The 20 Best Western NC Small Towns To Visit (and Live In!)

Western North Carolina is perhaps best known as home to Asheville, one of the most deservedly popular up-and-coming small cities in the United States.

But 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.

Personally, I’d argue that the best Western NC small towns easily rank among the best small towns in America on the whole.

So choosing 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. Brevard
  2. Hendersonville
  3. Saluda 
  4. Black Mountain
  5. Burnsville
  6. Weaverville
  7. Morganton
  8. Chimney Rock Village
  9. Banner Elk
  10. Blowing Rock
  11. West Jefferson
  12. Boone
  13. Beech Mountain
  14. Bryson City
  15. Maggie Valley
  16. Murphy
  17. Sylva 
  18. Franklin
  19. Highlands
  20. Cashiers

 

Small Towns Around Asheville NC

Moore Cove Falls in Brevard, NC
Moore Cove Falls in Brevard, NC by Will Thomas via CC BY-SA

Brevard

Located 34 miles southwest of Asheville, just above the South Carolina border, Brevard 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: Exploring Pisgah National Forest: A Beginner’s Guide

Downtown Hendersonville, NC
Downtown Hendersonville, NC by Pollinator via CC BY-SA

Hendersonville

Located south of Asheville off of I-26, Hendersonville 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 diverse eateries 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 reach Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Asheville.

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

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

Saluda

Located near the South Carolina border, at the precipice of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Saluda 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 Best Downtown Asheville Restaurants

Aerial view of black mountain, NC
Black Mountain, NC

Black Mountain

Moving east along I-40, Black Mountain 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, has on-ramps to the Blue Ridge Parkway or I-40, and backs into the Pisgah National Forest.

READ MORE: The History of Downtown Asheville, From Biltmore to 21st Century Boom

View from Mount Mitchell State Park, NC via NC.org
Mount Mitchell State Park near Burnsville, NC, via NC.org

Burnsville

Burnsville is located in the shadow of Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.

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 long established 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: Highland Brewing: Visiting the First Asheville Brewery

Waterfall at Lake Louise in Weaverville, NC
Waterfall at Lake Louise, photo by CarShowShooter via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Weaverville

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.

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

Morganton

Moving on down I-40 from Asheville and Black Mountain, Morganton 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 20 Best Western North Carolina Waterfalls for Hiking

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

Chimney Rock Village

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

Cabin in Banner Elk, NC in Winter
Winter Cabin in Banner Elk, photo by WashuOtaku via CC BY-SA 2.0

Banner Elk

Located in the High Country 75 miles northeast of Asheville, Banner Elk 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 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 ski 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 10 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes for NC Day Trips

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

Blowing Rock

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 a railroad theme park and quick access to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Moses 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 Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

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

West Jefferson

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 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:Visiting Doughton Park, NC (Blue Ridge Parkway MM 238.5-244.7)

The Tweetsie Train on the Trestle, Boone, NC
Tweetsie Train, photo courtesy of Explore Boone

Boone

Reimagining the classic mountain town as a cool college town, Boone (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, microbreweries, trendy restaurants, and entertainment venues.

In addition to the town’s urban amenities, there’s easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities nearby.

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

READ MORE: Exploring Craggy Gardens, NC (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 344.1)

View Atop Beech Mountain, NC
Beech Mountain, photo courtesy BlueRidgeParkway.org

Beech Mountain

Regarded as “the highest town in Eastern America,” Beech Mountain 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 and other winter activities.

READ MORE: White Water Rafting New River Gorge, West Virginia

Towns Near Bryson City NC

Aerial View of Bryson City NC
Bryson City, North Carolina

Bryson City

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.

Bryon City is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, 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.

READ MORE: The Cataloochee Valley Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Autumn scenery in Maggie Valley, NC
Maggie Valley in Autumn, photo courtesy Visit NC Smokies

Maggie Valley

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 North Georgia Mountains for Hiking

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

Murphy

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.  and huge expanses of natural beauty for fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping and so on.

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge, GA

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

Sylva

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 Top 15 North Georgia Waterfalls (& How to Get to Them)

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

Franklin

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: Unicoi State Park & Lodge: Camping & Hiking Near Helen, GA

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

Highlands

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 10 Best North Georgia State Parks

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

Cashiers

Located on a high plateau in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Cashiers is the last, but certainly not least, on our small towns in North Carolina list.

Land and life here are both pretty pricey. But 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

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.