The 15 Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC & Haywood County

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When my wife and I explore the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s typically with two main goals in mind. 

The first objective is to create in-depth guides on the best things to see and do there. The second is to use that information to decide whether or not we want to move there, now that we’re empty nesters. 

But when we visited Waynesville NC, which is located about halfway between Asheville and Bryson City, I also had a more personal mission.

Research suggests my family descends from that of Colonel Robert Love, the founder of Waynesville, who fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War, became a North Carolina Senator, and helped to establish the final state boundary line between North Carolina and Tennessee in 1821.

So as we explored Waynesville, I was also connecting with local historians to learn more about Robert Love, the history of Haywood County, and the role my ancestors played in its growth. 

Along the way, we also fell in love with the beauty of Waynesville, which is surrounded by some of the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi. So much so that we are considering buying a home there next year!

Read on for our guide to the best things to do in Waynesville NC and Haywood County, including all the area’s best museums, outdoor attractions, restaurants, and shops.

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

 

Best Things to Do in Waynesville NC Guide

  1. Check Out the Waynesville Street Dance
  2. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
  3. Explore Downtown Waynesville
  4. Explore the Shining Rock Wilderness Area
  5. Folkmoot Friendship Center & Festival
  6. Haywood Arts Regional Theater (a.k.a. HART) 
  7. Lake Junaluska
  8. Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts/Shelton House
  9. Sample Waynesville Restaurants 
  10. See Sunburst Falls
  11. Stay at Lake Logan
  12. Walk Waynesville Greenway Park
  13. Waynesville Public Art Trail
  14. Visit Waynesville Christmas Tree Farms
  15. Visit the Museum of Haywood County History
Waynesville Street Dance in Downtown Waynesville NC
Waynesville Street Dance, photo courtesy Visit NC Smokies

1. Cut a Rug at the Waynesville Street Dance

Located 8 miles from downtown Waynesville in the tourist town of Maggie Valley NC, the Stompin’ Ground Dance Hall is a haven for fans of clogging, square dancing, and other Appalachian dance styles. 

Haywood County’s Sam Love Queen (a distant relative of mine) is widely credited with popularizing square dancing in the US when his Soco Gap Dancers performed for the Queen and King of England at FDR’s White House in 1939.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Downtown Waynesville Association hosts a series of Friday Night Summer Street Dances, which run from 6 to 9PM on June 24, July 8, July 22, and August 5. 

It’s essentially a good ol’ fashioned Blue Ridge Mountains hoedown, with cornmeal spread in a circle on Main Street, right in front of the Haywood County Courthouse.

There’s lively bluegrass and old-time country music, everyone is invited to join the circle, and locals are sure to help newbies learn a few dance steps. Attendance is free of charge. 

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

Cowee Mountains Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway
Cowee Mountains Overlook, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

2. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway

Waynesville is located about 7 miles northeast of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with several great hiking trails, overlooks and waterfalls within easy driving distance.

Our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks in the area include the Cowee Mountains Overlook (Milepost 430.7), Standing Rock Overlook (MP 441.4), and the Woolyback Overlook (MP 452.3).

Popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes nearby include the 1.47-mile Richland Balsam Trail (MP 431), the 0.6-mile Waterrock Knob Trail (MP 451.2), and access to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Soco Gap (MP 455.7 ).

Haywood County doesn’t boast as many Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls as you’ll find in the area around Asheville. But you could easily visit Mingo Falls (5 miles), Soco Falls in Maggie Valley (2 miles from the Parkway), and Woodfin Cacades (MP 446.0) in one day.

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

MAST General Store in Downtown Waynesville NC
Mast General Store in Downtown Waynesville

3. Explore Downtown Waynesville

I may somewhat biased, but for my money Waynesville NC has one of the most charming downtown areas of any of the 30+ Blue Ridge Mountain Towns we’ve visited.

Most of the action is centrally located along a 6-block stretch of Main Street as you head south from the Haywood County Courthouse. But even the side streets here boast hidden treasures. 

Along the way you’ll find a ton of great restaurants, amazing street art, and some seriously cool shops that we can’t wait to revisit when we return later this year.

