Last Updated on October 9, 2022
Last Updated on October 9, 2022
When you first glance at a map of Western NC, you’ll see Mount Mitchell and the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the top of that mountain and drive our most popular scenic road, you’ve already enjoyed two of the best things to do in Burnsville and Yancey County.
Of course, there are plenty of other great attractions around this beautiful small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They include Crabtree Falls (Milepost 339 on the Blue Ridge Parkway), various Black Mountains hikes around Mount Mitchell, and more.
We haven’t even mentioned the town square and Main Street in the heart of downtown Burnsville, and the amazing artists in the area, but our guide covers it all in great detail.
There are so many things to do in Burnsville, that you really need to see it to understand. Our guide will help you do that before you go and while you’re there.
Here’s how we’ve organized this guide to help your vacation or day trip to the area:
- Where is Burnsville (and Yancey County)?
- Annual Events
- Year-Round Things to Do in Burnsville (Town Square, Downtown, and Main Street)
- Local Art and Artists (Toe River Artists, Penland, and More!)
- Quilt Blocks (Barn Quilts)
- Hikes near Burnsville (Mount Mitchell, Crabtree Falls, and More!)
- Restaurants in Burnsville and Yancey County
- Where to Stay in Burnsville (Lodging and Airbnbs)
- Nearby Places
- More Things to Do in Burnsville and Western North Carolina (Related Posts)
Read More: The NC Bucket List
Where is Burnsville and Yancey County?
Burnsville and Yancey County sit in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Northwestern border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
The county borders one county in Tennessee to the northwest (Unicoi) and four NC counties, including the following:
- Mitchell County (northeast)
- McDowell County (southeast)
- Buncombe County (southwest)
- Madison County (west)
Read More: Day trips from Asheville
Annual Events in Burnsville
These annual events are among the best things to do in Burnsville, worthy of a spot on your calendar. Unforeseen circumstances can result in event changes or cancellations, so please visit the links to each one that we’ve provided.
- April: Typically held each April, the Burnsville Metric is a metric century bike ride open to riders of all ages. While there is a timer at this event, it is not a race and more of a beautiful summer ride. All levels of bike riders above beginners are welcome. A timer will be running for the curious.
- August: For two days, the Mount Mitchell Crafts Fair takes over the Town Square. Inside the 200-plus juried craft booths, one-of-a-kind artisans sell their wares during this two-day event.
- September: The Old Timey Fall Festival invites heritage-crafters to demonstrate old-timey, traditional methods of producing their crafts. Over the years, this event has welcomed basket-makers, yarn spinners, corn grinders, beekeepers, candle makers, quilters, rug makers, and many other types of artists.
- October: The Ascent on Mountain Air is an annual 5K road race that climbs 1,800 feet. It leaves from the private Mountain Air community’s gates to an air strip at the top of the mountain. Proceeds go to a local community organization.
- December: Two things to do in Burnsville each December bring families out and the community together. The Burnsville Christmas Parade kicks off the first Saturday in December and is followed by Merry Main Street on the second Friday of the month.
Read More: Christmas in North Carolina
Year-Round Things to Do in Burnsville NC
For this section, we want to show you all the fun things to do in Burnsville’s downtown area, starting with Town Square.
Explore the Town Square
When you reach the center of Burnsville, you’ll see a statue in the middle of Town Square. It commemorates Captain Otway Burns, who the town was named for when it was established in 1834.
His story is a pretty interesting one, as Burns was a naval hero who captained the Snap Dragon as a privateer (or legal pirate) during the War of 1812. He and his crew captured multiple British ships during a few successful campaigns.
The famous privateer later became a senator and served in the House of Representatives. During that time, Burns and Bartlett Yancey were instrumental in advocating for more county lines in the West.
That’s why their names live on in the county seat and county, respectively.
Read more: 65+ Interesting Facts about North Carolina
Downtown and Main Street
Here, you’ll find a series of historic buildings packed with wonderful places to eat, shop and plan your next outdoor adventure.
Burnsville is an adorable mountain town that is bursting with local pride. Some locally-owned shops and restaurants dot Main Street, and each one of them invites you in with a smile.
We recommend stopping into Something Special and browsing around the boutique before grabbing a root beer float at Cool Catz Candy & Cream.
The Parkway Playhouse hosts musicals and plays from late spring through fall. As one of the most popular things to do in Burnsville, tickets sell quickly, and you will want to be there for curtain call!
