The 10 Best Small Towns Near Asheville NC

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With nearly 100,000 residents, Asheville is easily the biggest jewel of a mountain town in Western NC.

But there are numerous small towns near Asheville NC that warrant a visit as well, especially for those who seek a break from the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan cities. 

Having lived in WNC for 5+ years now, I’ve been more drawn to the small towns around Asheville NC (many of which rank among our favorite mountain towns in North Carolina) than I have to the city itself.

Because this region has such a love of food, drink, arts, and nature, these towns around Asheville NC each have their own unique personality and attractions.

Many of them also offer awesome places to stop for a good meal or a fine microbrew after exploring Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Read on for our guide to the 10 best small towns near Asheville NC, including an overview of all the best activities and  attractions in each one!

READ MORE: The 35 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC

Best Towns Near Asheville NC Guide

  1. Brevard NC
  2. Bryson City NC
  3. Burnsville NC
  4. Cherokee NC
  5. Franklin NC
  6. Hendersonville NC
  7. Little Switzerland NC
  8. Maggie Valley NC
  9. Sylva/Dillsboro NC
  10. Waynesville NC

READ MORE: The 15 Best Hotels in Asheville NC to Visit

towns near Asheville North Carolina - Transylvania County Courthouse in Downtown Brevard NC
Transylvania County Courthouse in Downtown Brevard, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

1. Brevard NC

Located about 30 miles southwest of Asheville, Brevard is the first place I lived in North Carolina. So I have a special fondness for the town and its surroundings.

In addition to great restaurants, breweries & cideries ( including Oskar Blues), and top-notch shopping, Brevard has a killer music center that plays host to concerts and North Carolina music festivals throughout the Summer.

Brevard is home to Brevard College, and well-known for being in close proximity to both the Pisgah National Forest and Dupont State Recreational Forest

Brevard is the county seat of Transylvania County, known as “the land of waterfalls.” There are at least 250 waterfalls near Brevard NC for visitors to explore!

On the artsy side of things, Brevard has amazing antique shops (check out The Underground Salvage Co) and has a lot of fantastic North Carolina pottery.

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

small towns near Asheville NC - Downtown Bryson City seen from the Oconaluftee Loft Balcony
Downtown Bryson City, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Bryson City NC

Located about an hour west of Asheville’s River Arts District, Bryson City has become one of our go-to spots for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It caters well to tourists but, unlike Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, it maintains the down-home charm we expect from small towns in the North Carolina Mountains.

Bryson City NC is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers daily train rides into the Nantahala Gorge. They also have specialty adventures, such as the Polar Express and the Carolina Shine Moonshine Experience.

The tiny town has an excellent assortment of restaurants, souvenir shops, local breweries, and museums. It’s wonderfully pedestrian-friendly, without having to walk far to get to anything.

Another big draw for me is that Bryson City is next to the Deep Creek section of GSMNP, which has one of my favorite waterfall hiking trails in the world!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Bryson City NC

towns around Asheville NC - Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville
Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

3. Burnsville NC

Our first home in NC was in Burnsville, where we stayed at Snaggy Mountain Artists’ Retreat & Farm.

The town has a great vibe, with a young, eclectic crowd giving it an oomph of energy. Yet it still has the right amount of small-town vibes, including great local restaurants, quirky shops, and a farmers market.

Burnsville sits in the shadow of Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Nearby, there’s an epic hike that begins at the Black Mountain Campground to summit it.

We always loved traveling NC-80 en route to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls are along the route, and Crabtree Falls is a nearby waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Burnsville is about 30 minutes northeast of Asheville, and it’s one of the more affordable mountain towns in North Carolina, considering it’s so close to the action.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Burnsville NC

The Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary
Shops & Scenery in Cherokee NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

4. Cherokee NC

Located an hour west of Asheville in the Qualla Boundary, the town of Cherokee is the main jumping-off point for exploring the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cherokee NC has a lot to offer in terms of tourism, mostly centered around Cherokee culture and history.

Top offerings in town include The Museum of the Cherokee People, Qualla Arts Cooperative, Oconaluftee Indian Village, and “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama.

GSMNP has several cool places to visit nearby, such as the Mountain Farm Museum and Mingus Mill. We’ve seen Elk grazing in the fields between town and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center every single time we’ve visited.

Two of North Carolina’s finest waterfalls are near Cherokee NCMingo Falls and Soco Falls. The Oconaluftee Island Park, right in the heart of town, is also worth a visit.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabins in Cherokee NC for Rent

Downtown Franklin NC - best small towns in North Carolina to live in
Downtown Franklin NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

5. Franklin NC

Located 70 minutes west of Asheville, Franklin is an NC mountain town that was incorporated before the Civil War.

It was once an important center for the Cherokee people, with an ancient Indian mound (Nikwasi) right in the middle of town!

Named after former NC governor Jesse Franklin, Franklin NC has a pedestrian-friendly downtown area with excellent restaurants. We also enjoyed strolling along the Little Tennessee Greenway.

Franklin’s moderate climate doubles the population during the Summer, when retirees use it as a second home. Yet it has remained one of the more affordable mountain towns in North Carolina.

