The 25 Best Western NC Small Towns To Visit (and Live In!)

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[Updated 12/20/2021] Personally, I’d argue that the best Western NC small towns 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.

However, the Blue Ridge region is also blessed with more than its fair share of small mountain towns, which ooze Appalachian culture and history.

Dozens of the small towns near Asheville NC, are charming, quaint, and surrounded by picture postcard-worthy natural beauty.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway occupy much of the local real estate here.

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…

READ MORE: The Top 20 Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in GA & NC

Best Western NC Small Towns Guide

  1. Weaverville
  2. Black Mountain
  3. Brevard
  4. Hendersonville
  5. Saluda 
  6. Burnsville
  7. Hot Springs
  8. Morganton
  9. Chimney Rock Village
  10. Banner Elk
  11. Blowing Rock
  12. West Jefferson
  13. Elkin
  14. Sparta
  15. Boone
  16. Beech Mountain
  17. Bryson City
  18. Cherokee
  19. Maggie Valley
  20. Murphy
  21. Sylva 
  22. Dillsboro
  23. Franklin
  24. Highlands
  25. Cashiers

Small Towns Around Asheville NC

Reems Creek Falls in Weaverville NC
Reems Creek Falls in Weaverville NC by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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

Black Mountain NC - Best North Carolina Small Towns
Black Mountain NC via Canva

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

Moore Cove Falls Near Brevard NC
Moore Cove Falls, photo via Canva

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!

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

Main Street in Downtown Hendersonville NC - Best Western NC Small Towns
Main Street in Downtown Hendersonville by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

4. Hendersonville NC

Located south of Asheville off of I-26, Hendersonville NC is rapidly moving towards becoming a bona fide suburb.

But its Main Street makes it unavoidable on a list of quaint towns in North Carolina.

Historic downtown Hendersonville has the old school, rural feel, but also offers up excellent restaurants and worldy shops in addition to a general store and killer instrument depot.

Festivals and street dances are regular events in Hendersonville from spring (Garden Jubilee) through autumn (Apple Festival).

From Hendersonville, it’s just a quick jaunt to Mills River where you’ll find the state of art Sierra Nevada Brewery.

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

Ward's Market in downtown Saluda, NC
Downtown Saluda, by *Kid*Doc*One* via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5. Saluda NC

Located near the South Carolina border, at the precipice of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Saluda NC was established in 1881.

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

Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville
Otway Burns Statue in Downtown Burnsville by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

6. Burnsville NC

Burnsville NC is located in the shadow of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi and one of the best western North Carolina mountains for hiking.

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.

The historic town also has a youthful and green vigor brought on by several local art and community initiatives, such as Celo, Snaggy Mountain, and Mountain Gardens.

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

French Broad River at Hot Springs NC
French Broad River at Hot Springs NC via Canva

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 waters 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.

READ MORE: The 7 Best Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

N&W 611 Train at Morganton, NC Station
Train in Morganton, NC by Cory Claxon via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

8. Morganton NC

Moving on down I-40 from Asheville and Black Mountain, Morganton NC rests at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s one of the truly quaint small cities in North Carolina.

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 Mysterious Brown Mountain Lights of Morganton NC

Chimney Rock State Park, NC
Chimney Rock State Park, NC, via NC.gov

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.

READ MORE: Top 10 NC State Parks in the Mountains of North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway Towns

Overview of Downtown Banner Elk NC
Overview of Downtown Banner Elk NC by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

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

Downtown Blowing Rock, NC
Downtown Blowing Rock, NC, photo by Todd Bush

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 Tweetsie Railroad theme park and quick access to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (which is good for horseback riding).

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

Downtown West Jefferson, NC
Downtown West Jefferson, photo courtesy High Country of North Carolina

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pumpkin Patches in the NC Mountains

Header - Elkin NC
The Reeves Theatre in Downtown Elkin NC by Emma Gallager

13. Elkin NC

Located between Stone Mountain State Park and Pilot Mountain State Park, about 20 miles from Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks, the town of Elkin NC is a wonderful spot.

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.

READ MORE:  The 15 Best Things to Do in Elkin NC (Blue Ridge Parkway MM 229)

Sparta, NC Small Towns
Alleghany Co., NC Courthouse – Sparta, NC by Brent Moore via CC BY-NC 2.0

14. Sparta NC

A real step into small-town North Carolina, Sparta NC is nested in the High Country Mountains, not far from the Virginia border.

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

Downtown Boone NC - Best North Carolina Small Towns
Downtown Boone, NC by Dawson Tozier

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.

Consequently, it has all the hip youthfulness of a collegiate base, including concert halls, breweries, trendy restaurants, and entertainment venues.

In addition to the town’s urban amenities, there’s easy access to hiking trails, waterfalls, and campgrounds

When the holiday season comes around, Boone Christmas Tree Farms are some of the best places to get a real tree in the state.

Obviously, all of this makes Boone one of the best small towns in North Carolina to live in!

READ MORE: 20 Best Things to Do in Boone NC (Blue Ridge Parkway MM 291.8)

Best NC Christmas Towns - Beech Mountain
Beech Mountain, photo by Kate Gavenus courtesy of Town of Beech Mountain

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.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Christmas Towns in North Carolina

 

Towns Near Bryson City NC

Aerial View of Bryson City NC
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.

Bryson City NC is the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering up a buffet of babbling mountain streams, knockout vistas, roaring waterfalls, and wondrous wildlife.

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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Bryson City NC & Swain County

Opening Ceremonies Cherokee Pow Wow in Cherokee NC
Opening Ceremonies Cherokee Pow Wow

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.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Qualla Arts cooperative, Oconaluftee Indian Village, and “Unto These Hills” outdoor drama show can easily fill a day on the itinerary.

Cherokee has a full fleet of hotels, motels, campgrounds, resorts, and cabins for hire.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Cherokee NC & the Qualla Boundary

Autumn scenery in Maggie Valley, NC

Maggie Valley in Autumn, photo courtesy Visit NC Smokies

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 Mountain 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.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains

Winding Mountain Road in Murphy NC
Murphy NC, photo via CherokeeCounty, NC

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.

Murphy is located near the state’s southern border, just 20-25 miles from popular North Georgia mountain towns such as Blairsville and Blue Ridge.

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.

Murphy offers easy access to North Georgia attractions such as Vogel State Park and the Appalachian Trail.  

It’s also surrounded by huge expanses of natural beauty that are perfect for fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping and so on.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Sunset in Sylva, NC
Sunset in Sylva, photo courtesy Harris Regional Hospital

21. Sylva NC

Legend has it that the town of Sylva, NC was named after Danish handyman William Sylva (or possibly Selvey), in a somewhat convoluted story.

Nevertheless, picturesque Sylva 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.

READ MORE: The 21 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls in North Carolina

Best NC Christmas Towns - Dillsboro Luminaries
Photo by Nick Breedlove Courtesy of Jackson Country Tourism Development Authority

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.

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

Main St in Franklin, NC at Sunset
Main St in Franklin, photo courtesy FranklinNC.com

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 doubles due to retirees who have chosen its comfortable weather as a home base.

READ MORE: Exploring the Dark History of the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun GA

Fall in Highlands, NC
Fall in Highlands, NC photo by Greg Newington

24. Highlands NC

Highlands, NC is only a few hours drive north of metro Atlanta. But, if you’ll pardon the cliché, it feels like a world away.

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.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western North Carolina Waterfalls for Hiking

Overview of Cashiers Lake, NC
Overview of Cashiers Lake, photo via CashiersNorthCarolina.org

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 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

 

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 the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.

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