The 10 Best Things To Do in Hot Springs NC

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. All hosted affiliate links follow our editorial & privacy policies.

Although we’ve visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns over the past 3 years, the town of Hot Springs NC remained a fixture on our bucket list until April 2023.

Located just 5 miles east of the border with Tennessee, the tiny town is home to one of the most famous natural hot springs in North Carolina, making it a popular North Carolina getaway.

The famous Hot Springs NC Spa is part of one of the oldest and most popular North Carolina Mountain Resorts, with history dating back nearly 100 years before the Civil War

In addition to their hot springs hot tub treatments, the Hot Springs NC resort is also home to 19 rental cabins and the largest campgrounds in Hot Springs NC (80+ sites for tents and RVs). 

We loved that Hot Springs’ downtown area is very small and charming, with most of the best Hot Springs restaurants and the bustling Big Pillow Brewing within easy walking distance. 

Read on for our guide to the best things to do in Hot Springs NC, including our favorite highlights of Downtown Hot Springs, nearby hiking trails and parks, restaurants, and more!

Best Things To Do in Hot Springs NC Guide

  1. Drive The Rattler (a.k.a. NC 209)
  2. Explore Downtown Hot Springs NC
  3. Hike the Laurel River Trail
  4. Hot Springs Appalachian TrailFest Celebration
  5. Picnic at the Murray Branch River Access
  6. Sample Hot Springs NC Restaurants
  7. See the Paint Rock Pictographs
  8. Sooth Sore Muscles at the Hot Springs NC Spa
  9. Tasting Flights at Big Pillow Brewery
  10. Walk with Llamas in Hot Springs
  11. Hot Springs NC Lodging
Trust General Store near Hot Springs NC
Trust General Store

1. Drive The Rattler (a.k.a. NC 209)

Although it’s not as well-known as the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Cherohala Skyway (which runs from Robbinsville NC to East Tennessee), the Rattler is a popular driving route with locals and visitors alike.

If you’re heading to the town of Hot Springs from Maggie Valley and Waynesville, as we did, the Rattler (a.k.a. NC 209) is really your only option. And it is definitely a doozy of a drive!

The road begins with gentle curves near Lake Junaluska, following the Pigeon River north. But once you begin the winding climb over the mountains, you’ll want eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.

Thankfully there are several great stops along the way, including several unpaved scenic overlooks and the historic Trust General Store, which has a restaurant, ice cream, groceries, hardware, and souvenirs. 

But this is a challenging road with lots of hairpin curves and switchbacks to test the skills of motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. Fortunately, the Hot Springs weather was perfect the day we drove it!

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

Inside Artisun Gallery in Hot Springs NC
Inside Artisun Gallery in Hot Springs NC

2. Explore Downtown Hot Springs NC

Although it’s home to one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Western North Carolina, the town of Hot Springs NC is tiny (3.13 square miles) and sparsely populated (around 560 people). 
But it’s surrounded by immense beauty, including the French Broad River, Laurel River, and the Great Smoky Mountains. So there are numerous fantastic options for hiking near Hot Springs NC. 
The Appalachian Trail in Hot Springs passes right through the heart of downtown, which has an impressive array of restaurants and shops and a laid-back, “everybody’s welcome” vibe.
If it’s your first time visiting, head to the Hot Springs NC Welcome Center to pick up brochures, get the lay of the land, and get expert advice on local activities
Downtown Hot Springs is small and easily walkable, so you can easily visit popular shops like Artisun Gallery, Hillbilly Market, Hazelwood House Gift Shop, and Bluff Mountain Outfitters in a few hours. 
Hiking the Laurel River Trail in Hot Springs NC
Hiking the Laurel River Trail

3. Hike the Laurel River Trail

On our first morning in Hot Springs, North Carolina, we met up with Blue Ridge Hiking Company owner Lindsey Barr for a one-hour guided hike on the Laurel River Trail.
We’d originally planned to do the Max Patch hike. But after our 15-year-old dog hurt himself while hiking to waterfalls in Robbinsville, we decided to take a slower, gentler approach while hiking near Hot Springs.
The Laurel River Trail had no incline and very few roots or rocks. So we had plenty of time to chat with Lindsey about her female-owned business and watch the birds, butterflies, and wildflowers along the way.
This easy hiking trail totals around 3.6 miles each way, but since it’s an in-and-out trail you can turn around anytime you want. There are also some large rocks along the river that make great picnic spots. 
Lindsey was such a perfect, patient guide, she has Mary eager to try the company’s guided Appalachian Trail hike for women in the future! 
Hot Springs Trail Fest Spring Celebration in Hot Springs NC
Appalachian TrailFest 2023, photo courtesy Hot Springs Tourism Association

4. Hot Springs Appalachian TrailFest 

Because the town is located right on the Appalachian Trail, Hot Springs NC gets more than its fair share of hardy hikers passing through.

