Last Updated on September 23, 2021
Last Updated on September 23, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
The most wonderful places to visit in Western North Carolina start with our mountains. They dominate the conversation, whether you’re in the High Country, driving along the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway (and other scenic roads), searching for gorgeous waterfalls, or exploring the many other wonders (including state parks) that make this area so popular!
This area holds some of our favorite things to do in North Carolina, which can also be found inside our book! For now, though, this guide will help you pinpoint the very best things to do and places to go in Western NC!
What Makes Up Western North Carolina?
This region stretches all the way from the Tennessee border to South Carolina and Georgia in the south. Many folks might forget about Georgia being our border neighbor, but there are many spots near Georgia that can’t be missed!
To the east of the North Carolina mountains are the Foothills, which start as the Piedmont of Central North Carolina begins to gradually rise. The Foothills region includes Chimney Rock, Hickory, Lake Lure, Shelby, and Wilkesboro (see below for more).
Places to Visit in Western North Carolina
Counting and Organization Note
Inside this guide to places to visit in Western North Carolina, we’re counting towns, cities, standalone waterfalls and hikes, Blue Ridge Parkway stops, and state or national parks. Specific spots within these places are not counted though. For example, the WNC Nature Center or Apple Hill Farm within a certain town are mentioned, but not a part of the count.
We’ve organized this guide alphabetically by the largest city or town in a particular county, followed by additional spots in the said county (ex, Asheville and Buncombe County).
Asheville and Buncombe County
Asheville is a popular name when people are searching for the best places to live in Western North Carolina. For those looking to work in the area, Asheville boasts a great business scene.
We have guides dedicated to things to do in this awesome city, some of our favorites including the epic Biltmore Estate, the very family-friendly Western NC Nature Center, and the city’s restaurant scene!
Bakersville and Mitchell County
Bakersville gets the nod as the county seat of Mitchell County. It’s home to four art galleries that show off the works of creators who live in the area.
Spruce Pine is another notable spot in Mitchell County, home to a nifty downtown and a great arts scene.
Little Switzerland is also in Mitchell County (McDowell, too), and its Switzerland Inn is one of our favorite places to stay in North Carolina. We’re also fans of Grassy Creek Falls, just down the road from Switzerland Inn!
Banner Elk and Avery County
Banner Elk‘s inviting downtown and proximity to Beech Mountain (also known for Land of Oz) and Sugar Mountain is just a small part of the fun to be had here. Its Woolly Worm Festival in October is a very popular event, and Apple Hill Farm is always worth a visit.
Not far away from Banner Elk, you’ll find some skiing hotspots and the community of Linville in Avery County. Between the latter and Blowing Rock is the Little Parkway, one of our favorite scenic roads.
Blowing Rock, Boone, and Watauga County
Both offer amazing food scenes (Blowing Rock‘s and Boone‘s), shopping, and access to beautiful outdoor spots (see Rough Ridge Trail for example). Boone’s three breweries join Blowing Rock Alehouse to create a fearsome foursome.
Although Grandfather Mountain is part of Avery County (above), this fascinating mountain is also shared by Watauga, Avery, and Caldwell counties.
Brevard and Transylvania County
Many of these scenic spots sit within Nantahala National Forest and parts of Pisgah National Forest.
Speaking of Pisgah, check out Pines Country Inn in the town of Pisgah Forest for an amazing stay.
Bryson City, Cherokee, and Swain County
Like Watauga, Swain County holds two places (Bryson City and Cherokee) that share the spotlight. Bryson City is known for quite a few things, including the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and the Road to Nowhere.
Hikes galore await near downtown Bryson City, considering this is Great Smoky Mountains National Park territory. Deep Creek Trail is one of our favorites.
Walking up the steps to Mingo Falls is one of the best things to do in Cherokee. We also think you should visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, where you’ll learn about the 11,000-year story of the Cherokee people.
The end of the Blue Ridge Parkway sits in Swain County, near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, also inside GSMNP. The visitor center is an amazing spot to see elk roaming in the mornings and early evenings.
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower is nearby and takes a short uphill walk to reach. This is also the western terminus or beginning of the Mountains to Sea Trail, depending on which way you’re going.
Burnsville and Yancey County
Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi and the highest in the Black Mountains sits in Yancey County. Burnsville is the biggest town and county seat and is home to Penland School of Craft and the Parkway Playhouse.