It is also the longest continually operating seasonal theater in North Carolina.
Bare Dark Sky Observatory
Located at the Mayland Earth-to-Sky Park, Bare Dark Sky Observatory is the largest public telescope in North Carolina.
Sitting high above the mountains at 2,736 feet, it’s open for the public and community members to peer into the depths of our universe. 360-degree views of Yancey County await.
The “Sam Scope” telescope is custom-built with a 34-inch diameter mirror. Guided tours and viewings are available, and astronomy students use the observatory to allow real-world experience and hands-on learning.
It is the largest telescope in the Southeast dedicated to research and tourism. Tours allow up to 25 people for two hours of viewing.
Local Art and Artists in Burnsville (Toe River Arts, Penland, and Beyond)
Yancey County has a rich folk art scene, from Quilt Block trails to numerous art galleries and studios. There is something for every art enthusiast in the county, especially in Burnsville.
The arts reach beyond Burnsville and Yancey County, which is why Toe River Arts is a crucial player in the area.
Penland School of Craft
The world-renowned Penland School of Craft is also near Burnsville and a considerable part of this area’s art scene. The workshop school attracts artisans from all over the world to study, students learn and showcase their artwork in the gallery.
When open, visitors are encouraged to browse and purchase art from Penland any day of the week!
Toe River Arts
If you aren’t visiting Burnsville during the Toe River Studio Tour (see below), you can still stop by Toe River Arts to view local art. The exhibits rotate and feature work from over 100 artists of ranging media.
Another incredible way to connect with the community’s creatives is at One of a Kind Art Gallery (OOAK). Located in the 1922 Micaville Country Store, OOAK exhibits come from more than 170 local and regional artisans.
Bringing local art to the community in one central place is just the beginning of OOAK’s mission.
They also give back to the community by providing a space for Shortbus Studio, an organization serving adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. OOAK also offers live music from local musicians every Saturday morning.
Toe River Studio Tours
We briefly mentioned Toe River Studio Tours, and these biannual events a perfect for art lovers. The tour highlights over 100 artisans from the two mountain counties of Yancey and Mitchell and is held the first weekend of June and December.
Toe River Artists
We were lucky enough to meet Toe River artists during trips to the area. Here are a few that you should know about, though there are many more you can connect with via the Toe River Arts Council.
Kenny Pieper (Pieper Glass)
Kenny Pieper of Pieper Glass is a Penland graduate whose exquisite studio features traditional Italian glass. You may already know his work since some of it is featured in the Corning Museum of Glass, the Museum of Fine Art Boston, and the Asheville Art Museum.
Seeing his work at the source inside his Burnsville studio is a wonderful experience.
We interviewed Kenny and the next couple of artists during this episode of NC Travel Chat!
Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville
Claudia and John (Yummy Mud Puddle)
Another must-see artist studio in Yancey County is Yummy Mud Puddle! Located on ten beautiful acres of towering trees, Yummy Mud Puddle is the creative base for printmaker Claudia Dunaway, mixed media artist John D. Richards, and handmade textile crafter Kathryn Lynch.
You can even stay in their charming vacation rental for a restful mountain escape.
Quilt Blocks (Barn Quilts)
Throughout Yancey County, there are approximately 150 quilt blocks painted on the sides of barns and buildings. Quilt trails are found throughout six continuous North Carolina counties, but Yancey has the highest concentration of quilt blocks.
Maps can be purchased at the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce or the Quilt Trails Gift Shop in the OOAK Gallery. Drive one of the nine trails on the map to get the most of these magnificent works of art, and tell us your favorite!
One of the most iconic Yancey County quilt blocks is the downtown Quilt Block Sundial on the side of the Common Times Journal building (22 North Main St). It is the largest vertical sundial in North Carolina and the only quilt block sundial in the world!
One particular barn quilt building is in our guide to the coolest Airbnbs in North Carolina, too!
Outdoor Tours in Burnsville
With so many ways to explore the outdoors in Burnsville, several tour operators in the area. Here are a few of them.
Western North Carolina has some of the coldest waterways, which means there are plenty of fish! And if you’re familiar with guided fly fishing tours, you’ll know about their benefits.
Your guide will scout the area in advance, and on the day of your tour you’ll be taken to a backcountry stream in a secluded, fish-heavy spot. You can take a guided tour with either Southern Drifters Outfitters or Burnsville Anglers for the best experience.
Snakeroot Ecotours guides you off-the-beaten-path to explore nature in a brand new way. From guided hikes for families to “Naturalist Walks,” you’ll hike places you won’t find on Google.
Your guide will take you to secluded waterfalls, share insight about rare plants, and deepen your experience with nature. Snakeroot Ecotours tailors each tour to your desired experience.
NC Outdoor Adventures
One of the most diverse outdoor sporting companies in North Carolina is NC Outdoor Adventures. They offer daily trips for nature enthusiasts.
From tubing, waterfall rappelling, ice climbing, to wild edible plant walkabouts, there is an adventure waiting for everyone. There are also multiple courses for self-rescue, a strong climbing education program, and whitewater kayaking.
And our last tours to mention are the ones offered at Bucktown Stables! Start with a two-hour guided horseback ride through the quiet mountains of Yancey County.
You can even make it an entire weekend experience by staying at The Buck House Inn, within walking distance from the stables.
Hikes near Burnsville
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through Yancey County, but more importantly, this is where you’ll find the Black Mountains. These mountains lie within the boundaries of Pisgah National Forest, home to some of the best hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
In coordination with NC High Peaks Trail Association and Friends of Mount Mitchell, the folks at Explore Burnsville have created a couple of very useful maps that you can access here.
Pro Tip: These hikes near Burnsville get busy, especially on weekends. That’s why we recommend you start early to have them mostly to yourself.
Read More: Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Big Creek Falls
Big Creek Falls is technically a roadside waterfall that is in the northwestern reaches of Yancey County about 30 minutes from Burnsville. You can barely see it from the road, which is why we suggest you get out of your car (if you can) for a closer look.
A short, steep, and sometimes slippery descent down a rock stairway will take you to a better view of this gorgeous waterfall.
The 70-foot cascade is reached by a 2.6-mile loop trail, which isn’t too difficult for most hikers. That’s why this Yancey County waterfall is very popular throughout much of the year.
However, we’ve found that Crabtree Falls is magnificent in the summer when there are plenty of rhododendrons and mountain laurels blooming along your hike to the falls.
Read More: Hikes near Asheville
Roaring Fork Falls
Located at the base of Mount Mitchell, Roaring Fork Falls is another great outdoor activity in Burnsville. It would be easy to do both on the same day since it is only seven miles away from Crabtree Falls.
Reaching Roaring Fork Falls is so easy, we probably wouldn’t call it a hike. You’ll walk half a mile along a mostly flat and paved forest service road.
This 100-foot-long cascade weaves along the rocks and is framed by rhododendrons and greenery.
Setrock Creek Falls
Also at the base of Mount Mitchell is Setrock Creek Falls, a 75-foot easy waterfall hike that can easily be done before hiking the big one that we’ll get to next.
The Setrock Creek Falls hike is a flat 1-mile round trip that starts from the Black Mountain Campground. While the parking lot may fill up, the hike and falls are surprisingly not as crowded.
Mount Mitchell State Park
A towering 6,684 feet in elevation, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. As part of the North Carolina State Parks system, Mount Mitchell is free and offers a wide selection of trails for all levels of hikers and nature lovers.
One of the most popular ways to enjoy Mount Mitchell State Park is to view the summit from the observation deck for 360-degree views. From the parking area, it is a 1/4-mile paved and accessible trail.
The high elevation at Mount Mitchell means scenes reminiscent of New England and Canada, with features you won’t find elsewhere in North Carolina.
Note that it is not uncommon for Mount Mitchell to be covered in clouds and fog, but regardless we still find a visit here to be an incredible experience.
Mount Mitchell Trails
The Black Mountain Crest Trail has been touted as one of the most challenging hikes in North Carolina and can be a fantastic 2-3 day hike. Crossing five peaks over 6,00 feet over 12 miles, the Black Mountain Crest Trail is one way to scale the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi.
The trail ends at the observation deck.
If you would like a great view of Mount Mitchell, the Deep Gap Trail offers excellent views of this magnificent mountain. Starting from Mount Craig, the second-highest peak in the eastern United States is a moderate two-mile round trip hike.
An easier alternative is the Balsam Nature Trail. An easy 3/4-mile loop walks through the forest with informational signs along the path.
This trail is an excellent example of how diverse the geological features and flora of Mount Mitchell are compared to the rest of North Carolina’s mountains.
Restaurants in Burnsville
After all this exploring, driving, and hiking, you’re going to want something good to eat. And don’t worry because there are plenty of great restaurants in Burnsville.