Held on Earth Day weekend, the Appalachian TrailFest is a fun festival that celebrates the outdoors and those who love to explore it. It was established in 1987, but the 2023 celebration was the first since 2019. 

Organized by the Madison County Group Home, with support from other local businesses, TrailFest weekend begins on Friday night.

The 2023 guest speaker was Sarah Jones Decker, author of The Appalachian Trail: Backcountry Shelters, Lean-Tos, and Huts.

Saturday’s celebration is an all-day affair, with morning yoga sessions, live music, hiker games, door prize giveaways, art exhibits, and the always-popular Plastic Duck Race on Spring Creek.

The weekend also includes free meals for AT hikers on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and there’s plenty of Hot Springs NC camping options nearby. 

Mary Gabbett on the French Broad River at Murray Branch River Access in Hot Springs NC
Mary at the Murray Branch River Access

5. Picnic at the Murray Branch River Access

When we asked locals what to do in Hot Springs NC, one of the most frequent suggestions we got was to have a picnic at the Murray Branch River Access.

Also known as the Murray Branch Picnic Area, this gorgeous spot is located right along the French Broad River, 4.7 miles northwest of Downtown Hot Springs on River Road (SR 1304). 

Open from April 1 to the end of October, the recreation area features picnic tables, picnics shelters, and grills with excellent views of the river and local wildlife

It’s a popular place for fishing and kayaking, but note that camping here is not allowed. 

Since many of the best restaurants in Hot Springs NC were not dog-friendly, we picked up sandwiches and had a lovely riverside lunch.

READ MORE: Kayaking in North Carolina: The Best Rivers to Paddle

Inside Vaste Riviere Provisions, one of the best restaurants in Hot Springs NC
Gourmet goods at Vaste Riviere Provisions

6. Sample Hot Springs NC Restaurants

There aren’t nearly as many Hot Springs NC restaurants to choose from as you’ll find in mountain towns such as Asheville, Boone, and Brevard.
But I’ve been reviewing restaurants professionally for 25+ years now, and I was surprisingly impressed with the number of great places to eat in Hot Springs relative to its size. 
For breakfast, we enjoyed the homestyle cooking of the Smoky Mountain Diner and the gourmet coffee and fresh baked goods at the Artisun Gallery & Cafe.
Memorable lunches can be found at the Grey Eagle Taqueria (try the Mexican street corn and tacos) and the Trust General Store Café. When it comes to dinner, we loved the tasty sandwiches at Spring Creek Tavern
But in our eyes the best restaurant in Hot Springs is Vaste Riviere Provisions, which offers a foodie-friendly menu, gourmet groceries, and an excellent assortment of wines.
Their NC Lump Crab Cakes, Ramen Bowls, homemade ice cream, and fresh baked treats were simply divine!
Paint Rock Pictographs in Hot Springs NC
Paint Rock Pictographs, photo by Alex Stiner

7. See the Paint Rock Pictographs

From New Echota and the various Indian Mounds in Georgia to Judaculla Rock near Sylva NC, we love visiting Native American historic sites.

Paint Rock is located about 7 miles from Downtown Hot Springs, and it is generally considered to be the best preserved pictograph in North Carolina

Early Native Americans considered the NC hot springs to be a sacred site, and used indelible paints (made from natural ingredients) to color patterns etched into the mountain stone some 5,000 years ago. 

The pictograph was recorded by European settlers in the 1790s. The rocks are protected by a natural outcropping in the cliff, and the ancient artwork can still be seen from River Road (SR 1304) today.

For a better view, there’s a rough trail that leads up to the top of cliff, which offers lovely scenic views and once served as a border between the settlers and Cherokee territory.