Crabtree Falls straddles the Yancey and McDowell county lines, and, as the former comes first in this list, we’ll include it here. Roaring Fork Falls and Setrock Creek Falls are a couple of more waterfalls in the area that you have to visit!
Franklin and Macon County
Many folks come to Macon County for whitewater rafting through the Nantahala River. The Appalachian Trail-friendly Franklin and Highlands (shared by Jackson County) are two wonderful small towns worth visiting here, too.
Speaking of the Appalachian Trail, Wayah Bald Tower in Franklin is one of its most popular landmarks.
The road to reach Wayah Bald Tower intersects with the Waterfall Byway portion of US-64. The best section of this scenic road is near the Cullasaja Gorge between Franklin and Highlands.
Some of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina are here, including Cullasaja Falls, Bust Your Butt Falls, the roadside Bridal Veil Falls (not the one inside DuPont State Forest), and Dry Falls.
Hendersonville and Henderson County
Henderson County is one of Western North Carolina’s best places to visit.
Sierra Nevada, one of the biggest breweries in NC, calls Mills River home and feels like a town within itself.
The latter is home to a few of our favorite waterfalls, including Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, High Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Fletcher is also in Henderson County and Saluda shares space here with Polk County.
Hickory and Catawba County
Hickory is, by far, the largest city in Catawba County and home to great museums, Lake Hickory, and an amazing farmer’s market.
In Newton, the county seat, you’ll find a variety of historic buildings and some nice parks worth exploring. You can also find a part of Lake Norman in Catawba County.
We also included Hickory and a few more spots in Western North Carolina in our guide to day trips from Charlotte.
Lake Lure and Rutherford County
Chimney Rock and Lake Lure are the two biggest draws to Rutherford County, and rightfully so. There is plenty of fun to enjoy here.
Rutherfordton is a historic town that’s home to many firsts, including the first US Post Office in Western NC, the first school chartered by the General Assembly, and the first newspaper published in the western foothills and mountain region.
Whether you’re in Forest City for their beautiful Christmas lights display or bringing your kids to Rutherfordton’s InterACTIVE Museum, Rutherford County is a must-visit.
Lenoir and Caldwell County
A part of Blowing Rock sits in Caldwell County, but the county is better known for the city of Lenoir. Here, you’ll find historic buildings, places to get outside such as Hibriten Mountain, and the Western North Carolina Sculpture Park.
Marion and McDowell County
Marion is known as the place “where Main Street meets the mountains.” This nickname comes from the fact that you exit I-40, pass through town, and access the gorgeous Tom’s Creek Falls after only 15 minutes, accessible after a short walk in the woods.
Mars Hill and Madison County
Mars Hill and county seat Marshall are the two largest towns in Madison County, located just north of Asheville and Buncombe County.
The Hot Springs Historic District is known for being one of North Carolina’s first resort communities. Hot tubs sit along Spring Creek to this day, supplying healing natural mineral water for guests. This is a big part of why we consider Hot Springs to be an amazing winter getaway!
Morganton and Burke County
Apple Hill Orchard and Catawba Brewing are just a couple of the names that should draw you to Morganton. The town is surrounded by some epic natural beauty, including the Linville Gorge and Lake James.
You can even see Table Rock Mountain from downtown Morganton, which is an hour’s drive away and just another hint to get outside here. Closer to downtown is the Catawba River Greenway, one of our favorite places for a bike ride or walk!
On the edge of the county near Hickory is Hildebran, which is home to the Henry River Mill Village of Hunger Games fame.
Murphy and Cherokee County
If you’ve heard the saying “From Murphy to Manteo,” then you might already know that this is the end of the line in Western North Carolina.
People come to Murphy throughout the year to enjoy the downtown and the surrounding mountains, water, and trails. Regardless of where your religious views, the Fields of the Wood (a massive representation of the 10 Commandments) is always an interesting place to visit.
Andrews is the other main town in Cherokee County and rich in Native American history.
Robbinsville and Graham County
Just above Cherokee County and along the western edge of NC is Graham County. Fontana Dam, the tallest dam in the Eastern US, is one of the more popular spots in this county. View Fontana Lake from Graham County, as well as from Swain County on your way to the Road to Nowhere.
Robbinsville is the county seat and been referenced in music and movies. The Joyce Kilmer Forest, seen via the Cherohala Skyway, and Lake Santeetlah are also in Graham County.
