, from mid-April to mid-November. But its charming Alpine influences, breathtaking views, and access to the Parkway made it one of our favorite NC mountain towns.
In terms of things to do in Little Switzerland, you can check out Tom’s Creek Falls and Crabtree Falls, drive the scenic Diamondback route, browse the charming shops and restaurants, and visit Emerald Village and the historic apple Orchard at Altapass.
13. Have a Picnic at Setrock Creek Falls
Though it may not be quite as impressive as Crabtree Falls or Roaring Fork Falls, this waterfall located at the base of Mount Mitchell in the Pisgah National Forest is truly a hidden gem.
The beautiful 1/2-mile trail begins at the Black Mountain Campground off the Mt. Mitchell Scenic Byway. After parking, walk across the bridge to the campground and take the first road on the left (towards the group camping area).
The first trail on the right is the strenuous 5.6-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell, but the second trail (which is clearly marked as “Setrock Falls”) leads you on a gentle walk through a lovely stretch of forest.
There’s very little elevation gain to speak of, but there are lots of colorful wildflowers in spring and summer. There are also rocks around the base of the tranquil 55-foot waterfall, which make it a great place for an afternoon picnic.
Note that this waterfall becomes little more than trickle during lengthy dry spells, so it’s best to visit after recent rains if you want see it at its best.
14. Visit the Penland School of Craft
With origins dating back nearly 100 years, the Penland School of Craft in Spruce Pine has had an immeasurable influence on the arts and cultural identity of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge region.
Founded by weaver Lucy Morgan in 1923 to teach local women a craft so they could earn additional income, the center became known as the Penland School of Handicrafts after a visit by weaving expert Edward F. Worst in 1929.
After “Miss Lucy” retired in 1962, sculptor and design teacher Bill Brown became the school’s second director. He brought a new energy and connections in the emerging studio crafts movement, adding new media (such as iron and glass), expanding their work-study scholarship program, and starting their core fellowship and resident artist programs.
The latter two programs attracted a number of significant artists and craftspeople to the school, and their increasingly high profile brought in iconic instructors such as Harvey Littleton (who established the first glass program in the U.S. and taught the legendary Dale Chihuly).
Today, guests can explore the school’s 400-acre campus (which is on the National Register of Historic Places) and check out its exceptional galleries. You can also attend their annual Community Day in March, when Penland’s studios are open and visitors can work on a small project with the help of resident artists.
15. Get Away From It All at Yummy Mud Puddle
Though it’s located just 1.5 miles from Downtown Burnsville, the Yummy Mud Puddle cabin rental feels like a private mountaintop nature retreat.
Set in the middle of the forest, the 3BR, 2BA vacation rental features an expansive back deck overlooking a gorgeous pond, with dramatic mountain scenery looming large in the background.
Owned by artists Claudia Dunaway and John Richards (whose home, gallery, and studios are also on the 10-acre property), the house is filled with colorful art, including hand-made dishes, tiles, lamps, and more.
Our favorite thing about the property was the abundant animals all around it. From the wild turkeys and deer who fed near the pond every morning to the massive koi and carp who lived in the pond, we felt immersed in the tranquility of nature the entire time we stayed there.
In fact, hanging out on the Yummy Mud Puddle deck and watching wildlife while drinking our morning coffee ranked high among our favorite things to do in Burnsville! –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted