11 Most Beautiful Mountain Towns in North Carolina
Jenn Baxter is an accomplished author, speaker, and freelance writer in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has been published in numerous print and online publications and appears nationwide at tiny house festivals, healthy living festivals, and private engagements. She is an expert on downsizing, minimalism, clean eating, healthy living, and spiritual health.
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The western part of the state of North Carolina is full of beautiful and quaint mountain towns, thanks to the two majestic mountain ranges found there – the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. Whether as large as Asheville or as small as Saluda, each of these towns is overflowing with character, charm and a host of things to see and do.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the eclectic city of Asheville prides itself on being just a little “weird.” In fact, you’ll find quite a few souvenirs around town that proclaim “Keep Asheville Weird.” But they mean weird in the best way possible – the city is unique and varied with its many restaurants from a range of different nationalities, its many art galleries and shops, craft breweries and wineries, and of course, the infamous drum circle that takes place downtown every Friday night. Everywhere you look, you’ll see beautiful backdrops of the mountains that look like they came off a postcard, not to mention the beauty you’ll find at Asheville’s biggest attraction – Biltmore Estate.
A popular day trip from Asheville, Blowing Rock is a quaint mountain town that is worth exploring. Stay a little longer and see its famous Blocking Rock formation that sits 4,000 above sea level over a gorge, as well as its walkable downtown area dotted with shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries. While fall is a peak time to visit for its beautiful foliage views, this-year round getaway offers easy access to golf, fishing, skiing, hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities. It’s also near some of North Carolina’s most iconic attractions, including Tweetsie Railroad, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain State Park, and Linville Falls.
Located between the popular skiing destinations of Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain, the small town of Banner Elk is a destination all on its own. Although it’s only home to 1,000 permanent residents, it is a popular spot for tourists and has a variety of top-notch restaurants and unique shopping. Amongst the beautiful mountain backdrops, you’ll also find a selection of wineries and craft breweries, an art gallery, and a lush one-mile greenway that extends from Flat Top Brewing Company to the campus of Lees-McRae College. The school’s campus also features many historic buildings that were built with stone native to the area.
Nestled in the far southwest corner of North Carolina sits Highlands, a beautiful mountain town near the South Carolina border. It’s a scenic destination at an elevation of over 4,000 feet, home to a charming downtown with tree-lined streets where you’ll find art galleries, antique stores, and upscale boutiques. For a nature escape, you can walk behind the cascading waters of the 75-foot-tall Dry Falls, just 10 minutes away. In fact, Highlands is surrounded by one of the only temperate rainforests in North America, which means you’re spoiled for choice with incredible hiking trails. Other nature attractions nearby include the Cullasaja River Gorge, Nantahala National Forest, Glen Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls.
Boone is a no-brainer when it comes to top mountain towns in North Carolina, as this lively university town is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Explore the charming downtown area on foot to discover its collection of shops, restaurants, breweries, and a famous Mast General Store that features an eclectic selection of souvenirs and candy. It’s the perfect home base for exploring Grandfather Mountain, Elk Knob State Park, Pisgah National Forest, or hitting the slopes of Appalachian Ski Resort in winter, while surrounding areas also include scenic hiking trails and various lookout points. Make the most of your visit by staying overnight in a cozy cabin rental.
If you like cold temperatures, make sure to take a trip to the quaint town of Beech Mountain and the famed Beach Mountain Resort. At 5,506 feet in elevation, it is the highest town in the Eastern U.S. and is the perfect spot for skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking and mountain biking in the summer. Although it’s only a little over six and a half square miles in total size, the town of Beech Mountain is loaded with personality and character. From the storybook-esque buildings to the charm of the local people who welcome you with open arms, you’ll feel like a regular here in no time.
It’s easy to see why Maggie Valley is such a hotspot for nature lovers, as the popular stop is close to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Aside from its prime location, the scenic mountain town offers a variety of accommodation options, from campgrounds to cabin rentals. It has a charming downtown area dotted with shops featuring local artisans, while motorcycle routes often include the town’s Wheels Through Time Museum on their itinerary. In winter, skiers flock to this area to enjoy its easy access to the slopes at Cataloochee Ski Resort.
Known as the “Gateway to the Smokey Mountains,” Bryson City is just a little over an hour west of Asheville. This small mountain town sits right on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, one of the most popular family attractions in North Carolina that offers majestic mountain views year-round. It has incredible natural scenery with rolling hills, while the Tuckasegee River runs right through the middle. One of the best things to do, however, is to wander Main Street to browse the local artisan shops, restaurants, breweries, and museums.
About 30 minutes outside of Asheville is another beautiful small town – Hendersonville. With the second largest downtown area in Western North Carolina, there are more than 100 shops and 25 restaurants to explore. The town’s quaint Main Street has an old-school charm that will slow down your pace and make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Along some of the other downtown streets, you’ll find grand historic homes that date all the way back to the 1800s, many of which have been turned into bed and breakfasts. One other piece of local beauty that you’ll want to make sure to see is the angel statue that is located just outside of downtown Hendersonville. The statue, which is carved from Italian marble, was mentioned in Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.”
If the beautiful lake landscapes of Lake Lure look familiar to you, that’s because they were the backdrop for the popular 80’s movie, Dirty Dancing. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town of Lake Lure is more than just a lake, although that is the biggest draw for visitors from across the country. In addition to enjoying the magnificent man-made lake, you can also take a stroll on the boardwalk and take in the beauty of the Flowering Bridge, a 155-foot former highway bridge that has now been transformed into a gorgeous garden. There are numerous trails in the area for hiking and biking, a nine-hole public golf course, and plenty of shopping and restaurants at Chimney Rock Village.
Saluda may be a tiny town, but what it’s lacking in size, it makes up for in charm. With only 700 residents, Saluda is the epitome of a small town and you can feel the welcoming spirit when you stroll down its picturesque Main Street. It’s conveniently located close to Pearson’s Falls and the Green River Gorge and provides a perfect place to unwind after a long day of hiking. Here, you’ll find a General Store from 1899 and a grill & deli that’s been in business since 1892, as well as some more modern establishments like The Purple Onion and Newman’s Restaurant.