Saluda and Polk County
It was hard to pick which town to feature first in Polk County as there are multiple towns with their own unique attractions. However, Saluda wins thanks to its Arts Festival in May and Coon Dog Day Festival, typically held in July.
Columbus is a close second known for Russian Chapel Hills Winery, Shunkawauken Falls, and the Polk County History Museum.
And then there’s Tryon, of course. It’s a town known for its International Equestrian Center and Fine Arts Center. The 90-foot Pearson’s Falls is also in the area and worthy of visiting any time of year!
Shelby and Cleveland County
Many people also come to check out the Don Gibson Theatre, but there’s even more here that requires at least a weekend in this town.
Sparta and Alleghany County
The county seat of Alleghany County is Sparta, a charming small town that really heats up in September with their annual Mountain Heritage Festival.
Stone Mountain State Park partly calls Alleghany “home,” along with Wilkes County. It’s home to amazing hikes, gorgeous waterfalls (including Stone Mountain Falls), a swimming hole at Widow’s Creek Falls, and much more.
Sylva and Jackson County
Speaking of Cashiers, that Western North Carolina town is home to the lovely Village Green and sits near Sapphire, known for its amazing ski resort, golf courses, and more.
Near Sapphire and Cashiers is Lake Toxaway and the backcountry Panthertown Valley. 30 miles of hiking trails lead to amazing natural spots, including Schoolhouse Falls.
Jackson County is also known for Sylva and Dillsboro, two truly colorful towns. In Sylva, a must-visit spot is Pinnacle Park, home to an awesome hike that leads to epic views.
And finally, the community of Cullowhee gets the nod as the home of Western Carolina University.
Jackson County is one of our first choices for weekend getaways because of all these things to do, but also for Bear Lake Reserve. This 2,100-acre gated community offers private residences and rentals that surround the gorgeous 500-acre Bear Creek Lake.
Waynesville and Haywood County
Part of the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through Haywood County, resulting in some truly stunning views and hikes.
Graveyard Fields is one of our favorite hikes in North Carolina, and Waynesville, the county seat, is one of many small towns you should explore. It’s home to interesting historic districts, such as Frog Level.
The Cataloochee Ski Area in this county also brings people to Maggie Valley from all over to enjoy its lengthy, 100+ day ski season. Canton is the county’s second-largest town that boasts a rich historic district.
Finally, Lake Junaluska hosts a variety of events for religious and non-religious organizations throughout the year.
West Jefferson and Ashe County
Ashe County might sound familiar if you like indulging in delicious cheese, but there’s even more to this county than their famous cheese.
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through parts of the county, and the New River (ironically one of the oldest rivers) passes through here, too. Tubers and fishermen/women come out to the New River frequently during the year.
Mount Jefferson is the county’s other main outdoor attraction, with a series of beautiful overlooks and hikes that simultaneously challenge and awe you.
West Jefferson is a fabulous town in the county and home to breweries, a cheese factory, and more.
We can’t leave this county without mentioning Christmas Fraser Firs. Christmas tree farms dot Western North Carolina, but Frosty’s in Ashe County is one of our favorite Christmas tree farms in North Carolina.
Wilkesboro and Wilkes County
Known as the Moonshine Capital of the World, Wilkes County is also home to the first-ever NASCAR track. You can learn about its history in Charlotte at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
There are also some fun places to visit in North Wilkesboro, the county’s largest town. The Wilkes Art Gallery is one of many reasons to visit, along with a variety of events happening throughout each year.
Yadkinville and Yadkin County
Home to county seat Yadkinville and towns like Boonville and Jonesville, this county is recognized by the US Government as a grape-growing region. This means… wine, wine, wine!
Yadkin County buzzes all year long with tourists coming to try a sip, but the Yadkin Valley Grape Festival in October is an especially fun-filled time to visit.
Ready to Explore these Places to Visit in Western North Carolina?
We can’t express how beautiful Western North Carolina is; we’ve been through the area more than a few times, exploring its small towns and outdoor gems.
In case you know this area, we’d love to hear about your experiences here and any particular places you love, too. If there’s a place you strongly feel belongs here that’s missing, please kindly let us know via email.
If you’ve never been before, we’re eager to know which spots you plan to visit first. Regardless, we hope you’ll enjoy our collection of guides that will make your visit to Western North Carolina the best it possibly can!