Some of our favorites included the Affairs Of The Heart gift shop, Metzgers’ Burl Wood Gallery (amazing wood furniture and decor), the Mast General Store, and the T Pennington Art Gallery.

The Haywood County Arts Council‘s tiny shop is also a must-visit, featuring an excellent array of artwork from dozens of local artists working in a variety of mediums. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best North Carolina Mountain Towns to Visit

Fishing in Shining Rock Wilderness near Waynesville NC
Fishing in the Shining Rock Wilderness

4. Explore the Shining Rock Wilderness Area

Are state parks and national parks getting a bit too crowded for your taste? Wilderness Areas offer many of the same natural attractions, but with a fraction of the visitors! 

Located just south of Waynesville, the Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the state of North Carolina, encompassing over 18,000 acres at elevations ranging from 3,300 to over 6,000 feet.

Part of the massive Pisgah National Forest, this pristine wilderness area is perfectly picturesque.

From hiking trails such as the Art Loeb Trail and Cold Mountain Trail to waterfalls, stocked trout streams, and off-the-beaten-path campgrounds, this is truly a great place to get away from it all.

And in our experience, it’s also a wonderful area for those who want to enjoy the beauty of nature without being to shoulder to shoulder with other people.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in North Carolina Mountains

Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville NC
Folkmoot Friendship Center

5. Folkmoot Friendship Center & Festival 

While waiting for a meeting at Folkmoot USA with Interim Manager Mike McLean and new Director Evan Hatch, I discovered that I’m related to Haywood County icon Sam Love Queen (a.k.a. the Square Dance King).

Queen (who co-founded the Soco Gap Dancers with his wife) is widely credited with popularizing Appalachian dance on an international level in the late 1920s. In 2016, Folkmoot dedicated its Queen Auditorium in his honor. 

The 265-capacity concert hall is a great place to catch live bluegrass concerts and learn more about Appalachian cultural traditions. The community center also offers an array of classes on traditional music, dance, and art. 

Established in 1984, the Folkmoot Festival is one of North Carolina’s most popular festivals. But since COVID hit they’ve switched to a local focus, including acts from Appalachia and Cherokee Indians from the Qualla Boundary.

This year’s Folkmoot Summerfest will be a 4-day event, scheduled to take place at the Friendship Center and other Waynesville locations on July 28-31. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best North Carolina Music Festivals in 2022

Interior of Haywood Arts Regional Theater in Waynesville NC
Inside Haywood Arts Regional Theater (HART)

6. Haywood Arts Regional Theater (a.k.a. HART) 

One of the more common criticisms of small mountain towns is their general lack of cultural sophistication. But with its excellent assortment of museums, music festivals, and arts organizations, Waynesville is a noteworthy exception. 

The Haywood Arts Regional Theatre (HART) is one of the most active community theatres in the Southeast, presenting an impressive array of musicals, plays, camps, and classes throughout the year. 

Funded primarily through community support, HART is based in the multi-million dollar Performing Arts Center at the Shelton House, a stunning facility that puts a mountain lodge twist on the traditional Summer Stock playhouse. 

The company has won numerous awards at the N.C. Theatre Festival AACT/Fest and National AACT/Fest Theatre Festival, as well as being named the North Carolina Community Theatre of the Year. 

Upcoming 2022 productions include The Music Man (weekends July 8-31), The Book of Will (weekends August 5-28), Little Women: The Musical (weekends Sept 2-25), and Assassins (weekends Sept 30–Oct 23). 

READ MORE: Asheville River Arts District: A Guide to Galleries & Restaurants

Boating on Lake Junaluska in Waynesville NC
Boating on Lake Junaluska

7. Lake Junaluska

Born around 1775, just north of what is now the town of Clayton GA, Junaluska was a Cherokee leader who saved Andrew Jackson’s life in the War of 1812. After later being removed on the Trail of Tears, he regretted doing so. 

The lake named in his honor is located 3 miles north of Waynesville, and has been owned by the United Methodist Church as part of a retreat and conference center since 1916.

A popular place for conferences, group retreats, and family vacations, the expansive property includes two hotels, dozens of vacation rentals (which can accommodate anywhere from 2 to 24 people), and the Lake Junaluska Campground (which offers tent and RV sites with hook-ups). 

