20 Best Things to Do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

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One of the most common questions we get is, “Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains?”

Most people seem to know that there are Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and that they poke down into Georgia and up through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

But did you know that they also extend all the way north into Pennsylvania and Maryland? Or that there are slivers of them in West Virginia and South Carolina?

A segment of the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch 600+ miles from north to south. They range from 5 miles wide at their narrowest (in the north) to 65 miles at their widest.

In our experience, the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is one of the best places for anyone who loves nature and outdoor adventure. In fact, my wife Emma and Ioved the region so much, we built a homestead here!

The Blue Ridge Mountains of NC include myriad sub-ranges, including the Smoky Mountains, the Balsam Mountains, the Roans, the Brushy, and the Black Mountains.

North Carolina’s Blue Ridge region includes the tallest mountains in the Eastern United States, includes 30+ peaks that tower about 6,000 feet. 

The NC Blue Ridge also includes the two most visited national parks in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Read on for our insider’s guide to the best things to do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC, including all the best mountain towns, scenic drives, waterfalls, hiking trails, and more!

READ MORE: The Best Places to Visit in North Carolina

Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina Guide

  1. Admire Blue Ridge Mountains Waterfalls
  2. Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway
  3. Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  4. Visit Asheville NC
  5. Climb the Tallest Mountains East of the Mississippi
  6. Hike in Pisgah National Forest
  7. Bowl in Blowing Rock NC
  8. Raft Ancient North Carolina Rivers
  9. Move to Mountain Music
  10. Visit the Best Small Towns in North Carolina
  11. Explore the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area
  12. Raise a Glass at North Carolina Breweries
  13. Sip at North Carolina Wineries
  14. Splurge at the Biltmore Estate
  15. Study The Cradle of Forestry
  16. Sample the NC Distilleries
  17. Day Hike the Appalachian Trail or the Mountains-to-Sea Trail
  18. Spoil Yourself at North Carolina Spas
  19. Try Gem Mining in North Carolina
  20. Learn about Cherokee Culture

READ MORE:20 Incredible Places To See the Blue Ridge Mountains in Fall

Blue ridge mountains North Carolina - How to Get to Crabtree Falls - Sisters at Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls NC, photo by Emma Gallagher

1. Admire Blue Ridge Mountains Waterfalls in NC

The number of waterfalls in North Carolina is absurd. In fact, there are 250 waterfalls near Brevard NC in Transylvania County alone.

In other words, the list of what’s out there is far too extensive to flush out here, but we have in-depth articles about the top waterfalls in Pisgah National Forest and the top waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Some of our favorite waterfalls from these areas include Elk River Falls, Linville Falls, Crabtree Falls, Looking Glass Falls, and Daniel Ridge Falls.

In the Great Smoky Mountains of NC, our favorites include Mingo Falls, Soco Falls, and Tom Branch Falls. Nantahala National Forest has some beauties, including Schoolhouse Falls, Dry Falls, and Silver Run Falls.

I also cannot recommend Dupont State Recreational Forest highly enough for anyone who loves to go chasing waterfalls. With 5 great waterfalls to visit, it rivals anything I’ve seen in two decades of traveling the world!

READ MORE: The 30 Best Waterfalls Near Asheville NC

Where are the blue ridge mountains - Autumn Leaves at the Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
FLinn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the US National Park System. It measures 469 miles, with a little over half of those curving and climbing through the state of North Carolina.

There is no better way to see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall than by cruising the Parkway. To be honest, it’s pretty great in the spring, summer, and winter as well!

Some of the highlights of Blue Ridge Parkway in NC are Doughton Park, Grandfather Mountain, Craggy Gardens, Pisgah Mountain, the Great Balsams, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (where it ends).

This route has some of the best scenic overlooks in the United States, as well as several drive-up waterfalls and jaw dropping hikes. Together, these attractions make the BRP the most visited national park in the USA.

It’s just an amazing way to explore NC’s Blue Ridge Mountains without getting too rushed to appreciate what you’re seeing. I live a mile from the BRP, and often drive it even when it’ll mean an extra hour to reach my destination.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hotels & Cabin Rentals in NC & VA

Blue ridge mountains NC - Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park NC
Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

3. Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Officially, the Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But that doesn’t stop them from having a mystique, beauty, and fascinating history all their own.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 500,000 acres, which are split between Tennessee and North Carolina.

While Tennessee has the gorgeous Cades Cove section and famous tourist towns like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the NC side of the park also has loads to offer.

In North Carolina, visitors can check out spots like Deep Creek trail for amazing waterfalls, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for history, the Cataloochee Valley for Elk, and Fontana Lake for water-based activities.

There are also great NC tourist towns like Bryson City and Cherokee to explore just outside the park.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Busking Musicians in Asheville, NC
Busking Musicians in Asheville NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

4. Visit Asheville NC

Asheville NC is one of the finest cities in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and one of my personal favorites in the Southeastern US.

The town is surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in the East, including the Craggies, the Great Balsams, and the Black Mountains.

Asheville is renowned for its myriad outdoor pursuits, including campinghiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and more.

Asheville is also steeped in culture and history, including the Biltmore Estate, the Grove Park Inn (famous home of the National Gingerbread Competition), and the River Arts District along the French Broad River.

Asheville has an excellent live music scene, including bluegrass, folk, and rock. It has also been dubbed “Beer City USA”, with several big-name craft breweries in town and plenty of quality upstarts.

In short, this place has it all, including great Asheville restaurants, a vibrant downtown area, and plenty of unique cabins, Treehouse rentals, and hotels.

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

Mountains in North Carolina -Mount Mitchell State Park North Carolina- Best view from Mount Mitchell Summit Observation Platform
View from Mount Mitchell Summit, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

5. Climb the Tallest Mountains East of the Mississippi

North Carolina has most of the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi, with 30+ North Carolina mountains that top 6,000 feet of elevation.

At 6,684 feet, Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the Eastern US. It can be a challenging hike to the summit from the Black Mountain Campground, or the peak can be easily accessed via Mt. Mitchell State Park in Burnsville NC.

Two more of the Top 5 peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains are also in the Black Mountains– Mt. Craig (6,647 feet) and Balsam Cove (6,600 feet).

The Great Smoky Mountains are home to the other two tallest peaks. Clingmans Dome looms large at 6,643 feet and has an amazing lookout tower at the top, while Mount Guyot (6,621 feet) is a bit tougher to reach.

Impressive Blue Ridge Parkway mountains include the Craggies just east of Asheville (highest point= 6,105 feet), and the Great Balsams to the southwest (at 6,410 feet, it’s the highest spot on the parkway).

READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Winston Salem NC

Blue Ridge NC -Hiking the Rough Ridge Trail with Peak Fall colors
Hiking the Rough Ridge Trail, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

6. Hike in Pisgah National Forest 

Occupying another half-million acres of Western NC, Pisgah National Forest stretches from South Carolina at the southern border to Tennessee in the north.

The forest is divided into three districts. The Grandfather Ranger District is east of Asheville, the Appalachian Ranger District is north of Asheville, and the Pisgah Ranger District is south of the city.

I’ve explored the Pisgah District for over half a decade now, and I still haven’t seen all of the amazing highlights!

Pisgah was started by the Vanderbilts, who were also responsible for building the Biltmore Estate and establishing the Cradle of Forestry in America.

They eventually donated a huge chunk of their original estate to help create the national forest.

Pisgah National Forest is home to impressive Blue Ridge Mountain cabins and some of the coolest treehouse rentals in North Carolina. It’s also awesome for waterfalls, camping, and backpacking.

The Art Loeb Trail and the Mountain-to-Sea Trail both cut through Pisgah National Forest, as does the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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

Blue ridge North Carolina -Sunset at the Blowing Rock in Blowing Rock NC
Sunset at the Blowing Rock by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

7. Bowl into Blowing Rock NC

One of the oldest spots, Blowing Rock is a charming mountain town with lots of independent restaurants, specialty shops, and cultural attractions.

The Blowing Rock– a remarkable rock formation that creates crazy updrafts– has been visited for centuries now.

There are also two impressive waterfalls in town that can provide fun hikes.

Outside the town limits, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park are easy to access. Tweetsie Railroad is fun for the family, and Grandfather Mountain is the most noteworthy peak in the tri-county area.

Blowing Rock is a superb place to set up for wintertime visits to North Carolina ski resorts as well. It’s located near Appalachian Ski Mountain, Sugar Mountain Resort, and Beech Mountain Ski Resort.

There are also plenty of Blowing Rock cabin rentals to choose from if you prefer to stay outside the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC

best mountains in north carolina - nc white water rafting
NC whitewater rafting, photo courtesy of NOC.com

8. Raft Ancient North Carolina Rivers

North Carolina is home to two of the five oldest rivers in the world.

The ironically named New River dates back to around 360 million years ago, while the French Broad River is also over 300 million years old.

The French Broad River runs south to north, from Rosman NC through Asheville and on into Tennessee. Many tour companies offer rafting, kayaking, and river tubing trips on the French Broad.

For guided tours, check out Headwaters Outfitters in the town of Rosman, the Asheville Adventure Company, and French Broad Adventures in Marshall NC. Bryson City’s Nantahala Outdoor Center is another great place to look.

The New River is the second oldest river in the world. It begins around Blowing Rock NC and moves northward through NC, Virginia, and on into West Virginia.

Boone NC also has several outfitters that offer tubing, rafting, and kayaking trips on the New River.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places to Go White Water Rafting in North Carolina

North Carolina blue ridge mountains - Bluegrass Musicians at Blue Ridge Bakery in Brevard NC
Bluegrass Musicians at Blue Ridge Bakery in Brevard, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Move to Mountain Music

Appalachian music is renowned the world over as the root of modern country music, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina are famed for their bluegrass and old-time music scenes.

Throughout the year, the mountains of NC are filled with music festivals, fiddlers’ conventions, and myriad outdoor concerts.

Some of the highlights include An Appalachian Summer Festival in Boone, MerleFest in Wilkesboro, the Earl Scruggs Music Festival in Mill Spring, the Mountain Song Festival in Brevard, and the Folkmoot Summerfest in Waynesville.

Of course, there are also jams in general stores, concerts in unique small venues (like the Reeves Theater in Elkin NC), and tons of music/instrument stores where you can get the local lowdown.

READ MORE: 40 Facts About the History of the Banjo (From Africa to Appalachia)

Main St in Downtown Hendersonville NC
Downtown Hendersonville NC, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

10. Visit the Best Small Towns in North Carolina

With the city of Asheville (population less than 100,000) as the biggest deal in Western North Carolina, it should come as no big surprise that the NC Blue Ridge is oozing with small-town charm.

In the far western stretch of the state, unique towns like Bryson City and Cherokee are fascinating stops. Brevard and Hendersonville steal the show just south of Asheville.

Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk form an alluring trio in the NC High Country, nearing the Virginia border.

These are also some of the best Christmas towns in North Carolina, each with parades, tree-lighting ceremonies, and myriad other special Christmas events.

Western NC is also home to McAdenville (a.k.a. Christmas Town USA), which is widely considered one of the best Christmas towns in the country!

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

Mountain ranges of North Carolina - Things to Do at Linville Gorge Wilderness Area near Linville Falls
Linville Gorge via Canva

11. Explore the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area

One of a handful of places that claim to be the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area definitely earns its spot on the shortlist.

Beginning at the bottom of Linville Falls and culminating at Lake James, the Linville Gorge is a 12,000-acre canyon in Pisgah National Forest.

This popular wilderness area is replete with fine hiking trails and summits that overlook the stunning gorge.

Wiseman’s View is the most famous and easiest hike, but other noteworthy spots include Table Rock Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain, and Shortoff Mountain.

My wife Emma and I explored a good bit of the Linville Gorge over a single weekend, but it only left us thirsty for more. It’s rustic and wild and spectacular– a must-see for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers.

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

Highland Brewery
Highland Brewery Beer Line-Up

12. Raise a Glass at North Carolina Breweries

The North Carolina beer scene is off the charts, and the Blue Ridge Mountains is at its heart. With some 30 Asheville NC breweries, it’s easy to see why the place is unofficially known as “Beer City.”

Big-name craft brewers like Oskar Blues, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada have set up locations near Asheville. There are also long-standing local success stories, including Highland Brewing, Wicked Weed, and Green Man.

Outside of the burgeoning city, lots of nearby small towns have picked up on the brew-happy vibe. Boone NC, the home of Appalachian State University, has a handful of great breweries.

Brevard NC, the hiking and mountain biking capital of the region, has some excellent breweries & cideries. As does the area near Hendersonville, where Bold Rock Cider has set up shop.

Even our hometown of Elkin, with a population of fewer than 5,000 people, has two microbreweries, and The Reeves Theater rotates taps of local NC beers.

READ MORE: Apple Picking in North Carolina: The 15 Best NC Apple Orchards 

Burntshirt Vineyards in Hendersonville NC
Burntshirt Vineyards, the #1 Winery in North Carolina, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

13. Sip at North Carolina Wineries

The Blue Ridge region of NC has become one of the East Coast’s top producers of wine.

Not only has the land proven to be a great place for growing specialty grapes, but it’s also home to native wild grapes called muscadines (which are red) and scuppernongs (green).

The three best areas for checking out NC wineries are clustered around Asheville and Hendersonville, Blowing Rock and Boone, and the Yadkin Valley (which includes Elkin).

The Biltmore Estate’s Winery is the most visited of all wineries in the USA, but most of these vineyards are small-batch types that create very unique flavors and experiences.

I love to sit overlooking the river at Roaring River Vineyard, which is less than 15 minutes from my house. It’s one of our favorite afternoon wind-downs on the weekends.

READ MORE: The 15 Best NC Wineries to Visit

Christmas at Biltmore Estate Asheville NC
Christmas at Biltmore Estate, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

14. Splurge at the Biltmore Estate

One of the biggest tourist attractions in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC, the ultra-luxurious Biltmore Estate is a 175,000 square foot mansion on 8,000 acres that once served as a home for the ultra-wealthy Vanderbilts.

The Biltmore House was built in the 1890s, and the gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (of NY’s Central Park fame). Both are open for daily tours.

In addition to the home and garden, the grounds also has a winery, Antler Hill Village, and top-flight accommodations, including cottages, a four-star inn, and a village hotel.

The Biltmore Estate was once much larger, but much of the property was sold to the US government to create Pisgah National Forest. 

Christmas in NC is especially spectacular at The Biltmore, with the entire mansion decorated and both daytime and candlelit nighttime tours available. 

READ MORE: 15 Festive Ways to Celebrate an Asheville NC Christmas

School Tours at Cradle of Forestry in America
School Tour at the Cradle of Forestry in America, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

15. Study the Cradle of Forestry in America

A historic site in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, Cradle of Forestry in America was founded by Carl A. Schenck in 1898. He was a German Ph.D. hired by George Vanderbilt.

The school, originally known as the Biltmore Forest School, was built to teach responsible management of forest lands to the timber industry.

It was a reaction to the mass deforestation that took place in the late 1800s.

The site now has educational trails, guided tours of the buildings, historic exhibits, and skills demonstrations. There is also a Forest Discovery Center with a restaurant and shop.

The Adventure Zone is specifically geared towards children with autism, and has both indoor and outdoor activities, including an old steam train to explore.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Campgrounds in the North Carolina Mountains

NC Distilleries - South Mountain-Donald Smith
South Mountain Distillery by Donald Smith

16. Sample at NC Distilleries

NASCAR was born in Western North Carolina as a result of prohibition and the illegal moonshine that was being run around (and out of) the state.

Nowadays, illegal moonshine is still readily found in the North Carolina mountains.

But local distillers have also modernized and begun to produce some truly high-quality libations.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina distilleries are primarily found from Asheville and Wilkes County (which is known as the best spot for the real deal moonshine) all the way up to Mount Airy.

