Western North Carolina
Western North Carolina is known for the beautiful mountains and High Country, the immaculate Blue Ridge Parkway (and other scenic roads), gorgeous waterfalls near Asheville (also near Boone and Blowing Rock), and more wonders that make it a popular place to visit.
This region stretches all the way to border with Tennessee to the west. Of course, South Carolina and Georgia stand to the south. Many folks might forget about Georgia being our border neighbor. However, those with descendants who fought in the Walton War will always remember.
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).
If you’re planning to travel around Western North Carolina and the mountains, this is the place to be! We’ve been through the area more than a few times, exploring its small towns and outdoor gems. Of course, we’ve been compiling guides the whole time to help you along your way.
So many spots in this area have made our NC Bucket List, which is a great place to start if you’ve never visited.
Western North Carolina-Focused Posts
Popular Places to Visit in Western NC
Including the ones we mentioned above, these are just a selection of the places you should visit in Eastern North Carolina:
Asheville to Banner Elk
- Asheville and Buncombe County: Asheville usually comes up when people are searching for the best places to live in Western North Carolina and especially when folks search for where to go in the area. We have a whole page dedicated to that awesome city. Buncombe County also includes the towns of Biltmore Forest and Black Mountain. Don’t forget about townships such as Fairview and dazzling overlooks like Craggy Gardens.
- Bakersville and Mitchell County: Spruce Pine is a notable spot in Mitchell County, home to Penland School of Craft and host of SPACE in June. Bakersville gets the nod as the county seat. It’s also home to four art galleries that show off the works of creators who live in the area.
- 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 part of the fun. Its Woolly Worm Festival in October is a big favorite and Apple Hill Farm is always worth a visit. Not far away in the rest of Avery County, you’ll find the aforementioned skiing hotspots and the community of Linville.
Blowing Rock to Bryson City
- Blowing Rock, Boone, and Watauga County: I know Boone is bigger than Blowing Rock and the county seat, but I can’t mention one without the other. 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. And I know we should’ve mentioned Grandfather Mountain as part of Avery County, but that fascinating mountain is shared by Watauga, Avery, and Caldwell counties, too.
- Brevard and Transylvania County: Brevard is known as the land of waterfalls, also the home of white squirrels, and as a perfect weekend getaway. The town and county are also surrounded by tremendous natural spots. Those include 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 we can’t leave out in the heading. Inside Swain County, you’ll find the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outdoor fun doesn’t stop as some sections of Nantahala National Forest are here, too. Additional popular spots in this Western North Carolina county include the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (starting in Bryson City) and Mingo Falls in Cherokee.
Burnsville to Franklin
- Burnsville and Yancey County: Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, sits in the southern part of Yancey County. Burnsville is the biggest town and county seat, hosting a variety of historic buildings and businesses. The Nu-Wray Inn and the Parkway Playhouse are two examples. Crabtree Falls straddles the McDowell and Yancey county lines, and with the former coming first, we’ll include it here.
- Danbury and Stokes County: Stokes County is in quirky spot, since it’s referred to as part of the Piedmont region. We first discovered Stokes County during our many trips to Hanging Rock State Park. Don’t sleep on the epic park’s surroundings, though, because it’s home to charming small towns like county seat Danbury and Walnut Cove.
- Franklin and Macon County: Many folks come to Macon County for whitewater rafting through the Nantahala River. It’s also home to the gorgeous Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, and more. The Appalachian Trail-friendly Franklin and Highlands (shared by Jackson County) are two wonderful small towns worth visiting here.
Hendersonville to Jefferson
- Hendersonville and Henderson County: Henderson County is filled with fun places to visit, including Hendersonville, known for its late summer‘s Apple Festival. Sierra Nevada, one of the biggest breweries in NC, calls Mills River home and feels like a town within itself. Fletcher is also in Henderson County and Saluda spends some time here and in Polk County.
- Hickory and Catawba County: Hickory, by far, is the largest city in Catawba County and home to great museums, Lake Hickory and more ways to enjoy the outdoors, and an amazing farmer’s market. In Newton (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.
- Jefferson and Ashe County: This county might sound familiar if you like indulging in delicious cheese (yes, it’s awesome!), but there’s even more to Ashe. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through parts of the county and the New River (ironically one of the oldest) passes through here, too. Kayakers and fishermen and -women throughout much of the year come to check out the latter. West Jefferson is a fabulous town in the county and home to breweries, a cheese factory, and more.