Guests can enjoy amenities such as the lakeside walking trail, tennis and pickle ball courts, an award-winning playground, mini golf, an outdoor pool, and kayaking or paddleboarding (rentals available seasonally).

There’s also a Lake Junaluska Fitness Center, garden, events at the Stuart Auditorium, meeting spaces, and several restaurants on the property.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Shelton House/Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts in Waynesville NC
Shelton House/Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts

8. Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts /Shelton House

The Charlestonian-style Shelton House was built in 1875 for Stephen Shelton (a teacher and High Sheriff of Haywood County) and his family.

The house (which includes a century-old barn and carriage house) was the first in the county to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated as a Blue Ridge Heritage site, and included on Blue Ridge Craft Trails.

Guided tours of the Shelton House are a great way to learn more about the area’s history. A lot of the woodwork and furniture was created from black walnut trees harvested on-site, and there are countless Shelton family antiques. 

The house is also home to the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts, which was founded in 1977 and features excellent examples of Appalachian arts and crafts by some of the state’s most accomplished artisans. 

Additionally, the 8-acre property features the HART Theatre, Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market, and a private event space.

The Museum is open Thu-Sat from April through October, with tours starting on the hour from 10AM to 2PM.

READ MORE: The Appalachian Culture & History of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Patio Dining at Best Restaurants in WaynesVille NC
Outdoor Dining in Downtown Waynesville

9. Sample Waynesville Restaurants 

Though Waynesville is smaller than Blue Ridge mountain towns such as Asheville, Boone, and Roanoke, it boasts an impressively diverse culinary scene that belies its size. 

There’s an excellent array of Waynesville restaurants on/near Main Street, including fine dining at The Chef’s Table, traditional Cuban at The Cuban Guy, tasty breakfast at Orchard Coffee, and Asian fusion at Suwana Asian Cuisine

But there are also a lot of fantastic restaurants in Waynesville’s outlying areas. 

Some of our favorites included the hearty breakfast at The Buttered Biscuit, deli-style subs from the Beach Mountain Diner, and the fantastic BBQ at Haywood Smokehouse.

It’s also worth making the short drive to the Blue Rooster Southern Grill, just a few miles away in Clyde NC. Specializing in “farm-to-fork” freshness, they offer exquisite fried chicken and sensational side dishes. 

READ MORE: The 10 Best Restaurants in Waynesville NC for Foodies

Sunburst Falls in the Shining Rock Wilderness near Waynesville NC
Sunburst Falls

10. See Sunburst Falls

One of our favorite waterfalls near Asheville NC, Sunburst Falls is in the Shining Rock Wilderness, about 18 miles south of Waynesville. 

It’s arguably the most unique of the waterfalls located on the West Fork Pigeon River, which was dammed nearly a century ago to create Lake Logan.

What makes it unusual is the fact that Sunburst Falls flows underneath the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway (a.k.a. Hwy 215). It’s framed by a photogenic stone arch bridge that was built in the 1930s. 

After tumbling gracefully over the rocks, it spills into a large pool that is widely regarded as one of the best NC swimming holes, with boulders at the bottom that are perfect for sunbathing or picnics. 

If you want to make a day of it, there are several other waterfalls nearby that make driving Hwy 215 a great day trip

READ MORE: The 50 Best North Carolina Waterfalls to Visit

Boathouse at Lake Logan in Waynesville NC
Boathouse at Lake Logan

11. Stay at Lake Logan

Located 10 miles southeast of Downtown Waynesville, Lake Logan was built in the 1930s, after the Champion Lumber Mill had clear cut all timber on the surrounding mountains.

The lake became the center of Champion’s Executive Retreat, which included 6 traditional log cabins that had been removed from what became Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In the late ’90s, the property was divested to the Episcopal Diocese of Western NC to use as a conference center. 

Tucked back in the forest, these rental cabins include two single beds, a stone hearth fireplace in the living area, a mini-kitchen (stove, sink, small fridge, coffee maker & microwave), and a bathroom. 

But our favorite feature by far was the blissful view of the lake and mountains from the wrap-around porch, which includes rocking chairs and benches. There are some great hiking trails on the property, but no phones or wi-fi.  

The sight of the lake’s many North Carolina birds– geese, ducks, kingfishers, and even a nesting pair of bald eagles– was all the entertainment we needed.

