The mountains of North Carolina are dotted with quaint towns but it seems that Highlands gets much of the acclaim. But it’s far from the only one.
Between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, visitors will find charming downtowns with local shops and restaurants as well as cozy inns and cabins. Our favorite North Carolina mountain towns have plenty of things to see.
For more information on the North Carolina mountain towns, visit our friends at NC Tripping.
Named for frontiersman Daniel Boone, who explored the region, Boone, North Carolina is now a college town home to Appalachian State University. It’s in the heart of the area known as the High Country.
The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, nicknamed Tweetsie, ran through the area and continues on as a family-friendly theme park with a ropes course and seasonal events.
Hickory Ridge Living History Museum educates visitors on the history of the High Country and also is home to the Horn in the West outdoor drama. At Grandfather Mountain you’ll see the curved road that was a filming location for Forrest Gump but also has hiking trails and a nature preserve with black bears and other animals.
Boone has a number of craft breweries and restaurants like Black Cat Burrito and Hatchet Coffee. It is also close to the cute shops in Blowing Rock as well as ski resorts in neighboring Beech Mountain.
Visitors can stay at The Horton Hotel, a boutique hotel in downtown Boone, or Blowing Rock’s Green Park Inn Hotel.
Bryson City sits at the gateway to the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. The town has its roots in the railroad, which still operates today with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Nantahala Outdoors Center is located in the Nantahala Gorge and provides excursions for whitewater rafting, ziplining, mountain biking, and other adventure sports.
In neighboring Cherokee, learn about the Native American tribe that continues to call the area home. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian has exhibits on the 13,000 years of Cherokee history and the arrival of Europeans.
Unto These Hills is a seasonal large scale outdoor drama that tells the story of the Cherokees from 1780 to the present, including the Trail of Tears.
The High Test Deli is an automotive-themed deli with hearty sandwiches and soups. Enjoy carhop service at Nabers Drive In, which serves homemade barbecue and classic milkshakes. Great Smoky Mountains Winery has regional wines, wood-fired pizzas, tapas, and hearty salads.
Visitors can stay in shared or private accommodations in downtown Bryson City at Smoky Mountain Hostel, the luxurious mountaintop resort Lakeview at Fontana, or one of the many nearby cabins. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is another option.
Dillsboro and Sylva
Dillsboro is another town on the outskirts of the Smokies and is the starting point of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, where the movie The Fugitive was filmed. The town sits on the Tuckasegee River so rafting is a popular activity.
Many of the historic buildings in Dillsboro that were constructed for summer visitors still stand. Visitors can learn about the past at the Appalachian Women’s Museum or shop for artisan goods at downtown galleries.
Sylva is only a mile away, so the two can be visited together. It was where Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was filmed. The town has a thriving downtown with antique stores and boutiques as well as breweries like Innovation Brewing.
Dillsboro Chocolate Factory is the best place to indulge your sweet tooth. Haywood Smokehouse is one of the region’s top-rated barbecue restaurants. Lulu’s on Main in Sylva has a little bit of everything, from steaks to seafood to vegetarian dishes.
Visitors can stay at the Jarrett House, a bed and breakfast in Dillsboro which dates back to 1884. Dillsboro Inn boasts riverfront suites while the Best Western has all the modern amenities. Blue Ridge Inn is convenient for visitors to Sylva.
Located between Asheville and Boone and bordering the Pisgah National Forest, Morganton is a favorite for outdoor lovers. Before being settled by European immigrants, the area had been home to an early Mississippian tribe and a Spanish expedition.
Its history as a textile mill town has preserved many of its buildings, including the Henry River Mill Village, which was used as the District 12 filming location in The Hunger Games. The area is also home to From This Day Forward, another large scale outdoor drama about the Italian people that founded Valdese.
In Lake James State Park, hikers can enjoy the Fonta Flora State Trail or visit the High Shoals Falls in South Mountains State Park. It’s also a great place to hang gliding if you have the nerve.
Morganton is home to a thriving restaurant scene, including Root + Vine, Grind Cafe, and Abele’s Family Restaurant. Enjoy craft beverages at Silver Fork Winery and Fonta Flora Brewery.
The Inn At Glen Alpine is a stunning bed and breakfast set in a 1913 country manor near Morganton. Closer to town, visitors can stay at the Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Morganton.
Waynesville is located not far from Asheville and is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was settled in 1810 and was the site of a Civil War skirmish. It also provides easy access to the Smokies. Public artwork is found throughout downtown.
Dine out at restaurants like Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen and The Sweet Onion. Sip on craft beer at Frog Level Brewing Company or pick up locally made sodas at Waynesville Soda Jerks.
Visitors can stay in the heart of Waynesville at the Best Western Smoky Mountain Inn, an affordable hotel with free daily breakfast. If you’re looking to disconnect, splurge on a stay at The Swag. Rates include meals and daily activities.
Connie M Cooley says
Your article made we want to pack my bags and a few lady friends and head out of the devastion all around us from hurricane Laura. This was a nice way to start my day, because I feel like I have been right there with you. You explained it so vividly.
I have been going to Boone for 50 years it is a place I love and even live there for a couple of years. Banner elk which is just outside of Boone is probably my favorite place other than Keywest on the planet you all should go check them out.
Tony Deakins says
You missed Franklin, NC which is in the same county as Highlands but on a lower elevation. Several rivers, including the Little Tennessee, and abundant, easy to access waterfalls provide a diverse outdoor venue including both the Appalachian and Bartram Trails.
C Lawson says
Nice article but you left off West Jefferson, Noth Carolina.