Last Updated on July 21, 2021
Last Updated on July 21, 2021
We are surrounded by wonderful small towns throughout North Carolina (especially historic ones!), but there’s just something extra special about those found in and around our mountains. Ranging in size and shape, North Carolina mountain towns come packed with unique attractions and wait with warm, welcoming smiles.
You can easily immerse yourself in local art, browse unique shops, and dig into each place’s amazing food scene. Of course, they can serve as the perfect base for some of the best hiking trails and the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina.
Speaking of bases, many of these towns are within a two-hour drive from Asheville.
To ease your search, we’ve organized these North Carolina mountain towns in alphabetical order. Our NC travel map will help you visually plan, in case you’re ready to start exploring!
North Carolina Mountain Towns
Bakersville is the Mitchell County seat and one of many arts-heavy communities in the area. Mica Gallery is one of a few spaces that showcase local artists from here and surrounding counties.
Access to Roan Mountain goes through Bakersville and you can also enjoy the Toe River’s waters here. Of course, a very popular time of year to visit is in June, when the annual Rhododendron Festival kicks off.
Grandfather Vineyard is one of many nice spots along the water. Except here, you can taste delicious wine and take some home with you. While in the area, don’t miss out on Apple Hill Farm, an ethical and working alpaca farm!
Banner Elk is also a popular gateway to Grandfather Mountain State Park and the Mile High Swinging Bridge on the privately owned side.
Did you know North Carolina’s Beech Mountain is the highest town in the Eastern United States? At 5,506 feet, Beech Mountain is home to awesome views but also, some pretty great ski resorts.
Beyond ski season, we love hanging out in this town. Land of Oz (held on Fridays in June) is one of many great reasons to come here with its warmer outside.
Just off I-40 and not far from Asheville, is Black Mountain, a treat of a small town! Black Mountain features quaint shops, impressive restaurants (including Phil’s Bar-B-Que Pit!), and one of our favorite North Carolina distilleries (Oak & Grist).
Blowing Rock and Boone are often talked about together because they are so close–but so different! Downtown Blowing Rock is home to adorable shops and restaurants, as well as the only urban entrance to a waterfall that we’ve seen in North Carolina (Glen Burney).
Home to Appalachian State University, Boone is a thriving college town with plenty of High Country hikes, delicious restaurants, and breweries. Boone’s truly a four-season destination: they boast hiking and waterfalls in spring through fall and world-class skiing in the winter.
Known as the home of the White Squirrel (and annual festival!), downtown Brevard is charming and boasts the best toy store in North Carolina, O.P. Taylor.
If you’re looking to explore the many waterfalls near Brevard, we recommend starting with Looking Glass Falls. Of course, the nearby Moore Cove Falls and French Broad Falls (Mill Shoals) are two of many more to explore.
Sitting on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, Bryson City is definitely one of our favorite North Carolina mountain towns! Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Bryson City is well-known for hiking and river recreation.
Burnsville is often used as a base for exploring Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi.
But beyond the dramatic summit of Mount Mitchell, there are also waterfalls near Burnsville—Crabtree Falls joins two near the base of Mount Mitchell (Setrock Creek Falls and Roaring Fork Falls). You’ll also encounter a thriving art community through the Toe River Arts and awesome barn quilt trails!
Cashiers is the gateway to one of our favorite mountain escapes, Bear Lake Reserve. Filled with shops, boutiques, and the beautiful Village Green, there is always something to explore in this lovely town.
We definitely recommend stopping at Whiteside Brewing for a pint and a burger (or wings!). If you brought kids, they’ll want to check out the fire engine outside!
Cherokee is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. There are several opportunities for guests to learn about the history and culture of the tribe. Start at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian or the Oconaluftee Indian Village.
Just a few miles from Sylva (see below) is Dillsboro, an artist community that is one of the coolest North Carolina mountain towns. With a mix of unique shops and galleries, art festivals, and a charming downtown, this Jackson County town lives and breathes local art.
Just outside of Hendersonville is the North Carolina mountain town of Flat Rock. Notably, Flat Rock also has the Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, the famed Pulitzer Prize author’s home.
In Flat Rock, spend your days hiking the trails, saying hello to the many goats, and touring the house before heading downtown for some beers and barbecue from Hubba Hubba Smokehouse.
Flat Rock is also where you can find one of the most popular places for apple picking in North Carolina, Sky Top Orchard.
One of the largest North Carolina mountain towns on this list, we absolutely love walking and driving around Hendersonville. Its downtown is home to nice shops, a cozy atmosphere, and great restaurants.
Hendersonville hosts the annual NC Apple Festival. Due to their high concentration of orchards, apple picking is an incredibly popular activity here.
The outskirts of Highlands are known for spectacular waterfalls, but the downtown of Highlands is equally beautiful! Spend a luxurious weekend at The Old Edwards Inn and roam the charming shops.
Be sure to stop by the scenic Lake Sequoyah. Don’t forget to visit Dry Falls, an accessible waterfall that you can walk behind.
Hot Springs is an adorable mountain town best known for its hot mineral springs. Tourists travel from all over to soak in the waters. The town is also a junction for the Appalachian Trail, which winds through downtown.
Catch some incredible views from Lover’s Leap, a 2-mile loop with a gain of 500 feet in elevation.
Is there anything more magical than a mountain lake town?! At Lake Lure, get the best of mountain and lake life by going boating, biking the trails at Buffalo Creek Park, or climbing to the top of Chimney Rock.
Don’t miss walking across the Flowering Bridge, a beautiful blooming garden that spans across the Rocky Broad River.
Enjoy beautiful vistas at The Switzerland Inn and hike to Grassy Creek Falls while you’re there. The Diamondback (NC-226) is also a popular road for tourists and motorcyclists alike, famed for its incredible views.
One of our absolute favorite North Carolina mountain towns is Maggie Valley, a consistent family vacation spot. Close to lots of great waterfalls (like Soco Falls!), Maggie Valley draws tons of tourists each year.
Enjoy creekside beers at BearWaters Brewing, dance at Stompin’ Ground, and zoom through the iconic Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum. In downtown, you’ll find vintage motels, lots of motorcyclists, and the best pancakes of your life at Joey’s Pancake House!
Right down the road from Maggie Valley is Lake Junaluska, a lovely community with a trail that takes you around its namesake lake.
Have you ever seen Bigfoot? Well, you’ll need to answer that question when you visit Marion and their annual Bigfoot Festival!
Beyond chasing tall hairy creatures, Marion is situated at the base of Mount Mitchell with many waterfalls nearby, such as Linville Falls and Tom’s Creek Falls.
Madison County seat Marshall sits just north of Asheville and Buncombe County. This North Carolina mountain town’s Main St is lined with studios and galleries, great restaurants (including Zuma Coffee), and lovely shops.
You can also walk to Blannahassett Island and fish or enjoy views of the French Broad River.
Morganton is one of the easternmost North Carolina mountain towns we’ll mention. It’s known as the gateway to the Blue Ridge mountains.
You can see Table Rock Mountain, one of the most incredible hikes in the area, from downtown Morganton. A number of great restaurants and breweries (including Catawba Brewing) are based here, too.
Venture out and explore the rest of Burke County, hikes to Hawksbill, Linville Falls and the nearby Wiseman’s View, and High Shoals Falls inside South Mountains State Park. For a flatter road, check out the Catawba River Greenway in Morganton.
Include stops in Valdese (more on it later), Connelly Springs, and other great smaller towns. Make sure to get a taste of Hollywood at the Henry River Mill Village in Hildebran.
If you’ve heard the saying “From Murphy to Manteo,” then you might already know that the former is the western end of US-64 in North Carolina. People don’t just come here for that bucket list-worthy accomplishment.
You’ll love Murphy for its fun downtown and the surrounding mountains, water, and trails. Regardless of your religious views, Fields of the Wood (a massive representation of the 10 Commandments) is an interesting place to visit.
Old Fort is another of our North Carolina mountain towns off I-40, best known for gold and Catawba Falls. There’s a bit of a dispute that we won’t get into, but Old Fort’s Gold Festival typically kicks off each June.
About Catawba Falls, we think you’ll love the 2.3-mile hike that leads to the 100-ft tall waterfall with beautiful cascades. Many people come to this waterfall every year as the trail is an almost entirely flat gravel road.
Just above Murphy and Cherokee County along the western edge of NC is Graham County, home to Robbinsville. The town itself is nice for a stroll from the county courthouse.
Robbinsville is surrounded by some wonderful places both natural and manmade. Joyce Kilmer Forest, the Cherohala Skyway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Lake Santeetlah are nearby.
The tallest dam in the Eastern US, Fontana Dam, is one of the more popular spots in Graham County, too. You can view Fontana Lake in Graham County, too, though another spot is near Bryson City’s Road to Nowhere.
All this wonderful scenery might be a reason why many movies, including The Fugitive and Nell, were filmed in the area.
Saluda is a popular spot for rafting and tubing along the Green River. It’s a small town that harkens back to simpler times with vintage signs and brick buildings. Make sure to stop in the Pace’s General Store, operating since 1899 and North Carolina’s oldest grocery store!
Pearson’s Falls is also nearby. While it’s a rare admission-required waterfall, the area around the 90-foot falls remains well-maintained.
Spruce Pine is about 15 minutes away from Little Switzerland and is full of fun to explore. The Emerald Village complex hosts 12 mines for gem and gold panning seven days a week from spring through fall.
Sylva is one of the most interesting North Carolina mountain towns you’ll find. It’s bustling with incredible restaurants, shops, and an iconic courthouse on a hill.
Fly fishing is a popular thing to do in Sylva. In fact, the town is home to the only fly fishing trail in the United States.
We mentioned Valdese earlier and thought you should know about this truly interesting place. Its downtown is packed with shops and restaurants galore (Old World Baking Company for starters), but there’s also some outdoor fun to find here.
The Valdese Recreation Department oversees five parks in the area but we think you must visit McGalliard Falls. The 40-foot falls await after a short walk from the parking lot.
It’s a lovely scene, as the falls join a recreated grist mill, perfect to watch during a picnic.
Waynesville is the largest town in Haywood County, home to adorable shops, with a Mast General Store location, too! You’ll enjoy walking on its brick sidewalks while admiring the town’s historic buildings.
We mentioned Lake Junaluska earlier and thought you should know that it is only 3 miles away from Waynesville.
Ashe County might sound familiar if you like yummy cheese. The Ashe County Cheese factory and store are two great places to visit in West Jefferson, across the street from each other.
New River Brewing is one of a few great places to grab some food and a beer. You’ll also enjoy walking around and stepping into local shops, art studios, and more here.
There are so many outdoor options in West Jefferson’s surroundings, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, the New River (ironically one of the oldest rivers), and Mount Jefferson. We love the latter’s overlooks almost as much as the Blue Ridge Parkway, if not more.
Of course, we can’t forget about the famous Christmas Fraser Firs you’ll see around Ashe County. Frosty’s in Ashe County is one of our favorite Christmas tree farms in North Carolina.
The last of the North Carolina mountain towns we’ll mention is Wilkesboro. You might say it’s a Foothills or Piedmont town, but we’ll argue otherwise.
It’s largely known as the Moonshine Capital of the World, with those spirits practically married to our mountains (along with stock car racing).
That last part is why Wilkes County is also home to the first-ever NASCAR track. You can take a side-trip to the not-mountain town of Charlotte and learn about its history at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Back to Wilkesboro, of course, which is love for so many things but above all, the iconic Merlefest. This wonderful (and family-friendly) music festival brings in big names each year.
We don’t want to leave out North Wilkesboro, the county’s largest town, before moving on. The Wilkes Art Gallery is one of many reasons to visit NW, along with a variety of events happening throughout each year there.
Which of These North Carolina Mountain Towns is Your Favorite?
All of these North Carolina mountain towns possess something unique, which is why we can’t choose our favorite. What about you, though? Do you have a favorite place you like to go or is there one that stands out among the rest?
Let us know in the comments section, as always. Meanwhile, we’ll continue exploring all that these North Carolina mountain towns have to offer, from fantastic restaurants to mountain hikes to local artist communities!