Popular Asheville distilleries include the Cultivated Cocktails Distillery, Chemist Spirits, and Asheville Distilling Company. Wilkes County has Call Family Distillers and the Copper Barrel Distillery.

READ MORE: The 10 Most Haunted Places in North Carolina

Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee NC
Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

17.  Day Hike the Appalachian Trail or the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

Hiking in North Carolina is fantastic, particularly in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Day hikes are easy to come by at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Plus, the North Carolina State Parks are phenomenal.

For serious trekking fans, it would be hard to miss out on the opportunity to hike on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Around 300 miles of the trail are in NC, or along its border with Tennessee

The other awesome long trail in North Carolina is the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which travels nearly 1200 miles from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks.

There are several segments of it in the Blue Ridge Mountains, including “Peak to Peak,” “The Balsams,” and “Gorges, Peaks, and Waterfalls.”

I actually help to maintain MST Segment 6: Elkin Valley, so we’d love to have you come to check out our trails!

READ MORE: The 10 Hiking Essentials Packing List for the Blue Ridge Mountains

Having a Cabana Soak at Lakeview at Fontana in Bryson City NC
Having a Cabana Soak at Lakeview at Fontana in Bryson City NC by Bret Love

18. Spoil Yourself at North Carolina Spas

Getting the best of nature and the best of pampering, North Carolina’s Blue Ridge offers a fantastic buffet of spas.

You’ll find a full gamut of options, spanning from absolute luxury to exploring the spoils of nature.

The Inn on Biltmore Estate and Omni Grove Park Inn offer the ultimate upscale indulgence in Asheville.

Chetola Resort boasts one of the best spas in Blowing Rock, while the Old Edwards Inn & Spa and The Greystone Inn are top-tier spas in the southern part of the region.

For a change of pace, Lakeview at Fontana Inn & Treetop Soaking Cabanas has an incredibly unique offering. It’s sort of like AirBnB meets a bathtub soak in the sky, with awesome views of one of our favorite mountain lakes!

READ MORE: The 15 Best Romantic Getaways in NC (Cabins, Inns & Resorts)

Panning for Gems at Emerald Village Gemstone Mines
Emerald Village Gemstone Mines in NC, by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

19. Try Gem Mining in North Carolina

You’ll find countless tourist attractions centered around gem mining in the Blue Ridge region of North Carolina, which can be great fun for families.

Gem mines are everywhere in Western North Carolina, and kids can even get a chance to pan the mountain stream waters for their own treasures.

Near Brevard, miners can check out Crystal Mountain Gem Mine and Pisgah Forest Gem Mine. Asheville has the boldly named Asheville’s Best Gem Mine. Boone NC has Foggy Mountain Gem Mine and Sugar Creek Gem Mine, among others.

One of the best destinations for both mining gems and exploring an actual gem mine is Emerald Village in Little Switzerland.

It’s close to Linville Falls, Linville Caverns, and Linville Gorge, but it’s definitely a uniquely cool attraction in its own right.

READ MORE: 7 Covered Bridges in North Carolina You Can Visit in 1 Day

Cherokee Women doing beadwork at Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee NC
Cherokee Women doing beadwork at Oconaluftee Indian Village, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

20. Learn about Cherokee Culture

It’s easy to get lost in the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and forget that they were once home to the Cherokee people, most of whom were swindled out of ancestral lands and forced to take The Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

We can’t fix the tragedies that befell indigenous people in the decades before the Civil War.

But we can learn more about Cherokee culture, history, and legends, as well as what life is like for the thousands of Cherokee people still living in NC today.

The Qualla Boundary is a reservation for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and it encompasses part of both North Carolina and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It’s part of the town of Cherokee NC, with its important museums, outdoor theatre, and craft market keeping the culture alive and providing income for local residents.

I got tremendous insight from spending some time in Cherokee NC, which offered important, enlightening, and rewarding insights into the region’s indigenous culture.  –by Jonathon Engels, featured image 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.