Lake Lure to Marion
- Lake Lure and Rutherford County: Chimney Rock and Lake Lure are the two biggest draws to Rutherford County, and rightfully so. Of course, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. That’s true whether you’re in Forest City for their beautiful Christmas lights display or bringing your kids to Rutherfordton’s InterACTIVE Museum.
- Lenoir and Caldwell County: A part of Blowing Rock sits in Caldwell County but it’s better known as the home of Lenoir. Here, you’ll find historic buildings, places to get outside (including 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.” That fact quickly becomes clear when you get off I-40 and pass through the town. Elsewhere in McDowell County, Old Fort’s NC Gold Festival in June is a big draw. Throughout the year, Catawba Falls is a beautiful spot to stop and admire the beautiful water coming down. Little Switzerland is also in McDowell County 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!
Mars Hill to Morganton
- Mars Hill and Madison County: Mars Hill and county seat Marshall are the two largest towns in Madison County, which is just north of Asheville and Buncombe County. The Hot Springs Historic District remembers a time when that town was one of North Carolina’s first resort communities.
- Mount Airy and Surry County: Mayberry is Mount Airy’s nickname and for good reason, since the town is Andy Griffith’s hometown and believed to be the inspiration for Mount Pilot on TV. Speaking of Pilot, Surry County is also known for Pilot Mountain. That flyer-shaped peak stands out among neighboring mountains.
- Morganton and Burke County: Apple Hill Orchard and Catawba Brewing are just a couple of the names that should draw you to Morganton. If that’s not enough, Lake James State Park on the border of Burke and McDowell Counties should do the trick. The community of Linville Falls is shared by Burke, Avery, and McDowell counties. However, Wiseman’s View and the Linville Falls waterfall are both in Burke.
Murphy to Saluda
- 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 here throughout the year to enjoy the downtown and the mountains, water, and trails that surround it. Andrews is the other town in Cherokee County and rich in Native American history.
- Robbinsville and Graham County: Just above Cherokee County and also on the western edge is Graham County. Fontana Dam, the tallest in the Eastern US, is one of many things to see in this county. 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. Saluda wins thanks to its Arts Festival in May and Coon Dog Day Festival in July. Columbus is known for Russian Chapel Hills Winery, Shunkawauken Falls, and the Polk County History Museum. And then there’s Tryon, of course, known for its International Equestrian Center and Fine Arts Center.
Shelby to Waynesville
- Shelby and Cleveland County: You can’t mention Cleveland County without talking about the amazing small towns of Boiling Springs (home of Gardner-Webb University) and Kings Mountain (shared with Gaston County). Earl Scruggs was born in Flint Hill here and there’s a great museum that commemorates his life in Shelby. Speaking of county seat Shelby, this fun town is home to livermush and more food. Many people also come to check out the Don Gibson Theatre, but there’s even more that commands at least a weekend in this town.
- Sylva and Jackson County: One of our favorite waterfalls (Whitewater Falls) runs near Cashiers in Jackson County. This county is another one that’s tough to condense into a few sentences here. The county is also known for Sylva and Dillsboro, two truly colorful towns. And finally, the community of Cullowhee gets the nod as the home of Western Carolina University.
- Waynesville and Haywood County: Since the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through, some amazing scenery is found in Haywood County. 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 (Frog Level for example). Maggie Valley’s Cataloochee Ski Area brings people from all over to enjoy its lengthy, 100-plus day ski season. Canton is the county’s second-largest town and hosts a nice historic district. Finally, Lake Junaluska hosts a variety of events for religious and non-religious organizations throughout the year.
Wilkesboro to Yadkinville
- Wilkesboro and Wilkes County: Also 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. Many folks know Wilkesboro for Merlefest. This always-growing music festival brings in huge acts and crowds the area around Wilkesboro Community College every April.
- Yadkinville and Yadkin County: Home to county seat Yadkinville and towns like Boonville and Jonesville. The entire county is recognized by the US Government as a grape-growing region and that means wine, wine, wine! You can come here throughout the year to sip, but the Yadkin Valley Grape Festival in October is a fun-filled time to visit.
As you explore Western North Carolina, we know that you’ll find even more along the way. If there’s a place you strongly feel belongs here, please let us know via email.
Recent Western North Carolina Travel Guides and Mentions
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As we continue exploring Western North Carolina, more travel guides will keep popping up.
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