In fact, the digital detox made this place pure paradise!

READ MORE: The 20 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains

Waynesville Greenway Park in Waynesville NC
Waynesville Greenway Park

12. Stroll the Waynesville Greenway 

Stretching 4.8 miles, from the Waynesville Recreation Park to Lake Junaluska, the Waynesville Greenway is a scenic path for hiking and biking that meanders alongside Richland Creek. 

Much of the dog-friendly hiking trail is shaded by trees, with the soothing sounds of the creek and very little elevation gain to speak of along the way. 

There are restrooms located along the paved path, as well as a lovely little picnic area at the beginning in Waynesville Recreation Park.

Other activities along the way include tubing on the creek, fishing, and visiting the Waynesville Dog Park and the 8,000-square-foot Waynesville Skate Park

READ MORE: The 52 Best Hikes in North Carolina for the 52 Hikes Challenge

Bluegrass Statues on the Waynesville Public Art Trail
Bluegrass Statues on the Waynesville Public Art Trail

13. Waynesville Public Art Trail

Downtown Waynesville is full of fantastic street art on its Public Art Trail, but none more iconic than the “Old Time Music” sculpture located at 77 N. Main Street.

Created by Stefan Bonitz from repurposed scrap steel in 2008, the enormous statues of two musicians picking a banjo and strumming a washtub bass pay tribute to the cultural heritage of Appalachian music. 

Locally known as The Music Men, they weigh between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds each. The piece has been cataloged by the Smithsonian for its symbolic folk art traits.

Other noteworthy pieces along the self-guided walking trail include the Gateway to the Smokies Arch, Wildflowers of the Smokies, and the 1776 Militia Rifleman (which honors settlers who fought in the Revolutionary War).

READ MORE: The 20 Best Places for Horseback Riding In/Near Asheville NC

Smoky Mountain Tree Farm
Photo courtesy of Smoky Mountain Tree Farm

14. Visit Waynesville Christmas Tree Farms

When it comes to Western NC Christmas tree farms, most people tend to think of High Country towns like Blowing Rock and Boone.

Which makes sense, because that area grows the vast majority of the Fraser Fir trees used by families who celebrate Christmas in the entire Eastern U.S. 

But Waynesville sits at an average elevation of 2,752 feet, and it’s surrounded by some of the tallest North Carolina mountains (including the 6,621-foot Mt. Guyot and the 6,214-foot Black Balsam Knob).

So the Haywood County climate is perfect for growing Christmas trees, and Waynesville is home to 3 popular Christmas tree farms.

These include the pet-friendly Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm, Mehaffey Tree Farm,(which offers a choose-and-cut-your-own option), and Smoky Mountain Tree Farm

READ MORE: The Best Boone NC Christmas Tree Farms

Museum of Haywood County History in Waynesville NC
The Museum of Haywood County History

15. Visit the Museum of Haywood County History

The Museum of Haywood County History is located inside the historic Shook-Smathers House. The home was built in the early 1800s by Jacob Shook, who fought alongside Waynesville founder Robert Love in the American Revolution.

It was later sold to Levi Smathers, whose descendants lived in and expanded the house considerably (including adding a Victorian-style wrap-around porch) over the course of 130+ years. 

Dr. Joseph S. Hall, a descendant of Jacob Shook, purchased the house in 2003, by which time it needed extensive restoration and preservation.

After the work was completed, Hall deeded the property to the Haywood County Historical & Genealogical Society in December 2011. 

The museum features exhibits filled with artifacts and photographs of the history of Waynesville and Haywood County, from life in the early 1800s and the region’s industrial heritage to local mountain communities and more. 

Museum tours are available on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (or by prior appointment), with a $7 admission fee. Call 828-564-1044 and leave a voice message to request a tour, ideally at least 3-4 days in advance. –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. Bret grew up camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and North Carolina with his parents, and the couple both spent childhood summers on the water with their grandparents. After becoming empty nesters, they yearned for a pristine place where they could escape the hustle and bustle of the city, commune with nature and family, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle that leaves time to appreciate the simpler things in life. Join them and their team as they explore the region, offering expert insights on Blue Ridge travel as they search for the perfect mountain home.