Attractions near Franklin include the Nantahala National Forest as well as Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s surrounded by lots of wonderful waterfalls, mountain lakes, and hiking trails.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Franklin NC & Macon County

cities near Asheville NC - Main St in Downtown Hendersonville NC
Main St in Downtown Hendersonville NC, photo by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett

6. Hendersonville NC

Located right off of I-26 heading south from Asheville, Hendersonville has an authentic small town feel, but with a more significant Main Street than other NC towns on this list. 

While living in Brevard, I loved to visit Downtown Hendersonville because it was spacious enough for a good stroll and had plenty of shops, restaurants, galleries, and museums to explore.

Hendersonville is also near a gluttony of quality craft breweries, apple orchards, and top-notch hiking trails!

Incorporated in the mid-1800s, the town has a slew of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also near big-name historic attractions like the Biltmore and Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site.

Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway are just around the corner, and Asheville is about 25 miles north.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Hendersonville NC

Shopping in Little Switzerland NC
The heart of Little Switzerland NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

7. Little Switzerland NC

Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, about an hour northeast of Asheville, Little Switzerland NC is a tiny seasonal village founded in the early 1900s by NC Supreme Court Justice Heriot Clarkson.

For tourists, the Alpine-style resort town quickly became one of the best places to visit in the North Carolina mountains, and it remains so today.

Nowadays, there are several hotels in and around Little Switzerland, not to mention a cool collection of restaurants  and quirky attractions like Emerald Village Discovery Mill.

Nearby highlights include Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals. Other close Blue Ridge Parkway stops include the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, the Orchard at Altapass, and Linville Caverns.

In addition to the BRP, Little Switzerland is close to the Diamondback 226, a 38-mile route beloved by motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. 

READ MORE: 15 Best Things to Do in Little Switzerland NC (BRP MP 334)

mountain towns in North Carolina - Maggie Valley NC Seen From Ghost Town in the Sky
Maggie Valley NC seen from Ghost Town in the Sky photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

8. Maggie Valley NC

Long considered one of the best North Carolina mountain towns for winter sports, Maggie Valley is also perfectly situated for accessing the eastern reaches of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Maggie Valley is a full-on tourist destination, with plenty of signage and souvenir shops. It’s near GSMNP, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Asheville (30 minutes), so perhaps the attraction was inevitable?

In town, Dale’s Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum, Ghost Town Village (home to an abandoned theme park), and Mountain Mike’s Whetstone Woodworks are all worth checking out.

Maggie Valley is also home to the Cataloochee Ski Area, one of North Carolina’s top skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing resorts. It has 18 runs served by 5 lifts, and lights are installed to accommodate nighttime skiing.

Outside of town, the Cataloochee area of GSMNP is a huge draw, especially for those who want to see the reintroduced herds of Cataloochee Valley Elk that roam wild in the park.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Maggie Valley NC

small towns near Asheville NC - Jackson County Courthouse in Sylva NC
Jackson County Courthouse in Sylva NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Sylva NC/Dillsboro NC

Because Sylva NC and Dillsboro NC are less than 4 miles apart (and less than an hour west of Asheville), we’re listing them as one double-headed Blue Ridge mountain town that warrants a visit.

Sylva has a nice walkable main street with eclectic restaurants, several galleries, cool shops, and 4 breweries. There are also spas, a meditation center, and guided forest therapy walks.

Dillsboro always makes my list of NC Christmas towns to visit because it has an annual luminary festival.

Residents work hard to keep their storefronts and shops historically rustic, and local artisans sell unique  wares.

Sylva and Dillsboro are 20 minutes from Bryson City or Cherokee, so Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala National Forest, and Pisgah National Forest are all accessible.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Sylva NC & Dillsboro NC

Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC Header
Bluegrass Statues in Downtown Waynesville, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

10. Waynesville NC

The town of Waynesville NC (founded by an ancestor of BRMTG founder Bret Love) is 30 miles west of Asheville via I-40, offering the type of charming downtown area Blue Ridge Mountains visitors tend to adore.

Some our favorite places along Main Street include the Affairs of the Heart gift shop, Mast General Store, Metzgers’ Burl Wood Gallery, and an excellent array of Waynesville restaurants.

We also love the Haywood County Arts Council (an awesome spot for checking out local art and crafts) and live music at the Folkmoot Center.

Maggie Valley NC and Lake Junaluska are both less than 10 miles from Downtown Waynesville, while the waterfall-laden Pisgah District of Pisgah National Forest is an easy drive southeast.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is also close, and Mount Pisgah is both one of the closest mountains to Asheville and an iconic part of the area’s natural skyline. –by Jonathon Engels; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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!

After visiting North Carolina for the first time, Senior Writer Jonathon Engels and wife Emma spent 2 years exploring Western NC in search of a homestead property. They first lived in Brevard, where Jonathon taught writing at Blue Ridge Community College and extensively explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. For the last several years they have lived just off the BRP near Elkin, Southwest Virginia, and the NC High Country. The couple also volunteers with the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, the Elkin Valley Trail Association, and Reeves Downtown School of Music.