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

Hot Springs Hot Tub at the Hot Springs Resort Spa in Hot Springs NC
Our Hot Springs Hot Tub

8. Sooth Sore Muscles at the Hot Springs NC Spa

If you’re looking to spend some time soaking the famous North Carolina hot springs, make sure to visit the 100-acre Hot Springs Resort & Spa.
Established in 1778 (nearly a century before the Civil War!), the historic property has been home to several different inns and hotels. Visionary Eugene Hicks bought it in 1990 and began building the world-renowned Hot Springs getaway you can visit today.
Their jetted hot tubs are positioned right along the banks of the French Broad River. They provide spectacular views while savoring the continuous flow of “World Famous Natural Hot Mineral Waters.” 
If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Hot Springs NC, their private soaking cabanas are available in 60- and 90-minute increments, and include a shower/changing room, fire pit, and lounge areas.
While soaking in the healing waters, we also saw all sorts of wildlife, from lizards and butterflies to birds, including a Great Blue Heron feasting on a juvenile water snake!
Tasting Flight at Big Pillow Brewing Taproom in Hot Springs NC
Big Pillow Brewing Tasting Flight

9. Tasting Flights at the Hot Springs Brewery

The small towns of the Blue Ridge Mountains aren’t exactly known for their nightlife. But the town of Hot Springs NC proved to be an exception to the rule.
Big Pillow Brewing is the cultural hub of Downtown Hot Springs, with a craft brewery, an outdoor stage, and live music, karaoke, or trivia almost every night of the week.
If you want to get to know the friendly people of Hot Springs (and nearby Marshall NC), this bustling Hot Springs brewery is the place to be.
The place was pretty packed by 7PM on the Wednesday we visited, with guys like Banjo Mitch rocking the open mic night with a mix of bluegrass, classic rock, and even New Wave tunes.
Mary enjoyed her tasting flight craft beers, while I sampled some delicious hard cider from the Flat Rock Cider Company (based near Hendersonville NC).
Llamas of Hot Springs in Hot Springs NC
Friendly Llamas of Hot Springs

10. Walk with Llamas in Hot Springs NC

As hardcore animal lovers, the wonderful afternoon we spent at Llamas of Hot Springs ultimately proved to be one of our favorite things to do in Hot Springs NC. 
Owner David Wynn is a therapist by day, and often incorporates llama therapy into his practice. He finds that his personable llamas have a calming effect on people who struggle with anxiety.
But he also offers an opportunity to walk with llamas, which have been used as pack animals by South America’s Andean cultures since the Pre-Columbian era.
Unfortunately the hiking option is only available on weekends, and we visited Hot Springs during the week. But Wynn graciously met us after a long work day and introduced us to Che, Cacao, and the rest of the herd.
Wynn’s passion for the animals proved infectious, and Cacao (the largest and fuzziest of the llamas) proved especially friendly. Hoping we’ll get a chance to hike with them the next time we visit Hot Springs!




If you’re looking for Hot Springs NC lodging that feels a world away from the tiny town, we recommend the RiverDance Cabins in the posh Bear River Lodge Community. 
RiverDance is located high atop a mountain in a gated community about halfway between Hot Springs and Marshall NC. They have two charming cabin rentals available, RiverHaven and SkyView.  
We stayed in the surprisingly spacious 1BR/1BA SkyView Cabin, which offered a full kitchen and a tranquil place for much-needed downtime with our dogs, Huckleberry & Boo Boo.
We loved the upscale Appalachian-style decor (including a gorgeous quilt and rocking chair in the living room), the large king-sized bedroom, and especially the heated floors in the bathroom, which were great for those chilly Spring mornings.
But our favorite part of the cabin was outside. The porch and fire pit areas offered EXTRAORDINARY views of the Smoky Mountains to the west, and some gorgeous sunrises and sunsets over them. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted
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!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Born and raised in North Georgia, Editor-In-Chief Bret Love grew up hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his family. A professional writer/editor since 1995, he's covered travel and culture for 100+ publications, including American Way, Destination Marriott, Georgia Travel Guide, National Geographic, and Southbound. In 2010 he co-founded the award-winning website, Green Global Travel, which is ranked among the world's top travel blogs. Since launching BRMTG in 2020, he and Mary Gabbett have visited 50+ Blue Ridge Mountain towns together. Though she lived in NYC for 14 years, photographer/Business Manager Mary Gabbett's family has Georgia roots dating back 200+ years. Her great-grandfather was President of the Western Railroad of Alabama. Before moving to Atlanta in 1989, she fell in love with the North GA mountains, where her aunt owned a cabin. In 2010 she co-founded Green Global Travel, and has since traveled to more than 40 countries on six continents. Her photos have appeared in numerous travel publications (including National Geographic and Southbound) and various textbooks.