There is no shortage of delicious restaurants in Burnsville!
- Start your day with powerful coffee and a yummy breakfast sandwich from Appalachian Java!
- You can dig into incredible sandwiches at Ye Olde Country Store and enjoy a great beer selection and beautiful patio at Snap Dragon!
- And if you know the area, then it’s no surprise that we found ourselves at Pig and Grits, considering our huge barbecue obsession. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this Burnsville restaurant has it all!
- If you’re craving a pizza and a delicious brew, check out Homeplace Beer Company. As the only brewery in Burnsville, Homeplace also serves wood-fired pizzas and wings. Don’t tell anyone, but we can certainly say this was one of our favorite Burnsville restaurants! Please don’t stop reading, though, because there’s much more to eat in the area.
- Next door to Homeplace is Second Home, a collaboration between Homeplace and Stackhouse in Mars Hill. Dig into Appalachian-inspired small plates and creative cocktails at this culinary delight! Oh, and don’t skip the trout dip!
- Garden Deli is next to Town Square and boasts beautiful outdoor seating for some of the most delicious sandwiches and entrees.
Have you spent time eating your way through Burnsville, too? If you know of another spot we need to visit, please let us know!
Where to Stay in Burnsville (Lodging)
There are plenty of beautiful places to stay in Burnsville. From the beautiful Buck House Inn at Bucktown Stables to private mountain cabin retreats with Greybeard Realty, lodging in Burnsville provides for beautiful mountain getaways.
The Nu-Wray Inn
Carolina Country Inn
Another downtown option includes the 1952 family-owned Carolina Country Inn. The accommodations are quaint and perfect for your mountain getaway in Burnsville.
Creekside Tobacco Barn
With an ample screened-in patio and charming setting, this is our favorite place to stay in Burnsville!
Read more: Romantic Getaways in North Carolina
Ready for These Things to Do in Burnsville and Yancey County?
Burnsville’s diverse, community-oriented art scene, with studios scattered throughout the area, gives you as many sights to enjoy as the nearby falls, mountains, and rivers.
Don’t let yourself stare from a distance. It’s too wondrous for that. Keep reading. Discover more about the next small town you’re going to visit on the western edges of our state.
We hope you’ll consider Burnsville as your next place to visit because based on what we’ve discovered here, there’s so much to this area.
And if you’ve been lucky enough to spend time here, we’d love to know about your favorite things to do in Burnsville and Yancey County. Let us know in the comments section!
Places to Go Nearby
Before you do that, here are some great places near Burnsville to check out!
More Blue Ridge Parkway Stops
We mentioned a few hikes near Burnsville that are accessible via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here are a few more within an hour and 30 minutes of Yancey County.
Our favorite places in that area include:
- Beacon Heights (MP 306)
- Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304)
- Rough Ridge Trail (MP 303)
- Boone Fork Trail (MP 300)
Read More: Day Trips from Boone
Distance from Burnsville: 18 miles (30 minutes)
Bakersville is the first of three Mitchell County spots we’ll mention within a short drive from Burnsville. The county seat also hosts a beautiful art scene featured in the cooperative Mica Gallery.
Bakersville is the perfect gateway to Roan Mountain. One of the best views of Mount Mitchell and North Carolina’s High Country is from Carvers Gap.
Turn around and you can look into Tennessee, too.
If you want to visit the area during a specific time of year, June’s Rhododendron Festival headlines the annual fun.
Read More: The Best NC Mountain Towns
Distance from Burnsville: 21 miles (32 minutes)
Little Switzerland is another great Blue Ridge Parkway stop and one of our favorite small towns in North Carolina for quite a few reasons. The Switzerland Inn is a beautiful place to stay, and beyond its collection of shops, we think you should also stop by the Switzerland Café in town.
There, you’ll find a great coffee shop, used books, and a general store with some of the most delicious smoked barbecue sandwiches!
Distance from Burnsville: 15 miles (21 minutes)
We think you’ll enjoy downtown Spruce Pine throughout the year, but the place especially livens up during its NC Mineral and Gem Festival in August and SPACE (Spruce Pine Alien Conference & Expo) in June.
For places to spend additional time, we love Bear Den Mountain Resort & Campground. Thanks to well-maintained spots and cabins, it’s one of our favorite places to stay in North Carolina. There are even great hiking trails on the property.
Read More: The Best Places to Stay in North Carolina